Poor Little Rich Big Shot

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Republican Party

We can only hope … 

A judge in Las Vegas has ruled that a lawsuit involving accusations of graft and organised crime ties to casinos owned by the multibillionaire and Republican party funder, Sheldon Adelson, will be heard in the US.

The decision raises the prospect of Adelson facing difficult questions about his business practices following allegations by a former chief executive of his highly profitable casinos in the Chinese enclave of Macau that a well-known triad crime figure was used to bring in high-rolling gamblers and of influence peddling with Chinese officials.

The case potentially has implications for Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands casinos because evidence of ties to criminal organisations could cost them their gaming licences.

It could also have a bearing on the 81-year-old billionaire’s considerable political influence. He is estimated to have spent $150m in a failed bid to secure a Republican victory over Barack Obama in the last presidential election and is being vigorously courted by Republican candidates in the next race.

Basically, Sheldon’s being accused of being mixed up with Chinese organized crime. If I were a suspicious sort of person I’d wonder if money from Chinese gangsters and corrupt Chinese government officials are ending up influencing our elections.

As John Cole says, “Will be fun watching the people hyperventilating about the Clinton Foundation rush to this scumbag’s defense.”

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Taxing the Poor

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Republican Party

The mostly Republican state government of Kansas is certain that people who receive food stamps and other assistance are lazy moochers who throw the taxpayers’ money away. For that reason, the destitute of Kansas can no longer  use their benefit debit card on cruise ships or at movie theaters. But the greater indignity is that they are limited to a $25 a day cash withdrawal.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of this action. Many households without enough money to maintain a minimum balance in a conventional checking account will pay their rent and their utility bills in cash. A single mother with two children seeking to withdraw just $200 in cash could incur $30 or more in fees, which is a big chunk of the roughly $400 such a family would receive under the program in Kansas. …

… Since most banking machines are stocked only with $20 bills, the $25 limit is effectively a $20 limit. A family seeking to withdraw even $200 in cash would have to visit an ATM 10 times a month, a real burden for a parent who might not have a car and might not live in a neighborhood where ATMs are easy to find.

The Kansas legislators and governor think that poor people can’t budget. They should look to themselves.

Update: See Kansas keeps on bleeding: Sam Brownback’s tax-cut miracle still hasn’t arrived, and won’t any time soon.

This is what Sam Brownback, Art Laffer and the state Republican Party have turned Kansas into: an economic policy trash fire that channels all the benefits to the top, produces no shared prosperity, is bankrupting the state, and deliberately makes the lives of the less fortunate even more difficult. But don’t worry, they say, just be patient – the economic miracle is just around the corner.

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Same Old Crazy

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Obama Administration

Every day I cruise around news sites until something pisses me off, and then I blog about it. Today I think I’m either too jaded or too mellow to be pissed off. And one of those is just as likely as the other.

Anything pissing you off today?

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The Road to Victory (Theirs and Ours)

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Republican Party

You may not be aware of this, but for years American conservatives have been supremely confident they will own the future because they are out-breeding liberals. Seriously. There is data floating around in the ether that says conservatives have 41 percent more babies than liberals, so it is just a matter of time before there are so many more conservatives than liberals that we will be squashed like bugs on the bathroom floor of history. See, for example:

There seems to be a glitch, however:

The GOP Is Dying Off. Literally.

The party’s core is dying off by the day.

Since the average Republican is significantly older than the average Democrat, far more Republicans than Democrats have died since the 2012 elections. To make matters worse, the GOP is attracting fewer first-time voters. Unless the party is able to make inroads with new voters, or discover a fountain of youth, the GOP’s slow demographic slide will continue election to election. Actuarial tables make that part clear, but just how much of a problem for the GOP is this?

Since it appears that no political data geek keeps track of voters who die between elections, I took it upon myself to do some basic math. And that quick back-of-the-napkin math shows that the trend could have a real effect in certain states, and make a battleground states like Florida and Ohio even harder for the Republican Party to capture.

Something seems not to be adding up here. Conservatives cite many studies that say most children grow up to reflect their parents political views, so most of those conservative babies ought to grow up to be Republican voters.

Other studies say it isn’t that simple, and in fact, the more rigidly parents try to impose views on their children the more likely the children will rebel when they get older. In any event, it appears the breeding program is failing to fill its quota of new Republican voters.

A lot of the rebelling takes place during the college years, when the suffocated offspring of die-hard ideologues leave home and can breath on their own. This may be why conservatives hate and fear higher education.  (See also Why does the GOP hate college?)

I came across an old column by Dennis Prager complaining that universities are turning fine conservative children into liberal reprobates.  In it I found this paragraph:

So it is sad when a parent who believes, for example, in the American trinity of “Liberty,” “In God We Trust,” and “E Pluribus Unum” has a child who believes that equality trumps liberty, that a secular America is preferable to a God-centered one, and that multiculturalism should replace the unifying American identity.

For the life of me, I can’t think of any way that equality displaces liberty. Kind of the opposite, in fact; without equality, liberty tends to be rationed. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, y’all. And why do I suspect that the “unifying American identity” is supposed to be white? Hmmm.

That takes us to a big, fat fly in the right-wing ointment — in another generation or so, whites will no longer be a majority in America. And the GOP has done a bang-up job alienating nonwhites and running them out of the party. The strategy of keeping Congress through racial gerrymandering is, it appears, not sustainable.

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Get Used to It, Texas

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Obama Administration

Nine are dead after a gunfight broke out in a busy restaurant in Waco, Texas.

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Now They Agree With Us

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Obama Administration

You’ll be glad to know that, twelve years too late, even most Republican presidential candidates agree the Iraq War was a mistake.

Politicians hoping to be president rarely run ahead of public opinion. So it’s a revealing moment when the major contenders for president in both parties find it best to say that 4,491 Americans and countless Iraqis lost their lives in a war that shouldn’t have been waged.

Even Mo Dowd has seen the light.

It is simply not true, as Republican presidential aspirant Scott Walker said on Friday, that “any president would have likely taken the same action Bush did with the information he had.”

That’s not giving enough credit to W. and his frothing band of Reservoir Dogs.

It took a Herculean effort of imagination, manipulation and deception to concoct “the information” that propelled the invasion, occupation and destruction of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

And tell us what you wrote back then to clarify matters, Mo. I’m having a hard time remembering.

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Doug’s in the Washington Post!

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Obama Administration

Here you go, folks — I flew a gyrocopter onto the Capitol Lawn to save our democracy.

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The Smarter Brother?

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Iraq War, Republican Party, The Smarter Brother

Has Jeb been having a bad week, or what? It started with Roger Simon asking if he’d been dropped on his head as a child. Today Karl Rove gingerly tip-toed around endorsing him. Gail Collins flat-out said Jeb Bush is awful.

What seems to have slipped out is that Jeb may be just as dim as his older brother George. If we hadn’t realized that before, it’s possibly because Jeb never affected a dopey Texas accent or an idiot-child smirk and learned to chew his food with his mouth closed. Otherwise …

Jeb Disaster Week began on Monday, when this happened on Fox News —

Megyn Kelly: Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?
Jeb Bush: I would’ve. And so would’ve Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would’ve almost everybody who was confronted with the intelligence they got.

I should mention that this was shortly after Jeb was reported to have told private financiers that brother George was his go-to guy on Middle East matters.

Phillip Bump provides us with the Fox News statement and all of the subsequent walkbacks and clarifications. Jeb said he hadn’t heard the question correctly, which is possible, and he thought he was being asked if going into Iraq was the right decision at the time. But even if that’s what he meant, (a) it wasn’t [*]; and (b) he then goes on and on about how the reason Iraq didn’t turn out so well was that mistakes were made after the invasion.

As the week went on, Jeb went from yes to maybe to who knows? Finally, yesterday, he said at a town hall meeting that knowing what we know now, he would not have invaded Iraq.

Many have already expressed astonishment that Jeb wasn’t better prepared for this question. Gail Collins:

The bottom line is that so far he seems to be a terrible candidate. He couldn’t keep his “I’m-my-own-man” mantra going through the spring. He over-babbled at a private gathering. He didn’t know how to answer the Iraq question, which should have been the first thing he tackled on the first day he ever considered that he might someday think for even a minute about running for president.

See also:

His dayslong bobble became the talk of Republican politics, from the campaign trail in Nevada to Washington. A group of Republican senators meeting this week on Capitol Hill were nearly incredulous that Mr. Bush did not have a better answer and joked about how many press aides he needed to respond to such a basic matter, according to a party strategist who heard the conversation.

“Jeb’s curb appeal was supposed to be experience, pedigree and smarts, and therefore ready to lead,” said one Republican senator, who insisted on anonymity to speak candidly about a presidential hopeful. “These kinds of statements plant him squarely in the middle of the primary pack — with G.O.P. voters unsure of exactly what political lessons he truly has learned.”

FYI, this week’s Fox News poll shows Jeb Bush tied for first place for the GOP nomination with Dr. Ben Carson. Walker, Huckabee and Rubio round out the top five.

Today Paul Krugman weighed in on Jeb’s Very Bad Week, and here’s just a bit:

Incredibly, Mr. Bush resorted to the old passive-voice dodge, admitting only that “mistakes were made.” Indeed. By whom? Well, earlier this year Mr. Bush released a list of his chief advisers on foreign policy, and it was a who’s-who of mistake-makers, people who played essential roles in the Iraq disaster and other debacles.

Seriously, consider that list, which includes such luminaries as Paul Wolfowitz, who insisted that we would be welcomed as liberators and that the war would cost almost nothing, and Michael Chertoff, who as director of the Department of Homeland Security during Hurricane Katrina was unaware of the thousands of people stranded at the New Orleans convention center without food and water.

In Bushworld, in other words, playing a central role in catastrophic policy failure doesn’t disqualify you from future influence. If anything, a record of being disastrously wrong on national security issues seems to be a required credential.

It’s possible Jeb’s campaign can survive, but Jeb wasn’t just supposed to be the smarter brother; he was the “serious” candidate, the one who didn’t come across as a refugee from Barnum and Bailey. I wonder how much attention he’s paid to the national mood since he left the Florida governor’s office in 2007. Has he spent the last eight years locked in a time capsule? Or was he never that sharp to begin with?

Update: Josh Marshall writes,

It is one of the key features of early 21st century political campaigns and political life in general that every political figure requires a chorus of dedicated partisans who lay down the equivalent of covering fire in their leader’s defense. Sometimes this happens with a political figure who attracts intense loyalty. But that’s seldom required. Partisans on both sides of the political divide will generally rush to the defense of almost any political figure on their team, even if the person isn’t terribly well liked or even if they’re getting grief for something that is pretty hard to defend. …  In a highly partisan, polarized political world having a chorus of defenders, with a set list of arguments and slogans is critical to survival.

Through all of this though, almost no one is standing up for Jeb or putting together arguments, no matter how silly, in his defense. He’s out there swinging in the wind, totally alone. We know that Bush is not well loved by Movement Conservatives or Tea Partiers. So in one sense this isn’t terribly surprising. But somehow there’s more to it than that. His lack of any defenders is unique to him.

On the other hand, Jeb has raised a ton of cash from the “traditional Republican donor class.” So he’s likely to stay in the race until the end, win or lose.

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[*] See Paul Waldman, The Myth of Faulty Intelligence

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The Decline of Christianity?

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Religion

Yesterday the Pew Religion and Public Life organization released results of a survey showing that the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Christians has dropped quite a bit since 2007, from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. As has been reported in previous surveys, most of this change has come from a decrease in the ranks of “mainline” Protestants and Catholics and an increase in “nones,” or people with no religious affiliation. This is a trend that’s been going on for a few decades. There also has been a 1.2 percent increase in non-Christian religions and a 1.5 percent increase in self-identified atheists.

The percentage of evangelicals has dropped by less than one percentage point, however, while their numbers have actually gone up a tad. So, while the percentage of Americans who are Christian is shrinking, the remaining “pool” of Christians is more conservative. IMO this is not a healthy development.

 Christianity Today argues, perhaps with justification, that “nominal” Christians — people who really aren’t religious but self-identify as “Christian” if asked — are now the “nones,” and the percentage of “convictional” Christians remains the same. Nothing has changed, CT says. However, this doesn’t explain why there’s been such a hemorrhage from the older Protestant denominations but not so much from evangelicalism. The author also admits that even evangelicalism is losing ground.

On the other hand, I’ve seen commentary from atheists crowing about the triumph of atheism. They want to claim the “nones,” or most of ‘em anyway, as their own. But Pew has said of “nones,”

… the unaffiliated are not wholly secular. Substantial portions of the unaffiliated – particularly among those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” – say they believe in God or a universal spirit. … The unaffiliated are about as likely as others in the general public to believe in reincarnation, astrology and the evil eye. And they are only slightly more likely to believe in yoga as a spiritual practice and in spiritual energy located in physical things such as mountains, trees and crystals.

The picture of the “nones” presented by Pew shows that they just aren’t keenly interested in religion, one way or another, and haven’t given it much thought, but are about as likely to believe in ghosts or homeopathy as anyone else. Atheists who are now celebrating the dawn of the New Age of Reason are being a tad premature.

And here I could insert something about whether disinterest in religion really is the same thing as atheism. An atheist is one who has decided there is no God, although he may pay lip service to having an open mind about it if “evidence” should emerge. My sense of things is that a “none” might think there could be a God someplace but that God just isn’t a big concern.

The other question raised by the survey results is the extent to which the rise of the Religious Right is causing the decline of Christianity overall. Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has been arguing for years that if fundamentalists are allowed to define Christianity and determine how the Bible is interpreted, it will eventually cause intelligent people to desert Christianity. And, according to Pew, the “nones” on average are better educated than the “remains.”

IMO Christianity has an image problem. For the past few decades, lazy or clueless media outlets, television producers in particular, have allowed only right-wing Christians to speak for Christianity in mass media. Much of this goes back to the 1970s and 1980s. Political operatives like Paul Weyrich recruited right-wing ministers like Jerry Falwell to help promote conservative causes. And the Right actively promoted its stable of “approved” Christian spokespeople to the television producers, so that when some talk show needed a guest to present the “Christian” or “religious” perspective, someone like Falwell would get the call.

This was never more obvious than during the Terri Sciavo circus, when it seemed all the bobblehead programs on all the networks exclusively booked right-wing Christian ministers to speak for “religion.” Per mass media, “religion” was opposed to taking Sciavo off life support.

But religion did not speak with one voice on this issue. Ministers, rabbis, theologians, etc., could have argued on well-founded religious grounds that removing the feeding tube was the moral thing to do, under the circumstances. And, in fact, many members of the clergy said this publicly. But from what I saw the television producers simply didn’t ask not-fundamentalist religious people into the studios.

It’s hardly surprising that Christianity is losing support, when its most visible public representatives are the likes of Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson, and the Duck Dynasty guy.

It will be interesting to see if the popularity of Pope Francis bolsters American Catholicism. Long-term, we ought to be able to look forward to a more secular society. It’s also possible that major shifts in religious institutions could eventually lead to a kind of New Reformation; the old order will break up and be replaced by something else — hopefully something less stupid.

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Only the Shadow Knows, I Guess

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Obama Administration

Our intensive retreat ended yesterday, but now I have a nasty cold and don’t want to do anything. But I’ll write something.

Today’s buzz is about the new Sy Hersh book, which claims that the “official” story of how Osama bin Laden was found and killed is a cover up for another story, that some Pakistani officials arranged for bin Laden to be offed, and the whole story of the super secret dangerous special ops raid was just for show.

And I confess I haven’t read the Sy Hersh piece in the London Review of Books, mostly because I feel crappy. The basic theory is that because we don’t know absolutely everything about everything, with access to all evidence, there must be a cover up, and Hersh’s account seems compelling to some.  Glenn Greenwald, Marcy Wheeler and the FireDogLake crew have more or less embraced Hersh’s narrative. The crew at Vox say that Hersh’s book is riddled with inconsistencies, and its sourcing is more than flimsy. For what it’s worth, journalists and Middle East experts have expressed huge doubts about Hersh’s claims. I’ll let you guys make up your own minds about it.

The Hersh story poses some surprising difficulties for the Right.  Part of Hersh’s claim is that the “official narrative” was crafted to make it appear use of torture helped bring bin Laden down, when in fact Pakistan knew where he was all along and handed him up on a plate for some quid pro quo. So if they embrace Hersh’s story, the righties have to admit “enhanced interrogation” was useless.

However, I doubt many of them will spin their wheels over this point. Righties are champs at maintaining hugely contradictory beliefs. Who needs consistency? It will be no problem at all for them to believe that the Osama bin Laden raid was a fabrication, but even so the raid proved that torture works. But, frankly, I never bought the claim that the “official” raid story supports torture.

In other news: Somebody shot George Zimmerman. He doesn’t seem to be seriously injured.

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