Friday, August 3, 2012

Chutzpah redefined

Chutzpah:  that wonderful Yiddish word meaning audacity, brazenness, cheek, is usually exemplified by this anecdote:   
a man murdered his parents and then begged the court for mercy 
on grounds that he was an orphan.

Former Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) has now provided us with an alternate exemplar of chutzpah.   A few years ago, he was caught in a sting operation in the Minneapolis airport men's room and charged with soliciting sex with an undercover police officer.  You may remember the phrase "wide stance."

Now comes the chutzpah part.

The election commission wants him to pay back the $217,000 in legal fees that he paid out of his campaign funds.   He was on a trip from Washington to his home state of Idaho and therefore claims he was on an official business trip, which he can legitimately pay for with campaign funds.

Yes, senator -- for airplane tickets, car rental, in route meals, etc.   But legal fees to defend yourself against charges of a criminal act committed during the trip?  The documents filed by his lawyer yesterday offered this:
"Not only was the trip itself constitutionally required, but Senate rules sanction reimbursement for any cost relating to a senator's use of a bathroom while on official travel."
Come on.   This is a joke, right?

You know, I can remember when many public restrooms had coin-operated doors on the bathrooom stalls, and I suppose that would be a legitimate travel expense.   It was maybe a dime or a quarter.  Definitely not $217,000.

Honestly, Sen. Craig.  I just don't think legal defense fees for soliciting sex in a public restroom qualify as a business expense. . . 

. . .  unless you were planning to pay the other guy for sexBut then you're talking about another whole line of business.  Definitely not part of your duties as a United States Senator

That is Chutzpah.


Justice Scalia's contradiction

Justice Antonin Scalia is widely regarded as a highly intelligent man.  He claims to be a Constitutional "textualist," which he says is a subspecies of "originalism."   He focuses on what he thinks the text of the Constitution actually said when it was adopted in 1787.  No fuzzy speculation about what the framers "meant."

Some court observers would say that doesn't stop Scalia from some fuzzy thinking when he allows his conservative ideology and, frankly, his cantankerous personality to influence his decisions.   But Scalia, of course, would debunk the idea of his own subjectivity as vehemently as he refuses to recuse himself in cases where he obviously should do so.

Scalia also rejects the idea of a "living constitution" that needs to be interpreted in light of modern developments that were not known to the constitution's framers in 1787.   This applies both to technological and scientific developments, as well as to cultural mores and social attitudes.

But here's where he is inconsistent.   Either he has a blind spot to his own subjectivity (he thinks he is completely objective and completely right) -- or I have a blind spot in being able to understand how his seemingly contradictory statements actually cohere.

In a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace,  Scalia was asked about the possibility of putting some limits on the "right to bear arms," such as limited ownership of assault rifles.    He leaves open the possibility of some limits, saying that the limits to Amendment 2 will be dictated by "whatever Society feels is appropriate at the time."

It sounds like he's saying limits would be constitutional to the extent they reflect a poll of the people as to what they feel is appropriate.   Or does he mean what a majority of the justices deem that "Society feels is appropriate"?

No matter how much I think about this, I cannot square this with his insistence that the Constitution is not a living document, that it means now what it meant in 1787, and that we cannot choose to read into it what is not there or interpret it through the lens of modernity.

If anyone understands this obvious contradiction, please explain it to me.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Finally . . . religious moderates/liberals wake up

For years, the voices of liberal and even the moderate, mainstream Christian leaders have been muted, allowing the so-called religious right to speak for Christiandom.

Where were the liberal Protestants and Catholic social service activists that played such an important role in the civil rights battles that changed society?

 At last, a statement has been released by 60 leaders protesting the Republican tax proposals.  The Reverend Jim Wallis, head of the social justice organization Sojourners said:

"To roll back tax credits for the poor to help fund tax breaks for the rich is simply morally reprehensible."
The U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has also called for extending the tax credits for the poor.    The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, along with the Food Stamp Program, are on the Republican chopping block to make it possible to extend the income tax cuts for those in the upper income brackets.

How did those hard-hearted, greedy, "trickle-down" dupes high-jack the mantle of religion?   By putting ideology over people, just as the Vatican wants the U. S. nuns to spend more time fighting abortion and marriage equality and less time in the soup kitchens.

According to Biblical narratives, Jesus once got angry and drove the money-changers out of the temple.   Methinks he doth need to reappear and drive out the big money special interests that control the temples of our government.   Do it in the name of the sick and the needy, and for all those out of work.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

We don't need more evidence . . . but here is some more anyway

Does anyone still doubt that Romney is of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich?

He wears it like his skin.   He doesn't even know that he is being offensive.

He reminds me of the Maggie Smith character in Downton Abbey.  She is the Dowager Countess, the matriarch of this aristocratic family with its palace-sized mansion situated not on a big estate but in a vast park.   There are dozens of servants for a family of five.

The Dowager Countess is the epitome of privilege, who accepts it unquestioningly as her place in the order of things.   When one of the housemaids wants to "leave service" and become a secretary, she is simply bewildered that any servant might want a different life.   To be "in service" in a grand and respected house like Downton is a privilege to be envied.   "Why would she want to leave?"    She really can't imagine it.

And when her own lady's maid gives her notice that she's leaving to get married, the Countess moans to her daughter-in-law:  "There's nothing more vexing than losing one's maid, is there?  What am I going to do?"   And then, referring to the maid, she adds without a trace of irony:  "How can she be so selfish?"

That's Mittens.

I don't know how this escaped me back in January, but it was referenced online today.   As reported by the Washington Post, Romney was asked about his use of the word "envy" in discussions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country.
Romney:  You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent . . .  you have opened up a wave . . . which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.

QUESTIONER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail. 
Romney is saying there's nothing that divides us except the Democrats who are pointing out how divided we are.   Like the housemaid in Downton Abbey, the 99% should be satisfied with their lot in the scheme of helping the rich get richer and enjoy their privileged life. 

If we have to talk about it, let it be only in "quiet rooms."   Then maybe the servants wouldn't overhear.  It will only make them envious and want to "better" themselves.

I rest my case (for today).


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The "voter fraud" fraud - #2

Huffington Post political writer Dan Froomkin says that no journalist, who is not an actual shill for the right, actually believes Republicans are pushing voter ID laws because they're concerned about voter fraud.   People trying to vote fraudulently is simply not a problem, but journalists treat the controversy over the laws as just another he said/she said disagreement.   In doing so they are failing their duty to inform with accurate information.

At the same time, voter intimidation is a serious problem.  A new law in Pennsylvania, now on trial in court, will disenfranchise as many as 10% of legitimate voters.   In Philadelphia, it is much higher.   And state officials have acknowledged that they have no -- repeat NO -- evidence of voter fraud, nor any likelihood that it will occur.

And yet there the laws are.   They could decide the election in swing states.

Froomkin says this is about more than just the election outcome, however:
This is not simply another gratuitously partisan act by the GOP.  This is an attack on the very notion of democracy. The voter ID push, along with intimidation of voter registration groups and purges of voter rolls have only one goal: blocking legitimate but probably Democratic voters from exercising their constitutional rights. It is a poll tax with a new twist.

And the pursuit of this goal ostensibly in the name of voter fraud is an outrageous deception that only works if the press is too timid to call it what it really is.

For reporters to treat this issue like just another political squabble is journalistic malpractice.
And where is the outrage?   Why aren't the headlines screaming about the "voter fraud" fraud?   Is it because most of the media (print, radio, tv) are owned by corporate interests, and they are mostly Republicans?

There was a time when Republicans would be just as outraged over this perversion of democracy as Democrats.   That this is no longer true is a travesty of the current state of partisanship in this country.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Another dramatic, historic first

It has just been reported that the committee charged with drafting the platform for the Democratic Natioinal Convention has unanimously agreed to include a plank in support of marriage equality.

This will of course have to be approved by the full Platform Committee and then voted on by members at the Convention in Charlotte.   But there was little opposition in the committee, at least since President Obama announced his support for gay marriage.

The walls are falling down . . . ever more rapidly.


Romney never misses an opportunity - #3

Of course, it won't make a whit of difference to voters who already think he's what they want (a successful businessman who can solve their economic woes), but for some of us Mittens has done it again.

Romney managed to insult a whole nation of people in the sensitive Middle East.

At a fund-raiser for wealthy Jews in Israel, most of whom were flown over from the U.S., Romney praised the economic success of Israelis.   Citing their GDP per capita as twice that of the Palestinians, he credited this "stark difference in economic vitality" to Jewish culture and history, innovative business climate, and the "hand of providence."   He might just as well have gone ahead and said "God's chosen people."

What he didn't understand -- or seem to care about -- is the fact that the Palestinian economy cannot hope to "reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation" of their country, according to a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Romney's "foreign policy" trip has probably been good, if you're on the bandwagon.  But from where I sit, it's a disaster -- and portends just the kind of tin-ear, insensitive lack of diplomacy we could expect if he becomes president.

We'll be right back where we were when Dubya was ruining our international good will.


A stunning reversal on bank regulation by a banker

Sanford Weill, former CEO who helped create CitiBank as one of those "too big to fail" banks, has made a stunning reversal of his position.   He was a major force in the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the law that had kept banking and risky investing separated from 1933 until 1999 when it was repealed.

Weill  opposed the return of Glass-Steagel type regulations, even during the 2008 crisis;  but he now says it's probably time to break up the big banks and separate their banking functions from their speculative investment functions.   He says this will avoid the "too big to fail" problem and the risk to taxpayers' money.

Excuse me, but this is exactly what Nobel laureate (liberal) economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have been saying all along.   It's the way it used to be until they undid the law that forbade it.  And it's one of the main causes of the big melt-down in 2008.

So has Sandy Weill gotten religion, as they say?  Is he a "born-again" banker?

Will he now use his Wall St. influence to promote this sensible movement?

Stay tuned.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

The ever-relevant Frank Rich

I first became a fan of Frank Rich when he was the New York Times theater critic, then followed him with interested as he wrote an op-ed column for the Times, and now as he writes insightful analyses of political and cultural America for the New York Magazine.

His current article is titled, "Mayberry R.I.P.:  Declinist panic," is well worth reading in its entirely.  Below is the reference and my attempt at a summary.

Focusing on the nostalgia for the old Andy Griffiths television show "Mayberry, R.F.D.," he basically says that (1) the idea of American in decline is a matter of perspective and (2) what seems desirable from the Mayberry era is from the perspective of "white men of a certain age."   The fictional Mayberry, N.C. was lily-white for its entire eight year run.

Rich writes that: 
"The wave of nostalgia for Andy Griffith’s Mayberry . . . says more about the frazzled state of America in 2012 . . . than it does about the reality of America in 1960. . . .  For nearly four years now—since the crash of ’08 and the accompanying ascent of Barack Obama—America has been in full decline panic."
Rich tells us to take another look and get over it.

As to our position in global leadership, he quotes Indian-born pundit Fareed Zakaria saying that the subject is "not the decline of America but the rise of everybody else."

As to "American exceptionalism" that conservatives are so fond of saying we have lost, Rich says that the term was first used by Joseph Stalin in 1929 when he used it scornfully in referring to the United States.    And contrary to popular belief, George W. Bush did not use the term in any recorded public utterances.

But, unsurprisingly, Newt Gingrich jumped on the bandwagon, declaring that he is an “American exceptionalist” because he believes in “fundamentally rebuilding the America we inherited,” as opposed to Obama, who “believes in fundamentally undermining the America we inherited.”

Rich continues:
"In the post–World War II years of American might, it is hard to find a sustained period when America was not fretting about its status in the world and its ongoing or potential decline.  That includes those golden years apotheosized in . . . The Andy Griffith Show  . . .

"Bipartisan panels . . . published . . .  a 1961 report titled Prospect for America.  “The number and the depth of the problems we face suggests that the very life of our free society may be at stake was the opening sentence."
So there we have it.   Perhaps there is genuine "declinist panic," but it is nothing new.   Its current vogue is more a political tactic than a legitimate concern, especially if we trace the history of "American exceptionalism" that excludes Barack Obama and blames him for its loss.   Sarah Palin is largely responsible for that political tactic.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer then took it up and gave it more gravitas, suggesting that Obama was "endorsing American decline" when he said “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

To the political right, this line became the smoking gun that proved Obama is "not one of us" and is leading America to abdicate our position as global leader, and indeed our exceptionalism.

We do face real problems, but Rich is more inclined to lay the blame on "the three-decade-long collapse of fundamental economic fairness. . .  We are living in 'a country run by the rich, for the rich."

What's to be done?    Rich is not so pessimistic.   He calls for perspective and rethinking where we are.
"Lost in all our declinist panic is the fact that the election of an African-American president is in itself an instance of American exceptionalism —an unexpected triumph for a country that has struggled for its entire history with the stain of slavery. . . . That [Obama's] unlikely rise has somehow been twisted into a synonym for America’s supposed collapse over the past four years may be the most disturbing and intractable evidence of our decline of all."
Frank Rich is a keen observer, admittedly from a perspective on the left.   But I believe his analysis stands up better than those he challenges.