Ferguson

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Obama Administration

I did tune in to watch part of the announcement of the Michael Brown shooting decision last night. Although I wasn’t expecting otherwise, the announcement was such an obvious exercise in ass covering I changed channels before they got to the official announcement. Some politicians need to do a better job of faking sincerity.

Charles Pierce wrote,

Right from the beginning, when Governor Jay Nixon refused to name a special prosecutor and left the case in the hands of Bob McCulloch, the greasy and hopelessly conflicted local district attorney, this case was headed for the biggest public fix since the 1919 World Series. The people in Ferguson knew it. The police knew it. Even Nixon knew it; he declared a state of emergency a week before the grand jury’s decision was handed down. McCulloch simply abandoned his duties as a prosecutor and dumped the evidence on the members if the grand jury without giving them any direction at all. Both of them relied, tacitly, on the fact that they knew the benefits they all would get of the thousand doubts that we give to the people we empower to take another person’s life — “under the color of law,” as the legal jargon has it, and in this case that couldn’t be more ironic.

See also Betty Cracker’s comments on witness # 40.

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Texas Textbooks Up the Crazy

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Obama Administration

The infamous Texas textbook adoption committee has just approved new social studies books for the state’s public schools.

Critics said that some of the government and world history textbooks, for example, exaggerate the influence of biblical figures — such as Moses and Solomon — on the nation’s founding and Western political tradition. A few of the books include material that critics said  undermines the constitutional concept of the separation of church and state. They say some world geography textbooks give short shrift to the role that conquest played in the spread of humanity while at the same time negatively portraying Islam and Muslims. Others criticized some of the books as being too sympathetic to Muslims, revealing the spectrum of political views among the critics.

I don’t know how much of these claims are accurate:

Christian conservatives win, children lose: Texas textbooks will teach public school students that the Founding Fathers based the Constitution on the Bible, and the American system of democracy was inspired by Moses.

On Friday the Republican-controlled Texas State Board of Education voted along party lines 10-5 to approve the biased and inaccurate textbooks. The vote signals a victory for Christian conservatives in Texas, and a disappointing defeat for historical accuracy and the education of innocent children.

The textbooks were written to align with instructional standards that the Board of Education approved back in 2010 with the explicit intention of forcing social studies teaching to adhere to a conservative Christian agenda. The standards require teachers to emphasize America’s so called “Christian heritage.”

In essence, Christian conservatives in Texas have successfully forced a false historical narrative into public school textbooks that portray Moses as an influence on the Constitution and the Old Testament as the root of democracy.

On the bright side, apparently some passages denying climate change were toned down.

Also I found it interesting that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt pulled out of the review process at the last minute.

According to the latest documents posted publicly, the publisher declined to make changes in its government textbook that would add greater coverage of Judeo-Christian influence — including Moses — on America’s founding fathers.

A Houghton Mifflin representative said the company decided to remove the book, which did not meet all Texas curriculum standards, from the state’s process because the text was designed for a national market.

I wish I still had contacts in the textbook industry. I’m guessing that HMH decided that publishing a Texas-only edition wasn’t profitable enough to bother about. Otherwise they’d probably give Texas whatever it wanted.

For years publishers have been cranking out Texas editions in a way that required a simple black plate change on the presses. In other words, usually the national and Texas editions looked identical, page for page, but here and there “national” text was swapped out and replaced by Texas-specific text when required. Or, in some cases, a blank space in the national edition would be filled by Texas-specific text in the Texas edition. But this can only be done if the differences between the Texas and national edition are minor. If the differences require the Texas edition to have its own page layouts and features, the cost of cranking out a separate edition go up quite a bit, and HMH must have decided the textbooks would be unsalable in other states.

However, I also understand that textbook publishers are phasing out the big honking expensive textbook series that I used to produce and moving toward providing digital content, making boutique textbooks a lot more affordable.

The textbook industry these days is pretty much dominated by just three companies — Harcourt Houghton Mifflin, McGraw Hill and Pearson — so one of them deciding to not play the Texas textbook committee’s games is pretty significant.

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Capture the Agency!

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Obama Administration

The “capture” of federal regulatory agencies by industry insiders has been going on for awhile and is one of the several hundred reasons government doesn’t work for the people any more. It peaked during the Bush II Administration, in which Dubya and Co. pretty much invited industry insiders to regulate themselves and even write laws benefiting themselves.

Early on President Obama’s choices for regulatory agency heads were a big improvement. But for most of his administration Republicans have cut funding for regulatory agencies and were able to block many appointments until Harry Reid dropped the nuclear option in the Senate a year ago.  I believe some agencies are still without heads, though.

But dang if the House hasn’t kicked agency capturing up a notch. It passed a bill that would — get this — restrict scientists from testifying on their own research to the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, but would pave the way for corporate paid shills experts to testify instead. Lindsay Abrams writes,

The bill is being framed as a play for transparency: Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, arguedthat the board’s current structure is problematic because it  “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” The inclusion of industry experts, he said, would right this injustice.

But the White House, which threatened to veto the bill, said it would “negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.”

In what might be the most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest. “In other words,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists director Andrew A. Rosenberg in an editorial for RollCall, “academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”

President Obama is threatening to veto this bill if it gets past the Senate. If he does, watch the Fox News bloviators scream about the President stifling science. See also House Republicans Pass Yet Another Underhanded Attack on Science.

Republicans are forever telling us they are not scientists.

For now, “I’m not a scientist” is what one party adviser calls “a temporary Band-Aid” — a way to avoid being called a climate change denier but also to sidestep a dilemma. The reality of campaigning is that a politician who acknowledges that burning coal and oil contributes to global warming must offer a solution, which most policy experts say should be taxing or regulating carbon pollution and increasing government spending on alternative energy. But those ideas are anathema to influential conservative donors like the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and the advocacy group they support, Americans for Prosperity.

We’re perpetually being told the two major parties are just alike, but while the Dems have their flaws, I can’t see them doing anything this blatantly corrupt.

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Dem Jellyfish Syndrome

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Democratic Party, Obama Administration

The 2012 Democratic convention, with its ringing calls for economic populism and commitment to civil liberties, had me persuaded that Dems had finally grown spines. But now, reflecting on the midterm loss, it seems they’re reverted to being invertebrates again.

After the midterms a great many people pointed out that the Dem candidates who lost often were the ones who ran furthest and fastest from President Obama’s record. Of course, we’re told over and over again that President Obama is “unpopular.” And why is that? Jeff Schweitzer wrote shortly after the election that public perceptions of the Obama Administration have been painted by Republicans and often bear little resemblance to, you know, what the Administration actually is doing.

But I can’t lay blame just on those lying weasel Republicans, because the Obama Administration itself has failed to connect with people and make the case for its own accomplishments. This is partly because the Dems lack the media infrastructure the Right has built, and partly because the allegedly leftist media still allows right-wing voices to dominate talk shows and opinion pages. But it’s also the case that Dems turn into jellyfish way too easily.

Kevin Baker writes,

Today’s Democratic Party, with its finely calibrated, top-down fixes, does not offer anything so transformative. It seems scared of its own shadow, which is probably why it keeps reassuring itself that its triumph is inevitable. It needs instead to fully acknowledge just how devastating the recession was for working people everywhere in America, and what a generation of largely flat wages did to their aspirations even before that. It needs to take on hard fights, even against powerful forces, like pharmaceutical and insurance companies that presume to tell us the limits of what our health care can be or energy companies that would tell us what the world’s climate can endure. It means carving out a place of respect for working men and women in our globalized, finance-driven world.

Invite us to dream a little. You don’t build an enduring coalition out of who Americans are. You do it out of what we can be.

It may be that the GOP’s only message is to scare people to death, but at least it has a message.

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War on Christmas: Lock and Load

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Obama Administration

Sorry I’ve been absent; I’m hysterically busy these days. I’m cross-posting something I just wrote on my religion blog, so here’s something.

The Christmas television commercials preceded Halloween this year, and I see some of my neighbors have their Christmas decorations up already.

Yes, folks, the annual War on Christmas season has begun.

At Patheos, Zen teacher and Unitarian Universalist minister James Ford writes “Why I’m Afraid of Christians: Or the Briefest Meditation on Wishing Happy Holidays to All.”

There is something hanging in the back of my mind when living in a country dominated by a group of people who have an ideology that puts me at the moment of my death firmly into the fires of hell for, well, forever. And it’s hard not to be vaguely aware of how easy a step it is from seeing someone as firewood in the future to seeing one as killable in the present tense.

Of course, it isn’t the only example of this latent threat of violence. Politicians decrying that atheists can vote comes to mind, too. Pandering to the religious majority, with just a hint of violence in the air. Just a hint. And personally I don’t see much different in the historical rhetoric of jihad and crusade.

But the constant declarations today of people in the religious majority lamenting how they’ve been put upon by having to share space with people of other religions or none is the really scary thing. Violence against religious minorities is a once, and I see no reason to think not, a future thing.

How likely is it that reactionary Christians in the U.S. might become violent? Violence linked to religion is on the rise around the world, according to the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project. Is it possible religious violence might increase in the U.S. as well?

This may seem unlikely, but do see “Rumblings of Theocratic Violence” by Frederick Clarkson. Clarkson documents that there is indeed a large and well-connected subculture of extreme Christians in the U.S. who are calling for armed insurrection against the government. Some of these extremists are forging ties with the neo-confederate movement and forming paramilitary units.

As I wrote in Rethinking Religion, “religious” violence often is about something else and is just packaged as religion. What we’re seeing around the world is a lot of right-wing reactionism pushing back against cultural change and modernity generally, and for some reason right-wing reactionism these days likes to dress itself up as religion. Hence, a rise in what appears to be “religious” violence.

But there are two qualities found in most violent mass movements that need to be understood —

Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both. — Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951)

I propose in Rethinking Religion that fervent belief in a holy cause — which doesn’t necessarily have to be religious — by itself doesn’t usually drive people into violence. A holy cause combined with a fanatical grievance, however, will do nicely. If you look at violent groups around the world today, I believe you will see they all harbor fanatical grievances. In their minds, they have been wronged and abused and are entitled to payback.

The last couple of posts, “’Religious Violence’ Isn’t Just Religious” and “The Christian Right’s Pitiful Rearguard Action” both discuss the way the U.S. religious Right cherishes a belief in its own martyrdom, and that holding them to the same anti-discrimination laws as everyone else amounts to discrimination against them. And this is what makes them dangerous. The stronger their sense of fanatical grievance, the more dangerous they are likely to become.

I’m not saying the U.S. religious Right is going to become as extremely dangerous as ISIS. The provocations are not quite so strong — we haven’t experienced war here since 1865, and have not suffered occupying foreign powers. But I think the threat they pose is real, and it’s a big reason their increasingly hysterical screams of martyrdom have me concerned.

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Yesterday Was Armistice Day

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Armistice Day, holiday

This is being noted a day late, but it makes some good points — Why doesn’t the US observe Armistice Day? We’re more comfortable with war than peace.

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It’s Armistice Day

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blogging

2014 marks 100 years from the start of World War I, btw.

Here are a couple of good articles to keep you going while I’m doing other things —

Josh Marshall, “Forget the Chatter, This is the Democrats’ Real Problem

Edwin Lyngar, “I was a conservative coward: How the midterms evoked my past of shame, terror and Fox News

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Great Moments in Journalism

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News Media

Over the weekend Breitbart scooped the world with the earth-shattering news that Loretta Lynch, who has been nominated to replace Eric Holder as AG, had defended the Clintons in the Whitewater investigation. Cue right-wing feeding frenzy.

However, however, the Whitewater Loretta Lynch was a different Loretta Lynch.

True to form, Breitbart issued a non-correction correction, since taken down but captured for posterity at TPM.

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Appeals Court Reinstates Same-Sex Marriage Bans

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Family Issues, Social Issues, Supreme Court, The Constitution

Yesterday a federal appeals court in Cincinnati reversed lower-court decisions that voided same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

I believe this is the first genuine break in the streak of court decisions that have struck down same-sex marriage bans. Just yesterday I ran into a list of 22 states in which either federal courts or state supreme courts had voided such bans. The site Freedom to Marry keeps an updated account of where marriage equality stands in the states. Same-sex marriage currently is legal in 32 states, and courts had cleared the way for marriage equality in several other states.

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog has the most detailed account of yesterday’s decision, by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, I’ve seen so far. The primary difference between yesterday’s decisions and the previous ones is that the Sixth Circuit upheld the states’ sovereignty on matters of marriage, and said federal courts had no bearing to countermand a state decision on marriage. The Sixth also said there is no right to marry. And this sets up an interesting contrast in legal thought.

As I understand it, some of the judges who have struck down the bans view marriage as a right of U.S. citizens that states cannot infringe. Others (see especially Judge Richard Poster’s very readable argument) basically say that the states’ reasons for banning same-sex marriage are irrational and blatantly discriminatory. Judge Posner wrote,

To return to where we started in this opinion, more than unsupported conjecture that same-sex marriage will harm heterosexual marriage or children or any other valid and important interest of a state is necessary to justify discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

As we have been at pains to explain, the grounds advanced by Indiana and Wisconsin for their discriminatory policies are not only conjectural; they are totally implausible.

The Sixth Circuit decision directly disagrees with Posner on some points. Posner said that “tradition” per se carries no weight, that delaying to change laws because there may be some unforeseen bad consequence to the law is not a valid excuse, and that there is no evidence children are harmed by being raised by same-sex parents. The Sixth apparently disagrees with all of those points, saying the states have a legitimate role in protecting children and that states have a right to “wait and see’ what happens elsewhere before enacting a change themselves. Also unlike Posner, the Sixth denied there was any evidence the law was based on animus to homosexuals.

Of course not. And jokes involving the President and watermelons are not racist. Sure.

Lyle Denniston writes that the Sixth also denies that homosexuals are a “discrete class deserving of special constitutional protection as historic targets of discrimination.”

The most obviously flimsy part of this decision is that it also denies that states have any obligation to recognize same-sex marriages of other states, which seems to me to fly right in the face of the Full Faith and Credit clause of Article IV Section 1.

Several articles today say that this decision almost certainly sets up a Supreme Court test. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had already said awhile back that if the Sixth upheld the bans, bring it on, dudes. Well, not those exact words. How the Court might decide is uncertain, especially after the U.S. v. Windsor decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (5-4, Usual Suspects with Kennedy swinging toward the liberals). I can see Justice Roberts having to decide which outcome would stir up the bigger hornets’ nest.

Update: Kenneth Jost, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetwon, rips the Sixth Circuit Court’s decision apart, and says the badly argued decision may prove to be a “blessing in disguise” for advocates of marriage equality.

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Politics of the Id

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elections, Obama Administration, Republican Party

I avoided political news yesterday, but this morning I bit the bullet and took a look at a few postmortems. I think Charles Pierce comes closest:

I think it was contemplating the fact that both Sam Brownback and Paul LePage both may have survived as governors that was the last straw for me tonight. Brownback has wrecked his state. Even Kansas Republicans believe that. LePage is a local embarrassment who became a national embarrassment in the final days before the election. Even Maine Republicans believe that. But Brownback will go back to wrecking his state, and LePage will go back to embarrassing his because of an attitude that Republicans, and the conservative movement that has powered the party, have cultivated carefully over the last three decades. They have engaged, quite deliberately and quite successfully, in a concerted effort to convince the country that self-government is a game for suckers. Nobody does what they say they’re going to do, so ignore the fact that our candidates have drifted so far to the right that they’ll be falling into the Thames any minute now because they’re not going to act on their fringe beliefs, and just go out there and vote your Id. Once you’ve divorced the act of voting from the conviction that voting will have any connection to what the government actually does, voters do not vote their desires, they vote their anger and their fear. And Sam Brownback goes back to wrecking his state and Paul LePage goes back to embarrassing his own.

Seriously, if we’d all taken a drink every time some election night bobblehead declared voters were tired of “politics as usual” or “fed up with Washington” we’d still be passed out. The bare-assed facts of the results would suggest that voters want more of the same. They want more wreckage, more gridlock, more drama, more stagnation. Except, they probably really don’t. They’re probably mostly really disgusted. So they vote for the candidate who personifies their disgust. As Pierce says, they are voting their Id. That’s the only explanation that makes sense.

Also, too:

Let us dispense with some conventional wisdom before it petrifies. First of all, the president’s basic unpopularity was unquestionably a factor, but not anywhere near as much of a factor as was the reluctance of the Democratic party — from the president on down — to embrace the actual successes that the administration has achieved. The economy is, in fact, improving. It is the responsibility of the president and his party that we have the paradoxical polling that indicates that the elements of the Affordable Care Act are popular, while “Obamacare” is not. (Mitch McConnell told a transparent lie that Kentucky could get rid of the ACA and still keep its very popular state exchange. He didn’t suffer at all for that.) The senatorial candidates who lost were senators who ran away from the administration.

I think President Obama’s single biggest mistake as President is that he has allowed himself to become too remote. It seems to me we don’t see as much of him as we have seen past POTUSes while in office. He’s a likeable guy, and while I don’t always agree with him he’s turned the economy around quite a bit and considerably lowered the deficit. How many Americans actually know President Obama has reduced the deficit? I’d be willing to bet real money that if you stopped people randomly in the street and asked them whether the deficit has gone up or down under Obama, 99 out of 100 would say “up.”

And, of course, a lot of the reason for this is that news media don’t inform the public of anything the public needs to know about their government. All we ever hear is the spin. News for the Id.

Second, I think it’s generally true that Democratic politicians campaigning for higher offices now probably started their political careers in the 80s or 90s or early 00. They learned that the way to succeed is to not stick their necks out for progressivism. So their don’t offer a real contrast to the Republican candidates except for seeming, well blander. No Id appeal. Combine that with apparently successful voter suppression efforts, and there’s nothing to stop the Republicans from swamping the ship of state.

Last, and I hate to break this to Tom Brokaw, and to Kasie Hunt, who talked about how the Republicans know they have to “govern,” but this election couldn’t have been less of a repudiation of the Tea Party.

That’s the other howler we heard over and over election night — the GOP establishment prevailed; the Tea Party has been leashed. Seems kind of the other way around to me.

Now the bobbleheads are putting on their best suits and telling us in their polished and resonate baritones that the Republicans will have to govern. No, they don’t, and they have no intention of doing so. In fact, The Editors of National Review have declared governing to be a trap. The reasons, boiled down, are these:

  1. Governing may require compromise which may require giving Democrats something they want.
  2. If we attempt to pass legislation Democrats will just obstruct us, doing to us what we did to them. The nerve.
  3. If we actually do something it might piss off the Tea Party.
  4. If government actually started working while a Democrat is in the White House, voters might elect another Democrat in 2016.
  5. Because of the four reasons above, instead of trying to pass legislation that would require compromises with Democrat and which might not be vetoed by a Democratic President, we should focus on what we will be able to accomplish after 2016 when we are in complete control.

Seriously, look for yourself. That’s what they’re saying.

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