Posts Tagged ‘Republicans’

The Thinker

What 2014 midterms gave Republicans, 2016 is likely to take away

Republicans can be forgiven for crowing about their election wins this month. It’s a glorious feeling to control Congress, even though control means limited power when the White House is in a different party’s hands. No question about it. They did great. They gained eight seats in the Senate, and are likely to gain a ninth after the Louisiana runoff election. They gained twelve seats in the House as well, for a total of 244 out of 435 seats, or 56% of seats, their largest majority since the Eisenhower era. Republicans picked up two governorships, including in surprising states like Massachusetts and Maryland. Republicans also won seven more state chambers, giving them control of the most state legislatures since the start of the Great Depression.

While Republicans did great, they also failed. Their failure was that they did not convince new voters to vote Republican. What they have done is tighten their grip on the states they do control. This was a result of several factors, and includes disinterested voters, energized Republicans and their extreme gerrymandering, plus not a little voter suppression. In short, they stacked their own decks. The South is now a greater shade of red that ever before, but there is little evidence that the color has leached into other states. While governorships in two blue states went their way, there is no evidence that they have changed the tendencies of Massachusetts and Maryland voters to vote for Democrats. These new governors will continue to govern with legislatures controlled by Democrats.

Mainly Republicans were elected because the Democrats put up poor candidates. In Maryland, voters had to choose between their lieutenant governor who really had no accomplishments, but one debacle: overseeing the disastrous rollout of Maryland’s health care exchange. In Massachusetts, Martha Coakley ran a dispirited campaign reminiscent of her loss to Scott Brown some years earlier. Democrats in general ran lousy campaigns this cycle, running away from President Obama’s generally solid accomplishments while offering little in the way of solid accomplishments of their own. It’s no wonder that only 38% of eligible voters voted, a record low turnout. The rest stayed home because there was little to go to the polls for.

After such losses, only stupid Democrats would rest on their laurels. My senator, Mark Warner, came within a percentage point of being an ex-senator. Still, as I mentioned before, generational demographics are becoming inexorable. This is no more obvious that in the 2016 electoral map. Solid and likely Democratic states in presidential votes add up to 257 electoral votes, while Republicans have only 149 electoral votes. 270 are needed to win. Republicans are unlikely to nominate a moderate that might give them a chance at winning. Democrats would have to nominate someone that turns off their base not to lock in their 257 electoral votes. With Hillary Clinton the presumed Democratic nominee, all she has to do is run a conventional campaign that stays on message and she is likely to be our next president.

Republicans picked up so many senate seats in 2014 because they had an almost ideal hand. Democrats had to defend 13 seats in red or purple states. Six seats were needed and Republicans got what looks like 9 of them. In 2016, it’s payback time. Republicans have to defend 24 seats, and 18 of those seats look very competitive. Since Democrats come out to vote in presidential years, it’s likely that Mitch McConnell’s tenure as majority leader will be short lived. The odds that Democrats will recapture the Senate in 2016 are probably greater than 80 percent, despite Republicans impressive Senate wins in 2014.

Republicans can expect to continue to do well in statewide races in 2016, but there are still plenty of warning signs in the decade to come. North Carolina is reliably purple, at least in presidential and senate races, and Georgia’s demographics are swinging this way as well. Even Texas looks vulnerable, and its gerrymandering and disengaged Democrats have kept Republicans’ luck from slipping. At least on the federal level, Republicans look like they may have peaked. Control of the House will continue for sometime, but that is primarily a factor of their heavily gerrymandered states.

One sign that Republicans are not connecting with voters is to see how various propositions fared. A proposition to raise the minimum wage in Arkansas of all places passed handily. The NRA suffered a defeat when Washington State voters passed a background checks bill. Medical marijuana initiatives passed pretty much everywhere. About the only part of the conservative message that resonates with voters are taxes. Marylanders voted in a Republican governor because Democrats passed one tax too many. All that other stuff that Republicans care about, voters overall mostly don’t like. This includes their opposition to gay marriage, an aggressive foreign policy, hostility toward immigration reform, their obvious racism and their contempt for solutions to global warming. In addition in solid blue states, Democrats retained all their seats. They added to their majorities in states like Oregon and California. Jerry Brown was easily reelected governor in California.

A wise Republican strategist would look at these 2014 results and realize they are fundamentally false and a result of a stacked deck. Yes, they won and won impressively, but overall their message did not connect. Voters who bothered to vote voted mostly against the status quo. They can pat themselves on the back for an impressive voter turnout campaign and for maximizing voter suppression efforts. However, these are firewall strategies. They do not change the fundamental dynamics that are underway in this country. Republicans can’t win nationally solely on their solid red bases in the south and middle of the country. And it’s likely their voter suppression tactics won’t work much longer. They need to offer a compelling message to the middle, and they have none other than perhaps limited government. That message may sell. Unfortunately, Republicans are selling austere government, where voters want limited government.

They do have two years to demonstrate that they can govern, but there is little sign that they will do anything differently than they did the last six years. Obstruction is not governance, and while it worked for them in 2014 it is likely to work against them in 2016.

As they say, what goes around comes around.

 
The Thinker

Election 2014 postmortem

The victors write the history they say. Those who show up write election results. That Republicans won a majority of the U.S. senate last night, as well as added to their majority in the House, did not surprise me at all. The only thing surprising was that Democrats did not do worse.

Democrats were of course hopeful, but most of us did not have a misplaced hope. Midterms tend to favor the power out of party, particularly in a president’s second term. Republicans also had an almost ideal environment for making gains. Many seats, particularly in the Senate, were ripe for the picking because Democrats held them in Republican leaning states. So it’s no surprise that it’s goodbye David Prior and Kay Hagan.

In general where there was some hope of Democrats eking out a victory, they didn’t, and that was due to the general dynamics of who took the time to vote: mostly Republicans. Republicans voted disproportionately because they cared more about the election, and that was because they are out of political power, not to mentioning their ever-festering hatred of Obama. Democrats did not vote for the most part and stayed home, same as in 2010. With rare exceptions, Democrats only exercise their majority during presidential years.

Unquestionably there were dynamics that made it harder for Democrats. One of the overriding themes was Obama fatigue. The truth is most of the events Obama got dinged for yesterday were beyond his control, but certainly Obama has set a tone since his reelection that has turned off many. He used to be seen as cerebral and cool. Now he is seen as haughty and detached. Mitt Romney would have been just as stymied and ineffectual addressing Ebola and the rise of the Islamic State as Obama. Actually, it is likely he would have been more ineffectual, as government spending would likely be lower if he were president, and there would be fewer resources to draw upon.

Democratic candidates, who tend toward cowardice, exacerbated the problem by running away from Obama in their reelection and election campaigns. The underlying dynamics of our economy are actually pretty good. Those millions of jobs that Mitt Romney promised to create in four years? Obama created all of them in less than two years. Inflation is at historic lows. Unemployment is below six percent. No modern president has been better for stockholders in recent times. All this is good for the economy, but very little of this prosperity trickled down, mostly due to obfuscation by Republicans on issues like increasing the minimum wage. Voters though simply look at their own pocketbooks and if they don’t see prosperity they blame it on whoever is in charge. The truth is that both parties share blame here. The failure of prosperity to move toward the middle class is a result of dysfunctional government, not of Democratic governance in particular. Republicans would simply not play ball with Democrats these last six years, and it has proven to be a good political strategy for them.

By voting for Republicans, voters simply heaped on the dysfunction and kicked any real solutions to our problems to 2016, where they probably won’t be resolved again. The sad reality is that we voted last night to point fingers, not to solve any real problems. So among those applauding the results last night were our enemies. Barring some summoning of the national will that seems absent, this election simply contributes to the likely demise and dis-unification of the United States of America. In that sense we hammered a nail in our own coffin.

 
The Thinker

Rant of the month

I haven’t had a rant all month, but it’s not from lack of opportunities. There is so much political craziness going on before midterm elections next week that it’s hard to choose what to rant about. Then I read this today and it managed to ring all my bells:

Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama’s deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.

What did this senator in a very uphill battle to retain her U.S. senate seat actually say?

I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.

To her credit, Mary Landrieu is not walking her comments back. But why on earth should she? What could possibly be more obvious than the truth of her statement? Of course historically the bulk of slavery in the United States occurred in the southern states. What could be unfriendlier to blacks than being enslaved? We fought a civil war principally so blacks could enjoy freedoms, freedoms that were subsequently largely taken away from them, if not by regular lynchings, then by Jim Crow laws that set up poll taxes to keep blacks from voting.

But even if you selectively forget all that arguably dated history, upon hearing Landrieu’s remarks the only thing you can really say is, “Well, duh!” It’s been decades since a black has been lynched in the south, thank goodness, but it’s quite obvious that blacks in the south are still being discriminated against and harassed every damned day because of the color of their skin. That Republicans reacted so vociferously clearly indicates that they are sensitive to the issue. And that’s because it’s so obviously true.

I know I would be much happier if they would simply come out and admit they are a party principally full of racists that are out to promote racial inequality. Most of their anger is still directed against blacks, but of course it’s not just blacks, just principally blacks. They don’t much like Hispanics, at least the “illegal” ones, as if a person can be illegal. And of course they are working actively to make sure anyone they don’t like (principally blacks of course) can’t vote. This is not the least bit American, of course, but they have zero qualms about doing anything they can get away with to disenfranchise those they don’t like.

Let us count just a few of ways blacks in particular feel unfriendly behavior from those in charge in the south:

  • They are stopped and questioned by police in greatly disproportionate numbers compared with whites
  • They form a majority of the prison population in the south despite being in the minority
  • They are the ones who are shot and/or killed most often, principally by whites, who feel threatened by them, even when no crime has been committed. Trayvon Martin is the obvious example here, although there are plenty of others that did not make the papers. It’s okay for whites to shoot blacks to “stand their ground”. If a black did the same to a white, does anyone in the south honestly think the black would get off?
  • Their states disproportionately have onerous voter ID laws, often requiring only certain picture IDs in order to vote, pictures that are hard to attain and cost money to acquire
  • These same states have cut back or eliminated early voting or mail in voting, making it harder for these people who often work two or more jobs to vote affecting, of course, principally blacks
  • If blacks can make it to vote on Election Day, they tend to wait in longer lines, discouraging them from casting a vote, because they get fewer voting machines per voter than more well moneyed and whiter precincts
  • Whites at polling sites question their right to vote harass many of them. Some take pictures and engage in other forms of harassment.
  • They often get misleading robocalls about voting on or before Election Day, sending them to wrong precincts, providing them with bogus information on credentials they will need or telling them they are not allowed to vote
  • Since blacks form the bulk of the prison population, and many are convicted of felonies, they often lose voting privileges for life
  • Just today we have a story of a Texas judge caught on tape saying he doesn’t want blacks to vote.

As for President Obama, he’s hardly the first Democratic president to get a hard time south of the Mason-Dixon Line. John F. Kennedy died from the bullet of a redneck in Dallas. Even fifty years ago they were hostile to liberal Democrats in the south. But anyone who doesn’t think that Obama’s race isn’t a huge factor in the way he is loathed by Republicans in the South clearly isn’t looking very hard:

  • There have been numerous examples in the south where Obama has been hung in effigy, often with accompanying racist signs and slogans.
  • It doesn’t take much looking to find racists signs about Obama in the south. Often you just look at the bumper of the car ahead of you.
  • Upon his election as president, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared it would be his mission to completely undermine Obama’s agenda. This included filibustering all judicial appointments, a policy that would still be ongoing had not Senate Democrats changed the rules after the start of the last Congress.
  • The language used by Republicans about Obama is frequently racist.
  • So many of them believe he is a secret Muslim and was born in Kenya, and promote it on news outlets
  • So many of them don’t believe his birth certificate is legitimate

Of course there are reasons for Republicans not to like President Obama that are not racist, but no modern Democratic president, even Bill Clinton, has come close to getting the complete obfuscation and stonewalling that President Obama has gotten. Rather than simply oppose him, Republicans have proven they will shutdown the government in order to get their way, and stonewall his appointees when they can to keep him from governing. They will put party before country.

This response was knee jerk and predictable, but no one, especially those who are protesting Landrieu’s remarks, believes their remarks were sincere. Their actions speak louder than words. Just a couple of the items I documented above would be plenty of evidence of overt and damning racism.

Republicans are a party consisting mostly of racists unwilling to compromise on pretty much anything. They are spoiled and pigheaded brats. It’s hard to think of anything Landrieu could have said that was milder in acknowledging the obvious problem of racism in the south today.

 
The Thinker

Republicans may be insane and vindictive but they are also hilarious

Thanks to all of you visitors who keep coming to read my 2010 post, Psychiatrists agree: Republicans are insane. I still find it weird when a post so many years old retains popularity, as this one sure seems to be.

For better or worse, Republicans speak their minds, no matter how loopy it sounds afterward. Strangely, most seem to enjoy foaming at the mouth, so much so that it goes to prove my thesis that they are insane. DailyKos.com is of course the “Orange Satan” progressive liberal website. It is also the site to go to if you decide that rather than just getting mad at Republicans, you also want to laugh along at their daily rants and lunacies. More and more, I go to Daily Kos simply to get my humor for the day. Republicans seem to provide an inexhaustible supply.

Whatever happened to sane Republicans anyhow? You know, the Nelson Rockefellers of the world? They tended to be from money, but were buttoned down and business-like. They were conservative in the sense that they moved cautiously.

They are apparently gone with the wind, and now only lunatics inhabit Tara. The new residents are hanging from the rooftops and foaming from the mouths. If you look carefully, you can see them with their loaded semi-automatic rifles peeking out the windows. I feel kind of sorry for them but they simply won’t take their Prozac. So I might as well laugh at them. What’s so funny, you may ask?

  • Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. No amount of facts that show that plain old bad judgment by our late Ambassador who flew some of his staff to an under-guarded consulate in Benghazi, Libya (effectively a war zone) has dissuaded Republicans from their unshakable belief that there were much more sinister motives at work by the Obama Administration and of course by President Obama and Hillary Clinton specifically. No less than three committees in the House are looking into the matter again. Among those they want to subpoena include Secretary of State John Kerry, who was a sitting senator when the incident happened. They believe there simply has to be an Obama conspiracy at work somewhere in this regrettable mistake. Republicans are also convinced that with enough hearings that they will find something that will validate their paranoid delusions about Obama and his evil administration. Even if they don’t find anything, they are certain that all these hearings will help them win more control of Congress in the next election. Most Americans, if they tune into this at all, are simply snickering. If reasonably up on this stuff, like me, they are laughing deliriously at each new paranoid claim.
  • Ping-ponging on the Bergdahl release. Before the rescue the mantra was: the Taliban is holding Bowe Bergdahl so we must get him home and Obama is not trying hard enough! It’s been five years already! Every effort must be expended to free this captive soldier. He may be hurt, tortured, or injured or something! And we must leave no soldier behind on the battlefield! After the deal: exchanging five Taliban detainees, who were never charged with a crime against the United States but held in Gitmo anyhow, is negotiating with terrorists. Before Bergdahl was just a patriotic soldier, but now that they are tuned into the details that he deserted his post (even though he did it before and returned), he’s a traitor that deserved capture. Of course the only thing that really mattered to them was they saw a new potential attack angle against President Obama, which was obviously much more important than securing Bergdahl’s release. In today’s news is news that Bergdahl claims that he was tortured by the Taliban. It will be interesting to see how the GOP spins this now. My bet: “He’s just trying to cop a plea so he is not tried for aiding and abetting the enemy.”
  • Craziness on the minimum wage. Republicans overall are hostile to increasing the minimum wage, which even Republicans agree is far below a living wage. For many the real solution is to repeal the minimum wage. Why would this be good? Because it would incentivize employers to create more jobs, lowering the unemployment rate! Of course, those taking these jobs would mean making less, meaning they would do menial work and digging themselves into even more dire poverty at the same time. Meanwhile, with no wage rate floor, those employers already providing the minimum wage would have incentive to cut their wages, further impoverishing a whole lot more people. All this new poverty would make more people eligible for food stamps. Their obstinacy is quite sad but that they can say these things while maintaining a straight face is hilarious!
  • Fox News. The network pretends to be “fair and balanced” and not at all racist or discriminatory when their female talent consists exclusively of pretty and white conservative blondes. Got to keep those 60-something conservative white guys with plenty of eye candy!
  • Sarah Palin. Nuff said.
  • Donald Trump and his jaw dropping mouth. He doesn’t believe that Obama’s short and long form birth certificates are real, despite both having been produced many times and that an ad announcing his birth was published in a Honolulu newspaper in 1961. He’s in good company as long as he stays in the Republican Party.
  • Regular and blatant lies that global warming is not real, in spite of the statistics that show global temperatures rising pretty much every year and that most years are on average warmer than the ones that preceded it. How can I not laugh at a party full of people so dogmatic that actual facts have no bearing at all?
  • They are the anti-free pro-freedom party! That they are the pro-freedom party while doing their best to deny freedoms to anyone who doesn’t share their values including gays who desire to get married, women seeking abortions, Hispanics who want to become citizens and pay taxes, blacks who want proportional representation in their states and the poor who want to be able to vote without the hassle and expense of getting photo identification. Yes, course it’s appalling but at the same time their cognitive dissonance on the issue is downright hilarious!
  • Our world’s best health care system. They claim that our health care is tops in the world when we actually rank #16. Only I guess we’re not #1 anymore because of Obamacare. Because of Obamacare, poor people are getting treatment. Logically, if they weren’t getting treatment, we’d have better health care. It’s hilarious!
  • Rick Santorum and the many Pat Boone wannabees in the party. Rick is so fetishly sober and faithful to his wife that he won’t sit on a sofa with any woman other than his wife. Most Republicans are glassy-eyed in admiration over Rick’s heartfelt demonstration of fidelity, not to mention the cool sweater vest.
  • We love the poor and want to help them by making them poorer! It’s hilarious that they keep denying they hate the poor while systematically doing everything possible to make their lives more miserable and move what little income they have left into their pockets instead. It’s “the beatings will continue until the morale improves” way of making people happy! It’s tough love, but it is love. Feel the love, poor people!
  • Their gun fetish. They see nothing at all peculiar or alarming about paranoid schizophrenics having easy access to all the guns and ammunition they want. They cheer “open carry” losers who like to go into Targets with loaded semi-automatic weapons. Nothing to see here but some honest exercising of constitutional rights! What could possibly go wrong with a group of white redneck young adults strung out on testosterone and loaded assault weapons running around our retails stores?
  • The NRA in general. Any statement from the organization is good for a few laughs. You wonder how any organization could possibly be so clueless about cause and effect. Then you realize it’s not cluelessness; it’s just dogma. Dogma means never having to think through your illogical positions.
  • The Tea Party. It’s a party so principle driven that it is incapable of any compromise whatsoever, so it’s incapable of governing until the unlikely time when there is no one in Congress other than Tea Partiers. Dr. Seuss could not have created a more perfect north or south going Zak.

So, thanks Republicans! You are so completely surreal and out of touch that for those of us with one foot still in reality, laughter is inevitable. And laughter is good medicine, both for the body and soul. You are the gift that keeps on giving.

 
The Thinker

Running scared

What would you do if you knew that your life, as you have known it, was going to change fundamentally? Great traumatic events happen to us in our lives, but none of us welcome them. When they happen, we tend to seek out the comfort of the known rather than confront the discomfort of the unknown.

Many Japanese warriors at the end of World War II preferred what they saw as suicide with dignity – crashing their aircraft into enemy aircraft carriers or self-immolation – to defeat and living in a world that was ordered fundamentally differently than the way they were raised. Others will instead find ways to resist. They think that change can be stopped somehow, and they will simply resist it to the last fiber of their being. And so they turn their houses into fortresses, buy arsenals of guns and create a fallout shelter stocked with years of food, water, medicines and other perishables.

Something like this is happening right now across much of Red America. They smell the winds of change. For years they have ignored it by expressing the opinion that while things may be changing out there it won’t happen here. At some point though the smell becomes too pervasive. Up go defenses and the barricades. For many in power though it means that they feel compelled to use it to their utmost advantage. It means highly gerrymandered districts allowing ever more extreme people to get elected to Congress. It also means creating laws that are clearly unconstitutional (like Missouri granting its citizens exemption from certain federal gun laws) to intrusive for people you don’t like (unnecessary vaginal ultrasounds for women prior to an abortion). It means that their values must be promoted with no exceptions. So out go textbooks that say evolution is established science and in come textbooks that promote creationism instead. You tighten the screws even more on the poor by reducing food stamps and making it harder to get on Medicaid. You sign laws that do away with early voting on weekends because you don’t want that kind to vote anyhow. You are running scared.

It’s quite an ordeal. In fact, the late Eric Hoffer wrote a book about it, The Ordeal of Change, which is an interesting read if you have the time. If you looked at our changing demographics and have read Hoffer’s book, what’s happening today should not be a surprise. In fact, it is entirely predictable. What’s going on in Red America has happened lots of times before and will keep happening in the future. We are now in the “no compromises to encroaching reality” phase of this ordeal of change.

Civilized people of course recognize that change can mean that long established social systems can be reordered. When it appears inevitable, we will seek to make change as easy as possible, to minimize anger and hurt. It’s not always possible, however. The denial phase seems to be in Red America’s rear view mirror, but the anger phase certainly isn’t. They feel terribly hurt because their society is fundamentally changing, and fear it will leave them in a less privileged place when complete.

So the anger gets expressed in laws that even ten years ago they would not have considered, such as transvaginal ultrasounds for pregnant women who want an abortion. They feel they must dish out in pain at least as much as they perceive they are receiving in pain. Why do they do this? Part of it is reflexive meanness toward those not like them, but part of it is also because when anger is served out, its recipients tend to hurt too. Most people give wide berth to bullies. By acting like bullies, they are ultimately hoping we will leave them alone.

In this context, a lot of what is going on in Red America and by Republicans in Congress begins to make sense. If you accept that the Affordable Care Act is the institutionalized law of the land then you realize that you can really only amend it, not repeal it. However, if your lines are drawn and your barricades are in place then you are left with a no surrender mentality. At least so far, there is no sign of surrendering to the rule of law. Republicans will accept nothing less than the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. They cannot even come up with a coherent replacement for it, in part because they reject the premise that our old system was not perfect. If they reject what was, then in some way they must also agree that their values were either incorrect or unworkable in the modern context. That creates cognitive dissonance, so it is repressed through the mechanism that tells them, like it told Commander Taggert, to “Never give up, never surrender.”

It is increasingly clear that marriage will soon be available to anyone regardless of their sexual orientation. The Supreme Court has pretty much declared at the federal level that doing otherwise is unconstitutional, because it gives privileges to one sort of citizen unavailable to another. Moreover, because of the Supremacy Clause in the constitution, federal law trumps state law when the two conflict. Consequently, entirely reasonable federal judges are invalidating state marriage laws across the country, even in deeply red states like Oklahoma and Utah. While good for gays and lesbians, it is not so good for those whose values are invalidated through the process of law. To some extent, their anger is counterproductive, because it stokes more anger, and adds to feelings of oppression and righteousness.

It’s unclear how this will all end. Change driven by demographics and social trends can be temporarily stymied but is rarely thwarted. It would help if Red America could look at the larger picture and take comfort from it. Our worship of capitalism will likely keep a large and poor working class for them to look down on. Also, anti-abortion laws will ensure a large population of poor people. Their churches will still be around when this is over, but the demographics will probably mean fewer of us will be in church. The people around us will be more multihued, but they already are: Red America simply isn’t looking close enough. For the most part, people will continue to cloister by combinations of race and class, as they have always done. In short, a lot of the angst from Red America, while predictable, is perhaps too much ado about much less change than they thought.

This should be a source of some comfort. Ultimately though few will understand what all the fuss was about. Only cranks complain about mixed race marriages today. In twenty years the same will be true with those complaining about gay marriage. Getting to the tranquil future from the enraged present though is likely to continue to be trying.

 
The Thinker

Progress through moderation, or why you should eat your vegetables

Do you want to know why so little is getting done in Washington, D.C.? In my humble opinion, it’s because of the absence of moderate legislators. Granted, this would not have been obvious to me a dozen years ago. But today, as I see the actual result of virtually totally polarized government, I am starting to understand that if anything meaningful is to happen in our government, it will require electing a lot of moderates.

DailyKos (where I guiltily hang out regularly) is a progressive on-line community and is all about electing what it calls “better” Democrats. Yes, we’ll vote for a moderate Democrat if there is no other choice. A moderate Democrat counts as well as a liberal Democrat when claiming a majority, and a majority holds the bulk of the power in a legislature. What they really want though are very liberal Democrats: the green tea drinking, carbon-neutral, gay-friendly, single-payer type of Democrat. The thinking goes that if we get enough of them elected, we’ll actually become a green country with marriage rights for all. Naturally, over at sites like Red State, they are recruiting the Ted Cruzes of the Republican Party. It seems like there is no logical end to how deeply conservative they want their candidates to be. Lately the litmus test includes repealing the amendment that allows for the direct election of senators.

I am all for green tea drinking, carbon-neutral, gay-friendly, single-payer Democrats, at least in the abstract. It’s when we actually get them to Congress and need them to legislate that it usually all goes to hell. This is because they are trying to legislate with the other side, which is also polarized. The more partisan you are, the less likely you are to accommodate suggestions from the other side. It’s my way or the highway. And so you get episodes like last October’s government shutdown, a costly and deeply counterproductive boondoggle. You get highly principled legislators so principled they cannot do what they were sent to Congress to do: legislate. Instead, they spend their time complaining.

Congress has given up on the deliberative process. Most committee chairmen spend their time promoting their party’s grievances with the other party, not working on legislation. Congress simply isn’t weighing the nation’s needs anymore. About all they can agree on, and only after a lot of warring, is to continue spending at about the same level we spent the year before. There is little in the way of direction to the agencies of government on how to spend money.

Unsurprisingly, when Congress refuses to do its job, the president gets antsy. We saw it on display at the State of the Union address. President Obama basically said that if Congress is going to sit on its hands, he will act. He’ll use the full measure of his executive powers to make change happen. This, of course, ticks off the Republicans in Congress, and leads to silly vitriol like the president is a Nazi or a dictator. This of course ignores that presidents of both parties have routinely pushed the boundaries of executive power. It was not that long ago when Democrats were complaining about President Bush’s many signing statements, basically saying which parts of a law he will choose to enforce. There is little evidence that President Obama has taken his executive authority to such absurd levels.

There is a solution to this problem: enacting real legislation. Real legislation is not the fiftieth vote by the House to repeal Obamacare, but it might be a reasonably bipartisan vote to change some unpopular aspects of it, perhaps the president’s not entirely true claim that if you like your health policy, you can keep it. That would reflect some debate and consensus. It would also acknowledge reality that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, so we might as well amend it rather than foolishly think we can abolish it. To actually do this though you first have to acknowledge that you can’t always get what you want. You have to, like, compromise.

Democrats are no better. The people at DailyKos want a Congress full of senators like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. I like and admire both senators. But I also know if the Democratic-side of the Senate were nothing but Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanders not a whole lot of legislation would get enacted into law. Our polarized Congress would just get more polarized.

There are exceptions of course. Great change can be made when one party seizes control of both the White House and the Congress. That’s how the imperfect Affordable Care Act got enacted. It’s how social security became law. It’s great for the party in charge when this happens, but it is invariably a fleeting experience. For the party out of power, these laws simply get their dander up. You can bet when they get power again, as happened to Republicans after the 2010 elections, their pent up resentment will be felt. In the case of House Republicans, it meant fifty fruitless votes to repeal Obamacare. More importantly, it also meant that they controlled the power of the purse, since appropriation legislation must originate in the House. And so we got fiscal cliffs, reduced stimuli and endless brinkmanship over debt ceilings, not to mention boatloads of Tea Partiers. We also got dysfunctional government. That was the price of Obamacare.

Electing “better” (i.e. more extreme) Republicans and Democrats simply ensures more of the same. So at some point a rational voter must ask themselves: is this really in my best interests? Is it really in the nation’s best interest? Does it really make sense to, say, not do anything serious about global climate change until my hypothetically green-friendly legislature is in power because the other side is being so unreasonable?

My answer is no. It’s in both my interest and the nation’s interest to do something about these issues, even if only half measures and imperfect. This is because time is our most precious commodity, and we are spending our future by doing nothing today. Hence, I need to be pragmatic about who I vote for.

I am not thrilled with Mark Warner as my senator. He’s a Democrat, but he’s very middle of the road and business-friendly, and arguably more than a little worker-hostile. However, he has crossover appeal. Even in this partisan climate he is working with Republican senators to try to move legislation, even though it seems impossible much of the time. The nation needs a lot more senators like Mark Warner, even though I do not agree with him on many issues.

The choice is like eating your vegetables instead of a slice of greasy pizza. I’d prefer the pizza any day, but I need to eat my vegetables instead. Ultimately, both I and my country will be better off if I put that clothespin on my nose and pull the lever to reelect Mark Warner. The logical part of my brain tells me I need to reelect him. The emotional side of me though wishes Elizabeth Warren would move to Virginia, so I could vote for her instead.

For the sake of my country, I’ve got to use my left brain.

 
The Thinker

Cruising into denial

The good news is that our cruise was perfectly timed. We missed a second massive polar vortex by escaping to the Caribbean via a cruise ship. Moreover, we did not spend it vomiting by catching the Norovirus, unlike the unlucky passengers of the Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas and the Caribbean Princess. Despite these risks, I am definitely starting to see the appeal of being a snowbird. Winter is not bad and it can be pretty and invigorating. But when it goes on too long, or it gets too cold, or when there are no breaks of cold weather, and when you are sick of the sun slipping behind the horizon by five p.m., maybe it’s time to be in southern latitudes for a while. It worked for us. I am still red in the face, despite the sunscreen. With luck it will last for a while.

The bad news is when we came home on Monday we were back into the thick of the cold weather. We missed the worst of the recent cold and snow. But it was still in the mid 30s, and this was sure not Aruba. Our car, twelve days on the BWI long-term parking lot, anemically came back to life. We were greeted to the traditional slow traffic on the beltway and by a mixture of snow and frost covering the front lawn. We may need to deal with a massive snowfall next week too. In short, we’ve been vortexed. We should get above freezing tomorrow but for three mornings in a row it was 8, 9 and 6 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning. Temperatures in the 40s will feel like a heat wave.

Earlier on Monday morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast in the dining room of our cruise ship as we waited for our call to disembark. Unless you holler, you usually get paired up with some other couple. You know you have been on a cruise ship too long when you recognize people and some of their names because you had long conversations with them over dinner. I had a few passengers call me by name on the cruise ship. Most of these people are fine to dine with.

Occasionally you get a crank. We got a couple from southwest Florida on Monday morning in the Vista Dining room of the Noordam. After a long digression about the man’s stroke fifteen years earlier, we of course talked about the cold weather, although weather in Fort Lauderdale was already nearing eighty. Doubtlessly parroting Fox “News”, the gentleman we were with expressed the opinion that global warming and climate change were bunk. Look at that polar vortex freezing most of the United States. Case closed.

It’s quite a challenge for me to remain civil in these circumstances. Most people choose to see what they want to see, particularly viewers of Fox “News”, which is fair and balanced, as long as you don’t count the “fair” and “balanced” part. But when you are a white couple in your sixties like this couple, you live in a deeply red part of the state and you have been on 64 (yes, that’s what they said) cruises, you are obviously swimming in money and, when not on a cruise ship, probably living in a gated community somewhere where you can spout crap like this with conviction.

I gently pointed out news reports that temperatures in Rio de Janeiro recently reached a crushing 110 degrees. The southern hemisphere is in its summer, which also means out in Oz (Australia) temperatures are close to these stratospheric levels too. 106 degrees is forecast in Adelaide on Saturday, and there are the now usual brushfires to deal with, meaning there is a catastrophic fire rating in southeast Australia. Hopefully, these brush fires won’t destroy more Australian homes, but it’s becoming usual to have summers where hundreds of homes down under succumb to flames caused by fires created by these long and excessive heat waves. When we returned home and read the news, I learned that the temperature in Alaska reached 62 degrees in Port Alsworth. In general, the west coast is warmer and drier this winter than normal, due to the shifting jet stream, which is pumping the warmer air northward along the west coast, but otherwise is freezing the east coast. More than half of California is experiencing a severe drought. But of course, because the news is full of reports about negative degrees Fahrenheit across most of the northern states, it means to some that global warming must be bunk.

People wonder why scientists are overwhelmingly Democrats. It’s because they cannot deny the obvious, and they examine the totality of evidence before making assertions. For a Republican, if there is a polar vortex it means there is no climate change. If there is an excessive heat wave, it’s an aberration and evidence of nothing. Democrats though are looking at the earth as a system. And on average, in spite of the polar vortex, the earth is warm and getting warmer. It obviously doesn’t mean the world in general is cooling down.

I didn’t press my logic too far with this couple. I knew from experience it would engender some hostility. We simply had to finish a quick meal and the price was right, even if we had to sit with a couple that admired Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. Keep pleasant. Keep positive. Keep civil. Smile, but don’t smirk.

It may be inconvenient, but neither Fox “News” nor Rush Limbaugh can change the laws of chemistry. When you keep adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, more heat is going to be retained from the sun, on average, than otherwise and that means it’s going to be hotter. Rent a chemistry lab and do the experiment for yourself. So things are going to get warmer until we stop pumping these gases causing global warming into the atmosphere. Maybe God can move mountains, but he never has, at least not unless you count over eons. God isn’t going to change the laws of chemistry and physics simply because it disagrees with our prejudices.

I hate to give up cruising. Fortunately, this couple was not typical of those we sat with. But I may need a special cruise next time: where only sane people are allowed to board. The stupid: sometimes it does not just burn; it flares.

 
The Thinker

Christie: change you cannot believe in

Some time ago I wrote about political bullies. I wasn’t thinking of Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie in particular when I wrote it. In part this was because there were so many other fine examples in the Republican Party he hardly stood out. In fact, almost all the prominent Republican politicians are bullies. It’s part of their trademark, at least in recent years. The civilized and mannered ones have all pretty much retired, died or joined the Democrats.

Christie this week is an example of a political bully that got his comeuppance. In a long, tedious and frequently bizarre news conference on Thursday, Christie worked hard and unconvincingly to limit his political damage from Bridgegate. I don’t think the scandal has an official name yet, but this will do. It involved restricting the number of lanes allowed to residents of Fort Lee, just across the Hudson River in New Jersey from Manhattan to a toll plaza to get into Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge. For a full week, ironically during the week of September 11 last year, local citizens of Fort Lee were tied up needlessly in traffic because their access to the toll plaza had been restricted from three lanes to one. This caused monumental traffic jams and likely contributed to one death. Reputedly this closure was ordered, if not by Christie himself, then by his close aides, as retribution. Why? Reputedly, it was because Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor refused to endorse Christie for reelection. Christie handily won reelection anyhow by an impressive sixty plus percent margin.

At the news conference, Christie portrayed himself as something of a victim. He said he was lied to by his staffers, and said that he was shocked that people he trusted lied him to. To hold people accountable he fired an aide, Deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. Port Authority executive David Wildstein resigned last month reputedly due to the scandal. Curiously though for a bully, at least when it came to his friends, he was not up to doing it personally. Kelly was fired by email. During the news conference, Christie said he was sorry, of course, but also said he was not a bully, and that people who know him would not characterize him as one.

Really? This easily passes the smirk test.  Being loud, obnoxious and in your face are key ingredients to Christie’s style. It’s what got him elected then reelected. In New Jersey, these are something akin to assets. The state has a history of corrupt officials, typically Democratic officials because it is an overwhelmingly Democratic state. The state also has a history of mob influence, and has lots of Italians in general. In short, being obnoxious and corrupt is part of the culture. What gave Christie allure to New Jersey voters is that he was a Republican not afraid to take on the powers in his state. Given the state’s history, it’s not surprising that his bullying and obnoxiousness was considered an asset.

Christie is a caricature of a bully. He is not afraid to get up close and personal, yell loudly, put his finger in your chest and violate your personal space to make his point. He takes the initiative rather than wait on events. As I noted in my earlier essay, bullying generally works. It is considered bizarre behavior. Most of us are trained to be civilized so we are taken aback when we encounter a bully. We simply don’t know how to behave. While we feel incoherent and flustered, the bully has asserted himself and changed the dynamics. And so far it has worked well for Christie. Arguably, in a state with such a corrupt history as New Jersey, you need a bully in charge.

If you are going to be a bully though, at least have the decency to admit it. Don’t spend much of your news conference proclaiming that you are not the person you made yourself out to be as part of your trademark. It’s not surprising in the least that he would attract and hire people with a similar temperament; indeed it would be surprising if he had not. Given that their boss was into retribution and political payback, his subordinates probably felt they were being faithful to their boss by imitating his behavior. And if the Democratic mayor of a New Jersey city isn’t going to endorse their boss for reelection, well, then there is a price to pay. It’s time to show who’s really in charge. And so they did because they could. It’s how bullies operate. You are liberal in dishing out punishment because you are trying to make an emotional impact. You do this on the assumption an emotional impact will change future actions. The message to residents of Fort Lee was pretty obvious: if you elect people not in tune with the governor then you are going to pay a price. For most it was the price of inconvenience, but inconvenience is costly and in this case allegedly deadly as well.

Bullies are rendered powerless when they are stood up to. Ideally this courage inspires others to do the same, soon rendering the bully impotent. Restricting traffic to a major thoroughfare into Manhattan is an example of a bully going too far over the line. With the help of grassroots Democratic activists, eventually the press took notice and started digging. That Christie’s subordinates ordered this is simply all we need to know about the character of the guy. Christie is in the moving cheese business. While voters appreciated most of the cheese that Christie managed to move, you can move too much too quickly. And when that happens, as in Bridgegate, you learn which boundaries can be transgressed and which cannot.

Given that the incident was widely publicized at the time, Christie’s ability to tune it out suggests his insular, incurious and haughty nature. Publically, he suggested that such local issues were beneath him. Most likely privately he was aware that his minions were pulling some strings on his behalf, and he enjoyed seeing his enemies squirm.  I doubt his staff involved in this affair gave it much thought. It was consistent with their boss’s management style.

Time will tell if this will have a lasting effect on Christie’s political ambitions. It certainly gives Americans, who probably haven’t tuned that much into Christie, some concerns to chaw over. For Christie, successful damage control will mean tempering his temper, the very asset that brought him political fame. Once tempered, it’s unlikely that he will shine out above the crowd of other Republicans with eyes on the White House in 2016.

The bullying trademark of the Republican Party has been wearing thin for a long time. Americans are disgusted with the Tea Party in particular, for their obnoxious and uncompromising attitudes and the damage it caused. Rush Limbaugh’s show is in tatters. Political compromise is in; political extremism is out. Part of Christie’s trademark was that sometimes he would work across the aisle, or take a position anathema to most Republicans, thereby demonstrating the courage of his convictions. Without bullying as his shtick though, there is little to recommend him. Instead, now there are lots of red flags.

Christie has become the symbol of change we cannot believe in.

 
The Thinker

Decking the secular halls

So an atheist, a Buddhist, a Unitarian Universalist (me), his un-churched sister, her sarcastic college age son and the cynical brother who says he only worships Baal get together for dinner. The occasion: Christmas, of course.

That’s right, our Christmas tree is festooned with lights and bulbs. An angel adorns its top proclaiming the good news of Jesus’s birth. Our halls (such as they are) are decked out. There are cookie tins stuffed with ginger snaps and butter cookies.  Charlotte Church’s coloratura voice is coming out of speakers singing, of course, Christmas carols. Our porch and garage door are lined with blue lights that I put up weeks ago to celebrate the Christmas season. We have all the signs of Christmas except for the Christ part. We’re having ourselves a fully secular Christmas.

If you had to pick a Christian among us, I would come the closest. The roots of Unitarian Universalism are in Christianity. There are in fact many practicing Christian UUs, although I can’t find them in my “church” which seems to be at least half atheists. Still, UUs generally admire Jesus, such as he is imperfectly revealed to us in the gospels. I don’t think he was divine, as is true of most of us UUs. Also I don’t put much faith in prayer or miracles, but I do think Jesus probably existed and obviously inspired enough people so that his ideas carried forward after his death in a viral manner. There is no historical record of his existence outside of the Gospels, but that’s good enough for me; it passes my Occam’s Razor test.

Of course there is no evidence that Jesus was born on December 25th anyhow, but it is convenient to the winter solstice, which was likely why it is celebrated on this date. There used to be a lot of heathens around and if you are going to convert them you have to work with their natural worship dates.  So most likely we are celebrating the birth of a man who might well be fictional, that most rational people cannot consider divine, whose birthday we don’t know and whose legend is known only because oral tradition was eventually written down and then rewritten, often with errors and omissions, over the centuries. Along the way we picked up saints, including a Greek bishop called St. Nicholas, and morphed this single aesthete into an obese citizen of the North Pole who dwelled in his own small kingdom full of elves and flying reindeer, and that fly despite the absence of wings. St. Nick magically supplies toys just one night a year to all the good Christian children in the world and keeps up an impressive schedule making appearances at local shopping malls. As adults we of course laugh at this childish nonsense, even while seventy three percent of us Americans also profess to believe that Jesus was born to a virgin.

Myth has morphed into rarely challenged creed. A compelling new book suggests Judaism was simply made up by a bunch of elders in an attempt to unite the Judeans and the Galileans so they could fight common encroachers. If correct there was likely no Abraham, no Moses, no enslavement of the Jews in Egypt (for which there is no independent record), no burning bush, and no forty years of wandering in the desert of the Sinai which, lacking an oasis, would probably kill a large group of Jews dead within a few weeks anyhow.

And yet still we celebrate Christmas, and this includes the hopelessly secular among us like most of my family who, sadly, were raised as devout Catholics. My adult daughter, a professed atheist and now back in her bedroom after graduation, is fully into the Christmas season. She was pushing us early to put up Christmas lights and the Christmas tree. She was ready to deck our halls and could be heard singing Christmas carols in her bedroom. She was aghast that I forgot to buy some kielbasa for Christmas breakfast, a tradition that dates back to my deceased mother and which we carry on, if I don’t forget about it, on Christmas mornings. So it was off to the Food Lion before they closed Christmas Eve for some of the sacred sausage, served with scrambled eggs somewhat hurriedly before unwrapping presents under our Christmas tree.

No White Christmas this year, which is actually par for the course here in Northern Virginia. You can expect one every fifteen years or so. However, it was cold enough to qualify for Christmas, with temperatures that never made it officially above freezing despite clear skies. Walking this afternoon for exercise and bundled in my warmest parka, I felt gratitude, not just for Jesus but also for warm houses. Living outside in this weather like our distant ancestors did must have sucked. The only people these days who have an inkling of what it is like are our homeless, the exact sort of people Jesus would have cared the most about. As we raise our eggnog and sing our carols, we try not to think about them. Let them sleep in the woods in a tent and get dinner out of a dumpster. Sadly, some of our leaders clearly want to increase their ranks, and in the recently passed budget agreement succeeded by reducing food stamp allowances and heating assistance and ending long-term unemployment benefits. This is based on the curious and erroneous belief that this will make them get off their duffs and earn a living, but really was done because they are sadists absent compassion for anyone not like them. For many of these poor, 2014 will be bleaker than 2013.

For those of us lucky enough to have some wealth and privilege, we can wrap ourselves up inside our houses, sing carols in front of a hearth (probably with a gas log), tell and retell dated family stories, eat too much food and mostly forget about Jesus. If he were alive he’d probably be suggesting that we bring some food and eggnog outside to our neighbors in the woods, or maybe invite them inside our house for some home cooking, a shower, use of our washing machines and a night in a clean bed. Most of us are not that brave, convinced that the homeless are mentally ill, thus likely to strangle us in our sleep. We like the idea of being kind to those less fortunate to us more than the soiling our hands through the actual doing of deeds. Some of us will work in a soup kitchen for a day or two. Some may even give out blankets to prevent hypothermia for the homeless. To the extent that I put my values into action this year, it was to talk for five minutes with the guy from Goodwill who empties my trash in the office on Christmas Eve, learn about his son and daughter and wish him a happy holiday. I also bought $75 in gift cards for a local 16-year-old teenage girl through the Secret Santa program at our church. I also give money to charities, but this is an implicit admission that I want others to do the work that I can’t seem to do personally. I too am hypocritical, although perhaps less than most.

Yet still we huddle around our tree on Christmas Eve, unwrap our presents on Christmas Day and listen to holiday tunes on the player, many of which proclaim a savior was born today. Looking at our actions toward each other, there’s not much evidence that Jesus succeeded. And while none of us believe in Jesus’s divinity, we do sort of wish, like Santa Claus, that he actually did all those wonderful things. We just haven’t drunk enough spiked eggnog to short-circuit the logical parts of our brains.

If we could actually minister like Jesus, well then perhaps Christmas would be worthy of our celebration.

 
The Thinker

The interview

This blog is principally a written work, but today you can hear my voice if you want. Simply click on the audio player and listen to the MP3 recording. The interview is 24:09 and is 34.8MB in size. (Download)

I was interviewed by NetRoots Radio as a voice in the federal shutdown. The interview was with “Fripp”, a co-host of the Netroots Radio Tuesday show “Kicking Ass”. The interview is not actually part of the show, but is available as a podcast. I simply give my two cents about what it is like to be furloughed and offered a few political opinions. If you read this blog regularly, you won’t learn much new except you get to hear what I sound like.

“Fripp” is actually a man named Tom who is my age and living near Portland, Oregon. Tom and I have been friends since 4th grade so he is unquestionably my oldest friend, thus I was a natural person for him to interview. The interview was done via Skype on Monday afternoon. The natural pauses in sentences have been removed by software. I don’t normally speak so succinctly.

You can learn more about Tom here.

 

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