Browsing the archives for the Obama Administration category.

The Kansas Experiment

Obama Administration

While I’m cranking out some stuff to meet a deadline, do read “This Is What’s the Matter With Kansas: Sam Brownback tried to create a conservative utopia. He created a conservative hell instead.”


We’re Crazy Enough Already, Ross, Thanks

Obama Administration

Channeling his inner David Brooks, Ross Douthat has cranked out a column notably clueless even by David Brooks standards. Douthat has decided we have a deficit of whackjob religious cults.

LIKE most children of the Reagan era, I grew up with a steady diet of media warnings about the perils of religious cults — the gurus who lurked in wait for the unwary and confused, offering absolute certainty with the aftertaste of poisoned Kool-Aid. From the 1970s through the 1990s, from Jonestown to Heaven’s Gate, frightening fringe groups and their charismatic leaders seemed like an essential element of the American religious landscape.

Yet we don’t hear nearly as much about them anymore, and it isn’t just that the media have moved on.

Douthat notes that today’s “cult” leaders are a far more innocuous crew — instead of David Koresh, we get Joel Olsteen — and he thinks this is a bad thing.

The decline of cults, while good news for anxious parents of potential devotees, might actually be a worrying sign for Western culture, an indicator not only of religious stagnation but of declining creativity writ large.

The Branch Davidians were many things, but I never thought of them as creative. Anyway, Douthat quotes a couple of guys, one of which says that a wild religious fringe is a sign of a healthy center, and “a religious culture that lacks for charismatic weirdos may lack ‘a solid core of spiritual activism and inquiry’ as well.” Another guy says that “fewer crazy cults” are a sign that “we have given up our sense of wonder at secrets left to be discovered.”

If it’s creativity Douthat is worried about, he should rest assured there’s plenty of it out there, and most of it is in his party. Consider such creative folks as Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Laura Ingraham, who on Friday told her radio audience that President Obama plans to expose our troops to Ebola to make up for colonialism. David Koresh was a slacker compared to such as these.

You don’t hear a lot about people being abducted by aliens any more, either, but when you’ve got a President exposing troops to ebola and crazed jihadi prayer mats / soccer jerseys mysteriously turning up in Texas, who needs UFOs?


On Holder

Obama Administration

We learned today that Eric Holder is resigning, and already his replacement is controversial. Ted Cruz is warning the President that he must not try to sneak a candidate through the Senate until next year, when the new and possibly Republican-dominated Senate is sworn in, because apparently lame duck Senators are not real Senators

And of course, Republicans will automatically reject anyone the President nominates, leaving Holder on the job for two more years, because they love him so much. One of the most stirring tributes to Holder came from the Cato Institute, in fact, but Cato quickly yanked it off their website because someone there possibly realized that comparing Eric Holder to George Wallace was getting a little too stirring.

Charles Pierce:

Numerous reports, now confirmed, have it that Attorney General Eric Holder is going to resign. (The New Yorker reported a while back that Holder was planning to leave this year, but there was no firm date set.) Quite naturally, because they can’t help themselves, the FastandFurious/IRS/NewBlackPanthers/Benghazi! peanut gallery is aflame. Jim Hoft is beside himself, which means, I guess, there are now two Dumbest People On The Internet.

One of the dimmer  bulbs on Fox News actually said

“He was droning terrorists without a trial while he was giving them trials in downtown Manhattan. He ran the DOJ much like the Black Panthers would. That is a fact.”

The Black Panthers have drones? I did not know that. Or does Holder remind Ms. Dim of Black Panthers in some other way? Hmmm…


Scorched Earth Elections

Obama Administration

Gov. Scott Walker has been trailing in his re-election bid, so it must be a relief to him to be able to fall back on voter suppression. But there is a new wrinkle, which is voter intimidation by armed pro-Walker goons. The Wisconsin Poll Watcher Militia is not just going to try to look intimidating at polling places; they are actually checking to see who signed the petitions to recall Walker a short time back, identify which ones are Democrats, and investigate them. And if any of those people have outstanding warrants, the militia will not just call law enforcement but will follow them to their homes — I think that’s called “stalking” — and then turn them over to law enforcement.  Digby writes,

They are using information from a website a volunteer has set up to identify people who signed recall petitions. He’s created subsets of those with tax issues, those who are Democratic donors, those who (they claim) are sex offenders, etc., and they are listing the names in a searchable format that includes offenses as minor as speeding. Rush Limbaugh even gave them a shout-out the other day, saying, ”Thanks to his hard work, we finally know who is not paying their fair share of taxes in Wisconsin.” (That’s not actually true; this list only includes those who signed the recall petitions. It’s fair to guess that there are plenty of Scott Walker fans who aren’t big on paying their fair share of taxes.)

Are you putting up with this, Wisconsin? Seriously?

In the Kansas Senate race, Republican Pat Roberts is trailing independent Greg Orman, and the GOP is doubling down 0n the nasty. This is a critical race for keeping the Senate from changing hands. Part of Roberts problem is that he ran a scorched-earth campaign to win his primary against a Teabagger candidate, and the Kansas baggers have not forgiven him. He may yet persuade the Kansas baggers that Orman is a secret communist or worse, an Obama supporter, however.  So we may yet see what baggers are made of. Um, be afraid.


Forward or Backward?

Obama Administration

I spent the day at a zazenkai, or short meditation retreat, instead of at the climate march in NYC. I think about half of our sangha must have been in the march, though. Just as we were ending the retreat a couple of people who had been in the march walked in and said it was fantastic, with an estimated 310,000 participants. (See also.)

There really are people who give a damn, you know.

If you didn’t watch the PBS Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts you missed out; it was really good. You can probably watch it on the PBS website. It was a bit depressing, though, to consider how un-progressive the country has grown since then. The great presidents, the great leaders, always left the country with the sense that progress is possible; that the nation could do whatever it needed to do. Those days are sure gone.

In my lifetime I think the last President who made me feel that way was Kennedy, and he didn’t live long enough to accomplish much. I know that conservatives got that feeling from Reagan, but Reagan was leading the nation backward, not forward. For all his economic accomplishments Clinton more or less seemed like a placeholder to me. His motto might have been He Managed to Keep the Right From Screwing Us Even Worse. But I also suspect that if FDR came back to the White House today, he wouldn’t be much more effective than President Obama. There’s just way too much retrograde energy in Washington for anything genuinely progressive to happen.

At Salon, Thomas Franks writes that Gov. Sam Brownback has been so ineffective even the people of Kansas have noticed. Kansas is a state in which the governor and the legislature ran everything according to the Tea Parety/Koch Brothers book, and the results are more than pitiful. They are damn near catastrophic.

“What is going on here is so freakishly self-damaging, so bizarrely self-contradicting that it makes you think of a man trying out his new shotgun on his own foot, or of a president putting a meth addict in charge of the nuclear football.” Brownback is trailing his Democratic opponent, although narrowly. How incompetent does a Republican have to be to be voted out of office? I guess we’re about to find out.


Dark Money, Dark Science

Obama Administration

Resolved: Every time someone uses the phrase “settled science” we should all throw a penalty flag. And if this is said by an actual scientist, he should be locked in stocks so that we may pelt him with genetically altered tomatoes. It is not the nature of science to “settle”; there is always doubt; there is always something more to know.

Most non-scientists don’t appreciate this, which makes the myth of “settled science” an easy way to bamboozle the rubes whenever science starts to step on monied toes. The Masters of the Universe don’t have to disprove science when it threatens to cost them money. All they need to do is discredit it enough so that government hesitates to act on it.

A “leading scientist” named Steven Koonin writes in the Wall Street Journal that climate change is not “settled science.” He acknowledges that it is “settled” that climate change is happening, but that since we don’t know precisely how in all details it’s too soon to actually do anything about it.

Let me add that Koonin is a physicist, not a climate guy, who was once chief scientist for BP.

David Atkins writes,

The argument sounds reasonable at first, but it’s absurd on its face. It would be like a doctor refusing to treat a strange new disease because we don’t fully understand all of the effects it might have on the body. It might cause kidney failure and heart failure, or maybe just one, or neither! We just don’t have enough information to treat, so let’s do nothing! Of course, by the time kidney failure occurs it will be too late to save the patient, but oh well.

Of all the cynical arguments against action on climate change, Koonin’s ranks among the most disturbing because it’s so obviously calculated by a very smart person to make a radically irresponsible conclusion just to protect a few entrenched economic elites.

Note also that 2014 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record.

Since Koonin is a physicist I wish someone would ask him about gravity. Science has not settled on an explanation of how gravity works. Until it does, can we walk off cliffs? You first, Steve Koonin.


One of Those Days

Obama Administration

Nothing is grabbing at me and yelling at me to write about it. We seem to be on a rerun loop. Today’s big items:

The Administration wants to put together an anti-ISIS coalition.

Paul Krugman complains that hardly anyone who influences economic policy is being influenced by competent economists.

Thomas Franks and some other leftie commenters appear to be having a pissing contest.

The crew that Breitbart left in charge of his empire when he died has a collective IQ in the negative numbers. Oh, and they’re being audited by the IRS

Schizophrenia is a genetic disorder. Eight different genetic disorders, actually.  Right now I think I may have about five of them. Just kidding.

Lindsey Graham must be the most terrified man in America.

Here’s the cheerful news: While Nate Silver still shows the Republicans are likely to take the Senate, the odds have changed. Today he’s saying the GOP has a 54.7 percent chance of taking the Senate; on September 9 the GOP had a 63.8 percent chance of taking the Senate, according to Nate. Sam Wang puts the Dems at 80 percent.




On the Middle East and Burning Hair

Obama Administration

Judging by the blogs, America is more interested in the NFL-Ray Rice scandal than they are in Syria/Iraq and what the President might do about ISIS. But very basically, as I see it, in his speech last night the President attempted to simultaneously placate hawks and doves — thereby pissing off both — while pursuing an actual strategy that is limited and cautious and may or may not produce tangible results. It’s hard to say whether the President is being pushed more by politics or by actual security concerns.

I still think the primary focus should be on pushing Middle Eastern leaders to play the lead role in containing ISIS, since a bunch of violent religious whackjobs with plans for establishing themselves as leaders of a regional if not global theocracy are a more immediate threat to them than to us.

Back in 2000 and early 2001 the incoming Bush Administration brushed off the hair-on-fire intelligence they were given about a real threat of a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil by al Qaeda. And of course, they were wrong. Since 9/11, they’ve seen jihadists in every shadow, and they are still wrong. There’s no reason to think ISIS plans to leapfrog half the globe to strike in the U.S., in spite of the Right’s hair-on-fire claims they are doing exactly that already. In fact, for the most part intelligence experts — whose hair was on fire about al Qaeda in 2000 — are not that alarmed about ISIS being a threat to the U.S.

“As formidable as ISIL is as a group, it is not invincible,” Matthew G. Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said last week, using an alternate name for the group. “ISIL is not Al Qaeda pre-9/11” with cells operating in Europe, Southeast Asia and the United States. Mr. Olsen’s assessment stood in contrast to more pointed descriptions by other American officials like Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has said that ISIS poses an “imminent threat to every interest we have.”

The group has been vulnerable, for instance, to airstrikes coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces in northern Iraq in the past month, Mr. Olsen said, noting that as a result, “ISIL is losing arms, it’s losing equipment, and it’s losing territory.”

Despite the attention ISIS has received, when American counterterrorism officials review the threats to the United States each day, the terror group is not a top concern. Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain the most immediate focus. That is because ISIS has no ability to attack inside the United States, American and allied security officials say, and it is not clear to intelligence officials that the group even wants to.

Compare/contrast this with the ravings of Dick the Dick. The headline on his American Enterprise Institution speech reveals more than the speech — it’s “9/11 and the future of US foreign policy.” The speech itself basically dumps every enemy of America since World War II into the same filing cabinet and strongly implies that there is no choice but for America to destroy them all. Doing so would require obliterating about a third of the planet, and the potential repercussions of that don’t seem to have occurred to Dick, whom I strongly suspect is not all that bright. His chief talent is exuding gravitas, which has gotten him a long way, obviously.

It’s all about 9/11 for Dick, because he was horribly and massively wrong about al Qaeda before 9/11, and disaster ensued, and apparently that was something his ego couldn’t process, and he’s been acting out about it since. He seriously needs therapy. And he seriously needs to shut up.

Now he and Grandpa John and others have hair-on-fire alarm — assuming they had hair — about ISIS. And the Right in general appears to believe that the Real Enemy is Islam itself, which means we have 1.6 billion enemies, at least, who must be eliminated to assuage Dick the Dick’s personal existential crisis.

It has been 13 years since 9/11, and the U.S. Right is still dancing to the late Osama bin Laden’s tune.  The attacks are still causing us to self-destruct. BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA.


Why We’re Screwed, Part MMLXXVI

Obama Administration, Republican Party

Thomas B. Edsall:

We don’t know who the contributors are to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS because they can hide behind provisions in federal tax law designed to protect donors to “social welfare” charities, but we do know how much each gave, and we do know generally, from Crossroads’ annual 990 filings with the I.R.S., how the money was spent. In 2012, according to its own statement, Crossroads GPS spent $74.2 million not on commonly understood social welfare objectives but on direct political activities.

Crossroads raised the money for its 2012 tax-exempt activities from 291 unnamed men and women who wrote checks for a total of $179.7 million, an average contribution of $617,525 – nearly 12 times the 2012 median household income in the United States of $53,046, and 22 times the 2012 per capita income of $28,051.

We know now that in 2012 the 291 people who funded Crossroads got zip for their money. But somebody must still be donating, because Crossroads is still in business. They’re pouring a lot of money into the midterms and might actually turn the Senate over to the GOP, which IMO would be an unmitigated disaster for America. On the other hand, it’s possible their ads won’t make that much difference. For example, Crossroads is still running anti-Obamacare ads that even Glenn Kessler thinks are stuck in a time warp.

There’s no question that the “dark” money is giving a Reublicans a huge advantage, but even if dark money contributions were equal, an equal number of plutocrats on each side of the aisle does not create government of the people, by the people, and for the people.


Nate Silver vs. Sam Wang

elections, Obama Administration

In 2012, as I remember, Silver and Wang’s election forecasts remained close to each other. But right now they are considerably apart. Silver says Republicans have a 63.8 percent chance of winning a majority. Wu says Dems have a 79 percent chance of keeping the Senate.

Where do they differ? Silver thinks Pat Roberts of Kansas will keep his Senate seat; Wu does not. The pair of prognosticators also split over North Carolina. They must disagree on some other races but I cannot tell which ones.

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