Saturday, December 12, 2015

Trevor Noah ridicules people buying more guns

Trevor Noah, the South African comedian who succeeded Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, often uses his outsider "bafflement" at American hypocrises and inconsistencies to make a point.    He did this regarding some people's reaction to the San Bernadino massacre, which was to line up at gun stores to buy more guns.   Here's Trevor:

"This is so confusing to me.    So, people get shot . . . and they go out and buy guns.   Why aren't they buying bullet proof vests?  It should be at the top of everyone's Christmas list: 'I want a vest!!' "


Contrasting views of ISIL: Obama vs GOP candidates

Peter Beinart, a professor and one of the leading journalists writing about the Middle East, wrote this piece for The Atlantic. 

"At the core of Barack Obama’s terrorism speech on Sunday night lay a contradiction. He gave the address to convince an increasingly fearful nation that he takes the terrorist threat seriously. But he doesn’t, at least not in the way his political opponents do.

"For George W. Bush, the fight against jihadist terrorism was World War III . . . Many Republicans still see the 'war on terror' in these epic terms . . . the United States and 'radical Islam' are virtual equals, pitted in a 'civilizational conflict' that 'either they win or we win'.

"Obama thinks that’s absurd. . . .  he considers violent jihadism a small, toxic strain within Islamic civilization, not a civilization itself. . . .  While Republicans think ISIS is strong and growing stronger, Obama thinks it’s weak and growing weaker. . . . 

"Obama also argued that the Islamic State is losing in the Middle East, where the 'strategy that we are using now—air strikes, special forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country' will produce a 'sustainable victory

"The leading GOP presidential candidates reject that,  They believe defeating the Islamic State requires some dramatic. . . new military and ideological exertion. Obama, by contrast, thinks America simply needs to not screw up. That means not being 'drawn once more' into an effort to 'occupy foreign lands,' thus allowing the Islamic State to use 'our presence to draw new recruits.' 

"Obama believes powerful, structural forces will lead liberal democracies to triumph over their foes—so long as they don’t do stupid things.

". . . Obama [believes] that the great driver of suicide terrorism is not jihadist ideology but occupation.  Because Obama, unlike Bush and Rubio, believes the Islamic State is ideologically weak, he thinks America’s current strategy will eventually defeat it unless America commits a large occupying force, which would give the jihadists a massive shot in the arm. 

"The other unforced error America must avoid, according to Obama, is 'letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want.' Because the GOP candidates see violent jihadism as a powerful, seductive ideology, they think that many American Muslims are at risk of becoming terrorists, and thus that the United States must monitor them more aggressively. Because Obama sees violent jihadism as ideologically weak and unattractive, he thinks that few American Muslims will embrace it unless the United States makes them feel like enemies in their own countrywhich is exactly what Donald Trump risks doing.

Obama . . . believes that powerful, structural forces will lead liberal democracies to triumph over their foesso long as these democracies don’t do stupid things like persecuting Muslims at home or invading Muslim lands abroad.  His Republican opponents, by contrast, believe that powerful and sinister enemies are overwhelming America, either overseas (the Rubio version) or domestically (the Trump version).

"For them, the only thing more terrifying than 'radical Islam' is the equanimity with which President Obama meets it. And, to their dismay, that equanimity was very much on display on Sunday night."
*     *     *
It's easy for Trump to stand up and shout simplistic answers and boasts of strength to those whose fears he has revved up to fever pitch.   What is difficult is for Obama to maintain the calm voice of reason and deeper understanding of complex problems, in the face of demands that he do something different -- especially in the wake of seeming proof that you've let something bad happen that you should have prevented.

The truth is that we cannot prevent something like San Bernadino happening -- not unless we give up our freedom and openness and inclusiveness.  Those values make it a risk worth taking.  And, as Beinart says, we can reduce that risk by not making American Muslims feel like enemies in their own country.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Good news #14: Bernie Sanders rejects Super PAC

Wouldn't it be great if this kind of thinking were the outcome of this, by far, most expensive election -- ever?   This is from a Bernie Sanders campaign fund-raising email.

"Here's the truth:   backed by almost one million contributions, we raised more money last FEC fundraising quarter than every Republican campaign, and just as much as Hillary Clinton. . . [without having a super PAC or taking any money from them.]

"But much to our surprise, one super PAC plans to start spending money in support of our campaign.   They should spend their money somewhere else.   We do not want their help.

"Our campaign is funded by people who have had enough of corrupt billionaires and super PACs buying our elections.   The political media thinks we're naive for taking this approach.   But we will prove them wrong."

Time magazine's "Person of the Year"

Time names a "Person of the Year" award each year, and this year it is German Chancellor Angela MerkelShe was cited for her leadership and management of Europe's response to the Greek economic crisis.   

The choice is made by Time's editors, based on the person they judge to have had the most impact that year on the news and on our lives;  that effect can be either for good or for ill.   Since the award's inception in 1927, the majority of the picks have been "for good" (Einstein, Ghandi, FDR, Churchill);  but there have been notable examples of "for ill" (Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin).

Here's the interesting part this year.   Merkel is a good choice and is generally thought to have been a positive force in the world, even though some disagreed about her pushing austerity on Greece.    But the runners-up?

The #2 spot went to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State;  and #3 spot went to Donald Trump, who has dominated the news like no other individual in recent memory.   Others on the short list were:   Black Lives Matter activists, Caitlyn Jenner, Vladimir Putin, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who helped bring the Iranians to accept the nuclear agreement.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Unfit for the Supreme Court: Antonin Scalia

[Updated 12/10 at noon;  additions in italics] 

This seems to be the week to proclaim people unfit for high office.

First, the White House press secretary said that Donald Trump is not qualified to be president because of his plan to violate the Constitution to bar a religious group from entry.

Now we have Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at it again, proving his unfitness for the position he has held for close to 30 years.   I have long felt he was unfit because of:  (1) his obvious bias that he seems unaware of;   and (2) his failure to recuse himself on cases where he obviously should have done so.

But now, he has engaged in the same kind of bigoted stereotyping of a racial group that Trump has done for a religious group.   In oral arguments on a Texas case that puts affirmative action on the chopping block, Scalia said that it "does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, . . . as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school . . .  a slower-track school where they do well. . . . I don't think it stands to reason that it's a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible.'

In the first part of the quote, Scalia paints all African-Americans with the broad brush of "unable to benefit from high quality education."   That is racism.  He could have said -- which is a little more reasonable -- that it is not necessarily helpful for someone to be enrolled in a school for which they lack the ability or preparation.   But why blanket "African-Americans"?

The second part is just a lie.   No one has even suggested that UT wants to "admit as many blacks as possible."   That is a deliberate distortion of affirmative action and cannot be dismissed as hyperbole.  Or at least it is beneath what we expect of a SCOTUS justice.

This is outrageous coming from any public official.   It is unthinkable coming from the senior, longest-serving member of the United States Supreme Court.  

Sign me on to the petition to impeach Antonin Scalia.   He does not belong on SCOTUS.

Good news #13: Minnesota economic success proves Democrats correct

Ready for some good news?

Hint:   Minnesota followed the progressive Democratic plan of increasing taxes on the wealthy, investing in infrastructure and in people, and providing benefits for those in need.   And it worked.

When Democrat Mark Dayton became governor in 2011, he inherited, from a Republican administration and legislature, a budget deficit of $6.2 billion and an IOU to state schools of another $2 billion.  Unemployment was 7%.

Among other things, Minnesota under Gov. Dayton increased taxes for those earning above $150,000, raised the minimum wage, and passed a law guaranteeing women equal pay.    All the things that Republicans say will kill jobs and make the deficit skyrocket. In addition he created a system of online voter registration to make it easier. 

In four years, despite state income taxes now being the 4th highest in the country, the economy has added 172,000 new jobs, unemployment has fallen below 3.6%, and there is a budget surplus of $1.2 billion.

Contrast this with Kansas, which followed the Republican austerity playbook of cutting taxes for the "investor class," slashing spending for schools and safety net benefits, eliminating government jobs programs, and trying to make it harder for people to vote.    Kansas schools had to end the school year early, when they ran out of money.   Their economy is horrible, and the state had a huge deficit despite crippling spending cuts that gave them no choice but to raise taxes -- which they did with a sales tax, which of course is the kind of tax that will hurt the lower income citizens the most.      All because they just have to give those rich people their tax cuts.

How many times does this natural experiment have to be repeated to prove that the Republican plan just does not work -- and that the Democratic plan does work?


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Trump's position denounced by both Dick Cheney and the Obama White House

Donald Trump repeated his call to shut our doors to ALL Muslims, "until our representatives can figure out what's going on."   Donald Trump may not know what's going on, but President Obama told us clearly on Sunday evening what's is going on.   Further, he put it in the perspective that we should accept.

We do know.    The truth is that it is a function of our freedom and democracy that we are not going to close our doors -- especially to our own citizens -- because of their religious faith.  The other fact to remember is that the attacks of mass shootings that have occurred in this country in the past several years are overwhelmingly NOT done by Muslims, by one counting just three out of over 200.

So . . . take a deep breath.   San Bernadino is a frightening development, because it clearly indicates how the Islamic State is now fostering "lone wolf" terrorism that does not require central planning or help -- or even contact -- from them.   Motivate loyalists to their cause to do their own violent thing wherever they are.   And, to the extent we know at this point, there is practically no way this could have been predicted of these particular people.  They gave no outward sign that anyone picked up that they had these intentions.   Yes, in retrospect, some things begin to coalesce;   but nothing set off any alarms beforehand.

When both Dick Cheney and the Obama White House denounce Trump's position as incompatible with what we stand for -- that's a pretty broad base.

Cheney said that it "goes against everything we stand for and believe in."  Josh Ernest spoke for the White House when he said that Trump's position disqualifies him from becoming president of the United States and that other GOP candidates, who have pledged to support whoever their nominee is, should disavow Trump "right now."   As of this writing, neither the RNC nor any of the Republican candidates have done that.

Add to those who denunced Trump's statements:   Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (next in line to be president after Vice President Joe Biden), as well as the chairs of the Republican Party in both New Hampshire and South Carolina.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Donald Trump as a national security threat ?

Donald Trump in now promising that as president he would order a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," and that it would apply to everybody, including tourists.  I wonder if he would allow diplomats from Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, and Pakistan to attend the U.N. sessions?

This plays into people's fears and takes the bait that the Islamic State leaders want us to do.   Trump is being trumped -- and doesn't seem to know it.   Or maybe he just doesn't care, as long as it pushes his poll numbers up.

Frankly, I'm not there yet, but I'm finding myself thinking:  "Isn't there any way to shut him up?"    Couldn't he be declared a national security threat?    Collaborating with the enemy?  I'm not the only one to think this.    The Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted:  "Donald Trump is now an actual threat to national security. He's providing jihadists ammunition for their campaign to demonize the US."

Well, of course, censoring Trump is not the answer, any more than his fear-mongering.   We have to do a better job on educating the public.   President Obama made a start Sunday night, but it can't stop there.   


Later:   Some of his Republican opponents were quick to respond:
Jeb Bush:   "Donald Trump is unhinged."
Lindsey Graham:   "Trump has gone from making absurd comments to being downright dangerous with his bombastic rhetoric."
Chris Christie:   "This is the kind of thing people say when they have no experience and no idea what they're talking about."

Updating on "Religion and violence"

This is an important understanding from Josh Marshall (TalkingPointsMemo chief) about how the Muslim communities in the U.S. differ from those in Europe.   It was published on Dec. 5, 2015, three days after the San Bernadino massacre.   Marshall is on the same page as President Obama in his speech Sunday night about what we should NOT do.

". . . . The kinds of surveillance and scrutiny which inevitably fall on suspect populations . . . are exactly the kinds of strictures which over time are likely to create the kind of social isolation and alienation which seems, from the evidence we have from Europe, to create a breeding ground for radicalization. So getting the balance right is very difficult. . . .  

". . . we've had abundant evidence that Muslims in Europe, and particularly Muslims whose ancestry is in Muslim majority countries . . . appear to be substantially more prone to radicalization and participation is mass casualty terror attacks than immigrants and descendants of immigrants from those countries now living in the United States.  We have lots of evidence for this both in journalistic and academic studies. And we have lots of evidence in a volume of terrorist attacks. . . .

"Virtually everyone who has studied the matter concludes that it is this social isolation that is at the root of the greater propensity toward radicalization and willingness, albeit for a tiny subsection of the population, to commit acts of violence.

". . . .  One key issue is that Western European countries simply have much less historical experience with mass immigration or the mix of ethnic diversity and assimilation that it brings with it and requires. Another too little discussed issue is that the great majority of these immigrants in France and the United Kingdom are immigrants from or descendants of immigrants from countries which France and the UK once ruled as colonies.   In the case of France . . .  Algeria was for decades not a colony . . .  but an integral part of the French Republic . . .  but with the vast majority of Muslims lacking full civil and political rights. . . .  [I]t must play some role in the way . . .  immigrants in France . . . remain a people apart in a way that seems profoundly different from in the U.S . . . .

"It means that one of our key strategic defenses . . . is and has been the relatively high level of integration of American Muslims. . . .  [It would be a mistake for us] to turn American Muslims into a suspect population, walled off from the mainstream of American life by fear, bigotry and even well-intentioned broad and aggressive surveillance.

"I don't say this as just some big pluralism Kumbaya. . . .  My point is that . . . even if we collectively said, 'okay enough, it's too dangerous not to finally crack down' and do all the stuff the Islamophobes want, we'd likely be sowing more trouble. We'd end up like France. . . ."
*     *     *
This is an important understanding that Marshall is offering.   Our experience is different, because immigrants to the U.S. are more likely to have become integrated into our society, have felt welcomed and valued -- at least by some of us.    If we change that by giving in to Islamophobia and loud-mouthed fear-mongerers, like Donald Trump, we will only make things worse for ourselves -- and we will certainly make life worse for our American brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith.

Now, having said this, we certainly have to maintain and, if possible even increase, our scrutiny of those who attempt to come into our country with intent to do us harm -- as well as those already here who become radicalized through internet propaganda and/or travel abroad to meet with radical recruiters.

But let's target what works -- like closing the loophole that allows people with European Union passports to come in without visas.   Let's not turn a billion peaceful Muslims into suspect terrorists or tarnish those intensely scrutinized refugees who have already suffered enough.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Obama's Oval Office address on terrorism

President Obama gave his third only address from the Oval Office setting last night, signalling that he considered this a major speech.   And it was.

It was a calm, measured call for restraint along with our smart and determined resolve to defeat those who would destroy us.   He called us to the mature response of not giving in to fear or to those who would stir up fear and demand that we come out shooting.

It's clear that our president and his advisers understand this complex situation far better than those Republican candidates who want him to invade Syria and Iraq with hundreds of thousands of ground troops, or to bomb the s--t out of them.   It is rather pathetic to see Donald Trump boasting even more broadly (if that's possible) about how tough he would be, yet revealing that he has no plans and really wouldn't know what to do.  But he would do something tough, "so tough you don't want to hear about it !!!

Please, God, save us from letting such people get control of the White House and the nuclear bomb trigger.

Of course, Obama's speech was not satisfying to those who are itching (for someone else) to fight.    But the president is correct:   that would be taking the bait that the Islamic State is trying to goad us into taking.   Nothing increases their influence and the recruiting strength like us attacking.    But it's hard to meld the mentality of such cool rationalism and the hot heads that are calling him "such a pussy" . . . and worse.


Missouri Dem says: make buying a gun as difficult as getting an abortion

From an article by Gloriasb on DailyKos:

Missouri State Rep. Stacy Newman has a proposed bill that would:  “require anyone buying a gun to follow the restrictions required of women seeking abortions, including a 72-hour waiting period.”    Despite being regularly insulted and subjected to jeers by her legislative colleagues, she has long-championed common sense gun laws and pro-choice measures.   Her bill would require this before permission to buy a gun: 

1.  "Meet with a licensed physician to discuss the risks of gun ownership at least 72 hours before attempting to buy a gun and obtain a written notice approval.
2.  "Buy the gun from a licensed gun dealer located at least 120 miles from the purchaser’s legal residence.

3.  "Review the medical risks associated with firearms, including photographs of fatal firearm injuries, and the alternatives to purchasing a firearm, including “materials about peaceful and nonviolent conflict resolution,” with the gun dealer orally and in writing.

4.  "Watch a 30-minute video about fatal firearm injuries. . . .

5.  "Tour an emergency trauma center at the nearest qualified urban hospital on a weekend between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when gun violence victims are present, and get written verification from a doctor.

6.  "Meet with at least two families who have been victims of gun violence and two local faith leaders who have officiated, within the last year, a funeral for a victim of gun violence who was under the age of 18."

Because the bill so closely mirrors the requirements for getting an abortion in Missouri, this proposal is a challenge to the pro-life advocates.   Of course, it won't get any serious consideration -- but, damn, doesn't it feel good to make them squirm?


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Chris Hayes on "two things we tend to forget" in the wake of an atrocity

On Friday, Chris Hayes of MSNBC's "All In" reminded us of this:
In the wake of  TV news coverage of an atrocity, there are two things we tend to lose sight of:

First that "we are dealing with fellow human beings, with inner lives and loves and hopes and dreams. . . and that there is a space for grace and dignity."

The second thing to remember, in watching all this TV coverage, is that "we don't report on the planes that land."  That means that "what happened in Paris and San Bernadino is blessedly rare."

Bernie Sanders leads each GOP candidate in match-up polls

In the latest Quinnipiac University individual match-up polling, Bernie Sanders leads each of the top four Republican candidates.   So does Hillary Clinton, although in each case her lead is a little smaller than is Sanders'.

49%   Sanders                         47%   Clinton
41%   Trump                            41%   Trump

44%   Sanders                         45%   Clinton
43%   Rubio                             44%   Rubio

49%   Sanders                         47%   Clinton
39%   Cruz                                 42%   Cruz

47%   Sanders                         46%   Clinton
41%   Carson                            43%   Carson   

In the same poll, however, Clinton leads Sanders by a widening margin of 60% to 30%, with O'Malley trailing at 2% and 6% undecided.

Another interesting feature of this poll is the favorability/unfavorability ratings.

      44/51   (  -  7%  net)      Clinton
        44/31   (+ 12%  net)     Sanders

        35/57   (  -22%  net)   Trump
        40/33   (  + 7%  net)    Carson
        37/28    (  + 9% net)    Rubio
        33/33    (  even  )         Carson

Interesting !!    Sanders has the highest favorability rating of all at +12%, followed by Rubio at +9% and Carson at +7%.    Here's a twist:   the front runners in each party are the only ones who have a greater than 50% unfavorability score and a negative overall net:  Clinton -7% and Trump -22%. 

What does it all means eleven months before the election?     Who knows?    If this trend continues, does it suggest that Sanders could really win?   He also has the best ratings on "honesty and trustworthy" at 59% to 28%Maybe we should stop saying "we like him but don't think he can win"?


Added note:    These polls were taken before the San Bernadino massacre.   Donald Trump is said to be having a surge since then, presumable related to his (empty) tough talk about being "so tough you don't want to hear about it."