Posts Tagged ‘My Conservative Uncle’

Race In America

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

The week of June 22, 2015 was a historic one for Progress, with Confederate flags coming down in Southern capitals, Gay Marriage legalized throughout the country and Obamacare saved once again from the most recent conservative attempt to destroy it. The week was capped off by an incredible eulogy given by President Obama at the funerals of the 9 members of a historic black church in Charleston, SC.

Earlier in the week, Obama got Elizabeth Hassleback and the folks at Fox riled up with his use of the “N-word” in an interview with Marc Maron. Discussing race relations, Obama noted

Racism, we are not cured of. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.

Obama’s statement brought me back to this fragment of a post that I wrote a few months ago regarding race in America in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and it’s aftermath.


I’ve been debating this week with My Conservative Uncle and another conservative sparring partner about our favorite hot button topic: Race in America.

It started this time with the dual announcements that the Justice Department didn’t press civil rights charges against Darren Wilson in the shooting of an unarmed teenager Michael Brown and the report documenting a pattern of racial discrimination in Ferguson. Like many other people, I questioned the decision not to charge Wilson and I continue to believe that the Ferguson police department made a bad situation worse in the way they handled the situation. But the Justice Department went  much further than the grand jury and the preosecutor, not only not charging him, but exonerating him. As Ta Nehesi Coates notes

The investigation concluded that there was not enough evidence to prove a violation of federal law by Officer Wilson. The investigation concluded much more. The investigation concluded that physical evidence and witness statements corroborated Wilson’s claim that Michael Brown reached into the car and struck the officer. It concluded that claims that Wilson reached out and grabbed Brown first “were inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence.”  

The investigation concluded that there was no evidence to contradict Wilson’s claim that Brown reached for his gun. The investigation concluded that Wilson did not shoot Brown in the back. That he did not shoot Brown as he was running away. That Brown did stop and turn toward Wilson. That in those next moments “several witnesses stated that Brown appeared to pose a physical threat to Wilson.” That claims that Brown had his hands up “in an unambiguous sign of surrender” are not supported by the “physical and forensic evidence,” and are sometimes, “materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements with no explanation, credible for otherwise, as to why those accounts changed over time.”

My uncle seized on this finding, but buried the lead by not mentioning the 100 page Justice Department report documenting widespread racial discrimination in the Ferguson police department. My other conservative “sparring partner” is a former police officer who objected to the superficial finding (as did many in conservative media) that 86% of traffic stops are of black residents while only 67% of Ferguson residents are black.

But to cite this statistic alone is to distort the report. In fact, it doesn’t even complete the sentence, which should read more like: black people are pulled over and searched more often, despite the fact that the white people who are pulled over and searched are more likely to be found with contraband.

The Justice Department’s Ferguson report is a detailed statistical analysis backed up by a shocking parade of horribles documenting abuse of power by police. It’s a portrait of a city that decided to use its poorest citizens as an ATM to fund their city government and a police force that took that pressure to generate revenue to the extreme.

“Officers routinely conduct stops that have little relation to public safety and a questionable basis in law,” the report states. “Issuing three or four charges in one stop is not uncommon. Officers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter.” Some officers compete to see who can issue the most citations in a single stop.

Just to put a cherry on top, they also document racist jokes that have been e-mailed at multiple levels of the Ferguson PD and court system.

Defenders of the Ferguson PD say that this is not racial bias, that it’s evidence of liberal big government run amok, but a National Review article arguing that racial bias is not shown in the report includes the following:

The tendency of police to be on the lookout for crime combines with the pressures to prove productivity and the knowledge that poorer residents are the most squeezable turnips. In such a situation, who can be surprised that racial tensions have been increasing for years?

Far more alarming in Ferguson than whether vestigial racism animates a policeman here and there is the perversion of the law, and of the positions of those sworn to protect it, to buck up the treasury on the backs of the most vulnerable, whoever they may be.

Okay, so now we’re admitting that there were police abuses, but we’re being told that it wasn’t racial animus that motivated the police, it was the pressure of city officials for revenue generation and the fact that poorer people are easier targets and black people are poorer…

This is pretty weak tea if it’s supposed to be a defense of the Ferguson Police Department, and it’s probably cold comfort for the black residents of Ferguson who were victims of this targeting. Don’t be silly, black people, you weren’t targeted because you’re black, you were targeted because you’re poor!

But I didn’t really intend to write a post about Ferguson. What I wanted to talk about is how the meaning of the word “racist” does little to illuminate actual racial bias in this country.  In addition to the Ferguson report, the other hot button racial news of the day was the viral video of the members of the SAE fraternity at the University of Oklahoma chanting about how “there will never be a nigger (at) SAE” and celebrating the  lynching of black people.  Two students seen in the video have been identified and have since issued apologies (or had people issue apologies for them).  In one statement, the parents of one student state “we know his heart, and he is not a racist.”

You know what?  I get what they’re saying. Let’s give the kid the benefit of the doubt and say that he would not participate in a lynching of a black man and he probably wouldn’t argue that blacks should be denied the rights that white Americans are given. Let’s go further and take his parents statement that he was “raised to be loving and inclusive, and we all remain surrounded by a diverse, close knit group of friends.” Let’s even assume that he has a black friend. Given what we’ve assumed and what we’ve seen, can he qualify as racist?  The only way you can justify a statement like the one his parents issued is to define racism as only one narrow thing: old fashioned KKK, Nazi Skinhead type racism. And I’ll give conservatives that one thing: that type of racism is extremely rare in America these days.

But what’s less rare are pervasive racial stereotypes that still exist in our society. As Coates has argued

Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.

This is obviously a softer definition and maybe it is more like racial bias than racism. This is the kind of discrimination you see in the Donald Trump’s Birtherism, or Rudy Giuliani’s statement that President Obama “doesn’t love America… not in the way you and I do.” It’s the kind of bigotry that allows us to excuse an all white police force when they basically occupy a majority black town, ticketing residents for victimless crimes and making criminals out of a majority of residents. It’s the kind of racial prejudice that is expressed in jokes and chants on playgrounds all over this country (and all over the world) and in frats and social clubs behind closed doors. It’s America’s original sin and evidence that, even with a black president, we’re far from the post-racial society that conservatives would like us to believe we’re living in.

It’s refreshing to have a President who not only understands this, but who acknowledges it in public.

All Good Just A Week Ago

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

A remnant from the Rand Paul filibuster story. I’ve watched this video of Marco Rubio quoting Jay-Z and Wiz Khalifa on the floor of the Senate about ten times. It always leaves me with my mouth open. If you told me 7 years ago that the President of the United States would be a black guy named Hussein Obama and that the likely Republican front runner to succeed him would be quoting Jay-Z on the floor of the Senate, I would have rolled my eyes and said, “Come on man!” Just more evidence that The Times Are A Changin’.

Anyway, this video led to some mildly entertaining discussions with my conservative uncle. He pointed to Rubio’s comment that things would be much different if President Bush waffled when asked if he had the power to order drone attacks to assassinate US citizens within the United States and citing a Glenn Greenwald blog post calling out liberals for their embrace of Bush era policies, including (amazingly), the keeping of Gitmo opened. Good points all, but I reminded him that hypocrisy is a double edged sword. Both Rubio and Mitch McConnell lent support to Rand’s filibuster, but where have they been for all this time on the expansion of government powers to fight terrorism? #StandWithRand starts trending on twitter and these guys are newborn civil libertarians?  Can anyone imagine them joining a Democratic filibuster in protest of Bush Era executive overreach?

It was all good just a week ago.

Same with spending: where was brave deficit hawk Saint Paul of Wisconsin when the prescription drug bill was passed without any source of funding? Oh yeah, he provided one of the deciding votes.

cuz, it was all good just a week ago.

How about the Tea Party? Where were they when the Bush Administration went on their 8 year spending binge? Nowhere to be found. The didn’t even exist until America hired a (black) Chicago Democrat to clean up GW’s mess.

and it was all good just a week ago.

and how about the most blatant example of Republican hypocrisy over the last 4 years: Benghazi. Iraq War: over a hundreds thousand people died as a result of Bush’s bad decision and the lies he told to sell it. Meh… Benghazi: 4 people die and the president shades the truth for a couple weeks. National Outrage!!

cuz it was all good just a week ago.

And since we’re talking about the intersection of politics, hypocrisy and Hip Hop, how can it be that it’s okay for Marco Rubio to quote a song by Jay-Z and Too $hort, on the floor of the Senate, but when Common get’s an invite to the White House, it’s a national emergency on Fox News. Someone on the staff of The Daily Caller might want to do a google search for “Too Short Nancy Reagan” I mean…

It was all good just a week ago…

Game Change, Sarah Palin, and The Republican Party

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Great interview with John McCain’s 2008 campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, regarding HBO’s Game Change.

Caught the movie last Sunday. Highly Recommended.

I invited a few people over to watch it and one friend skeptically asked: “It’s a movie about Sarah Palin? Is it a comedy?”

I said “No, but it’s about Sarah Palin, so it’s probably funny as hell.”

I actually thought the movie was a sympathetic portrayal of Palin, but sympathetic is not the same as positive. Sarah Palin was a reckless choice, motivated by the imperative to win and the knowledge that winning was impossible with the usual suspects as candidates. Throughout the movie, Palin consistently demonstrates a shocking ignorance of American government, history and foreign affairs. She doesn’t understand how the Federal Reserve works, doesn’t know the difference between North Korea and South Korea, thinks that Saddam Hussein attacked America on 9-11, and believes that the Queen of England directs British foreign policy. Obviously, this is not a portrayal of a woman that would be qualified to become commander in Chief were President John McCain to die in office.

What it is, however, is a portrayal of a woman who has just given birth to a special needs child, has a 17 year old daughter who is pregnant out of wedlock, who is put in the unenviable position of being nominated for a job that she is clearly unqualified for, and is then separated from her family and thrust into the harsh glare of media scrutiny that comes with American presidential campaigns. While the movie chronicles how unprepared she was for the challenge, it also shows the adoring crowds she drew and the heartwarming connections she makes with the families of Down Syndrome children. Similarly, after scenes that show her in a downward spiral, lying on the floor of her hotel in her robe saying, “I miss my baby,” she seems reborn when John McCain brings her to his Sedona ranch to reunite with her family and begin debate prep.

While the movie portrays an erratic, sometimes petty Palin, who often seems more concerned about her own political future than that of John McCain’s, it also shows a woman who has an amazing ability to answer when the bell rings, delivering a great convention speech soon after she is plucked from Alaska, and standing toe to toe with Joe Biden for a Vice Presidential Debate on the national stage. But along with great performances on the national stage, come historic failures as Palin embarrasses herself on national TV in the Katie Couric interviews after she refuses to be coached by Nicole Wallace in the run-up to the interviews. Typical of the Palin we have grown to know over the past three years, she blames Wallace for her own lack of preparation for the interview.

Of course, Palin and her supporters have decried the movie as just another liberal media smear job, and while every movie has it’s own biases, (this one seems like it could have been written by Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace) I haven’t heard any credible refutations of the amazing gaps of knowledge that she exhibits throughout the movie.

Watching the movie was like reliving the campaign for me. I remember all of those moments vividly: Obama at the Brandenburg Gate (hard to believe he did that), the Bridge to Nowhere, the revelations of Todd Palin’s involvement in the Alaska secessionist party (“He checked the wrong box!” she exclaims), Palin’s Convention speech, and perhaps most vividly, when the campaign greenlighted her Bill Ayers attack and Republicans started showing up at McCain events yelling “Obama’s a terrorist!” One of the strongest images of the campaign was the look on John McCain’s face when he took that mic away from the crazy lady when she said that she couldn’t trust Obama, because, “he’s an Arab.”

“This is not the kind of campaign I wanted to run,” McCain says to Steve Schmidt after the event.

Just as vividly, I remember the fierce debates I had with my conservative uncle and other Republican diehards about whether Palin was just as qualified as Obama was for the job. Despite fiercely defending Palin, my uncle has consistently insisted that Obama’s “only qualifications” for President were that “he reads good speeches off of a teleprompter.” I think this movie (and, more importantly, the primary sources it is based on) clears up this debate: Aside from the star power and the hype, Sarah Palin is nothing like Barack Obama. Barack Obama may have had a thin resume, but he sure as hell knew what the Federal Reserve did and that you wouldn’t call the Queen of England to discuss British military policies.

To be fair to Palin, most of the people in the United States do not know what the Federal Reserve does. But “most people” aren’t running for Vice President, either.

More importantly, the Republican defense of Sarah Palin’s ignorance is par for the course in a party that now seems to celebrate ignorance. Somehow, the Republican meme of: the Democrats are a bunch of elitists who want to impose their worldview on youhas morphed into something bordering a distrust of anyone with an education. To cultural conservatives, Sarah Palin was seen as a great example of how intelligence and competence can come from salt of the earth, pro gun, Christian conservatives who didn’t go to elite Ivy League schools. Unfortunately, when measured by the criteria of competence and intelligence, Palin is an epic failure.

As Steve Schmidt notes in the clip above, even more important than her lack of knowledge in 2008, has been her reluctance to do the hard work and homework required to become an effective national leader. Instead of keeping her head down, learning about the issues and emerging as a more substantial candidate for future office, she quit her job and spent the last 3 years enriching herself and her family, becoming a reality TV star and practicing the politics of grievance that she is so adept at. It’s now obvious that Palin was hoping she would be able to use her very effective skills at media manipulation to be nominated for President in 2012 without actually having to run for the nomination. Certainly, we have to give her credit for the manipulating the media for her own ends, but the events chronicled in Game Change and her record over the subsequent three years should end any serious discussion of her as a viable contender for a national position.

Debating Cain and Obama With My Conservative Uncle

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

I often riff of the arguments I have with my conservative uncle in this space, but sometimes I’ll write an e-mail to him that can almost be posted in it’s entirety.

This one is from a conversation about Obama’s re-election prospects and whether or not the right track/wrong track numbers doom him. Also, my uncle asked the question about why I was making fun of Herman Cain in my last post on the Republican nomination process and made some comment about how much more qualified Cain was to be president than Obama:

My response (only slightly edited) follows:

By that same rationale, do you think that, since the Teabagger Congress is polling at 9% approval (worse than Pelosi!) they will also be “soundly defeated”?

It’s not unthinkable (and how cool would it be to have Nancy sitting back in that seat?)

But I’m sure those 91% of people just don’t understand that these guys are the righteous ones and ignoring the economy, dismantling Medicare and shutting down the government at every turn is the patriotic thing to do. After all, the economy can recover after Obama is out. The “1st priority” now is to make sure that Obama’s not reelected.

Count me as one of the 75% that thinks things are going in the “wrong direction.” A radical bunch of reactionaries have taken control of one house of Congress and the filibuster has effectively neutered the “Democratic controlled” Senate. As China continues to invest in the long term growth of their economy, Republicans insist that any investment in America that is funded by the government (because corporations don’t build bridges or dams) is “giving away money to Obama’s cronies” (sound familiar?)

Taxes are lower than they’ve been in 50 years, but raising taxes in order to balance the budget is a non-starter for the Tea Bag Congress that’s exercises veto power over all legislation. All of the balancing of the budget has to be cuts in government (but not including defense, cause wars and occupying countries we already defeated in war is apparently free). Bank bailouts are not allowed, but either is getting rid of the conditions that caused those bailouts (you’ll have to explain that one).

Meanwhile, the top 1% increased their wealth by 275% in the past 40 years and the bottom 20% increased theirs by 18%. I’m sure it will all trickle down eventually, but…

The Wrong Track is right and unfortunately, there’s very little that Willard M. Romney can do about that.

Obama’s in trouble now, but don’t count him out. Romney better offer more than what the Republican Congress has offered (which might not be that hard, since that is basically nothing) if he wants that job.

Regarding Herman Cain:

As (someone who has talked at length) about the importance of defending America, you wanna elect a guy who doesn’t know what a neo-conservative is? Whether he is a neo-conservative or not, don’t you think it’s important that he understands the fundamental debate over foreign policy that the country has engaged in over the past 10 years?

On abortion, he was coached to say that he was “absolutely pro-life,” but he apparently doesn’t understand what that means because he says that “it’s a woman’s choice.” Again, whether he’s pro-life or not isn’t the point. But if you are pro-life, then by definition, the only choice women have is pregnancy or jail. It’s not their choice.  The government’s chooses. And it is strange that you would run for President of the United States and not understand the most divisive social issue in this country in the past 40 years.

Assuming that someone with his experience is not dumb, the only conclusion is that he is intellectually lazy. So lazy that he hasn’t even brushed up on the basic issues that we have been debating as a society for the past decades. These issues are not tricky, not like the president of Uz-becki-becki-becki-stan (another awesome Cain-ism). They are the the basic issues we have been debating for the past presidential elections.

You had a nice one on the Chauncey Gardiner deal, but Cain’s not much different. He started this thing to sell some books and make some money and suddenly he finds himself polling first. But instead of ramping up his organization in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he’s in Alabama and Tennessee selling his book.

He doesn’t seem to want to be president that much, but if you guys are dumb enough to nominate him, I’ll be happy to  help Barack Obama kick the crap out of him in the General Election.

By the way, all of that stuff about Obama being “unqualified” might have worked four years ago, but Obama’s been the president for 3 years, and the only thing that prepares you to be president is…being president… so you can throw that argument out the window. By election time, he’ll have been a US Senator for 4 years and the President Of The United States for 4 years. That makes him vastly more “qualified” to be the president than anyone of those yahoos running on the Republican side.
Except maybe Michele Bachmann.

That’s the lady I want with her finger on the button.

The Tea Party Downgrade

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

In a recent flurry of e-mails with my conservative uncle, we have been arguing about who is responsible for the S&P downgrade of US debt. While it should be obvious to everyone but the Fox News addled that Congressional Republicans are responsible, the back and forth with my uncle has convinced me that this apparently needs some more explanation.

First of all, let’s stipulate that the idea of a debt ceiling doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Congress and the President are responsible for appropriating money and (much to the chagrin of the Tea Baggers) borrowing money is a part of running a government. A separate debate and vote on whether the government can borrow money to spend funds that have already been approved is superfluous. Not to mention the fact that the most reactionary budget that has come out of the House of Representatives in recent memory, the Ryan Plan, assumes a deficit for this year (and indeed a deficit for over ten years). Furthermore (although the Tea Party Constitutional fetishists have been adept at ignoring it) the Constitution is pretty clear on this. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment reads:

the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for the payments of pension and bounties for service in suppressing insurrection or rebellion shall not be questioned.

In my opinion, Obama took this Constitutional arrow out of his quiver too soon. While it would set a bad precedent to just ignore a practice that has been in place for decades, he should have reserved his ability to invoke this power in the time of a crisis.

The debt ceiling has been raised 106 times since 1940 and the historical precedent is that the “out party” (who doesn’t control the presidency) votes against it as soon as they know that there are enough votes to pass it. Again, Republicans are shocked (shocked, I say!) that there might be politics in Washington DC and point to the fact that Obama and Biden both voted against it during the Bush Administration. In return, Democrats saw their Barack Obama and raised them a Ronald Reagan, who raised the debt ceiling 18 times in 8 years and in 1987, in a speech that could have been given by Barack Obama, publicly called on the Democratic Congress to stop acting irresponsibly and raise the debt ceiling. 

But this time was different. It was different because the 2010 elections brought to power a bunch of Tea Party Congresmen who cared more about their extreme policy prescriptions than they did about the fragile economic recovery of the United States. The US Government’s much vaunted “checks and balances” are basically a way to insure compromise in lawmaking. But the opposite is true as well: checks and balances also provide an easy way for one faction to grind the system to a halt by refusing to compromise. And this is exactly what the Tea Party has been intent on doing.

Just as they forced a crisis when the Bush Tax cuts were set to expire in 2010, and then again earlier this year when the remaining money from last year was to be appropriated, the Tea Party was set on using the Full Faith and Credit of the United States as a political weapon. The initial Republican plan was to tie the US Government in knots over the debt ceiling to force spending cuts, while only extending the debt ceiling for another 6 months, thereby creating another opportunity to tie the government in knots 6 months later. This is from the same people who talk about the “uncertainty” caused by Democrat’s attempts to regulate the economy or raise enough money to finance the meager social programs we have in this country. What could lead to more uncertainty than questioning whether the largest economy in the world would pay the debts it had run up?

As if that wasn’t enough, the Republicans added the demand that not only did the deficit have to be cut, it had to be cut without raising taxes at a time where taxes are lower than they have been in 60 years.

Faced with this extraordinary economic extortion, Obama called the Republicans’ bluff. He unilaterally put the two most popular social programs in the country on the table and began to push for a deal that would cut the deficit $3-4 trillion over the next 10 years. The catch was that the Republicans would have to agree to tax increases in order to get these cuts. To be sure, this was political gamesmanship too, but it was about time. Obama has been pummeled by Republican political gamesmanship for the past 3 years, and in this case, the right political position also happened to be the right position for the country (not to mention supported by over 2/3 of the American people).

Republicans counter that Obama wasn’t serious about deficit reduction since he never submitted a detailed proposal, but (for better or worse) that’s the same thing he did during the Health Care debate and no one can question his commitment to that policy after witnessing his determination to push it through. Ultimately, Obama was expecting the usual rules to apply here: The Republican House comes out with something reactionary, the Senate moderates it, cooler heads prevail and the President signs the compromise. That is how the system is supposed to work.

But the Tea Partiers aren’t interested in how the system works. They insisted on getting 95% of what they wanted and were ready to risk the position of United States as the economic leader in the world to get that 95%. Ultimately, the deal that was struck produced a lower deficit reduction than S&P said would be necessary to avoid a downgrade and put in place an unwieldy process where a super committee is charged with finding the savings. If they don’t materialize, automatic cuts in domestic and military spending will be enacted.

While this deal took the immediate threat of a default off the table, it provided less debt reduction than S&P had said it would take as a meaningful down-payment on the debt and provided yet another choke point for the Republicans to hold the country hostage to their extreme demands.

My conservative uncle makes the argument that the downgrade was caused by President Obama’s lack of seriousness when it came to tackling the debt, but that ignores the fact that the debt is a long term problem and that the only thing that made the debt problem a “debt crisis”  was the threat of the Republicans not to raise the debt ceiling and their insistence that any deficit reduction not include any additional “revenues,” no matter how small and insignificant they were.

But don’t take my word for it. Read S&P’s statement that accompanied the downgrade (italics added):

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policy making becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year’s wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently. Republicans and Democrats have only been able to agree to relatively modest savings on discretionary spending while delegating to the Select Committee decisions on more comprehensive measures. It appears that for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options. In addition, the plan envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability.

In other words, if debt ceiling and threat of default weren’t used as “political bargaining chips” or if  the “Grand Bargain” of $3-4 trillion in debt reduction from spending cuts and new revenues that Obama was pushing for  was agreed to, the downgrade wouldn’t have happened.

In the aftermath of the downgrade, many attacked the S&P, noting that they and other ratings agencies that graded risky derivatives as AAA were in large part responsible for the economic crash that we are currently in. While this is clearly true, Reuters financial blogger Felix Salmon points out that, in this case, S&P was really just doing it’s job:

Any student of sovereign default knows that it is born of precisely the kind of failures of governance that we saw during the debt-ceiling debate. That is why the US cannot hold a triple-A rating from S&P: the chance of having a dysfunctional Congress in future is 100%, and a dysfunctional Congress, armed with a statutory debt ceiling, is an extremely dangerous thing, and very far from risk-free…We saw the values of Congress during the debt-ceiling debate, including various members of the House who said with genuine sincerity that they’d actually welcome a default. In that context, S&P’s judgment is hard to fault.


Dissecting Krauthammer on the Debt Ceiling

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

So my conservative uncle really likes this Charles Krauthammer article. He likes it so much that he e-mailed it twice. Of course, his version came from the paranoid neo-con website. Which is weird, because he’s Italian, but I digress…

Regarding Krauthammer, I hate to break it to him, but he and the other Fox News talking heads are the only people who care about what was in Obama’s original budget that never stood a chance to be enacted; or about how many times Obama said debt in his State of the Union speech. (How often did Bush say debt? How did that work out?)

It’s like Krauthammer lived in Washington all his life and never heard of politics. Obama let the Republicans go first on the debt because they spent the last two years complaining incessantly about it, and because they ran their whole campaign on cutting the deficit as if they just awoke from a 8 year winter slumber just in time for President Obama’s inauguration.

But you gotta give credit to these guys. They sure have (as Michele Bachmann would say), a lot of “chutspa.” They ran their last campaign on how unconscionable it was for Obama to make some small cuts in Medicare to fund health care and then, as soon as they get elected, every single one of them voted not only to cut Medicare, but to completely abolish it and replace it with a system that centers around coupons.

…and the poor Republicans had their plan demagogued by mean old President Obama. Not like the Republican’s have ever demagogued anything before (death panels anyone?).

Regarding the corporate jet and oil company tax breaks, I’ve heard this argument before from Republican pundits, but it seems like a counterintuitive point to make if you’re arguing for the Republican side. If the tax increases generate so little revenue (and presumably don’t impact very many people), then shouldn’t the Republicans jump at a deal where they only have to cut loopholes that benefit a few in order to balance the budget that they supposedly care about so much?

In retrospect, it’s clear what people like Krauthammer have their panties in a bunch about. They thought that Obama was such a pushover that they could force him to make massive cuts by threatening the economic security of the United States. But in a brilliant political move, Obama called the Republicans bluff by offering significant cuts in government spending with the caveat that Republicans would have to support popular tax increases that only benefit a select few (who also happen to be the Republican base). The House Republican’s response was typical: they walked out of the negotiations rather than discuss tax increases, proving once again that (although they might care about deficits a little bit), they clearly care about keeping and extending tax cuts even more.

I understand that all the Republicans made pledges to Grover Norquist not to raise taxes, but that’s not my problem, and it shouldn’t have to be the country’s problem either. The Republicans didn’t take over the government last year. They took over 1/3 of the 3 institutions that are involved in passing laws. Once they elect a Republican president, keep control of the House, and have over 60 solid votes in the Senate, they can get everything they want and balance the budget on the backs of (future) seniors and poor people. Until then, they are going to have to compromise.

My unsolicited advice to Republicans: quit acting like crybabies. Only children are naive enough to think they will get everything they want, especially in this system. Get over yourselves and do your job.

Doing What He Said He Would Do

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Okay, now I’m now in danger of the backslapping that my conservative uncle said Democrats should stop, but I can’t resist posting this one.

Talking Points Memo has the history and the video for us.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

One of the weirder aspects of the death of Osama bin Laden is the degree to which Republicans do not want to credit Obama for his success in bringing bin Laden to justice.

The week after bin Laden was killed, my uncle (after an initially magnanimous response) wrote to me that Obama deserved the credit for “authorizing the raid,” but that Democrats should “quit slapping yourselves on the back,” since we wouldn’t have known anything about bin Laden if we didn’t torture people and “if you guys had your way” there would be no SEAL Team to get bin Laden. He then proceeded to list his oft-repeated parade of horribles (of course all Barack Obama’s fault) that the country should now be focusing on.

Of course, that’s not factually correct, nor does it reflect the position of  Democrats. But more importantly, the death of bin Laden is probably the best news for the US (with the possible exception of Barack Obama’s election) in the past 10 years. It makes sense to spend some time celebrating it before we go back to bemoaning how f-ed up things are and blaming them all on Obama.

In addition, Obama deserves more than just “credit for authorizing the raid.”  Of course little clues gathered here and there throughout the years helped, but the bulk of this operation was conducted during Obama’s time as president and with his team running it. Not only did he “give the final go ahead,” (as another of my conservative sparring partners said) but he devoted more resources to the hunt for bin Laden than were previously devoted to him; his team presided over the surveillance of the house he was in; they built mock ups of the building and planned down to the smallest detail, and (practice makes perfect) executed it without a single American casualty.

Instead of just flying a drone over and bombing the location, Obama decided (in the face of a divided counsel) to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and send these guys in commando style without informing Pakistan. This (by the way) is exactly what he said he would do during the campaign and everyone of his political opponents (from Chris Dodd and Hillary Clinton to John McCain) criticized him for it. Furthermore, he insisted that the force be larger than initially planned for so that it could return fire if the Pakistani’s attacked the SEALS. This is the reason that another helicopter was on hand to blow up the one that crashed. Instead of risking more lives (and causing even more headaches for us) he gave the approval to kill bin Laden instead of capture him.

Obama Adminisitration counterterrorism advisor John Brennan called the decision to authorize the raid “one of the gutsiest calls by any president in recent memory” In case you thought that Brennan was an just administration shill, Bob Gates (Bush I CIA Director, Bush II Defense Secretary) put it in even stronger terms on 60 Minutes:  

I worked for a lot of these guys and this is one of the most courageous calls — decisions — that I think I’ve ever seen a president make.

I’m thrilled for the country that we got bin Laden, but I am also happy that Obama was the one to get him. To me, it validates the type of operations that Obama’s team has focused on: targeted, surgical strikes that are lethal, but don’t involve large scale invasions of other countries in parts of the world that doesn’t like us very much.

As Jon Stewart points out, listening to Republicans like Andy Card say that “I think (Obama) has pounded his chest a little too much,” is laughable. Andy Card was the Chief of Staff to George W Bush when he landed a plane on an aircraft in a flight suit in order to celebrate the end of a war that we are still fighting 8 years later.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that happened.

Like I said (and the Obama Administration has stated many times) these things don’t happen overnight. Certainly the Bush Administration’s work contributed to the death of bin Laden. But the army of Bush Administration Officials who took to the airwaves to claim credit for accomplishing this mission just aren’t credible. As Stewart notes, “they’re like the Winklevoss Twins of getting bin Laden: If you were the guys who were gonna kill bin Laden… You woulda killed bin Laden.”

Where Are The Patriots Now?

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

I love this.

Republicans never met a war they didn’t like before Obama was president, and they sure as hell didn’t ask what the endgame or the exit strategy was the last two times we went to war. Six years into the Iraq war it was unpatriotic to suggest that we might want to get out. Now we’ve been in Libya for three weeks and the Republicans are already demanding the exit strategy.

Reminds me of after Obama was elected president: I told my conservative uncle that I had created a Word document that just read “why do you hate America so much?,” and that everytime he criticised the new president, I was going to open it up and cut and paste it to him.

He bristled and I reassured him that I would never hold him to the ridiculous standard that opposing the president’s policies was unpatriotic, but that every once in a while, I would remind him that Republicans did try to hold Democrats to that standard for 8 years.

Conservative Uncle Demands Retraction (and Get’s One)

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

So My Conservative Uncle was outraged (outraged I say!) to hear my relatively mild comments about how rhetoric by prominent Fox News talking heads, certain Republican politicians, and some Tea Party “Patriots” might have contributed to an atmosphere that encourages (or at least condones) political violence in this country. According to My Conservative Uncle, the teabaggers can do no wrong and occasionally pointing out the racist, violent and over the top language that has been known to come out of their rallies is outrageous.

To that end, he sent me this Michelle Malkin “Democrats have also been mean to Republicans” collection that is supposed to minimize the teabaggers hate speech. Parroting O’Reilly, he claims that the Democrats are just looking to quiet the Republicans “now that they lost the political debate.”

Of course I reminded him that I was talking about the Republican climate of hate during the 2008 election cycle when Sister Sarah turned up the rhetoric about how “Obama paaaallls around with terrorists” and soon after, angry white people outside her rallies started yelling “Obama’s a terrorist!” It didn’t take long until the face of the Birthers materialized and this disheveled lady gave the fateful “Obama’s an Arab” comment at John MCain’s town hall meeting. I’ll never forget the mix of horror and anger on McCain’s face when he realized that he couldn’t control the monster his campaign had released.

Actually, my uncle sent me a similar Michelle Malkin moral relativism parade of horribles at that time as well (I remember, since it is difficult to get the image of a monkey shitting on John McCain’s head out of your mind), and of course I pointed out to him that this discussion all occurred before the Republicans “lost the political debate” in 2008…and continued in 2009 when his favorite patriots broke windows (including Gabby Gifford’s) and carved swastikas in black congressmen’s signs because they had voted to give health care to Americans.

So of course, this starts the conversation about whether there’s a double standard for conservatives vs. liberals when it comes to over the top/hateful political rhetoric and whether there should be. I struggle with this one, because on the one hand, there shouldn’t be; but on the other hand, given that many Republicans in general and teabaggers especially are gun fetishists and there hasn’t been any significant left wing political violence in this country since the 1970′s, there is clearly a different consequence to Republican hate speech than to Democrats’ hate speech.

By way of citation, I point to Oklahoma City, the dude who flew his plane into the IRS building in Texas, the dude who watched too much Glenn Beck and was on his way to shoot up an obscure liberal orgainzation when he was pulled over for drunk driving and it took 10 CHP officers to take him down….and I also point to the often reported stat that death threats against President Obama have increased 400% over President Bush (which is where I get into trouble).

Doing some fact checking of his own, conservative uncle turns up a video of the Secret Service Director, Mark Sullivan, reporting to Congress in December ’09 that threats to President Obama were at the same level as Clinton and Bush II.


Along with that e-mail comes a rant about how this information was published. I’ll spare you the details but the general idea is that it was pushed by racist black people who hate America and want to show how racist white America is (see what I have to deal with?)

In actuality, this stat comes from a book about the Secret Serivce by Ronald Kessler. Far from being a liberal who “wants to show how racist America is,” Kesssler is the Chief Washington Correspondent of the conservative online publication Included among his liberal screeds are a touching portrait of Laura Bush, a fawning look inside the Bush White House and a literary beatdown on Joseph Kennedy Sr. entitled “Sins of the Father.”

But back to the reason for this post (what was the reason for this post again?). Oh yes:

I retract the statement about the 400% increase in death threats to president Obama.

Whether there was an initial spike, but it went back to normal, or there was never any increase and Kessler’s source made it up is not clear. What is clear is that it can’t be considered a reliable stat. So I humbly apologize to my readers.

However, I do not apologize for the main thrust of my argument, which is that inciting an armed insurrection against the government, calling the president a “secret muslim” when there’s no evidence to support it, saying that the president (or presidential candidate at the time) “pals around with terrorists,” is corrosive and dangerous, especially when your main constituency includes a large number of gun nuts with a strong sense of victimhood and paranoia.

Not to mention that there’s a certain amount of dissonance one experiences hearing the defense of violent rhetoric against the elected government from a group of people who spent 2001-2008 talking about how unpatriotic liberals were for the political sin of disagreeing with the president.

It’s worth a reminder that, by that standard, the people who are unpatriotic now are the ones in colonial garb with bags of Lipton hanging from their tri-cornered hats.