Lame Duck Trolling and Cuba

Obama Administration, Republican Party

For a lot of reasons many of you already brought up, there’s no downside to normalizing relations with Cuba. The old policy certainly did nothing to weaken Castro or set the people of Cuba free. Business interests in the U.S. welcome the change; Gulf Coast states especially could benefit. And, of course, this should provide an economic boost for the people of Cuba. Pope Francis himself helped broker the deal.

Republicans, naturally, are furious. They are working up plans to stop the deal. They are screaming about appeasement. Marco Rubio strongly hinted the Pope hates freedom.

“My understanding is that the influence that His Holiness had was on the release of Mr. [Alan] Gross, which I’ve not criticized. As I said, I’m happy that he’s with the Cuban people [sic]. I would also ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy, which is critical for a free people — for a people to truly be free,” Rubio, a Catholic whose parents immigrated from Cuba to flee an oppressive regime, told reporters.

“I think the people of Cuba deserve the same chances to have democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he comes from; as the people of Italy have, where he now lives. Obviously the Vatican’s its own state, but very nearby,” the senator and rumored 2016 presidential hopeful continued. “My point is I hope that people with that sort of prestige on the world stage will take up the cause of freedom and democracy. The Cuban people are the only people in this hemisphere that have not been able to elect a leader in more than 55 or 60 years. That’s outrageous.”

And the damnfool embargo has been in place for 54 years, and it wasn’t doing a damn thing to help the people of Cuba get voting rights. I’ve long thought that if we really wanted to help the people of Cuba enjoy the blessings of capitalism, allowing Cubans to do business with the U.S. would accomplish that a lot faster than not. As usual, the Right is oblivious to the real-world effect of doctrine and cares only about symbolism.

John Cole says most everything else I want to say, including this:

In the defense of Republicans, there used to be a train of thought that the way to liberate the world was through trade and travel, but that notion on the right is as dead as Dick Cheney’s dark heart after 70 years of eating cheesy Freedom Fries. So when you watch all these guys freak out, and seriously, they are freaking the fuck out, just realize that they are exhibiting all they know, which is the cold war mindset. Think back to not so long ago, when Putin was the man of their dreams and the ho yay was in full bloom- he was a real leader, riding shirtless on a bear as he annexed everything to the east of the Rhine while our waffler in chief just stood by. We’re all Georgians and Ukrainians and Romney was Right or whatever the cry du jour was from Johnny Get Your Guns McCain, another Cold War relic that needs to be put down, all while Lindsey Graham wearily lifted himself from the fainting couch long enough to emit a plaintive wail on Hardball. New Cold War! He wants to create a new greater Russian empire! We have to meet force with force! That’s all Putin understands!

Meanwhile, our Kenyan appeaser in chief had different plans, and worked with the international community to put in place a sustained series of sanctions aimed at punishing Putin for his aggression, and where are we now? Without a shot fired, without one casket wept over in Arlington, Russia’s economy is near collapse if it hasn’t already. The ruble is as worthless as Sarah Palin’s diploma, there is an astounding brain drain as the educated emigrate at astounding levels, Ukraine and pro-Russia rebels have agreed to resume peace talks, and just the other day, Obama supported another round of sanctions. Our President knows when and how to stick the shiv in, and it’s much more effective than the wingnut plan of launching a thousand tanks and ten thousand men eastward through the Fulda Gap.

For all the right-wing posturing, though, I rather doubt most Americans are going to get worked up into a snit about Cuba, other than to wonder when they can get the cigars. Republicans may find themselves whistling in the wind on this one, no matter how hard Fox News tries to gin up outrage.

Update: See also “On Cuba, Republicans Trapped by Old Think.




I’ve been offline because of the death of my older brother, Robert Thomas, of pancreatic cancer, and am “on the road” visiting family. Regular blogging will resume later this week. Please do continue to share comments about whatever until I get back.


I’m Still Here


Having something of a family emergency, so I’ve been unable to write much. Please go ahead and discuss whatever.


Dems: Forget the South

Democratic Party, Republican Party

How much the Democratic Party should even bother with the South has been a favorite topic of progressive conferences going back a few years. Michael Tomasky makes a good point that Dems have more to lose than to gain by trying to appeal to southern voters. “Practically the whole region has rejected nearly everything that’s good about this country and has become just one big nuclear waste site of choleric, and extremely racialized, resentment,” he says.

With Landrieu’s departure, the Democrats will have no more senators from the Deep South, and I say good. Forget about it. Forget about the whole fetid place. Write it off. Let the GOP have it and run it and turn it into Free-Market Jesus Paradise.

For presidential elections the Dems need Florida and Virginia, and maybe North Carolina, but from the congressional level on down Dems shouldn’t waste money on southern races except in extraordinary circumstances, Tomasky says.

Trying to win Southern seats is not worth the ideological cost for Democrats. As Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen recently told my colleague Ben Jacobs, the Democratic Party cannot (and I’d say should not) try to calibrate its positions to placate Southern mores: “It’s come to pass, and really a lot of white Southerners vote on gays and guns and God, and we’re not going to ever be too good on gays and guns and God.” …

… It’s lost. It’s gone. A different country. And maybe someday it really should be. I’ll save that for another column. Until that day comes, the Democratic Party shouldn’t bother trying. If they get no votes from the region, they will in turn owe it nothing, and in time the South, which is the biggest welfare moocher in the world in terms of the largesse it gets from the more advanced and innovative states, will be on its own, which is what Southerners always say they want anyway.

Probably for the best.


Peter Pan the Undead

entertainment and popular culture

I only watched some of ‘Peter Pan Live” on NBC three or so nights ago, but I gave it a B minus. The “flying” was klutzy, but the actors on the whole did a good job. I understand the singing was not actually live, which seems like cheating and rather negates the fun of it being live at all.

The reviews, which have been mixed but mostly meh, missed a lot of points, though. One reviewer complained there was no live audience reacting to it, which killed it for her. I may be forgetting, but I don’t think the old Mary Martin television version had a live audience either. A couple of reviewers didn’t seem to realize Peter Pan Live (PPL) was a revival of a 1954 musical (Mary Martin? who?). One thought it was the 1904 or whatever play set to music, and another thought it was too “British” and that the actress who played Mrs. Darling, Wendy et al.’s mother, was “underused.”

There were also complaints about the three hour time, and one review said that the show had been padded with songs from other musicals. Was it? I watched parts of it and may have missed those. The frequent commercial breaks didn’t help, though.

Best tweet: “It needed more cowbell.”

A few things that bothered me —

I remember the Tiger Lily tribe as being children, or at least they were like children. I saw a video of the Mary Marin production (MMPP) not many years ago and remember the tribe riding 1950s-style kiddie scooters and maybe a couple of tricycles. In PPL, the Tiger Lily tribe were not just adult men; they were a muscular crew wearing skimpy costumes. Under most circumstances I’m happy to watch muscular dancing men in skimpy costumes, but in PPL I confess it made me a little uncomfortable. Good thing the feathered loin cloths stayed in place, although a wardrobe malfunction probably would have been a real “first” for NBC and boosted DVD-Blu Ray sales.

It’s traditional for the same actor to play Mr. George Darling, Wendy et al.’s father, and Captain Hook. There was an earlier musical version (music by Leonard Bernstein) that had Boris Karloff playing Papa/Hook. Cyril Ritchard was Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in MMPP, and I’ve sometimes wondered if Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow wasn’t at least partly inspired by Ritchard’s Hook. Or maybe I read that somewhere. Anyway, in PPL Christopher Walken played Captain Hook only. The same actor (Christian Borle) who played Mr. Smee was also Mr. Darling, although I didn’t realize that until I looked it up, because the two characters bore no resemblance to each other. Even so, that doesn’t send the same message.

The larger point is that in MMPP, Neverland was a land of children, and the villainous pirates were the only adults. The pirates, led by a captain who subliminally represented Father, an adult authority, were infuriated by or perhaps jealous of youth itself. In PPL, not only was the Tiger Lily tribe adult, but some of the Lost Boys clearly were old enough to shave, and had been for a few years. So the subtle psychological undertones were muddled.

I give PPL points for casting an actual dog actor, Bowdie, in the role of Nana. The crocodile was not played by an actual crocodile, but was a hoot and definitely underused. Christopher Walken underplayed Hook, which seemed a little out of step with the general rah-rah of the rest of the cast, but reviewers mostly loved him. I thought Allison Williams was fine as PP, although her singing voice is less robust than was Mary Martin’s. And, of course Allison Williams isn’t Mary Martin, who developed the musical and that role for herself and pretty much owns it even now.

Many of us children of the 1950s fondly remember being allowed to stay up to watch the black and white, not technically sophisticated Peter Pan with Martin and Ritchard. Whether children in the age of CGI graphics feel the same about PPL, who knows? The ending, with Wendy’s daughter flying off with Peter Pan, strikes me as a bit creepy now. And the strings were showing. Maybe the thing really is past its prime.

I understand ratings fell short of what was expected, but you don’t run a three-hour-long children’s program on a school night. Duh, NBC.


The Weekly Smoke and Mirrors

American History

Weekly Standard headline on article by Daniel Halper: “NYTimes Fails to Disclose Clinton Paid for Interviews About Administration.”

Wow, the Times paid Hillary Clinton for interviews? That’s really odd, but … oh, wait, that’s not what happened.

In a five year span, the William J Clinton Foundation gave five grants totaling $851,250 to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. One year in particular, 2007, the Clinton gift was specifically marked: “Oral history project of Clinton presidency.”

Well, today the New York Times has a front page feature on the newly released oral history project about the Clinton presidency. The one the Clintons helped pay for. But nowhere in the 2,600 word piece do Times writers Amy Chozick (who is on the Clinton beat) and Peter Baker (longtime White House reporter) disclose the obvious conflict of interest.

Per Halpern’s article, in 2007 the Clinton Foundation marked $144,350 to pay for an oral history project of the Clinton presidency. The other four grants were not so marked. In the Times article about the oral history project, the Times failed to disclose that some of the funding for the project came from the Clinton Foundation. Halpern insinuates this was money being used to pay for fodder to help HRC’s assumed presidential bid in 2016. (Money spent in 2007? Was this about 2008? But the interviews weren’t made public until recently.)

But the Times article Halpern whines about suggests the oral history, which discusses HRC as First Lady, isn’t necessarily flattering to HRC and actually undermines some of her claims about her role as FLOTUS. And in fact Halpern couldn’t resist quoting some of the unflattering stuff about HRC’s screwups, thereby refuting his own thesis. But then he sneers, “An image of a strong, smart, loyal Hillary Clinton is one the former first lady will surely want 2016 voters to have of her. So perhaps it’s safe to say the Clinton Foundation’s $851,250 to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center was money well spent.”

In fact, the “oral history project” really isn’t really about the Clintons exclusively. Per the Miller Center website,

The Presidential Oral History Program is systematically and comprehensively debriefing the principal figures in the administrations of Presidents Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton, with plans to do the same for future presidents. We are also conducting special projects on important topics in political history, including a six-year oral history on the life and career of Senator Edward M. Kennedy.


The Presidential Oral History Program is a public service endeavor to provide such means and to preserve the true voices of past presidencies for posterity. …

… Accordingly our approach, first developed in the Center’s 1981–85 interview study of the Carter White House, differs from traditional interview practice in several respects. Rather than concentrating on a particular personality, issue or type of activity, we endeavor to cover in our interview program all the key actors in the administration together with the important issues and activities in which they were involved. Rather than one-on-one interviews, our interviews are normally conducted by teams of three or four scholars in several sessions over a two-day period. … Rather than Q&A sessions, the interviews may be likened to seminars in which former officials are teachers about the presidency in which they served and interviewers are students who want to have a better understanding of that presidency than is likely to be gained from news stories, memoirs, or public documents alone.

In other words, the Clintons were not in control of the interviews and were not paying for fluff and flattery. Halpern is crafting a “scandal” out of smoke and mirrors. So typical of the Weekly Standard.


Why People Are Jerks

big picture stuff

This week I’ve been reading a lot of analyses about race and political divisiveness in America — some insightful; much not — including this Salon piece, in which some More Liberal Than Thou white guy explains,

In “All Eyes Are Upon Us,” an important new book I’ve just reviewed for Bookforum, the historian Jason Sokol shows not just that whites have been two-faced about race but – counterintuitively to those who don’t know them – that both faces have often been quite sincere: They can cheer Tiger Woods or Colin Powell (or, until recently, Bill Cosby) unreservedly and insist that their daily discrimination in their neighborhoods and workplaces is driven only by hard market realities and real, undeniable dangers from blacks broken by richer whites who insulate themselves from the racially inflected consequences of economic policies they design and promote. Another of Sokol’s books, “There Goes My Everything,” showed that in the 1960s, even many die-hard Southern segregationists believed sincerely that the mores and protocols they were losing had done more for racial comity and mutual understanding than had activist lawyers’ impositions. No wonder that their children are trying now to re-segregate Southern politics via opportunistic racial districting and voter-identification laws.

IMO the author of the paragraph above must have a different definition of “sincere” than the one I go by. The online dictionary says “sincere” means “free from pretense or deceit; proceeding from genuine feelings.” And of course the Good Old Boys who persuaded themselves that Slavery Was Good and who are now trying to re-segregate Southern politics, etc., are anything but “free from pretense or deceit.” Rationalization is not “sincere.” Desperately lying to yourself to justify your own bigotry and cruelty is not “sincere.”

This is not to say the Salon author is completely wrong about everything, but I do find lectures about how liberals don’t “get” white men, even though many of them are white men as is, it appears, the lecturer himself, to be weirdly fascinating. What is it they aren’t “getting”? What is it we aren’t getting?

I want to go back to something I wrote a few days ago.

We are not only physically dependent on each other but psychologically dependent as well. There is all kinds of data and real-world experience showing that actual isolation is devastating to a human. Prolonged isolation from other humans literally drives us mad. Indeed, our personalities — the traits we think make us uniquely “me” — are (to the psychologist and sociologists who study these things) entirely about how we relate to other humans. If there are no other humans to relate to, personalities cannot be expressed and arguably don’t even exist.

One of my favorite exercises — describe who you are as an individual without reference to a position within some kind of social or economic network. In other words, describe who you are as an individual without reference to family, nation, profession, interests (sports? stamp collecting? messing around on the Web?) or anything that doesn’t require other people. I say it can’t be done.

So, in a sense, we cannot be “individuals” without society. Our social network defines our individuality and allows our individuality to express itself. We cannot be who we are without other people being who they are.

Another way to put this is that we can’t be who we think we are without everyone else being who we think they are. This is something we “know” intuitively but not consciously. We conceptualize ourselves as stand-alone, autonomous person-units. We assume Who We Are is intrinsic to our bodies somehow, and that we remain Who We Are no matter what else happens.

However — and yes, this is kind of a Buddhist view — if we fully appreciate that we take identity only in regard to our function and position in our larger social networks, and that in fact we cannot be who (we think) we are without other people being who (we think) they are, this tells us that on a subconscious level we may all have a very heavy vested interest in seeing to it that other people remain who we think they are. Too much social change is a genuine (we think) existential threat.

This explain why our attitudes about race are so weirdly inconsistent. It explains why some African-Americans are given the right-wing stamp of approval even by people who turn around and call Michael Brown a “thug” who deserved to be killed. In one way or another, someone like Ben Carson or Herman Cain is able to not pose a threat to the social order, and indeed, may enable white racists to deny their racism.

IMO if we understand social and cultural upheavals this way rather than assume it’s just about untethered hate for people who “look different,” many things make more sense. Whites who cling to a particular identity as whites have a vested interest in maintaining racial hierarchies; whites who have mostly let go of whiteness as defining themselves are less invested in racial hierarchies. Whites who cling to whiteness as an essential part of their self-identity assume that those other whites are “just being PC” or suffer from “white guilt,” but it’s more accurate to say that those other whites’ personal orientation toward racial issues is different because it’s less personal.

This is not necessarily the same thing as being wiser or more racially sensitive; basically, it just means racial privilege is no longer a central, personal concern. And, of course, in the real world it’s not an either/or thing but more of a sliding scale. Even a lot of self-identified liberals haven’t quite let go of the sense that white maleness is the default norm.

It is, apparently, still important to a lot of American whites to think that whiteness doesn’t just give them privileges but genuine superiority. Whiteness is identified with industriousness, morality, dignity, self-sufficiency, and respect for the rule of law, so that a white-identity-clinger sees those traits in himself even if they aren’t actually there. This explains the persistent white belief in the black welfare queen; the belief in lazy, dependent black people is necessary to reinforce an identity as an industrious and self-sufficient white person, especially if one isn’t particularly industrious and self-sufficient, but just white.

This is why poor whites dependent on government programs are so easily duped into voting for Republicans who vow to dismantle such programs.They hear about “takers” and see “lazy black people,” not themselves. This explains why so many whites eagerly anticipate black violent reactions to such events as the George Zimmerman or Darren Wilson verdict, because Those People Act That Way. Of course, when whites form violent mobs they think it’s justified, so it’s okay.

The persistence of aggressive hostility to women among a subset of males no doubt has to do with a confused “masculine mystique” that requires women to be submissive and completely nonthreatening so that a “man” can be a “man.” These males cannot be who they think they are with women going around being who they are and, just as bad, other men being okay with that. Feminism is the destroyer of worlds.

And then there’s fundamentalist Christians, who insist that their “faith” requires them to be allowed to discriminate at will and use public schools to proselytize. Christian triumphalism will not abide being told it is not privileged among all other religions. The believer in Christian triumphalism, like the believer in American exceptionalism, must have the triumph of Christianity acknowledged because his ego is attached to the specialness of Christianity (or the USA), which makes him special, too. If Christianity is just one religion among many, what’s the point? (To his credit, last year Pope Francis criticized Christian triumphalism in a homily.)

Anyway, this is my Grand Theory as to why people are jerks.


Another Non-Indictment

criminal justice

I can’t say I’m surprised the Long Island Jury failed to bring an indictment in the death of Eric Garner, but I was hoping otherwise. Given that the chokehold was captured on video, nobody can claim the eyewitness testimony was ambiguous. The death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, the cause of death was choking, and we had a video of how it was done, and yet the grand jury couldn’t indict?

There’s no excuse for this. But I can’t say I’m surprised.

See Charles Blow, “The Perfect Victim Pitfall.”


Because They’re Mean, Is Why


See Jonathan Chait’s “Republicans Back to Raising Taxes on the Poor.” They blame the President’s immigration plan.

The predicate for this unlikely conflict is that the tax code contains a bunch of breaks and deductions that were written as temporary, but that Congress usually decides to just renew every year. Most of those breaks benefit businesses — the main one being a tax break for research and development. Also included in that package are several tax breaks for low-income workers that Democrats passed into law in 2009. Traditionally, the two parties have agreed to extend all the tax cuts together at once. It was not exactly what either party wanted — Democrats didn’t like bleeding revenue from the Treasury every year, and Republicans didn’t like extending tax cuts to low-income workers — but the compromise suited both sides well enough that nobody cared to blow it up. Now it’s getting blown up.

Brian Faler and Rachel Bade report that Obama’s immigration relief plan is the proximate cause. Newly legalized workers will pay taxes, and thus be eligible for tax breaks. “If Republicans agreed to extend [those tax breaks] now,” Faler and Bade report, “it would look like they were voting to expand government benefits to illegal immigrants.”

Yeah, those lucky duckies.

So first Republicans made the tax breaks for business permanent, while allowing the tax breaks for low-income workers to expire at the end of 2017. Since they would no longer be tied to tax breaks for the more affluent constituencies that have influence with Republicans, this would mean they would almost certainly expire. Families earning $10,000 to around $25,000 a year would lose nearly $2,500 a year — a punishing blow to the working class.

Amazingly, Democrats in the Senate like Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer agreed to this plan. Before Thanksgiving, Obama threatened a veto, causing Reid to beat a hasty retreat.

Chuck needs to retire. He’s my senator, and I say so.

Meanwhile, the CEO community is apoplectic at the standoff. Business leaders by and large have occupied a middle ground between the two parties (which is an indication of how far right the terms of the economic debate have shifted since Republicans took control of Congress). They share the GOP’s general ideological aims, but don’t share its willingness to blow things up in order to achieve them.

A lot of business leaders have been pleading for immigration reform, actually, because they think it will be good for them. Still, they support Republicans.


Do Your Christmas Shopping Here!

big picture stuff

I just realized Amazon is having a 30 percent off any book sale that ends midnight tonight, so you have just a few hours to buy up copies of Rethinking Religion to give as Christmas presents at 30 percent off!

Also, if you buy other stuff at Amazon, if you go through the link in the right-hand column they give me a few cents for whatever you buy.

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