Obama Administration

Indiana has been slammed with quite a backlash — much of it from the business community — because of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Apparently poor Mike Pence had to go on This Week with George Stephanopoulos and try to pretend the RFRA is not really about LGBT discrimination. Instead it’s about big government, or something. See also No More Mr. Nice Blog.

Booman sums it up:

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence seems sincerely surprised that so many people think he’s a terrible person for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. At the same time, he appears to be kind of lost at sea because he thought acting like an intolerant anti-gay religious fundamentalist would be popular. This is probably partly because Governor Pence is a genuine jerk, but it’s also because he runs in almost exclusively right-wing circles and consumes almost exclusively right-wing media.

So, he’s kind of an asshole and he surrounds himself with assholes and he gets all his information and most of his feedback from assholes. It’s like he’s living in a giant colon.

That kind of describes the entire American Right. I’ve said many times that one of the fundamental attributes of righties is that no matter how radical and fringe-y their ideas get, they believe deep in their bones that they represent mainstream America and majority opinion. And in those rare moments when reality slaps them hard enough for them to notice that maybe that’s not so, it always comes as a shock.

Sorry I’ve been busy with Zen stuff and end-of-the-month deadlines to write much, but do also note Eric Foner’s Why Reconstruction Matters. Foner is the leading scholar of the Reconstruction era and argues that much of today’s turmoil can be traced back to the failure of Reconstruction to actually reconstruct. Instead, by a few years after the Civil War the white plantation class was back on top in the southern states, and the people freed from slavery still worked for them under oppressive conditions. Today in many schools Reconstruction is still being taught as a time when southern whites were “punished” for the Civil War, or the Lincoln Assassination, or some such, but the reality is that southern whites weren’t punished. After a very brief and failed attempt to enforce some measures of racial equality, southern whites were pretty much allowed to put the South back the way it was before, except that instead of slaves there were sharecroppers.


Rushing to Judgment

disasters, natural and unnatural

The Dumbest Man on the Internet reports that Andreas Lubitz — the man accused of flying a Germanwing plane into a mountain, killing himself and 149 other people — was a recent Muslim convert. He got this from a “German news website,” he says. The sit is a right-wing blog with the name “news” in its title, but hey, whatever works. Pam Geller and the rest of the Usual Shriekers are repeating this revelation uncritically.

Meantime, it’s slowly coming to light that Lubitz suffered a yet-unspecified illness. Reports that he suffered “depression” or “mental illness” appear to be unsupported. Something was wrong with him, however, and he had been advised by a doctor to take the day off.

The fact is, we don’t really know that Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane.  A French prosecutor concluded that’s what Lubitz did, based on the cockpit voice recorder. Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg News says that the same evidence is consistent with Lubitz’s being unconscious, however. Maybe his unspecified illness made him pass out, and the pilot was unable to re-enter the cockpit because of “safety” devises that required a response from Lubitz. See also Don’t be so quick to believe that Andreas Lubitz committed suicide by Jeff Wise.

Elsewhere — yes, I saw that Harry Reid is retiring. I am of mixed feelings about that. Your thoughts?


Karma in Indiana


Today Indiana governor Mike Pence signed a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” into law that allows “any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.” It’s understood that the purpose of this is to give homophobe business owners license to discriminate against LGBT customers.

The Indianapolis-based Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) had already told Pence that if he signed the bill, the Disciples would cancel their next convention in Indianapolis and find another city.

“Our perspective is that hate and bigotry wrapped in religious freedom is still hate and bigotry,” Todd Adams, the associate general minister and vice president of the Indianapolis-based denomination, told The Indianapolis Star.

Adams said the Disciples of Christ would instead seek a host city that is “hospitable and welcome to all of our attendees.”

And that’s not all.

The law’s passing comes as the N.C.A.A., the Indianapolis-based governing body of college sports, prepares to hold one of the most visible events on the college sports calendar, the Final Four, next week in the Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium.

Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, signed the bill Thursday. Soon after, N.C.A.A. President Mark Emmert said in astatement that the association was “deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events. We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.”


Who Wants to Vote for “Electable” Jeb?

Republican Party

The GOP establishment has settled on Jeb Bush as the “electable” candidate to carry the Republican banner in 2016. The problem with this theory is that it’s hard to find people who want to vote for him.

Josh Kraushaar of National Journal writes that the Republican elite and the Republican base are not exactly on the same page.

But there are signs that a worst-case, crash-and-burn scenario for Bush is more realistic than even his skeptics recognize. He’s underperforming in early public polls and is receiving a frosty reception from Republican focus groups. His entitled biography is at odds with the Republican Party’s increasing energy from working-class voters, who relate best with candidates who have struggled to make ends meet. The Bush name is a reminder of the past at a time when GOP voters are desperate for new faces. And after losing two straight presidential elections, Republican voters are thinking much more strategically—and aren’t nearly as convinced as the political press that Bush is the strongest contender against Hillary Clinton.

It would be foolish to over-read the results of focus groups, but it’s equally egregious to ignore their findings—especially given that they’re paired with polls that show Bush’s candidacy a tough sell among voters. Last week, Bloomberg and Purple Strategies cosponsored a New Hampshire panel of 10 Republicans, most of whom were hostile to a Bush presidential bid. “I know enough to know I don’t need to keep voting for a Bush over and over again,” one participant said. Several laughed at the notion that he’s the front-runner. Not a single one said they’d support him for president.

The article goes on in this vein for a while. The Bush campaign people have decided that the public just doesn’t know enough about their boy yet. Somehow I don’t think that’s their problem.

Jeb’s entire sales pitch is that he’s the most electable candidate in a general election. Ed Kilgore writes,

The line about voters not buying Bush’s electability argument is especially important, and one I’m not sure anybody’s adequately made before Kraushaar’s column. Electability is supposed to be the Republican Establishment’s ace-in-the-hole, the argument carefully conveyed over time that wears down “the base’s” natural desire for a True Conservative fire-breather. In your head you know he’s right is the not-so-subtle message. But Jeb’s electability credentials are as baffling to regular GOP voters as they are obvious and unimpeachable to elites. …

… Looking at it more generally, the jury is out as to whether the appropriate precedent for Jeb is somebody like Mitt Romney, who gradually won over intraparty skeptics by dint of money, opportunism, and a ruthless ability to exploit rivals’ vulnerability, or somebody like Rudy Giuliani, a guy who looked great until actual voters weighed in. And even that contrast may not capture Jeb’s problem: Rudy did well in early polls.

And then there’s this:

Fearing that Republicans will ultimately nominate an establishment presidential candidate like Jeb Bush, leaders of the nation’s Christian right have mounted an ambitious effort to coalesce their support behind a single social-conservative contender months before the first primary votes are cast.

In secret straw polls and exclusive meetings from Iowa to California, the leaders are weighing the relative appeal and liabilities of potential standard-bearers like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and the former governors Rick Perry, of Texas, and Mike Huckabee, of Arkansas.

“There’s a shared desire to come behind a candidate,” said Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, a national lobbying group that opposes abortion and equal rights for gays.

There was a time that the Christian right would dutifully support whatever the Republicans told them to support, including Jeb’s little brother. I take it those days are gone.

And Jeb can’t even count on his brother’s friends, the neocons.

Aren’t GOP presidential politics just great? You wake up one morning and suddenly Jeb Bush is the “anti-Israel candidate” in the Republican presidential primary field.

And this is because Jeb occasionally talks to James Baker, and James Baker is no fan of Benjamin Netanyahu. And of course it’s blasphemy on the Right these days to declare anything less than total unquestioning loyalty to Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is not to say Jeb can’t pull it off. His competition doesn’t even rise to the level of clowns; they’re more like punch lines in a lame stand-up act. A lot of insiders will still back him. He will have an endless pool of money. The media will treat him very kindly.

And then there’s this — while declaring that he is “his own man” he’s already holding fundraisers with his former President brother.  Oh, wait …


Calling Out the Press

Obama Administration

I’m ignoring Ted Cruz’s presidential bid announcement and instead will focus on something actually important. Jay Rosen analyzes how the press might cover candidates who are climate change denialists (like Cruz). Some news media (such as the New York Times) now have stated policies saying that climate change denial cannot be taken seriously and are brushing aside their usual position of not taking sides on an issue.

However, that’s not necessarily going to mean they will publicly declare that politicians like Cruz are being ridiculous. In real-world political reporting, much of the press is still falling back on treating climate change denial as a normal campaign position. Others, more cynically, treat it as a strategy — will it help or hurt them on election day? Never mind if it’s true or false.

The earth itself may have something to say here. California is drying up, you know. It’s groundwater supply is shrinking. To a large extent California feeds the rest of the nation; we depend on that one state for a whopping large percentage of our fruits and vegetables. If California becomes the next dust bowl, what will we eat? How will that affect the rest of the economy? And how quickly will Republicans blame Obama?


Explaining Away Competence


A Krugman blog post got me thinking —

Everyone in the Republican Party knows that Reagan presided over an economy that has never been equaled, before or since. When I was on TV with Rand Paul, he confidently declared

When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan …

Of course, it’s not true …

Krugman goes on to say there was better job growth during the Clinton years, and President Obama hasn’t done that badly, either. But it isn’t just Republicans who somehow think only Republicans understand the economy. Polls going way back show that The Average Voter thinks that Republicans are better on the economy (and defense, and taxes) than Democrats.

And why do so many people think that, when it demonstrably isn’t true (and it isn’t)? IMO because Republicans declare it to be so, loudly and often, and Dems don’t stand up to them about it.

Last year some Princeton economists came out with a study that showed a rather startling gap between Dem and GOP administrations in how the economy performed, going back to World War II.

“The U.S. economy not only grows faster, according to real GDP and other measures, during Democratic versus Republican presidencies, it also produces more jobs, lowers the unemployment rate, generates higher corporate profits and investment, and turns in higher stock market returns. Indeed, it outperforms under almost all standard macroeconomic metrics.”

As I said, this came out last year, and I don’t recall seeing it at the time. But the differences are not minor. There’s a bar graph at the link above showing substantial differences in economic growth between D and R administrations. But the two articles I found about this, one by Chris Matthews (the one linked above) and the other by Robert Samuelson, both go to great lengths to not give Dems credit for being better on the economy. Samuelson is particularly brilliant —

If Republican presidents were saddled with most recessions, their growth and job creation records would naturally be worse. And that’s what the Blinder-Watson study shows. Since the late 1940s, the economy has spent about 12 years in recession. But 10 of those 12 years occurred under Republican presidents; only two occurred under Democrats. On average, the economy spent slightly more than a year in recession for each Republican term and only three months for each Democratic term.

If only Republicans hadn’t been saddled with those damn recessions!

To be fair, Samuelson explains that Dems focus on job growth while Republicans focus on reducing inflation. But inflation hasn’t been a problem since the 1980s. What’s their excuse since?

Economic policies pleasurable in the present can be disastrous for the future — for example, the inflationary policies of the 1960s. Similarly, the policies that fed the economic booms of the 1990s and the early 2000s spawned overconfidence that fostered the financial crisis.

The financial crisis was caused by the Clinton boom, in other words. It’s always the Dems’ fault.


The Truth Is, the American Public Doesn’t Know What It Wants

Obama Administration

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that public opinion of the Affordable Care Act is still divided, but nearly equally so. In other words, the numbers say that roughly equal numbers of people approve and disapprove of the ACA, and the numbers who report the ACA helped them personally is roughly equal to those who say it hurt them personally.

Kaiser also reported that a majority of Americans have no clue about the King v. Burwell case and are unaware that the Supreme Court could take away exchange subsidies in 34 states.  However, when the situation is explained to them, a “majority of the public, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, says that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the result would have a negative impact on the country (62 percent) and the uninsured (57 percent).”

This suggests to me that a considerable slice of people who disapprove of the ACA think that ending the exchange subsidies would hurt the country.

When asked if Congress should pass a law “correcting” the ambiguous language in the ACA upon which King v. Burwell is based, so that all states could offer subsidies, 64 percent said yes. When it was explained to these same people that if Congress passed such a law it would be harder for Congress to make other major changes to the law, 54 percent still wanted Congress to pass a law to allow all states to get subsidies. And then when it was explained that without congressional action millions would lose insurance, plus the cost of private plans would go up for everybody, up to 77 percent said Congress should act to pass the law.

This tells me that much of the American public still hasn’t figured out exactly what “Obamacare” is and doesn’t know what it wants to do about it. This also tells me that if Republicans succeed in sabotaging the law the American public will be pissed, including a big chunk of those who say they want the law sabotaged. Because they have no freaking idea what’s going on.

Right now House Republicans are at war with each other over the budget. The defense hawks are on one side; the budget hawks are on the other side. But the budget — which calls for slashing Medicare and Medicaid spending, of course — is something of a fantasy.

Without relying on tax increases, budget writers were forced into contortions to bring the budget into balance while placating defense hawks clamoring for increased military spending. They added nearly $40 billion in “emergency” war funding to the defense budget for next year, raising military spending without technically breaking strict caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The plan contains more than $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to programs like food stamps and welfare. To make matters more complicated, the budget demands the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the tax increases that finance the health care law. But the plan assumes the same level of federal revenue over the next 10 years that the Congressional Budget Office foresees with those tax increases in place — essentially counting $1 trillion of taxes that the same budget swears to forgo.

And still, it achieves balance only by counting $147 billion in “dynamic” economic growth spurred by the policies of the budget itself. In 2024, the budget would produce a $13 billion surplus, thanks in part to $53 billion in a projected “macroeconomic impact” generated by Republican policies. That surplus would grow to $33 billion in 2025, and so would the macroeconomic impact, to $83 billion.

Plus rainbows and ponies.

Meanwhile, House Republicans have unveiled another new plan for replacing Obamacare. This is something they do every 20 days or so in order to generate headlines that they have a plan for replacing Obamacare. But their replacement plans are the stuff of rainbows and ponies also, so much so Republicans don’t believe in them, either.

In fact, the Republicans do have a health-care plan: It is to repeal Obamacare and replace it with what we had before Obamacare. They don’t want to admit that’s their plan, but it is. It’s right there, in the new budget released by House Republicans this week. …

… It’s true — Representative Tom Price has a health-care plan. Of sorts. It’s a really sketchy plan that Price has not had scored by the Congressional Budget Office, which allows it to serve the purpose of letting Republicans cite it to refute the charge that they have no plan without being held accountable for its effects. …

… The House budget illustrates the second obstacle to the adoption of a Republican health-care alternative. If Republicans wanted to replace Obamacare with Tom price’s health-care “plan,” they would include it in their budget. Tom Price probably has the clout to get his health-care plan onto the desk of the person in charge of writing the House Republican budget, who also happens to be Tom Price.

But the Price-authored budget ignores the Price health-care plan for the same reason the old Ryan budget ignored the Ryan poverty plan. It’s a thing Republicans want to say they’re for, but don’t want to make the sacrifices necessary to do it. The place where a party reconciles its competing priorities is its budget.

See above about the budget. It doesn’t rise to the level of smoke and mirrors. Your average second-grade elementary school class could write a better budget.

If SCOTUS kills the subsidies in 34 states, the one tangible thing Republicans might do is vote to continue subsidies until after the November 2016 elections, before the bulk of the American public realizes what happened. Because they have no freaking idea what’s going on.


What If They Have a Mass Shooting and Nobody Cared?

Obama Administration

Just a quick note to observe that there was a mass shooting with one fatality in Arizona today. This is making barely a ripple among the blogs, however. Granted, there was a much worse mass shooting in Tunisia today. But we seem to be getting awfully blasé about shootings.

Elsewhere, I see Bibi got re-elected. Damn.




Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh

American History, Republican Party

Well, it’s move-in day at the Zen Center (ZCNYC-Fire Lotus Temple). Exactly how long I’m going to be there is up in the air. My intention is to stay at least six months and possibly a year, but we’ll see how it goes. And where I go after that I have no idea.

Anyway, some brief comments — Tom Cotton has learned that Iran is expanding its reach in the Middle East and already controls Tehran. He’s a quick one, our Tom. See also Jeb Lund, “None Dare Call It Treason: Tom Cotton, Iran and Old GOP Ideas.”

The CPAC conference room was standing-room only, stuffy with faint sweat, hot worsted wool and heavy breathing for boilerplate comments you could have predicted before you crossed the threshold. Cotton – who looks appropriately like Anthony Perkins in Psycho – proudly likened America to Rome, an empire that slowly tore itself apart over for-profit foreign wars, external threats leveraged to drown out domestic discontent, revenue diverted from infrastructure. Listeners murmured approvingly. Cotton asserted the need to send America to war to “defend its national interests” against “trans-national terrorist groups.” By his utterly meaningless definitions, we need to fight anyone, and we need to do it anywhere, and it is our right. A thrill went through the audience.

IMO it’s important to understand neocons and other reactionary hawks as pro-active isolationists. Oldstyle isolationists just wanted the outside world to stay out, and maybe go away. Pro-active isolationists will not rest until anything “outside” has been either forced into assimilation or destroyed. They’re something like the Borg, in other words.

Lund goes on to review the history of right-wing obstruction of U.S. foreign policy interests, from the 1930s Neutrality Acts to Richard Nixon’s sabotage of Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to negotiate a peace in Vietnam. And there is a review of Iran-Contra and the lie campaign that stampeded America into invading Iraq. And the fact that nobody ever is held accountable for any of this, and indeed, most of the voting public doesn’t really understand what was done, anyway.  Lund concludes,

In its Constitutional idolatry and boundless bellicosity, Cotton’s Republican Party has arrogated to itself the presumption that anything it does is explicitly American. The normative conditions of patriotism are whatever they want to do at any given moment, because only they have the courage to defend you from enemies abroad with guns and enemies at home via a fundamentalist reading of the texts and hadith of Our Founding Prophets (which, conveniently, also mentions guns). Anything outside their chosen agenda is met with the word no, which is the finest distillation of their agenda for anyone other than their own.

This prospective nuclear deal with Iran merely creates a shredded barbecue plate of corpses and the idea of America as commonwealth of disparate voices represented in equal strength. Government is not allowed to function when it disagrees with Cotton, because he not only considers government’s existence indivisible from his ideology but also because the Constitution in his reading explicitly demands that he do this. You cannot chasten a man who believes by the word of his holiest texts that this is his job. And his job, as written, is to advise and consent. On Iran, his message is clear. His advice is to stop, and you do not have his consent, which reifies not only the illegitimacy of your actions but the holy writ of his own. Without his consent, you cannot have anything at all, except a potential nuclear clash of messianic visions of world order. In which case – to quote the previous president’s nuanced address to the same enemies foreign and domestic – bring it on.

It’s also election day in Israel, and while Netenyahu’s Likud party is likely to lose he likely will be able to put together a coalition that will allow him to keep his position as Prime Minister. A pity.


Adventures in Zen


With apologies for my absence — I’m about to begin a long-term residency training program at the Zen Center of New York City in Brooklyn, and preparations have been daunting. I’ve sold, donated or discarded most of my stuff and moved what’s left into a self-storage place, and Tuesday I’ll move into the Zen Center. Right now Sadie Awful Bad Cat and I are staying with my daughter in Brooklyn, where Sadie will live here for at least a few months. She is already pretty much in charge.

I don’t anticipate this will affect Mahablog much. One of the reasons I chose this particular place is that it allows people free time to do other work or even hold an outside job, so once I’ve settled in I’ll have plenty of writing time. This coming week blogging may be a bit sparse, though.

Meantime, be sure to read “A Christian Nation? Since When?” by Kevin Kruse in the New York Times. It explains a lot.

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