Friday, March 27, 2015

Social Change / Revolution

Indiana's New Law Legalizes Discrimination

(This cartoon is by freelance cartoonist Carlos Latuff.)

The Republican-dominated legislature of Indiana has joined forces with their GOP governor to pass a shocking new law. The law would give businesses the right to refuse service to any person, as long as that business claimed serving that customer would violate their "sincerely help religious belief".

The faux christian legislators in Indiana are trying to claim they are just upholding the freedom of religion in that state, and the governor made the ridiculous claim that "religious liberty is under attack by government action". But this is no move to protect religious freedom (which is already protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution). It is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community.

And the bill is so poorly written that it could even justify, not only bigotry against gaus and lesbians, but also against many other groups and individuals. Michael Stone at Progressive Secular Humanist puts it this way:

Yet the legislation is so poorly written and so sweeping in its language that it opens a Pandora’s box for people to ignore any law that conflicts with their “sincerely held religious belief.”

Theoretically, the law would allow restaurants to refuse to serve gay or interracial couples, hotels could refuse to provide lodging for Jews, landlords could refuse to rent to African Americans, pharmacies could refuse to dispense birth control to women, and employers could fire anyone, so long as such behavior was justified by “sincerely held religious belief.”

The truth is that this horrific bill violates both christian and constitutional principles. The "savior" (Jesus) that these christian legislators claim to follow only gave one commandment in the entire new testament -- to love (both god and neighbor). Writing a law that legalizes bigotry and discrimination of any group is a pretty obvious violation of that commandment to love.

The law also violates the secular values of this country -- the idea that ALL citizens should have equal opportunity and equal treatment under the law. In fact, equal treatment under the law is guaranteed by the United States Constitution -- and any law legalizing discrimination shows a profound disrespect for and trashing of the Constitution.

Bigotry disguised as religion is still bigotry -- and in a secular nation that values democracy and equality, it is reprehensible.

Another Fine Mess

Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Americans Think Hillary Would Win Presidency, If Nominated

It turns out that a majority of Americans (56%) think Hillary Clinton would win the presidency in 2016 -- if she chooses to run and the Democrats nominate her as their candidate (both of which I believe will happen). And that majority feeling cuts across gender, age, and racial/ethnic lines.

And there is good reason for this belief (as the two charts below demonstrate). Democrats still outnumber Republicans in the United States by an 11 point margin (37% to 26%). And the current electoral feeling among the public shows Democrats with an 8 point advantage (43% to 35%).

The important part of that bottom chart, which shows the party respondents would vote for in a presidential election, is the part showing the choice of men and women. Men are split between the two parties for president (40% to 40%). But it is far different among women, who would prefer the Democratic nominee by a 15 point margin (46% to 31%). Since women vote in larger numbers than men (making up about 54% of all voters in 2012), that seems to give the Democrats a huge advantage in the 2016 election.

This chart was a generic one (without naming a nominee for either party), but I believe if Hillary is the Democratic nominee she would do at least that well. She would probably split the male vote, and might even carry the female vote by a larger margin than this generic survey showed.

All three of these charts were made from information in a new YouGov Poll -- done between March 14th and 16th of a random national sample of 1,000 adults, with a margin of error of about 4.3 points.

The Race

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Republican Math

The person pictured here is Pete Sessions, the Republican Representative from the 32nd District of Texas, and yes, he does seem to be as stupid as he appears in the picture. This brainiac took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to rant against Obamacare -- and to prove his point, he did some math (complete with charts and props).

Sessions told his colleagues (and the rest of America):

“If you just do simple multiplication, 12 million into $108 billion, we’re talking literally every single recipient would be costing this government more than $5 million per person for their insurance.”

But there are a couple of problems with his math. First, you must use division, not multiplication, to get the answer he is looking for -- the cost per person for Obamacare. Second, the answer he got is way off -- off by nearly $5 million.

This is not advanced algebra or calculus. This is elementary school math, and as any elementary school student will tell you:

108,000,000,000 / 12,000,000 = 108,000 / 12 = 9,000. That's just 4,991,000 less than what Sessions said it was. The Dallas Morning News tried to get an explanation of this colossal blunder from Session's office, but his aides "declined to comment or explain". Evidently they realized that there is no explanation for idiocy on this scale.

I have always thought the congressional Republicans were just mean people, who were willing to throw most Americans under the bus to give more to their rich corporate and Wall Street buddies. I now realize that at least some of them add an incredible stupidity to that meanness (with an inability to do elementary school math).

The really sad part is that Sessions will probably be re-elected in 2016.

Makers & Takers

Political Cartoon is by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Will Maine Be The Next State To legalize Marijuana ?

In each of the last two elections, two states legalized the possession and use of marijuana by adults -- making four states where it is now legal. It's been a long time in coming, but people are finally beginning to realize that they have been lied to by the government and there is no legitimate reason for marijuana to be illegal. One day, in the not too distant future, I believe marijuana will be legal across the country.

The question right now though is which state will be the next to legalize the "gentle herb"? It could be Maine. This article at the website of the Marijuana Policy Project, by Morgan Fox, is about the effort in Maine.

A statewide ballot initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol was filed Tuesday with the Maine Secretary of State.

The leader of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, David Boyer of Falmouth, submitted the language along with the signatures of five registered Maine voters who support the measure, as required by state law. The five signers were State Rep. Diane Russell of Portland; local farmer and former Republican State Rep. Aaron Libby of Waterboro; Androscoggin County Commissioner and Lewiston School Board Member Matt Roy; Rev. Deane Perkins of Belfast; and Sherry DaBiere, a York-based real estate agent and grandmother.

Under the proposed initiative, adults 21 years of age and older would be allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes, and possess the marijuana produced by those plants. The measure would establish a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, product-manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities.  Marijuana would be subject to a 10% sales tax in addition to the standard sales tax, and revenue generated by marijuana sales would be allocated public education.

The Maine Secretary of State has 15 days to review the initiative application and either reject it, accept it, or provide revisions to the proposed measure. Once it is approved, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will have until the end of January 2016 to collect the approximately 62,000 signatures of registered Maine voters that are needed to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Birther Dilemma

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Minimum Wage Should Be A Livable Wage

Thursday, March 26, 2015


We Can't Fix Global Warming Because We're Too Selfish

As the top chart shows, 56% of the American public believes the opinion of scientists, as reported in the media, is either correct or underestimated. They recognize that global warming (global climate change) is real, and will have serious consequences to our world. In addition, 55% of the population believes that the global warming is caused by human activity (the overuse of fossil-based fuels) -- and has believed that for at least the last 15 years.

This brings up an important question. If a significant majority of the population believes global warming is real, and believes it is caused by human activity, why are they not putting pressure on our government to do something about the problem -- and perhaps even more important, why do they keep electing climate-deniers to represent them in Washington?

Does that even make sense? How can we believe the problem is real and serious, and that changing human behavior can fix it, and still not demand the problem be fixed? Sadly, the reason for this inaction is probably revealed in the chart below. While most Americans believe global warming poses a serious threat, about 62% say that serious threat will not be seen in their lifetime. They think this is a problem that will have to be dealt with by their children and grandchildren, and since it won't be felt right now, it's a problem whose solution can be delayed.

That is not only a selfish decision, but it very well could also be a disastrous one. By the time our children, and especially our grandchildren, inherit the world, it could be too late to act to stave off the worst effects of global warming. We could well have reached the tipping point -- beyond which nothing can be done to alter the disastrous effects of the global climate change.

Past generations have tried to leave us a better world than the one they inherited -- and they were largely successful in those efforts. Why don't most Americans want to do the same for our descendants? Are we the most selfish generation of Americans -- caring only for what we can get, and not caring what kind of world we leave those who will come after us? Our inaction (coupled with the chart below) shows that may well be the case.

We should all be ashamed.

All of these charts were made using information in a new Gallup Poll -- done between March 5th and 8th of a random national sample of 1,025 adults, with a margin of error of about 4 points.

A Shark In The Boat

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

A Couple Of Views On The GOP Presidential Hopefuls

I found these two charts interesting. Both were made from a YouGov Poll done between March 14th and 16th of a random sample of 1,000 adults (with about a 4 point margin of error).

The top chart shows the popularity of the possible candidates among the four major groups in the Republican Party base -- the teabaggers, the evangelicals (social conservatives), the moderates, and the conservatives (fiscal conservatives, i.e., "establishment"). As you can see, the groups don't necessarily agree. I expect the major war to nominate a candidate will be between the teabaggers and the conservatives -- with the teabaggers appealing to the evangelicals for help, and the conservatives appealing to moderates for help.

It's still early, but right now I would give a slight edge to the candidates favored by the teabaggers. But they will be outspent by the conservatives (establishment), and that money could swing the race.

The bottom chart shows what the general public thinks of the Republican hopefuls. It shows the Republicans have a long way to go to present a candidate acceptable to a majority of the general public. Note that every single Republican hopeful but one has an upside-down favorability rating (with those viewing them unfavorable outnumbering those viewing them favorably). The only candidate without an upside-down rating in Carson, and most of the public doesn't know who he is. I expect his unfavorable rating to climb substantially as people get to know him.

The Joke

Political Cartoon is by John Cole in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

A New Political System Is Emerging (And It Ain't Democracy)

The following post was written by Tom Engelhardt (pictured) and posted on his own website (TomDispatch.com). It was reposted at Moyers and Company. I repost it here because I think it is an important article -- one that should be read by as many people as possible.

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.
And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.
Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of "we the people."
Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.
1. 1% Elections
Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests.  (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)
Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper.  A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election.  He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present.  Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.”  It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future.  (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)
Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.
The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice.  So the early primaries -- this year mainly a Republican affair -- are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)
Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat.  By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.
In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below -- and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.
2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)
In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc.  Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.
However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted.  An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications.  If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought.  But it didn’t happen in some third-world state.  It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which -- even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred -- should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.

Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11.  Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country.  Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization.  The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting.  Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torturedrone strikes, and -- to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden -- intelligence gathering and spying.  You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.
All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy.  And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.
Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.
3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency
On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall.  In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%.  (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.)  The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%.  All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.
It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of delegitimizing itself.  Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.
What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing?  Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing.  They are proving capable of acting effectively to delegitimize the presidency as well.  House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president's Iranian nuclear negotiations and the lettersigned by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this.  They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.
The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show,” as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy.  It is, in fact, neither.  It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.
In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state.  The Republican Party -- its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats -- seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security.  As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state.  A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like.  While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.” 
4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government
One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight.  Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment.  But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon -- the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government -- gets remarkably little attention.  In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own.  Its growth has been phenomenal.  Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians.  The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace. 
Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering.  Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame.  That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor.  As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.
New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state.  In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China).  Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones.  Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that "mimics a cellphone tower." This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to "the homeland," is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces.  And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.
News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives.  Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage.  At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”
This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure.  And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hardto keep what it's doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know.  Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).
5. The Demobilization of the American People
In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them.  In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?
After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes.  Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.
The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military.  It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era.  In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs.  Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.
Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.
The Birth of a New System
Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of -- to use Fraser’s word -- “acquiescence.”  Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be.  In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.
While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design.  Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion.  In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention.  Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.
Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.
Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

(Tax) Bracketology

Political Cartoon is by Adam Zyglis in The Buffalo News.

The Real "Lazy"

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Republicanism 101

Support For GOP Plan To Privatize Medicare Is Small

The Republicans in the House of Representatives recently released their proposed budget for 2016, and once again, it contains a measure that would effectively kill the current Medicare program.

They claim what they are offering is an improvement because it would offer seniors a "choice". The proposal would leave the current program as it is, but would offer a subsidy for those who want to buy a private insurance policy (and leave the Medicare program). To the brainless, this might sound reasonable -- but it isn't. It would mean the death of Medicare -- something the Republicans have been trying to achieve since the program started in the 1960's.

Seniors pay into the Medicare program to help finance it, and these payments come from their Social Security checks. And like other health insurance programs, Medicare is successful because all seniors are in it -- both the healthy and those with health problems. The program needs all of those people to survive.

If the rich and upper middle class seniors pull out of the program, and private insurance companies are able to cherry-pick the healthy among the rest, then the Medicare program will be left with only the poor and the unhealthy. And it cannot survive under those conditions. The Republicans know this -- it's why they are using this back-door method to attack the program (and kill it). Their purpose is not to improve health insurance for seniors. It is to get rid of Medicare -- a program that has worked well to provide health care for all American seniors.

Fortunately, it looks like the American public is not as dumb as Republicans think they are. They have not bought into the GOP lie that their privatization of Medicare is an improvement, and far more people oppose the Republican plan than support it. In fact, only 19% support the ridiculous plan -- and even among the GOP's own base, the support is only about 22%.

The GOP may well have bit off more than they can chew with this silly privatization plan. The American people like Medicare, and they don't want it dismantled.

The chart above is from a new YouGov Poll -- done on March 18th and 19th of a random national sample of 1,000 adults, with a 4 point margin of error.

2017 ?

Political Cartoon is by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Congressional Job Approval Is Still Extremely Low

If the Republicans thought they could use their control of both houses of Congress as a springboard to take the 2016 election (including putting one of their own in the White House), they should be sorely disappointed. The Republican-controlled 114th Congress is just as unpopular as the divided 113th Congress. Only 14% of the general public approves of the job Congress is doing, while 62% disapprove.

The public disapproved of the 113th Congress because the Republican House and Democratic Senate wouldn't compromise for the good of the country. They now see that the Republican-controlled 114th Congress is no better. Gaining control has just emboldened the Republicans to pursue their extremist policies instead of compromising with the Democrats to solve the nation's problems -- and the ability of Congress to get anything substantial done is just as ineffectual as it previously was. Showing splits among their own ranks, the Republican Congress is showing they are incapable of governing.

The charts above are made from a new YouGov Poll -- taken between March 14th and 16th of a random national sample of 1,000 adults, with about a 4 point margin of error.

Wacko Bird

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

President Obama (& The Right) Are Wrong About Venezuela

Recently, President Obama issued an executive order declaring the nation of Venezuela to be a national security threat to the United States (and imposing sanctions on some of its leaders). The president is wrong. Venezuela is a democratic country, and poses no national security risk to the United States at all. What has really happened is that President Obama has caved in to the interests of giant American corporations, who are unhappy because Venezuela's leaders are doing what is best for their own citizens instead of allowing those corporations to impose their own economic agenda on Venezuela -- robbing them of their own natural resources.

If you want to know the truth about the Venezuelan situation, then you need to read this article. It was written for jacobinmag.com by George Ciccariello-Maher (assistant professor of political science at Drexel University in Philadelphia).

On March 9, the Obama administration issued an executive order declaring Venezuela a threat to US national security and imposing sanctions on several individuals. What’s the backstory?

The pretext for these sanctions is so-called human rights abuses that occurred more than a year ago, during a wave of street protestsagainst the government of Nicolás Maduro. I say so-called because what actually happened in the streets a year ago has been systematically misrepresented. The opposition narrative is one of spontaneous, peaceful protests by all Venezuelans against a tyrannical government — in the vein of the Arab Spring or the Occupy Movement — to which the government responded with brutal repression.
The reality was very different: the protests were hardly spontaneous, and in fact part of a strategy by the radical right-wing sector of the opposition to overthrow a democratically elected government. The means were far from peaceful, and while in some cases the police and national guard responded brutally, they were on the whole incredibly patient with the protesters, who they allowed to blockade entire areas of cities for more than a month.
In the end, the forty-three deaths were distributed evenly among Chavistas, the opposition, and security forces. But while many of the police responsible for violence were arrested, the same can’t be said for the protesters who, for example, decapitated motorcyclists with barbed wire and sniped at police from rooftops. And their constituency was far from “all Venezuelans” — nearly all the protesters were from the middle and upper classes, as were the neighborhoods that saw protests.

During the 2014 protests, the Obama administration insisted that the sanctions being pushed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and others would be counterproductive. What changed?

The timeline is very revealing. On December 17, 2014, the Obama administration announced a historic thaw in relations with Cuba, and on it December 18, 2014, announced a first round of sanctions on Venezuela — this only a week after the release of the Senate torture report.
The second and most recent sanctions announcement came a mere five days after the release of the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report. And yet, irony of ironies, the White House has the temerity to accuse Venezuela of trying to “distract” attention from internal problems by inventing threats abroad.
But this distraction also serves an electoral purpose: while thawing relations with Cuba is increasingly popular among a younger generation of Cubans in Florida, it runs the risk of pushing more hardline elements — who are also very wealthy — into the Republican camp, especially if Rubio winds up running for the presidency. So by making Venezuela the new Cuba, the new international pariah, the Democrats are trying to have their cake and eat it too (my apologies to Emiliana Duarte for the metaphor).

But if the sanctions will be “productive” in Florida, won’t they still be counterproductive in Venezuela?

Absolutely — and it’s hard to understand how the Obama administration could fail to see this. While the Venezuelan opposition in Venezuela is almost as delusional as the Venezuelan self-exiles in Miami, there’s one big difference: opposition leaders on the ground have to live with the consequences of their catastrophic decisions.
What that means in this case is that, while radical right-wingers in Florida may be celebrating the sanctions, it would be suicidal for the opposition in Venezuela to do the same. They would simply prove what Chavistas already believe: that they are treasonous lapdogs of imperial power.
The Venezuelan opposition is a walking contradiction. Unable to become a majority, it is perennially torn between participating in elections it will almost certainly lose and boycotting them. It can’t win as long as it is seen as undemocratic, and boycotts and coups only support this view. It lacks a political program or any proposals whatsoever, because any proposals it would make would be deeply unpopular. And so the opposition swings wildly between lost elections and failed insurrections, each only confirming the other.
So the concurrence of Cuban thaw and Venezuelan winter is no coincidence. But this attempt to keep Florida in the Democratic column comes at the expense of political rationality. And it shows yet again that Miami itself, the zone where Venezuelan and Cuban terrorists walk free as political kingmakers, is a severe liability for the opposition. Some among the opposition recognize this, even constructing farcical conspiracy theories about Obama secretly wanting to keep Maduro in office.

What about Maduro’s claims to have dismantled a coup plot?

Here’s a second way that Obama’s executive order has been completely counterproductive. When the Maduro government recently announced the discovery of yet another coup plot, arresting several military officials as well as the opposition mayor of greater Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, the international media narrative was clear: here was a paranoid despot imagining threats and imprisoning his political enemies.
Despite the increasing evidence of the coup-plotting and despite Ledezma’s own brutal past and insurrectional calls in the present, even many Venezuelans were likely feeling some coup fatigue. This isn’t to say that the threat is imagined. Just the opposite: there have been so many plots that even the very real threats can seem more a part of everyday life — a “continuous coup,” in the words of some.
The executive order simply confirms this, by making it absolutely clear that the United States supports regime change in Venezuela (hence the comical interaction between US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki and Associated Press reporter Matt Lee). Maduro has taken full advantage of this clear violation of Venezuelan sovereignty, rallying an anti-imperialist front at home — giving some much-needed respite from economic challenges — and even securing a unanimous call by the Union of South American Nations to revoke the sanctions.

So, is Venezuela a threat?

Let’s hope so! The great revolutionary poet June Jordan once wrote that: “I must become a menace to my enemies.” To use her words, US hegemony “should be extirpated from my universe . . . should be cauterized from earth completely (lawandorder jerkoffs of the first terrorist degree),” and those who fight it do indeed represent a “menace.”
The Obama administration has every reason to worry, and there are reasons for their “jumpy fits and facial tics,” even if we’re talking about the frozen and tic-less face of Psaki. For Jordan, who dedicated her words to the revolutionary Angolan President Agostinho Neto, becoming a menace entails standing up, becoming a subject in a world of objects, and demanding control over your own future: “I must become the action of my fate.”
Venezuela is a threat like Mike Brown was a threat, like Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant were threats, like CeCe McDonald is a threat, like it is threatening to even say “black lives matter” to a system that every day proves otherwise. Venezuela is a threat in the same way that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover once declared the Black Panther Party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Venezuela is a threat like Ferguson is threat incarnate: both clearly show the world-making role of popular insurrections, riots, and rebellions, that what is made can be unmade and made again.
Venezuela is a threat because, at a bare minimum, people want to live and breathe, and even more so because some dare to demand control over their own lives. Venezuela is a threat because, again in the words of Jordan, the Venezuelan people “will no longer lightly walk behind.”

Labor Abuse

Political Cartoon is by Tom Toles in The Washington Post.

The Reason For War

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Does The GOP Really Want To Repeal Obamacare ?

The Republicans in both the House and Senate have released their proposed budgets for 2016 -- and both of them included the complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Is this really what they want? As the chart above (from Mother Jones) shows, there are nearly 30 million people who have gotten health insurance thanks to the health care reform known as Obamacare -- and most of those people would lose that health insurance if the program was repealed (because they could no longer afford it).

I don't think they really want to repeal Obamacare. I think they put that proposal in the budget just to placate their teabagger base. They know the Democrats in the Senate would never let that repeal stay in the final budget resolution. They will filibuster until it is removed -- and even if they didn't, the president would veto any budget that repealed Obamacare.

The Republicans can put the proposal in because they know the Democrats will take it out. There is no way they want to go into the 2016 election after taking health insurance away from 20 to 30 million people. It is nothing more than a political game to keep their base happy.

Starbucks Messages

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Americans Don't Want Religion Driving Public Policy

Republican officials in Congress like to pose as christians, and to please their fundamentalist base they try to design their public policies around their religious beliefs. They seem to think this is what a majority of Americans want (in spite of the fact that doing so violates the First Amendment's freedom of religion provision). They are, once again, WRONG.

Americans don't want their public policies designed to reflect the religious views of any politician. They want those policies to reflect the needs of the nation and its citizens. A clear majority (56%) say they don't want a candidate's policy decisions to be based on his religion -- any religion. They want politicians to compromise, and to do what is best for the people of the United States. They want a separation of religion and government.

The chart above is made from information in a recent CNN / ORC Poll -- done between March 13th and 15th of a random national sample of 1,009 adults, with a margin of error of 3 points.

A Change Is Coming

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Cruz Candidacy Will Help Democrats

Ted Cruz tossed his hat into the race for the Republican presidential nomination. He is the first Republican to do so. I think he did it because all the recent polls have him trailing badly, and he knows if he is to have any chance at all, he has to get started right now.

Since Cruz's declaration, my e-mail and social media page have been filled with Democrats talking about how horrible this is, and urging me to join them in stopping his candidacy. I have a different take on a Cruz candidacy. I welcome it.

Cruz is very likely the most extreme of the possible Republican candidates. He's so far to the right that he makes Attila the Hun look like a compassionate moderate -- and he is the perfect teabagger candidate. They will love him, and because of that, all of the other Republican candidates will be forced to move even farther to the right than they already are -- and that will paint the eventual nominee (whoever it might be) as an extremist.

Republicans like Cruz (and many of his cohorts) think the American public is right-wing. They are wrong. Most Americans are moderates, and they want a moderate in the White House. The Cruz candidacy will show the public how extremist the Republicans are currently -- and make the eventual Democratic nominee look moderate by comparison.


The Republican Dream Team for 2016 (for Democrats)

My favorite take on the Cruz candidacy is by humorist Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker. He writes:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) – A disturbed Canadian man wants to try to get into the White House, according to reports.
The man, who was born in Calgary before drifting to Texas, has been spotted in Washington, D.C. in recent years exhibiting erratic behavior, sources said.
In 2013, he gained entry to the United States Senate and was heard quoting incoherently from a children’s book before he was finally subdued.
More recently, he was heard ranting about a plan to dismantle large components of the federal government, such as the Internal Revenue Service and the nation’s health-care program.
Despite a record of such bizarre episodes and unhinged utterances, observers expressed little concern about his plans to get into the White House, calling them “delusional.”


Political Cartoon is by John Branch at branchtoon.com.