Let's get this straight:
Benghazi talking points?
Not a scandal.
IRS practicing politics?
A scandal for the president?
Important questions about the 2012 attack on the American mission compound in Benghazi, Libya, include who the perpetrators were, how the attack was allowed to happen, and what we can learn from it that will help us improve security there and elsewhere in the future. Also legitimate are questions about chain of command at the State Department, and whether Congress is adequately funding security for foreign posts.
The rest of the current inquiry is nonsense. Within days after the attack, UN Ambassador Susan Rice was sent on a round of interviews about what was known so far about the attack. I personally viewed her accounting of the tragedy on one Sunday morning news show after another. She qualified everything she shared by emphasizing we weren't sure about all the details yet. I watched as she listened in on one program while Libyan President Mohammed el-Magariaf stated emphatically that this was a terrorist attack. Rice didn't object to this statement; she simply reiterated that there was still a lot to be learned.
In short order, as more information emerged, the White House was completely, proactively forthcoming. It was directly from the Oval Office that we learned this was a planned attacked, carried out by organized and well-armed extremists. That angle was pursued at the direction of the White House, and turned out to be supported by evidence. This evidence wasn't dragged out of the Administration by the press, or discovered through exhaustive Congressional hearings. It was only later, when it became clear that there was nothing about this tragedy that could be pinned on the Obama administration that Republicans began clutching at the straw of the tenor of statements immediately communicated after the event. Unfortunately for them, no wrong-doing occurred there either.
Routing a memo to a dozen people to hammer out wording before going forward is a scintillating and suspect process to exactly no one who has worked in any office, ever. The changes supplied by the White House itself could be characterized as minimal, and as more cautious than advantageous for their image; caution well-warranted considering the fact that attacks on the embassy in Cairo occurred simultaneously and were NOT connected to terrorists.
If you'll remember, standing in stark contrast to that caution was the tone of the statements made on this issue by then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was perfectly comfortable tossing out sweeping, irresponsible, anti-Administration accusations, before all of the parts of this tragedy had even stopped moving. If nothing else struck fear in the hearts of voters imagining such a man sitting in the Oval Office, that kind of impulsive, short-sighted, and self-serving behavior should have.
As for officials in the Internal Revenue Service targeting Tea Party-associated groups for special scrutiny, well, that news is chilling. Any hint of such activity on the part of low-level agents would be inexcusable. In this case it sounds like there were IRS employees with significant authority directing activity against these groups – activity that amounts to harassment. Any American who cares about free speech should be concerned about this. A full inspector general's report due out later this week will provide more detail. We need to know how far-up knowledge of this activity went, and whether Congress was purposely misled. As high as accountability lies, heads should roll. But hopes that anyone close to president will bear responsibility are sure to be dashed.
Those opportunistic members of the GOP who are thinking that either of these issues could provide a way out of their real task - redeveloping a political party that represents honest conservative principles - will have to go, once again, back to the drawing board.
- Julie Boler
I've been sitting here staring at a horrifying picture. Not this one to the left. It's horrifying too. It makes me sick. But I wanted my readers to get a glimpse of it, so I cut out a little corner of it to post. Amazing how much just that little corner conveys, isn't it?
The one I've been staring at is bigger and clearer. It's a bright, color photograph of a half-naked, half-sexily-clad brunette, bullet-ridden and bleeding profusely from the mouth. It's actually just a dummy - a product sold by a company called Zombie Industries. They sell it for target practice - a high-end item for the avid sport-shooter. Zombie Industries offers a variety of human-looking targets, all of which have the special feature of actually bleeding when they are hit.The photo I was staring at is a mannequin-like shooting target called "The Ex." The picture was published at Talking Points Memo on Monday. I want to state that it's a graphic picture first, then tell you it can be found here. I want people to see it, and I want people to share it. The only thing I can even think of to do right now is shine some light on it. The website for Zombie Industries, a whole world of horror for sale in the name of shooting enjoyment, can be found here.
When this company set up shop recently in the vendor hall at the NRA National Convention in Texas, they had a target dummy on display that looked like President Obama. You can see a picture of it on their website; TPM also produced a clear and up-close photo
One presumes that because the target is named "Rocky", is called a zombie, (the website has a zombie motif) and is colored green, the company enjoys plausible deniability against accusations that they are selling shooting targets with features that make it look like the President. Or, maybe they don't need deniability. Maybe there isn't anything illegal about it, or of interest to the Secret Service. Maybe my readers can tell me.
The company sells another target called the "terrorist." Interestingly, the "terrorist" target dummy is simply a man with a long black beard, dressed in traditional Muslim clothing. His arms are down, and he has no weapon. For $89.95, you can purchase this guy and shoot him up until he is soaked in blood, riddled with bullet holes, and unrecognizable. You can do the same thing to not-Obama-"Rocky," also for $89.95. To mimic murdering your ex-girlfriend, though, you have to shell out $99.95. The copy reads, "$99.95 – Bleeding Alexa Zombie Life-Sized Tactical Mannequin Target - “Bleeds” When Shot!!!" The ad also points out that the "Ex" is a good buy at that price, because it "can be shot more than 1000+ rounds of assorted calibers" and "reused to finish off another day." The
company provides a paragraph-long back story for Alexa, sure to get you primed for target practice: "She had a wicked mean streak in her and was known for her nasty disposition, especially if she had been drinking."Wayne LaPierre is on record criticizing the film and gaming industries for their life-like depictions of shooting violence. He has questioned whether shooting and killing while playing video games with realistic targets could make it more likely for someone to commit murder. He has not been clear about what type of intervention he is looking for - it's hard to imagine he wants more government regulation imposed on industries that allow one to pretend to murder, given his opposition to government regulation on the industry selling the equipment one needs to actually do it.But aside from having Zombie Industries remove the Obama look-alike target two days into the conference, (which was surely just a delayed impulse to avoid liability, attention from authorities, or bad press), the NRA kept the welcome mat out for the rest of the company's shooting targets, like the terrorist, and the ex-girlfriend.I see sickness when I look at the picture of the "The Ex". I see
depravity in the Zombie
Industries website. How do we address it? I have no idea. I don't want them shut down - there is no justification for that. I would love your opinions. And if you have the stomach for it, look at the website, examine their products, and read some of the ad copy. And if you're ready to really go into the heart of darkness, watch the video on "Alexa's" page. Watch the group of sportsmen standing in a row in the woods, all together peppering the mannequin's breasts and stomach, catching her back and shoulders when she twists and falls from the impact. Watch one of the men walk up to her, lying
face down in the leaves, and empty his gun into the back of her head.
- Julie Boler
This post is a response to a recent editorial in the Washington Post by Charles Krauthammer, a conservative political writer and commentator. His column is brief, and this post will make more sense if you read it. I'll wait.Okay. So, if you don't know this guy, I can tell you, he is an unpleasant man. FOX News loves him as a guest; he contributes a unique blend of erudite and yet intensely sophomoric and hostile commentary on governmental atrocities committed by our President. Attacking Barack Obama is his fetish. The first thing I thought when I read this column is that I would rather think the best of others and be a million times disappointed in life, than go through it with as morose and contemptuous an attitude as Krauthammer’s. His column reveals much more about himself than it does about Mr. Obama.
With an air of triumph and pride, he delineates the Republican Party’s successes in their ongoing mission to obstruct at every turn the sitting President of the United States. Their explicitly stated goal has always been to stand against anything the president supports, because he supports it. One assumes the objective is for Obama to be seen, currently, and by history, as a failed president. With this column, (rather prematurely, as we are currently in year 4.4 of the Obama era), based on a couple of GOP victories on high-profile votes, Krauthammer has decided to break out the champagne. Never mind that the country is hurting because of these victories. Never mind that its citizens appear to be gradually catching on to the fact that they were won at great expense to all. Writing with the same tone as would someone expressing an admirable and legitimate position, Krauthammer crows about recent punches Republicans have landed on the president’s jaw. Not punches thrown in the name of principle or policy, mind you, but thrown because, well, they just hate that guy.
Let's look at some of what Mr. Krauthammer has to say: "...the victor (a reelected Obama) is hailed as the new Caesar, facing an open road to domination..." Mr. Krauthammer, you realize that you folks are the only ones who see it that way, right? No Democrat I know has any desire for a Caesar in the White House. On the domestic front, far from wanting to dominate others, we want to empower fellow citizens to each reach a place where they can grow, succeed, and be happy. We want everyone to have doctors and medicine. We want to learn to walk ever more lightly on the earth. We don’t want domination internationally, either; you’re projecting. We want to support fledgling democracies across the world in their efforts toward self-determination. We want to find peaceful agreement with opposing countries, not destroy them. I wish you could know what it feels like to be in a party that is for something, rather than against everything. It can be exhilarating. It might even wipe that perpetual scowl off your face. Let’s go on. What else, Mr. K.? "...Barack Obama, already naturally inclined to believe his own loftiness, graciously accepted the kingly crown..."
(Eye roll.) Again... "Thus emboldened, Obama turned his inaugural and State of the Union addresses into a left-wing dream factory, (including) his declaration of war on global warming (on a planet where temperatures are the same as 16 years ago and in a country whose CO2 emissions are at a 20-year low)…” Er… You frighten me, Mr. Krauthammer.
"Obama sought to fracture and neutralize the congressional GOP..."
Wait, Obama did what? I think Republicans sought to... oh, never mind.
"Obama cried wolf, predicting the end of everything we hold dear if the sequester was not stopped. It wasn't. Nothing happened."
Yeah? Tell that to the people who... oh, never mind.
"...Obama’s spectacular defeat on gun control..."
So, "spectacular" is the word that springs to mind for you there, Mr. K.? I would have gone with "insanely immoral." Because Republicans didn't oppose this bill in favor of another bill, one with a different approach to protecting the American people from random violence. There was no pretense of a greater motivation for voting down this bill than a political strike against President Obama. Mr. K., even if this bill had passed, it would be a time for sober optimism that it might stem the flow of blood. To call its defeat “spectacular” is obscene. And do understand, sir: it was a defeat for Obama only in the cheapest political sense. The real defeat was for the gun-violence victims' families, traveling home from Washington after the vote, to Newtown and Chicago and Tucson and Aurora. The real defeat will be felt, (terrifyingly enough) by people who don't even know it yet. Maybe me. Maybe someone I know. It’s a defeat for the next victims of mass or otherwise indiscriminate shootings that could have been prevented by this bill. "For Obama, gun control was a political disaster. He invested capital. He went on a multi-city tour. He paraded grieving relatives. And got nothing... Obama failed even to get mere background checks."
You usually hear the somewhat unsophisticated label "pervert" applied to someone with socially frowned-upon sexual proclivities. I don't normally use the word myself. But what can one say reading this stuff? "He paraded grieving relatives. And got nothing." Charles Krauthammer is a pervert. Finally, Krauthammer wraps up his column with a sarcastic, school-boy taunt; his take on the Obama Presidency to date: "From king of the world to dead in the water in six months. Quite a ride." Republicans are a tribe. They have retreated into a national yet somehow provincial horde. They defend their holdings with all their might. They see the rest of us as constant threats to their sovereignty and survival. Democrats are a party of many tribes. In the current iteration of the two parties, we are simply the one more comfortable with a broad mix of folks, a wide diversity of opinion within the party, and the ability to think of unlike groups as potential members of coalitions, coming together around overlapping concerns. Republicans are starting to understand that such a conglomeration, with varying backgrounds, needs and priorities but with a firm set of shared ideals, is likely to keep growing; in size and therefore power. Their response is to reluctantly edge open the gate to their compound, remain inside, and beg others to come in and join the tribe. Their strategy is to tell these others that they would benefit from coming inside the compound and hating everyone outside it. They’ll even accept those who look like outsiders, as long as they agree to mimic and obey tribal customs and dictates.
Welllll, GOP, good luck with that. You have quite a cheery spokesperson in Charles Krauthammer. Most of us are honestly hoping you will ditch him and his ilk, pass through the gate, leave the tribe behind, and join the rest of us. Not to be Democrats, necessarily. Just come out here away from that tribe. With us, you can believe anything you want, live the way you prefer, and promote anything you believe in. That's how we roll out here. We just ask that you don't sacrifice the good of the people for the will of that angry little tribe. Then maybe you can get back to making real contributions on important matters. From a sane conservative perspective, if you like. On important matters like the economy, defense policy, governmental effectiveness and transparency, tax policy, and so on. You're needed.In the meantime, I just hope the rest of us can survive the tribe.Julie Boler
The Republican Party released a sweeping report today on the status of the Party and what it needs to do to gain more public support and win elections on the national level. They did extensive polling, looked at how campaigns have been conducted, and called on many experts and consultants.
One of the major conclusions reached was that they need to attract more minority voters, female voters, and young voters. This issue has been widely discussed of course, especially since the 2012 election. But this report really put the problem front and center.
The second major conclusion reached was that Republicans need to get better at messaging, need to get with the times on digital communication, and just overall improve their campaign tactics.
The reason they will continue to fail is that when they hear the two problems outlined, for some reason they think that fixing the second one; communication, will fix the first one; their lack of appeal to a diverse electorate. In fact they sound deeply relieved to hear about the second one; it's so doable. And hey, there's no reason why upgrading their political infrastructure won't also fix their unpopularity with... almost everyone. Even though the one has nothing to do with the other.
In response to the report, prominent members of the Party spoke out today, saying they sure do understand what the report tells them, and yup, they've just got to get better at reaching out to those women, and those communities of color. But as soon as they say the words "reach out" they accidentally flip to the "messaging" piece, and conflate them completely. Outreach is apparently about saying the same off-putting things, but saying them better.
The theory seems to be that their platform is actually very welcoming to minorities and youth, but it just didn't get out during the last campaign season. They believe they just didn't use the right methods to communicate that the GOP "embraces civil rights" for poor people, black people, Latinos, women and younger voters.
But, no. Their message got out there all right. It got out too well.
Women heard loud and clear that the uterus should fall under the control of the "small government party."
Young people, the least homophobic demographic in the country, heard loud and clear that the civil procedure used by local government entities to certify marriage should fall under the control of "the party of liberty and the constitution," and should be defined by religious principles.
Latinos heard loud and clear, from the Republican that the Party had nominated for President, that the Party considered "self-deportation" a legitimate approach to immigration reform.
And black voters? If black voters had any doubts about their status in the eyes of Republicans, they didn't need to look any further than the massive, hostile, naked efforts to disenchfranchise them by use of regressive voting policies. It is a matter of record, of hard numbers, that black Americans are vastly, disproportionately affected by restrictive voter registration drives, cutting early voting hours, and requiring voters to obtain a strictly-defined, government-issued photo ID, in order to cast a ballot.
Coming out of their reading of this report, Republican Party officials have pledged to spend $10 million on an effort to to reach out to minority communities and portray "a more welcoming message." They plan to update their digital capacities, and use social media more. Said the Republican Party head, Reince Priebus, “The way we communicate our principles isn't resonating widely enough."
Reince, Reince. It's not the WAY you are communicating the principles, it's the principles!
The report itself states that Republicans “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” But within hours of its release, Sally Bradshaw, one of the report's authors, clarified that “we don’t say what immigration reform is...we don’t say it must be a path to citizenship.”
The report itself puts strong emphasis on gay rights as a factor for young voters. Said Glenn McCall, another of the report's authors, “for many younger voters, this issue is a gateway into whether or not the party is a place they want to be.” But within hours, he clarified that this doesn't mean Republicans have to change their views. He reaffirmed, “We support traditional marriage, the way our creator defines it.”
Perhaps the ten million dollars they have put aside for outreach should not go to young, female, and minority voters. Perhaps it would be better spent educating their own party.
They could teach Republican citizens about the difference between their personal views and public policy.
They could remind Republicans in Congress about constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection.
They could spell out more clearly to Party leaders that marriage is actually a civil certification, done under government auspices. It can then be celebrated with a wedding (or not) in whatever way the couple chooses.
They could inform Republicans across the land that voter impersonation is not a viable threat to democracy, but voter repression is. That even the bipartisan Help America Vote Act, proudly signed into law by George W. Bush, recommends that states allow voters to ID themselves at polling places with a wide variety of more readily available forms of ID, including work badges, medical cards, and current utility bills.
And they could ask their Republican state officials to knock it off with the forced ultrasounds.
Then that 10 mil might start getting them somewhere.
In discussions about atheism with friends, relatives, and folks in online discussion groups, I've noticed that the separation of church and state issue gets lots of attention. I think it is the central issue. It's one thing I always mention. But I've noticed it doesn't seem to function for some of my associates in these dialogues the same way it does for me. I think of it as a bottom-line shared value on the left, and I sense in these groups that we all place great importance on it. But I ultimately hear it employed to say, "The problem with religion is that people want to base laws on it." But isn't that in fact a problem with people that want to base laws on it?
As long as we keep our dukes up and make sure that piece is protected, isn't whatever someone else believes sort of none of our business? As long as they are not setting policy or writing curriculum, why is there such intense resolve on the part of some atheists to keep pressing and pressing the point that everyone else has stupid beliefs? That seems like the height of bigotry, and I haven't heard anyone yet say convincingly why it isn't.
On a personal level, I am getting so sick of people I respect and feel great affection for, whom I assume have similar feelings for me, stating over and over that my belief system - which they know nothing about except that it isn't atheism - is wrong. That it's valid to use their
metrics to evaluate my private intellectual system for organizing ideas about the mysteries of life. I can't believe it sometimes. I don't get why that isn't an egregiously prejudiced, snobbish response.
I personally have no interest in searching historical records for signs of miracles or accounts of the lives of prophets. My eyes glaze over hearing about such things. In terms of my own beliefs, there is no "proof," for or against them. They are just how I picture what we don't yet know about life. You can't really hold them up to a logical analysis any more than you could use a mathematical equation to measure exactly how much I love my husband. Any more than you can study pride or envy or awe in a laboratory. But to say "it's not supposed
to be logical" to the evangelical atheist is like throwing yourself to the wolves. "There you go! If it's 'not logical," then it's faulty thinking by definition!"
Meanwhile, it's my mind, it's my belief system, and it's a big part of who I am. I don't follow dogma, or worship a god, but I think about intangible things in the universe in a way that is open, curious, optimistic and...throwing myself to the wolves again...spiritual. I love the word spiritual. It signals ignorance to my friends. But there is nothing ignorant about wondering why the sight of geese passing over autumn trees makes me feel melancholy in a good way. And why thunderstorms both scare us and attract us. Yes, dears, they scare us to trigger the adaptive response of taking shelter. But why do they captivate us too? It's a rhetorical question; please don't send me the evolutionary reason. I don't picture thunder as God bowling, but I think it is magical and mystical and it would bore me to hear why it also promotes the survival of the species. So does minding your own business about what's in someone else's head. Dears.
And as far as people who do
believe in things like Jesus or Allah or rain dances or holy books - I can't believe the way they are condemned wholesale by some atheists. It is so surprising to me sometimes. There is a terribly culturally-insensitive aspect to this, so shocking to see played out in liberal discussions. Some seem to feel comfortable mocking whole cultures; whole groups of people who have for generations woven ritual and talismans and rosaries and prayers and holy water and clergy into their lives and communities. And the lip-service paid to the idea that religion "can play an important role in society" or "sometimes helps people feeeeel better" is so dismissive and superior it makes me a little ill.
If the spiritual beliefs of others aren't being forced on you, why does it destroy your day to be aware of them in public? I get that it is ubiquitous, but so is body odor, if you live in the city. I get that it is symbolic to some people of their own traumatic childhood upbringings. To some victims of sexual violence or child abuse, every male with a certain hair color and height does that too. I am not a Christian, but I have the social skills to get through a Christian funeral or wedding. I may roll my eyes when people think there's praying in football, but I don't spend any time on it. I'm more turned off by brightly-painted belly flab than by the sign of the cross from the kicker.
Now, I did have a she-Hulk fit, and lodge an official complaint, when I heard a Christian invocation used to open a county-wide meeting when I worked in the public school system. Although surprised, I stood and bowed my head because I prefered that to noticeably sitting it out. But I'd have completely respected anyone else doing the latter, especially in that setting. I made a mental note to email someone to say that even this ecumenical prayer I was hearing should not have been included at a school system meeting. But when they closed it with "in Jesus' name we pray," I almost flipped the table over. Even in rural NC you'd think they should know about Jews from TV. I didn't break anything, but they heard from me later, formally and emphatically.
But I didn't get bogged down picking apart the contents of the prayer. The prayer shouldn't have been there at all. It is beside the point whether I
believe Jesus is magic. I had no interest in pronouncing everyone at that meeting who had crossed themselves to be intellectually bankrupt, superstitious or wrong. If you try to worm it into public policy or curriculum, you're all mine. Otherwise, go for it.
It is not true that you have to choose between believing in evolution and science, and having abstract philosophical ideas that are inconsistent with what science knows now. If you think it is, you aren't thinking deeply. I have been told that believing anything could exist outside what can be proven is by definition superstitious - an ignorant tolerance for the concept of the supernatural. But doesn't my thinking reflect my love for science when I ponder to myself, "I wonder if there could be a force of love in the same way there is a force of gravity?" Saying that certain of your ideas exist outside of science and aren't subject to proofs, is not saying you don't believe the proofs we have. That just sounds obtuse to me!
I will put out a challenge to my readers: please
, be the first person who can convincingly explain to me why the following words sound better coming out of one mouth than another:
- "Your beliefs aren't just different from mine; they're wrong."
- "Instead of believing what you believe, you should believe what I believe."
- "You teach your kids that???"
- "I must go out and convince others that this is the only right thing to believe."
Personally, I don't want to hear that mess from anyone.
I think the atheist movement has been brilliant, incredibly important, and exciting. In an amazingly short time the very idea of vocal, activist atheists has gone from 0 to 60. Just a few years ago, people thought an atheist was some crank father who didn't want his child saying the pledge. Well that turned out to be a worthy and seminal cause, and now it's a whole movement led and followed by countless intelligent, witty, creative and accomplished people. This is the perfect time for people in the movement to figure out how to define themselves in a way that doesn't reflect everything they hate about organized religion.
Election Night 11/6/13
Yes, liberals are giddy. After eight years of Bush, and many more during which the very word "liberal" was considered slander, we gloat too much about our victories. We appear to wish death upon the GOP. In our less realistic moments, perhaps we do.
But we also know that a robust two-party system is vital to the integrity and effectiveness of the democracy. We know that the push-pull of different political orientations; the vigorous debate that must transpire to get at a truth; and the balance created by having a variety of viewpoints represented over time - those things comprise the genius of the great American experiment.
That is why the failure of the current Republican Party to offer intelligent and helpful debate is felt by some of us as a loss.
Liberals do feel giddy about this uniquely gifted president, his improbable success, and his ability to brilliantly, unapologetically promote bedrock liberal principles.
But contrary to popular conservative opinion, we don't worship President Obama. Governing is a human endeavor. We don’t expect or perceive perfection. It is a task too complex and critical to leave subject to the fallibility of one person's leadership, or to ask one party to shoulder alone.
At no time has everyone on the left been unified in evaluating the president's effectiveness or judgment. Even amongst ourselves we have a diversity of opinion on matters of national importance. We don’t have all the answers. So it’s actually a matter of unfairness for the entire Republican Party to get so bogged down in wound-licking and reactionary dogma that even its smartest members cede the voice of their party to the wing nuts. It isn't fair.
Gun violence is complicated. Poverty is complicated. Drone use is complicated. Questions about the ideal purview of government are complicated. Questions about the proper role of the Intelligence community in Defense endeavors are complicated. The modern economy is complicated.
So when particularly sobering problems emerge, forcing our giddiness to evaporate, even those of us on the left who are generally highly partisan and self-righteous about our ideas recognize the need for all hands on deck. It then becomes infuriating to see the disarray, shallowness, and nastiness that presently rule the GOP.
NBC reporter Michael Isiskoff
On Monday, NBC investigative journalist Michael Isikoff broke the news about a memo
that reveals the Obama administration’s communication failures and programmatic ambiguity regarding its use of drones to combat homeland security threats. Critical questions about how and when drones may be used against American citizens are unanswered. Questions like, how exactly is it determined that an American citizen has become an enemy combatant? Would such a person have an opportunity to surrender before being assassinated? Can such a person be killed on American soil? As Isikoff pointed out Monday evening on The Rachel Maddow Show, the administration has been effectively unable to say that current guidelines don’t allow for an American citizen, living in a US city, to be killed in bed at night by government operatives. But because what passes on the right these days for reason is actually a paranoid, lunatic fringe-type thinking, we can’t have a real discussion about it.
The most obstinate partisan must acknowledge the fact that no matter how much you trust the people in power now, within a few years the people in power will be a whole new group of folks, with the same power.
I have tremendous faith in this administration. I trust Barack Obama. But participatory government is our duty in this country, so we should ask these questions, and they should answer. No administration can get everything right. I believe the President when I hear him express his intent to improve the transparency and codification of these processes. I believe him when he describes the challenge of managing on-going and imminent threats while simultaneously trying to draft publicly vetted rules of engagement for a frontier mode of defense. (A mode of defense that, in my mind, has great promise as a tool to help us delay or avoid full-scale war.)
Vigorous debate on this subject has occurred on the left. Some of us are puritanical pacifists, deeply opposed to drone use on principle. Some of us have taken on, to our own surprise, a pragmatic hawkishness, feeling that drones may be evil compared to no drones, but they are downright benevolent compared to full-scale air raids and ground invasions.
MQ-9 Reaper Drone
I have found it hard to broach this topic outside liberal zones, in politically-mixed groups. I am stopped by a feeling of protectiveness about the President that springs from the relentless, unwarranted, vindictive scrutiny of him by the right. I'm not talking about the honest pressure for transparency and ethical rigor that can and should come from an opposition truly loyal to the cause of democracy. That kind of pressure is good. That kind of pressure is what we need.
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I’m talking about a scrutiny wherein vast swaths of a party's most vocal members hijack an entire 24-hour news cycle to explore whether the barrel of a skeet rifle held by the president looks authentic or photo-shopped. I’m talking about a party that reelects members to Congress who use perfectly good congressional floor time to question whether this president was born in the US, or whether he is a secret Socialist, or whether there are people in his State Department with nefarious ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
A party that has allowed high-ranking members to go uncensured for meeting the very night of Mr. Obama’s first inauguration to strategize ways to oppose him at every turn, including voting against his favored legislation even if it is in sync with their own positions. A party still represented by both elected and unelected officials who openly, repeatedly vowed during his first term to put the welfare of the republic at temporary risk if it helped the cause of "making Obama a one term president." A party that recently reelected a national chair who claimed during his first tenure that Obama's presidency would cause "an end to our way of life in America."
These examples illustrate the hyper-critical and one-dimensional Republican view of Mr. Obama; they don’t even touch on all the other Stupid Republican Tricks that expose a readiness to abandon our time-tested system of judiciously prosecuting policy proposals. Tricks like putting creationists on the House Science Committee, proffering "self-deportation" as a legitimate immigration reform device, employing a willful misinterpretation of the "you didn't build that" Obama campaign quote as a major campaign theme, or deeming the taunting of Iran a useful foreign policy approach.
These doings, along with many others, all demand that countless hours of pointless, inane, mental energy be spent on faux issues or backwards policies while pressing problems are at hand.
Shouldn't thoughtful criticism be the responsibility of everyone?
Yes, citizen members of the party in power should be expected to push themselves to critique and challenge their chosen administrations, publicly and forcefully. But we should also be able to rely on the opposition party to be constructively skeptical and civilly unsympathetic.
Republicans. Pull your selves together. We need your help on this drone thing.
Mr. Ryan, doing and giving.
This intense new language about "free stuff", "gifts", the entitlement culture, and people voting for Obama because they want "things" is stunning. It is nothing we haven't heard before, and I suppose not unexpected as a form of grousing about the election results, but I didn't see it coming as such a primary, breathless new focus on the right. It is ugly and mean, and it is not grounded in a realistic perception of American society.
What on earth is Mitt Romney talking about with this "gifts" business?? Student loan forgiveness and parental healthcare are "gifts" for young people? If you choose to describe generous tax breaks for wealthy individuals as an investment in the economy and development of our country; you simply can't describe breaks on education and healthcare for students and young adults as anything else.
What on earth is Paul Ryan talking about with his "takers vs makers" theme? He is concerned that our society is "becoming more and more one of takers rather than makers." Well, some of these benevolent "makers" are currently taunting the country, dangling by a thread the jobs that they have only just gotten around to increasing after about six years of sitting tight. At this point it has become hard to deny that Obama's economic approach is working, but they don't trust it. So their attitude is, "Look, if this thing starts to go back down, I'm gettin' mine before I feel any pain." Why doesn't that attitude put someone in the "taker" category?
And who exactly are these so-called takers?? Legions of them, apparently! Do these right-wing pundits and leaders have any clue how small a portion of Americans actually subsist on government benefits? Do they understand that it is a fluctuating, rolling group of people, who gain or lose benefits based on changing life circumstances, the economy, and aging in and out of eligibility? I don't know for certain who they actually mean with these classist slurs. But if they think there is a large, static group of losers, sitting at the bottom of society, thumbing their nose at rich people and raking in free money, they are deluded.
Maybe they need to stop talking and do some research.
If you don't count people using benefits they have paid into directly, which of course you shouldn't, there is a very small percentage of the population at any one time receiving a significant portion of their resources from "safety-net" government benefits. The number exploded with the recession, but to the extent that conservatives refer to real numbers in talking about the rise in applications for federal benefits, they quite comically point to such statistics - like the increase in the number of people on Food Stamps - as somehow a cause of poverty, rather than an indicator of it. As a reflection on the current president's economic policies, rather than proof of the devastation wreaked by those of the previous president.
The number of people in a given year getting some government assistance, (school lunches, weatherization, etc.) is around 8%. There is simply no accounting for what Romney meant by his 47%, and I can't imagine what Bill O'Reilly meant by saying that 50% of America voted for Obama because they "want things." Who knows what category of breaks and benefits they are counting to get up to that number. I guess you get close to that if you include veteran's benefits and Medicaid, and apparently they are excluding incentive and benefits for the wealthy. It's just a bizarre number. It's truly perplexing to figure out who they are talking about.
We can probably remove the unemployed from the "takers", since they are a group that right-wingers seem more reluctant to blame for their situation. We'll also presume to set aside the elderly and disabled. If we're really generous, we'll imagine they would hesitate to label as moochers folks who can't make enough on minimum wage to feed their kids, or those whose work is seasonal or inconsistent, who have to apply for help with their heating bills. (But even if you throw back in the working poor and the nursing home resident in with the "takers", you don't get above 9% of the population.)
But once you get down to the people I have to assume they are really talking about, people who are actually living on TANF, (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, a.k.a. welfare,) people who are receiving more than 50% of their lively-hood from government benefits, they are talking about 1.7% of the population.
And if they are saying that group, tiny as it is, is some sort of threat to the well-being of the country, they have a lot to learn about the folks they are accusing of getting a free ride. Living on welfare is a miserable existence, and the vast majority of people who are that poor engage in constant efforts to get into a better situation. Most people on TANF participate vigorously in the program requirements in hopes of getting off welfare. They sign up for the job training and budgeting classes offered in some states, and take advantage of any job placement help provided. If there are people on welfare who voted for Obama because they thought his policies would affect their lives, it wasn't out of a hope that "oh goodie, maybe he'll make it so I get to stay on welfare longer!" It wasn't because they want "things", unless by things you mean bologna sandwiches for their kids or an asthma inhaler from the clinic, or sheets of plastic for their thin-paned windows in January.
Nobody wants to be on welfare.
But let's say for argument's sake that there is a group of takers. A fraction of that fraction of the population who appear to want to be on welfare. Folks who have given up and grown dependent, who plan their lives around the day that check rolls in so they can blow it on who knows what, who have convinced themselves that since Obama cares about the poor, he must be planning to increase their benefits. Well, Paul Ryan, Bill O'Reilly et.al. can rest assured that those hapless folks are not taking over the nation. Welfare work requirements are firmly in place, despite Mitt Romney's lies during the campaign. The lifetime limits on the number of months one can receive welfare are in place. Stipends for any additional children born during one's limited eligibility phase barely cover diapers, so no one is having babies to get bigger checks. If there are folks who truly feel like it would be a dream come true to live off the government for life, they are out of luck no matter who is president.
I go back to wondering then who these "takers" are. Who are the people that want all this free stuff, and what is the free stuff?
I wish there was some way to measure what percentage of every income level is made up of takers. Whatever the number of poor people hoping to exploit the system, I'm sure it is matched by the percentage of middle-income people with the same dysfunctional personality type, coasting along in undemanding jobs, sloughing their work off on other people, not contributing to society. And certainly there are high income people living off family wealth and investment income, feeling entitled to benefits just for being rich, without ever thinking creatively about how to make the world a better place. There is no corner on the "taker" market in any echelon of society. Being a taker is a character issue, not a class issue.
It is the height of condescension to accuse poor people, even those who at some point need society's help staying warm or getting enough to eat, of having a greedy, lazy, selfish mentality; of voting for Obama so they can get "gifts" and "things", and of having as a group a lesser moral character than some advantaged, hateful, judgmental politician or media personality.
The current abortion debate is so distorted, it is framed as though abortion is against the law, and that we need only to sort out the legal exceptions. Pro-choice advocates should emphasize that the "exceptions" question is irrelevant: we must stop being seduced by hysterical arguments about rape, incest, and the life of the pregnant woman.
We already handle the horror of rape and incest miserably in our society. The quest to improve our response to such crises should be given the attention it deserves, completely outside the discussion of abortion. Any woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape or incest should have immediate access to a safe abortion. That is true now and should remain true, end of discussion. Questions of medically necessary abortions are also beside the point. When an egregiously stupid politician seeks political advantage by saying ignorant things about women's health, he should lose votes because he is egregiously stupid. When he has a national audience, creating the potential for his ignorant remarks to misinform the public, it's good for experts to step in: hence the statement
issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to clarify that there are indeed cases in which an abortion is necessary to safeguard the health of the pregnant woman. But a medically necessary abortion has nothing to do with a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy based on criteria that she determines.
Oddly enough, Paul Ryan had it almost right. As long as abortion is legal, how
someone becomes pregnant is beside the point.It is the legal status of abortion that Republicans hope to change. Every time we let them lure us into exhaustive public arguments about what the exceptions would be if abortion were illegal, we help create space in the collective consciousness for the idea that some abortions are okay, some are not, and the difference will be determined by the state. Unless they succeed in changing the law, the question of exceptions is moot. Our only response should be, "What difference does it make? Abortion is legal."
On October 2nd, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson informed Governor Tom Corbett and Secretary of State Carol Aichele that they could not implement strict, new Voter ID requirements until after the federal election next month.
Earlier, in July, Judge Simpson had upheld the ID requirements, signed into law in March. This ruling was immediately appealed to the State Supreme Court by the group of plaintiffs opposing it; a group which includes attorneys for the ACLU, the NAACP, and registered voters who had been unable to produce documents necessary to obtain the ID.
The State Supreme Court then sent the case back to Simpson with explicit instructions to determine whether any voters would be disenfranchised by the law. Simpson held a new hearing, in which the DOS asserted that, despite a multitude of unanticipated glitches, they were bending over backwards to ease the process of obtaining ID. They assured the judge that all eligible voters could obtain the necessary ID by Election Day.
However, the plaintiff group easily demonstrated, with witness after witness, that there were so many hurdles and snafus occurring in the process that there was no chance that every voter needing ID could get it by Election Day. Judge Simpson duly found that the law would indeed cause voter disenfranchisement, and he enjoined its implementation until at least after this election.
The rub: he allowed the state, since they intend to go forward implementing the law for future
elections, the latitude to ask for but not require
government-issued photo ID for this election. Simpson also allowed that the state’s voter outreach materials could be designed to reflect the eventual
need for proper ID.
The situation going forward from this slightly complicated decision announced on October 2nd would have been ripe for confusion even if Pennsylvania State officials had any intention of acting in good faith. Pennsylvania State officials did not have any intention of acting in good faith.
Following the decision, official state voter education efforts have ranged in approach from what could be generously described as ineffective and confusing, to deliberately misleading. Ultimately it has become clear that there is a conscious effort to discourage voters without proper ID from coming to the polls, by implying that without ID they will be denied a ballot.
previously about the first signs that the PA DOS would not go out of its way to reassure voters that they would not be tripped up at the polls on Election Day if they didn't have the right identification. The official Pennsylvania voter education website, votespa.com
, had pulled out the stops when it was time to inform voters they would have to show ID. Once ordered to drop the requirement, they made subtle changes to small-font wording in graphics that retained the overall message that voters would have to show ID to vote. As of this writing, the confusing homepage
Since then, the disinformation tactics have grown egregiously worse, including mailings, ads, and robo-calls still telling voters that they must produce ID to vote.
These dirty tricks by top Pennsylvania officials, public servants, expressly charged with facilitating fair elections for the furtherance of democracy, shock the conscience. Corrupting the central process of the democratic system, the vote, is not only morally wrong, it is pragmatically stupid. Apparently these political leaders cannot imagine a time in which their own views and policies would be so popular that they would be eager to see the highest levels of voter participation possible, and would want to be able to rely on a sturdy, credible election process.
As various transparent attempts at suppression have come to light, the same (irrepressible) plaintiff group has assembled proof that the disenfranchisement forbade by the State Supreme Court, and ruled against by Judge Simpson, is occurring now.
On Friday the group filed a petition against the State to appear before Judge Simpson asking that he intervene again and shut down these increasingly aggressive and devious efforts to reduce turnout among - let's be clear - likely Obama voters.
Some of the text from the ACLU press release on Friday:
Judge Asked to Order Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Stop
Misleading Voters About the Need for ID on Election Day
False and Misleading Information May Lead to Some Voters Staying Home
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 19, 2012
HARRISBURG, PA - The legal team challenging Pennsylvania’s voter ID law filed a petition today asking Judge Robert Simpson to order the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to stop disseminating false information about the need for photo ID on Election Day and to make it to clear to the public that ID will not be required to vote in the November 6 election. This request comes in the wake of several recent mailings by both governmental and non-governmental entities that contained outdated information about the law and have added to voter confusion.
In their petition, (the plaintiffs) argue that unless this misinformation is corrected, some eligible voters will stay home on Election Day because they mistakenly believe they need ID to vote in this election…(T)he Commonwealth has circulated misinformation about the voter ID law to voters. Last week, thousands of Pennsylvania seniors received a mailing…that included a Dept. of State card about the voter ID law. The card incorrectly states: "Voters are required to show photo ID on Election Day.”
(C)ounsel has received dozens of complaints (about) radio and TV ads that still say voters need photo ID to vote. As recently as October 11, some PennDOT locations were still displaying outdated posters and information telling people they need ID to vote. In their motion, petitioners argue that the Commonwealth has failed to clearly inform the public that the voter ID law will not be in effect for the November 2012 election. Rather than creating ads that clearly state this information, the Commonwealth instead chose to continue with its “Show It” campaign and merely add the phrase “if you have it” in small print to note that ID would not be required. These minimal changes to the “Show It” campaign are not enough to combat previous efforts by the Commonwealth to publicize the law, including multiple press releases, press conferences, and a postcard mailing in September to all registered voters.
The petitioners are asking the Commonwealth Court to issue an order requiring that the Commonwealth send notices with correct information to anyone who received false information from the state since October 2 about the law; immediately cease running any ads that still tell voters they must have photo ID to vote; re-word robocalls scheduled for the run-up to the election; issue a clarifying press release to all media outlets; and direct Secretary Carol Aichele to hold a press conference announcing that photo ID is not required to vote this Election Day.
ACLU of Pennsylvania
(For the full text of the press release, and the petition itself, which contains illuminating examples of the State's sneak attack, go to the Pennsylvania ACLU website
Judge Simpson is a Republican, and has not by any means rolled over to the plaintiffs on this issue. It took several rounds of hearings and appeals before he agreed to grant the injunction, and that was only a reprieve to the law for this election. But he did ask discerning questions during the hearings that indicated a concern that voters not be shut out of the democratic process. His hesitation to strike down the law altogether appeared to be based on a confidence in the State that they were motivated by legitimate concerns about the security of the ballot, and committed to protecting the rights of eligible voters.
At some point he must surely begin to feel offended by their failure to live up to that confidence. Simpson is no partisan zealot. He comes across as professional and fair-minded. And he is human. So it must begin to feel like a slap in the face to find that his trust in the Republican leaders of the Commonwealth has been flouted in this way.
Senator George McGovern, 7/19/1922 – 10/21/2012
I was ten years old when George McGovern ran for President. He was my first political hero.
This was partly because my friends and I thought he was really cute. But it was also because of what he stood for, and what kind of man he was.
I was fortunate to grow up in a politically-active, socially-aware family; stalwart Democrats. We were all-in for the "McGovern for President" campaign. Even at that age I was tuned in to the issues and loved the excitement of being involved. My siblings and I would pile in our station wagon and accompany our parents to rallies. We spent some Saturday afternoons passing out leaflets in shopping centers and neighborhoods.
McGovern was a national leader that I could look up to in real-time, not from a history book. His personality conveyed both depth and accessibility. McGovern exuded integrity, compassion, intelligence. As I kid, I was impressed with how confident he seemed in speaking out against war and for poor people.
And again, my classmates and I couldn't believe how much cuter he was than Nixon. I can't emphasize that enough.
So all of this added up to making him a hero to me.
McGovern was a fervent anti-war activist, and a decorated Army combat veteran. I always thought of that as an unimpeachable combination. As wide-eyed as he was portrayed to be, Senator McGovern came to his views on war from personal experience in the trenches.
Like a lot of peacemakers and complex social thinkers, McGovern was un-flashy and under-appreciated. He was done the same disservice as was eventually done to a string of very liberal Democratic Presidential candidates who came after him; Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale, Jesse Jackson, Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis - serious, intelligent, caring, public servants who were successfully branded as laughingstocks - Don Quixotes, weak-minded, bleeding-heart doves. McGovern took the brunt of a powerful wave of scorn for leftist thought that created a real stigma around the word "liberal".
I will leave it to political scientists with more knowledge than me to explain the perfect storm of world and national; social and economic events that allowed that stigma to take root. But even then, even as a young, white, mid-Western, middle-class schoolgirl, I knew it was wrong. And I knew that my hero, Senator George McGovern, suffered for it; but that he kept his head up in the face of it, and continued to articulate the bedrock liberal values I have today. Back then we called it being for peace, for women's lib, and for equal rights for black people. We called it being against pollution, against religious judgement, and against police brutality. But most of the time we just called it "being Democrats".
I'm glad George McGovern stayed actively interested in politics and public service long enough to see a return of liberal pride. He had a chance to see his old colleague Ted Kennedy earn his rightful place as a vaunted Democratic leader. He got to see many advances in the fight for equal rights for women, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBT Americans. He got to support Hilary Clinton as a fiercely competitive presidential primary candidate, and then Barack Obama as a successful nominee.
I imagine he had concerns about rising threats to voting rights, choice, and our already fragile safety net. I'm sure he was disturbed by the ongoing attempt to demonize run-of-the-mill liberal theory as Socialism. I can imagine he saw the bristling, blustering conservative approach to foreign policy as chillingly ominous.
But hopefully he also felt - looking at those of us who have taken up causes he helped define in the modern era - that he was leaving the country in good hands.