A Follow Up and a Recommendation

There’s more about the blogger who videoed Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife at TPM. As Josh Marshall said,

I think you’ll actually end up feeling sorry for the guy – a seemingly otherwise decent enough guy with a family nevertheless encased in a polycarbonate bubble of derp and fanaticism where the all crazy about the progressive Kristallnacht and the KKK Democrats comes to settle.

The guy could end up doing serious jail time over what was really poor judgment more than anything else. “Polycarbonate bubble of derp” pretty much says it.

Three other men connected to the McDaniel campaign have been arrested on charges relating to nursing home-gate. Josh Marshall continues,

Now, it’s hard to figure how anyone wouldn’t realize that invading the privacy and dignity of this woman wouldn’t backfire in an explosive way or that it constituted one or more serious felonies. But remember, we’re pretty deep in the Tea Party derp bubble here which involves what can only be called a proctological route to self-awareness which ends in confusion and can be irreversible. But if you’d really bought into this attack on Cochran and thought it would resonate with people you can see at least the bare outlines of how you could convince yourself that this visual would land the fatal blow to his credibility and campaign.


Ta-Nehisi Coates won the Internet today with his long article, “The Case for Reparations.” I’m only part-way through, but it is gripping.

What Happened to the VA

Now the Right is trying to pump problems in VA medical care into an Obama scandal. For background into who and what are really to blame, I recommend a couple of articles:

Alec MacGillis, Republicans War-Monger, Then Complain When We’re Overwhelmed By Sick Vets

For starters, there is the matter of funding. If there’s been one side pushing for greater resources for the Veterans Administration in the age of austerity these past five years, it hasn’t been the Republicans. It was the much-maligned economic stimulus package of 2009 that included $1 billion for the V.A. While the V.A. itself was protected from the budget sequestration that Republican fought to keep in place last year, many other veterans programs—providing mental health services and housing, among other things—were hit hard by the sequestration cuts. And when the Senate was poised to pass a $24 billion bill for federal healthcare an education programs for veterans three months ago, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, blocked it in a filibuster, saying the bill would bust the budget and complaining that Senate Democrats had refused to allow an amendment on Iran sanctions to be attached to the bill.

But there is a whole other level of context to consider here as well. There is a pretty basic reason for backlogs at V.A. facilities and in the disability claims process, the other ongoing V.A. mess. Put simply: when you go to war, you get more wounded veterans, and in a country without a universal health care system, they are all funneled into this one agency with limited capacity. Every one of the Republican leaders quoted above attacking Obama for the V.A. backlogs strongly supported launching the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that resulted in nearly 7,000 fatalities and a huge surge in medical needs and disability claims. …

… Something, it appears, happened around 2003 that caused the rate of traumatic brain injuries in the U.S. military to spike. Now what could that have been? Whatever it was, it happened while Barack Obama was in the Illinois state Senate, giving an obscure speech against invading Iraq.

The other article is by Jordain Carney and Stacy Kaper, Who Really Broke Veterans Affairs?. It all boils down to several administrations, from the current one going back to John Kennedy and every administration in between, Democratic and Republican, that in one way or another either added to the VA’s burdens or made policies that made it harder for the VA to function. This is a bipartisan malfunction.

And then there is Congress:

The VA could be overhauled to better address the needs of modern veterans, including reforms to the way it processes claims, assesses the performance of its employees, and measures its overall performance. But putting many of those reforms in place would require an act of Congress—and thus far those haven’t happened.

Instead, Congress has taken a more reactive approach. When incidents—such as the recent hospital deaths—capture public attention, lawmakers hold hearings where they berate VA officials with juicy sound bites they can later play back for their constituents. It’s good political theater, but it’s unclear that the payoff is anything other than political.

So, blame where blame is due.

Some Poor Are More Deserving Than Others

The House GOP continues its war on the poor by underfunding agriculture and food safety programs, but this part of their budget proposal is really, um, special —

And in a surprising twist, the bill language specifies that only rural areas are to benefit in the future from funding requested by the administration this year to continue a modest summer demonstration program to help children from low-income households — both urban and rural — during those months when school meals are not available.

Since 2010, the program has operated from an initial appropriation of $85 million, and the goal has been to test alternative approaches to distribute aid when schools are not in session. The White House asked for an additional $30 million to continue the effort, but the House bill provides $27 million for what’s described as an entirely new pilot program focused on rural areas only.

Democrats were surprised to see urban children were excluded. And the GOP had some trouble explaining the history itself. But a spokeswoman confirmed that the intent of the bill is a pilot project in “rural areas” only.

Gee, I wonder why they’d have issues about aid to urban but not rural children (she said, not really wondering). See also Josh Marshall.

The Marriage Rights Tsunami

Federal courts throughout the land have been striking down same-sex marriage bans so quickly it’s hard to keep up. A federal appeals court just this afternoon issued a stay in Idaho, so that same-sex marriages cannot be performed or recognized in Idaho until the appeal is decided. But that’s been the only speed bump so far. Now the entire northeast U.S. is gay-marriage friendly.

A judge who just ruled in favor of recognizing same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania is not only a G.W. Bush appointee; he also was endorsed by Rick Santorum.

The Pennsylvania judge and some others have been citing a dissent by Antonin Scalia, who warned that striking down a portion of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, would pave the way for states to do the same and allow same-sex marriage. Looks like Don Scalia was right, for once.

It’s a Printed Book, I Think!

I spent all day yesterday giving my files formatted for printing The Book one more read-through, and I uploaded files last night, and this morning I went through the final approval process for making the book available to order.

This is a print-on-demand book, meaning that Create Space/Amazon prints and ships copies as they are ordered. If somebody orders one book, they print and bind one copy and ship it. I know they’re using new technologies to do this, because this couldn’t have been done cost effectively back when I was doing book production management.

I understand it will take two or three days before the book shows up on Amazon, but it’s my understanding that you can order from Create Space now, through this page. Or not. I expected to get a “congratulations your book is for sale” message and haven’t seen it.

Where Are Their Heads?

This is a new game I’m proposing — Where Are Their Heads? This is an easy game, along the lines of the great game for the drunk or stoned, Find Your Feet. That one’s fun for babies, too.

First round — The Taxi and Limousine Commission has suspended the license of a New York cab driver because he was wearing a Nazi arm band on the job. The guy says he is a true blue National Socialist and has a right to wear the arm band, and I suppose he does, but that doesn’t mean the Taxi and Limousine Commission didn’t have authority to suspend his ass for offending the customers.

Here’s the thing — we’re not talking about a skinhead white supremacist. The suspended cabbie, Gabriel Diaz, is African American.

Where is his head?

Second round — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) is facing a primary challenge from a teabagger named Chris McDaniel. Sen. Cochran’s wife has long been debilitated by dementia and has been in a nursing home since 2000. McDaniel has accused Cochran of having an affair, possibly with a staffer.

(Cochran is 76 and his wife has been hospitalized for 14 years and is said to be in an advanced vegetative state, and frankly if he were in a discrete relationship with another lady it’s nobody’s damn business. Have some humanity, people. But whether he is or not hasn’t been proved.)

Some whackjob teabagger blogger named Clayton Thomas Kelly is a supporter of McDaniel, and to “help” his candidate he broke into the nursing home, made a video of Mrs. Cochran, and posted it on his blog. He has been arrested and the blog post deleted. But even if what he did weren’t illegal, how was that supposed to help McDaniel? I understand this was supposed to support the affair theory, but WTF?

Where is his head?

Bonus points — McDaniel and his campaign manager have been telling different stories about when McDaniel knew about the incident. This is the big league, guys; the first rule is to keep your stories straight. Where are their heads?

Intolerance and Counter-Intolerance

Truly, martyrdom is in the eye of the beholder.

Lots of tsk-tsking about graduates protesting commencement speakers. Lots of punditing about “college is about listening to other viewpoints blah blah blah.” But we’re not talking about classwork; we’re talking about commencement. The “education” part of the program is over. This is a celebration for the graduates, not an extension of American History 304.

And I realized today I do not remember who spoke at my graduation from the University of Missouri, class of 304 BC. Not a clue. All I remember was that my parents were there and us J-School grads were cutting up through the whole ceremony. Great fun. I’m not even sure there was a speaker; I just assume there must have been. But, y’know, that’s how it ought to be. Once in a great while somebody gives a genuinely memorable commencement address. Most of the time the speech is just something you have to sit through so you feel properly commenced, and then you can get together with your family and go out to dinner.

But I understand not wanting to sit through a speech you find genuinely odious. If my commencement speaker had been Henry Kissinger, say, I’m sure I’d remember the day much less fondly.

So I am not the least bit bothered by the fact that Condi Rice isn’t the speaker at the Rutgers commencement this year. And whoever invited her was an idiot who ought to be reprimanded, if not fired.

I realize it’s probably difficult to find a speaker who won’t piss off somebody, but that doesn’t mean you might as well get someone broadly considered to be a disgrace to humanity; nay, vertebrae. If you can’t find somebody who has accomplished something praiseworthy, then get somebody entertaining. How hard is that?

If Rice had been invited to give a talk to some foreign policy graduate class, that might be different, especially if she agreed to answer questions. I assume anything she might say would be self-serving bullshit, but I could be wrong. And like her or not, she is a real historical figure whose work had real-world consequences. I also think it’s important for historians to study pro-slavery arguments of the antebellum South and the intellectual basis of the development of fascism in Europe, because we need to fully appreciate how bad stuff happens. If we could reanimate Jefferson Davis I’d certainly be interested in what he had to say for himself, even if I think it was morally repugnant. But in a class, not at a commencement.

Studying Condi Rice is one thing; honoring her is something else.

I also don’t blame Haverford students for protesting Robert J. Birgeneau, who as chancellor of UC Berkeley during the Occupy demonstrations chose to support the police instead of the students. On the other hand I’m not sure Christine Lagarde of the IMF deserves all the vitriol thrown at her by Smith students, and I’m not sure they are objecting to her as much as to the IMF. But I am heartened that students are questioning The Establishment, in all its many forms. That’s an important part of the college experience, too.

I’m disappointed in Timothy Egan for writing this:

In that sense, the lefty thought police at Smith, Haverford and Rutgers share one thing with the knuckle-dragging hard right in Oklahoma: They’re afraid of hearing something that might spoil a view of the world they’ve already figured out.

If Rice, Birgeneau and Lagarde were outsiders who never had a chance to explain themselves in news media and books and many other venues, Egan might have an argument. But they aren’t. These are all people who are or have been in positions of power, and they have been heard plenty and have many ways at their disposal to being heard some more. They are not “silenced.” As Steve M says, “the fact is that millennials can’t silence people with whom they disagree. You may choose not to listen to warmongers in the federal government or policymakers at the IMF, but, even if you’re a millennial, you’ll have to live in the world they make.”

In other words, the graduates have their whole lives ahead of them to listen to powerful people spout self-serving bullshit, and most of the time they’re not going to have a choice about it or a means to answer back. I say whenever you do have a chance to tell them to bleep off, take it.

Things That Don’t End Well

Regarding this weekend’s planned coup d’etat, I bring you this quote —

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)

In The Book (Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World) I turn to this quote several times in discussing mass movements and religious violence. It seems to me that the holy cause/fanatical grievance combination is at the center of just about any violent mass movement I can think of, whether political, religious or other.

For example, when people hear about violence perpetrated by a religious faction there’s a common assumption that religious doctrine is somehow at the center of the animosity, that I think that is rarely the case. This is especially true on the “fanatical grievance” side of the equation. The roots of the Islamic jihadist “fanatical grievance” have more to do with history, culture and politics than with Islam, for example.

In the book I devote a large part of a chapter looking at violence being perpetrated by Buddhists, including monks, in Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka. These violent mass movements make a particularly good case for my theory, because there is absolutely, positively no justification for what they are doing in Buddhist doctrine. The Buddha was far more uncompromising about not causing violence than were the various authors of the Bible, for example. There is some limited allowance for self-defense, but being an aggressor in a violent situation is a clear violation of the dharma. Yet there are Burmese and Sinhalese Buddhist monks fomenting violence and declaring they are doing it to “defend Buddhism” in their overwhelmingly Buddhist countries. To understand where this is coming from you have to look at history, politics and culture (which I do, in the book).

Note that a “holy cause” doesn’t have to be religious. Nationalism and patriotism will do, especially when mixed into belief in the presumed virtue of racial or ethnic purity.

Another common factor in violent and/or totalitarian mass movements is a kind of messianic worldview, or a belief that current struggles will lead to a glorious destiny. This doesn’t have to involve religious doctrine; you can see messianism in the communist and fascist movements of the 20th century. Where religion is present it can act as a kind of accelerant, however. When people believe their cause is not only just but holy, it’s a lot easier to light the fuse or pull the trigger.

The point is that, as absurd as the “American Spring/Bundy Ranch” crew might be, all the violence factors are present. And I don’t see anything on the horizon that is likely to discourage them. Even assuming the May 16 coup d’etat is a dud, they’re likely to keep trying.

What they lack, which is notable, is some genuinely charismatic and articulate leader who is smart enough, or at least tethered to reality enough, to organize these clowns and grow the movement beyond fringe status. I think Ted Cruz could fill that role, if he wanted it, although I suspect even he realizes that if the public ties him to right-wing domestic terrorism he can kiss his political career goodbye. However, that could change in the future. And if it ain’t Ted, it could be somebody else who steps up. We’ve been lucky so far.

Even without a charismatic leader, barring unforeseen developments I suspect the anti-government militia movement will grow increasingly violent as participants become increasingly frustrated. We can’t assume they’re just going to go away.

Along these lines, do see “Spitting, Stalking, Rape Threats: How Gun Extremists Target Women.” It’s interesting that a common factor in fundamentalist religious movements is an obsession with keeping women under control and thoroughly subjugated. Here we see gun rights extremists targeting women who oppose them. It may be this is because more women than men are stepping up to oppose them, but one wonders if there isn’t something else going on with them than merely feeling opposed.

The New Black Helicopters

Oh, by the way, there will be a violent takeover of the federal government this weekend. If you live in the DC area, there could be traffic tie-ups.

Self-styled revolutionary patriots plan to converge on Washington, D.C., this week to drive President Barack Obama and disloyal lawmakers out of office.

“We are calling for the removal of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, and Eric Holder as a start toward constitutional restoration,” said retired Army Col. Harry Riley, leader of the Operation American Spring protest group. “They have all abandoned the US Constitution, are unworthy to be retained in a position that calls for servant status.”

I don’t recall which part of the Constitution provides for mobs driving elected officials out of office, but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere. These guys are all about the Constitution, you know.

Operation American Spring aims to pressure those lawmakers who remain – or are replaced by officials of their own choosing – “to sponsor and pass very Constitutionally crafted State legislation to dissolve the size, powers, scope and spending of the U.S. Government by 2/3rds.”

Um, dudes, the Constitution doesn’t give state legislatures the authority to do that. You have to get two-thirds of the states to call a convention to amend the Constitution before you can do that.

The activists say they expect 10 million to 30 million like-minded Americans to join them Friday in the nation’s capital for a rally patterned after Occupy Wall Street and “Arab Spring” protests.

You see what I mean about the traffic.

They also plan a sister event the same day in Bunkerville, Nevada, where militia groups have gathered to support scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy in his dispute with the federal government.

One of the chapters in The Book (Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World) is about “True Believers and Mass Movements,” which more or less argues that many people have a proclivity for believing ridiculous things, and eliminating religion won’t stop that. In fact, according to current research in social psychology most of us live inside a kind of personal myth that colors how we understand everything.

Some of us do seem a tad more mythical than others, though.

Organizers also anticipate “incremental nullification” by state legislatures of “all withholding taxes, employment taxes, employer taxes, and income taxes.”

“This will effectively DOUBLE the size of ALL American Middle Class family weekly paychecks and cause our local city and town economies to boom,” the group promises on its Facebook page.

Oh, goody! They have a facebook page!

Tea Party Nation promoted Operation American Spring last month in an email to its members from founder Judson Phillips, who hinted at a violent response from the federal government, and sent invitations in January to the protest.

“There is no way a militia with small arms can defeat the kind of arms the U.S. government can bring to bear on such a battle, but one has to admire the courage of those people who showed up to confront them,” Phillips said, comparing the protest to the American Revolution. “That’s quintessentially American!”

I predict they’ll get about 86 guys in DC this weekend, and the U.S. government will ignore them unless they litter the mall or try to climb on the monuments. The DC Park Rangers are a vigilant crew.

Operation American Spring spokesman Terry Trussell told the “Patriot Nation” radio program that he feared Obama would order drone strikes on protesters, and host Mark Hoffman suggested participants bring emergency supplies and make other preparations in case of violence.

Drones are the new black helicopters, I take it. But you don’t need “emergency supplies” in DC except for cash and credit cards and some sunscreen for the white guys. Well, OK, they’re all white guys.

Riley told Before It’s News that his group does not want violence, but he admits that peaceful solutions have thus far proved ineffective.

“For more than five years, ‘we the people’ have been writing, calling, faxing Congress, the media, screaming in Town Halls, marching, rallying, demonstrating, petitioning, all to no avail,” Riley said.

Yeah, the rest of us went through eight years of that during the Bush Administration. It sucks.

Skipping a bit —

“Every political persuasion, rich, poor, every color, all ages, men, women, liberal, conservative, independent, unemployed, et al, are now mobilizing to participate in this peaceful, non-violent, cause in the search for constitutional restoration for America,” Riley said. “We have well over 1 million militia members mobilizing; bikers, truckers, hunters, Tea Party groups — citizens across America. No, I don’t think 10 million (participants) is high at all.”

Or, as a blogger speculated at Before It’s News, the whole operation could be a false flag planted by the Obama administration to launch a civil war.

I so want Christopher Guest to make a movie about this.