Sunday, July 28, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Twenty-Five, The Forgotten Man At The Turn Of the Century

We remember the assassinated Presidents.  We remember Lincoln as the Great Emancipator, the martyr, a peaceful man who had the misfortune of leading our nation through its darkest and bloodiest hour.  We remember Garfield, dying for a crazed man's obsession with spoils, becoming the cause for civil service reform fixing decades of prolonged corrupt practices.  We remember Kennedy, the supposed promise of Camelot, but that can be mourned for another week, another review.

Who mourns for William McKinley?

Through no fault of his own, McKinley is one of the forgotten Presidents, lumped in with the meager One-Termers of the 19th Century who mattered little (or made things worse).  The more dedicated historians will know him, will debate the effects of his administration, but history itself had passed the man by.  Mostly because the man who followed him into office was the most active, most unstoppable, most reform-minded, most BADASS President we've ever had.  But partly because McKinley died for no damn good reason.

The 19th Century was awash across Europe and the Western hemisphere with various political ideological movements, unleashed from the tumult of the French Revolution, the fall of various monarchies, and the merging of divided states into nations (Italy, Greece, Prussia/Germany).  You had the democrats, the monarchists, the republicans, the communists, and the anarchists.  Of these, the anarchists gave birth to a violent strain of protests: a minority among the anarchist movements who sought to overthrow/end organized governments by any means, usually the assassination of key political figures.  Or worse, public figures with no political power but whose murders would attract attention.

The man who assassinated McKinley didn't do so because of any action McKinley took.  The assassin wasn't protesting McKinley's China policy, or the violence of the Spanish-American War, or the spread of American imperialism.  The assassin wanted to shoot somebody to prove his "heroic" deed of anarchism.  All it really did was kill two men, the victim and the shooter.  And the American government did not collapse: anarchism did not prosper.  And I ain't naming the SOB because we really shouldn't name these assassins who were in for their egos.  I've already written more about what this SOB did instead of writing what McKinley did, and what Character McKinley had as President.

McKinley served as President at a key change in the nation's history: from global backwater of the thirteen colonies to a major player on the international stage.  Elected into office at a time of economic depression, he worked with Congress more often than not to pass legislation stabilizing the economy (it helped the gold standard cause at the time when gold was discovered in the Alaska Yukon, improving the U.S.'s holdings).

The biggest aspect of McKinley's administration was the Spanish-American War, ostensibly started over the nation's outrage - stirred up by the yellow journalism of the day (just think of Fox Not-News today, but with better writers) - over Spain's mistreatment of Cubans during that colony's then-ongoing uprising.  While the Monroe Doctrine said the United States wouldn't directly interfere with any European nation's then-control of existing American hemisphere colonies, it was hard for the nation to ignore what was going on 90 miles off-shore.  Claiming the U.S. had interests in Cuba to keep safe - mostly businesses and personal property - McKinley sent a representative naval ship - the Maine - as a symbol of U.S. concerns.

And then the Maine blew up.

Current technology makes the case that the explosion was internal, but at the time enough evidence pointed to a mine or external attack.  Claiming the Spanish forces in Cuba had attacked a U.S. vessel, proponents for war had their casus belli, and thus war was beginning.

The war turned into one of the biggest curb stomp battles of the ages.  Building on 20-plus years of upgrades to the U.S. Navy, McKinley benefited from two naval victories in Cuba and the Philippines over an outmatched outgunned Spanish force.  The ground war in Cuba was messier but U.S. forces allied with Cuban uprisers managed to drive Spanish forces into a siege at Santiago.

How McKinley managed the war effort helps describe his character: while arming for war he kept diplomatic channels working; the scope of the war effort stayed focused on Spain even as the nascent German government was sending their fleet in to disrupt things; when it became clear that American forces in Cuba were dying not from the war but from illness - yellow fever - McKinley had the majority of men returned to the states for medical treatment rather than keep them there as a show of force (the naval victories had made the need for ground forces unnecessary).

In terms of the war results, McKinley's legacy is controversial at the least.  While Cuban independence was assured, the U.S. still annexed Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines from Spain (on a side note, we also finished our takeover of Hawaii as well during his tenure).  It certainly put the United States on the global stage: it also marked the true beginning of American imperialism, creating a debate between Isolationists and Interventionists for the next 100 years (all the way up to today).  The handling of the Philippines itself - especially the start of another uprising that turned into a brutal suppression - was one of the biggest issues McKinley faced as he entered his second term of office, having handily won re-election due to an improved economy and victorious end to the war.  His final speech in Buffalo focused on tariffs and treaties, using their international prestige to improve the American economy through global trade.

If you bought into the legends of McKinley being a puppet of the machine politicians like Hanna, you'd think McKinley was a Passive-Positive.  He certainly leaned towards the temperament of being liked and socializing, and on some issues didn't so much lead the discussion but made his voice known.  However, a more thorough review of McKinley's administration shows someone who was hands-on, active in foreign policy resolutions and debates, active with Congress in passing legislation, open-eyed about the Cuban crisis and resulting conflict, willing to dismiss his friends and allies from office if they proved unfit or unable to the tasks at hand (on a side note, McKinley was one of the few Presidents on good terms with his Vice Presidents, especially the one serving his first term, Garrett Hobart.  Hobart was the one who helped manage the Cabinet and made sure the resignation of Secretary of War Algar went smoothly.  If Hobart hadn't died in office, he could have been the Veep for the Second Term... and what a huge twist in American history that would have been...).  These are the markings of an Active-Positive President: engaged, dealing, amicable to factions within (and without) his party but not beholden to one...

McKinley also set a legacy of party leadership for the early half of the 20th Century: every major player in the Republican Party well into the 1930s - including the guy who overshadows him - had ties to McKinley and was influenced in some degree by the tenor of his administration.  The impact of a Presidency is how it affects the administrations that follow: Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Polk, Lincoln... McKinley could have made this list.

Whether or not McKinley was a great President - he lucked out with the Yukon Gold Rush resolving the gold standard issue for another day, his empire building of taking the Philippines and Hawaii had serious repercussions for American foreign and domestic policy for most of the 20th Century, and had he lived his responses could have tainted his legacy - remains debatable, and won't be resolved here or any time soon.  But he deserves better recognition in the history books: it's just, well, the next guy really takes all the attention...

Next Up: the Anti-Jackson.  The Good Badass Our Nation Deserves.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Slightly Off-Topic: Getting Published in Anthology

Just wanted to note that within the last 48 hours, the editors of the Strangely Funny humor-horror anthology got their publication up on the ebook markets for and Smashwords!

And just to explain why I'm so keen about this getting out there on the market... they accepted and published my story submission "I Must Be Your First."

(insert Snoopy dance here)

I've been mentioning it a lot on my writing/librarian blog but I'm not sure if the traffic I get here crosses over to there... so... CROSS-POSTING!

Also, YES!

It feels great to have a story published by someone other than yourself.  :sheepish grin:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Twenty-Four, And We're Back

It's Grover Cleveland 2: THE QUICKENING!

...what, were you expecting "Electric Boogaloo"?

As mentioned the first time around, Cleveland is the rare President who had two separate terms.  Technically it's the same guy, but historians have it that he's 22nd AND 24th, so the two terms have to be viewed separate as well.

There's not much to say about a President I've already labeled as an Active-Negative.  The thing about A-N types is that they tend to be stubborn, Uncompromising, respectably consistent.  Cleveland the Second Term would be expected to act pretty much the same way that the First Term did.  The problem for Cleveland was that while A-Ns do not change, the moods and trends of their times do.  And a lot was different four years after Cleveland had left the White House.

The administration stuck between Clevelands - Harrison's - was a period of economic mismanagement.  The GOP-led government had pursued a high-tariff, high-spending budget plan with little awareness of how the private sector would be altered.  The high tariffs encouraged businesses to raise prices, which hurt a lot of the poor and especially a lot of farmers in the South and West.  The Republicans tried a bi-metal money policy (Silver-to-Gold) that hurt the nation's gold reserves (this was one of the reasons why getting away from the Gold Standard was a key milestone of 20th century economics).

The reaction from the farmers and low-income Americans was to form one of the more successful third-party groups in the nation's history - The People's Party AKA the Populists - which divided the Republicans during the 1892 election well enough for Cleveland to win a clear electoral victory.  However, that victory turned rotten when the Panic of 1893 rolled around, caused by over-speculation in the railroad industry and by a run on banks tied into the Silver-to-Gold (16 to 1 rate, which cheapened the value of gold and made it too easy to cash in) policy of the day.  Despite Cleveland's efforts, the nation slid into a prolonged economic depression that lasted about 4-5 years.

Cleveland also had to cope with labor unrest, the most organized the nation had yet seen.  Worker unions had spread as the nation's industry had boomed, and the economic malaise hit a lot of workers hard, leading to strikes and the occasional riot.  When the Pullman Strike happened, it severely crimped our nation's railroads to where even the government was affected, which drove Cleveland to calling out the troops to suppress the strike.

The Panic dominated his entire tenure, and as an A-N President most of his options were limited to "stay calm" and "stick to the gold standard," which in the long-term are practical stances but in the short-term were very painful.  Coping with a party that didn't like him much, Cleveland could only stand by and watch his silverite opponents take control of the Democratic Party, merge it with the Populists, and fail in the 1896 elections.

In terms of legacy, Cleveland's first term was of more importance and effectiveness than his second.  While his administrations are not remembered fondly, his personal tenure - viewing Public Office as a Public Trust - remains a better monument.  If only he had been a more Active-Positive, he could have found solutions to the economic woes that ended his second term.

Next Week: Into the 20th Century With Our Greatest President E... Wait, He's Only Vice-President For This Entry...  Patience, My Progressive Allies, Patience...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Death By A Thousand Cuts, Well Not a Death But a Serious Wound To Public Service

Normally I've got another blog to talk about librarianship.  But this topic is more about politics than libraries, and besides this is the blog where I use curse words more often and after hearing this I'm in dire need of dropping some F-bombs:

Miami-Dade County commission just voted to NOT raise the county millage rates in order to keep their county libraries and firefighter stations properly funded.  They'll be closing out 22 out of 49 branches as well as a small number of fire stations, and cutting 251 employees from the library system while cutting back on everyone else's hours.

The cuts are the result of a $15 million library budget shortfall. (The system had been using leftover funds to bridge the gap for the past two years.) Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez recommended the budget which necessitates the cuts, as well as which cuts should be made, to the county commissioners, who approved his recommendation on July 16.Once the commissioners set the preliminary rate, it can be lowered but not raised. Throughout August, there will be six town hall meetings to explain the proposed budget to residents and receive feedback. On September 10 and September 16, there will be budget hearings. The commissioners will vote on the budget at the September 16 meeting, and it will take effect on October 1.But though the millage can’t be raised, Raymond Santiago, director of the Miami-Dade Public Library System and LJ’s 2003 Librarian of the Year, hasn’t given up on mitigating the worst of the impacts. He called the cuts presented to the commissioners and detailed above “a worst-case scenario,” and “probably the most drastic of all the options.”“Before the final budget vote in September,” Santiago continued, “the administration will continue to investigate options to reduce these negative impacts” through different adjustments to the library budget. “We’re looking at everything right now,” he said.

This county commission are pretty much the jokers who voted HOW MUCH in order to build a bullshit overpriced gaudy and unfilled baseball stadium for a morally bankrupt killer of baseball franchises - I dare you to say Loria's name in public anywhere in Canada, I dares ya - who as a businessman could have figured out a hundred other ways to raise his own goddamn money to build his own goddamn park.

The city/county mayor Gimenez is quoted in the article as saying "people have said that the age of the library is probably ending." I call bullshit on that, mayor (the Library Journal article I've linked to shows stats that library use has gone UP).  Which people?  'Cause there's a lot of people where I am - and where I've been at other public libraries as well - that come in to use libraries all the time.  People are still checking out books.  They're coming in to use library computers because libraries are now telecommunication hubs and workplaces.  I've got people coming in all the time needing help with logging into their unemployment benefits and online job hunts and typing up their resumes and downloading their medical records to get their HMOs to approve coverage.  Anybody who thinks libraries are ending hasn't been paying attention.

And speaking of all those people who come in to use libraries.  WHERE THE HELL DO THEY GO NOW?  There may be half of the county libraries still open, but they'll now be packed solid with people desperate to get onto computers - not everyone's got a laptop at home, Mister Mayor - and unable to find worktables to get any projects done.  I did the math of 49 branches to 2.5 million county residents, I got it roughly 52,000 people per branch.  With 22 branches closing, that 1.4 million residents suddenly put out without library access.  It will take them that much more effort to get to a library that's further away - not everyone's got a car, Mister Mayor, and buses get expensive too - and they'll be competing with that many more people to get onto a computer.

I worked in Broward County Libraries between 1994 to 2003.  We're right next door, county-wise, and we had a lot of traffic and usage of our resources, a lot of checkouts and a lot of people waiting their turn to use computers.  I can imagine Dade's libraries were just as busy.  I was there when we had a county referendum to vote for a bond issue in 1998, which involved a small tax increase.  We were expecting a close vote.  We got 72 percent approval, an unbelievable result, and it was because people in Broward liked their community libraries and wanted us to improve our services to them.

What the county commission did this week was unforgivable, unwarranted.  If they were having problems raising funds for libraries and fire stations, they should have done what Broward County did back in 1998: let the people vote on it.  Instead, they're cutting services rather than dare the ire of... lord, there's no sign of anyone even yelling at them to cut spending or even yelling about the taxes going up too high.  Why the hell did they do this?!

Here's a solution: sue Loria and Major League Baseball for that $500 million back for an unfilled baseball stadium.  Maybe when he's on the hook for it, Loria might actually spend his own money and field a fucking team in order to fill his goddamned empty seats.  That $500 million could easily pay for the county libraries, the county fire stations, the county police, and about twenty other social services a large metro like Miami have need for.  It's a far better solution than closing half of everything and forcing a ton of low-income families and retirees to suffer.

GOD.  Our political priorities are screwed, aren't they?  Our cities and counties and states and federal government are giving out millions to a handful of men who already have millions while the rest of us have to fight for table scraps.  At what point do we stop this bullshit?

In the meantime, call the Miami Dade County Commission's office (phone 305-375-4696).  Let them know that cutting back on library and firefighter services is a bad f-cking idea (don't say "fuck", but be very stern and concerned sounding) and if you're a county resident remind them that you can very easily vote them out like the idiots they are if they don't straighten up and do right by the citizenry.

Monday, July 15, 2013

What Happened To Trayvon Was Not a Flaw, It Was a Feature

Referring to what Mr. Coates had to say on the matter:

In trying to assess the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, two seemingly conflicting truths emerge for me. The first is that based on the case presented by the state, and based on Florida law, George Zimmerman should not have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter. The second is that the killing of Trayvon Martin is a profound injustice... The injustice inherent in the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman was not authored by a jury given a weak case. The jury's performance may be the least disturbing aspect of this entire affair. The injustice was authored by a country which has taken as its policy, for the lionshare of its history, to erect a pariah class. The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is not an error in programming. It is the correct result of forces we set in motion years ago and have done very little to arrest.One need only look the criminalization of Martin across the country. Perhaps you have been lucky enough to not receive the above "portrait" of Trayvon Martin and its accompanying text. The portrait is actually of a 32-year old man. Perhaps you were lucky enough to not see the Trayvon Martin imagery used for target practice (by law enforcement, no less.) Perhaps you did not see the iPhone games. Or maybe you missed the theory presently being floated by Zimmerman's family that Martin was a gun-runner and drug-dealer in training, that texts and tweets he sent mark him as a criminal in waiting. Or the theory floated that the mere donning of a hoodie marks you a thug, leaving one wondering why this guy is a criminal and this one is not.We have spent much of this year outlining the ways in which American policy has placed black people outside of the law. We are now being told that after having pursued such policies for 200 years, after codifying violence in slavery, after a people conceived in mass rape, after permitting the disenfranchisement of black people through violence, after Draft riotsafter white-lines, white leagues, andred shirts, after terrorism, after standing aside for the better reduction ofRosewood and the improvement of Tulsa, after the coup d'etat in Wilmington, after Airport Homes and Cicero, after Ossian Sweet, after Arthur Lee McDuffie, after Anthony BaezAmadou Diallo and Eleanor Bumpers, after Kathryn Johnston and the Danziger Bridge, that there are no ill effects, that we are pure, that we are just, that we are clean. Our sense of self is incredible. We believe ourselves to have inherited all of Jefferson's love of freedom, but none of his affection for white supremacy...

An observer from Slate about the wackiness of Florida, and how the legal system in Florida isn't so much as wacky as it is screwed:

It doesn't help that the same prosecutor who lost the Zimmerman case recently won a conviction against Marissa Alexander, a black woman who fired a warning shot to chase off her abusive ex-husband, hurting no one. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Twenty years for a warning shot against a known abuser versus no time at all for killing an unarmed teenager leaves you scratching your head and wondering if justice is not just blind but also insane...I spent four years covering criminal courts in Florida. I covered every kind of case, from misdemeanors to murder. One thing I learned is that you can never predict what a jury might do once it’s locked away to deliberate. I covered one trial where the defendant was accused of bigamy, and his defense was: Sorry, I forgot I was married already. He walked...
Prosecutors around the state boast of their high conviction rates, but those stellar records tend to be built primarily on successful plea deals, not trials. And frankly, some of their trial successes turn out to be the result of flimsy or faulty evidence—Florida leads the nation in the number of death row inmates who were subsequently exonerated...People who work in the court system can blame the legislature for the way our laws are worded. For instance, Florida's “Stand Your Ground” law was based on a distortion of a single anecdote, and it has subsequently allowed drug dealers to avoid murder charges and gang members to walk free... 
We've got a serious problem with our legal system.  We've had a serious problem for decades, and we're still not addressing the issues of fairness or justice.  And it's not just the racial animus of the legal system, it's the aggressiveness of a criminal defense system that can go out of its' way to "blame the victim" like the way Zimmerman's lawyers went after Trayvon - what else is "Stand Your Ground" but a calculated method of blaming the guy you killed "oh if only he didn't force me to pack a gun and blow his heart out his chest" - not just for murder cases but also rape cases - a lot of rape victims don't even pursue legal recourse out of fear they'll be slut-shamed at trial.

Balancing the right of a defendant to a fair trial ought to be balanced by the right of the victim to gain (or regain) some semblance of justice for the crime that took place.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

This Is What Fear And a Gun Creates: Trayvon Martin Is Dead.

Trayvon Martin's intent: walk to a store and back for a bag of Skittles and a bottle of tea. George Zimmerman's intent: follow a black kid walking through a neighborhood while carrying his gun. Confrontation ensues. Zimmerman shoots Martin. 
Zimmerman gets acquitted because of "reasonable doubt". Trayvon Martin is dead.
Try to remember this: Trayvon Martin had a bag of Skittles and a bottle of tea. Martin was not committing any crime. He was walking home through his neighborhood. Zimmerman still chases after him. And Zimmerman shoots him dead.
As a teenager I spent a lot of time biking and walking through my neighborhood, but I never had some freaked-out adult chasing after me with a gun fearing for his life. Maybe because, gee I dunno, I was white. Who's to say? Certainly not Trayvon Martin. Because he's dead now.
It is now legal in Florida, and pretty much the rest of the nation, for terrified angry white guys to shoot young black kids walking through neighborhoods.
This is not justice.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Great: the House GOP Is Now Sadistic As Well As Stupid

This is one of those moments where you wanna break out a camera and document the atrocity for the sake of preserving history.

The House Republicans just two days ago passed a version of the 5-year farm bill (it's consistent and important enough to have its own Wiki page) that doled out the billions of dollars as expected to the agribusiness industry... and didn't show one red cent for food stamps to poor families.

In our political system, a payout system of subsidies to farmers (in truth, to massive corporations) wouldn't survive on its own as its supporters would be few (mostly rural, mostly corporate forces in agribusiness) because those subsidies distort the market.  In our political system where any system of welfare to the poor (such as a food stamps program) is viewed by conservatives as Dreaded Socialism, food stamps wouldn't survive on its own either.  So for the sake of political comity of getting things done, subsidies and food stamps tended to get bound together into an omnibus farm bill in order to secure enough support from conservatives and liberals.

Problem is, our current political system is not a sane political system.  The Far Right are in control of the House, and the Far Right are so opposed to any financial aid to the poor that they couldn't even pass a farm bill with food stamps in it back in June, making the House look like it's being run by idiots.  It threatened to create a situation where milk prices would skyrocket, for one thing.  And it just looked bad: the Senate was able to pass their version of the farm bill with some bipartisan effort.

So, here we are in July one month later, the House still needing to pass any farm bill at all... and the House GOP decided to vote for a version that simply didn't fund any food stamps at all.  At least the June version was massive cuts to funding: this one full-out killed it.

Now the deal with legislation is that it has to pass both houses of Congress, which means the House of Representatives has to match the Senate: there's usually a committee process that hammers out a compromise version that both sides re-vote on for final signature.  Given the disparity of versions, the Senate has a say on the farm bill and there is absolute certainty the Democrat-led Senate will refuse to accept this from the House.  So there's little threat of food stamps being completely eliminated here.  The outrage by the public would be huge if the Senate caved on this: we would finally get some rioting in the streets to match up with Egypt and Turkey.

But what does it say to the public already about the House Republicans, that they would intentionally vote to starve out poor families like this?  And this IS about poor families across the whole nation.  The Far Right already has this disdain against the growing number of people on food stamps, ignoring the fact that we're in a goddamn recession so of course we've got more people in dire need to feed their kids.  But now this disdain is public and fully on-record: it's not just the punditry foaming at the mouth on the Sunday talk shows, the elected Republicans are voting into law bills that are against helping out the poor (and not just the poor minorities: enrollment for food stamps is 36 percent White families, compare 22 percent Black and 10 percent Latino (where the remaining percentages go, most likely into other ethnicities like Asian, Native American and Pacific Islander).

While the "liberal" punditry like Jonathan Chait is going ballistic about it:

...There’s some policy rationale for this. Some of the farm subsidies drive up the price of food, making it harder for poor people to buy the food and thus making it more necessary to subsidize them. But the main rationale for joining food stamps is political. It gets urban liberals to vote for farm subsidies that hurt their constituents, and it gets rural conservatives to tolerate food stamps that they’d otherwise oppose. And since advocates of both farm subsidies and food stamps fear losing their program more than anything else, they strongly endorse keeping them together.
The coalition between the two has come undone in recent weeks. Why? Because under President Obama, conservatives have gone from not caring much about food stamps to detesting food stamps as the emblem of Obama’s Chicago-style urban socialist welfare dependency administration. Food stamp spending has increased, not because Obama is handing them out like candy but because the number of poor, hungry people has dramatically increased since the Great Recession...
...Now, some House Republicans would like to spend less on farm subsidies, but they’re willing to maintain the status quo. They’re not willing to maintain the status quo on food stamps. Indeed, the incredible position of many conservatives is that the government should be handing out money to people because they run a farm, but should not hand out money to people who happen to be poor...
It’s no longer novel that conservative Republicans have positioned themselves to Obama’s left on domestic spending that benefits their own constituencies. We have seen three years of Republicans attacking Obama for robbing Grandma’s Medicare. But at least Medicare is a justifiable program. The existence of farm subsidies is insane, and the fact that a party that hates government so much it engages in a continuous guerrilla war of shutdowns, manufactured currency crises, and outright sabotage can’t eliminate it may be the most telling indicator of the GOP’s venality. They only hate necessary government spending. Totally unjustifiable spending is fine with them.
There's the established "conservative" punditry like Ross Douthat wondering just what the hell is going on:
...But without a vision of the common good, a party is basically just a faction, seeking only the interests of its constituents, with no sense of its responsibilities to the country as a whole. And the Obama-era Republican Party’s worst tendency has been toward just this sort of factionalism: Not an ideological extremism, exactly, but rather a vision of government that you might call “small government for thee, but not for me,” in which conservatism is just constituent services for the most reliable Republican groups and voters.
This is what produced the party’s unfortunate Mediscare tactics during the 2009 health care debate, and it’s what produced yesterday’s egregious farm bill vote. It should go without saying that America’s agriculture policy has always been a terrible, stupid, counterproductive exercise in self-dealing cronyism. But when House Republicans severed the traditional connection, arbitrary but politically effective, between farm subsidies and food stamps, it briefly seemed like they were looking for an opportunity to put libertarian populist principle into practice, by separating both outlays in order to trim or reform both separately. But no — instead they were just making it easier for the party’s congressmen to vote for a bloated, awful big government program that benefits mostly-Republican states and interest groups, knowing that they weren’t also voting for something that pays out to the (mostly-Democratic) poor as well.
This is egregious whatever you think of the food stamp program, and it’s indicative of why the endless, often-esoteric debates about the Republican future actually matter to our politics. Practically any conception of the common good, libertarian or communitarian or anywhere in between, would produce better policy than a factionally-driven approach of further subsidizing the rich while cutting programs for the poor. The compassionate-conservative G.O.P. of George W. Bush combined various forms of corporate welfare with expanded spending on social programs, which was obviously deeply problematic in various ways … but not as absurd and self-dealing as only doing welfare for the rich...
Reasonable people can disagree, in other words, about what kind of conservatism would best serve the common good. But everyone should agree that any alternative would be preferable to a Republican Party that doesn’t seem to think about the common good at all.

To me, this is just one more bit of evidence of the GOP House's utter incompetence: that they couldn't even pass a no-brainer bill like a farm bill without shooting themselves in the collective foot.  Their stance against food stamps may play well on the wingnut blogs but it's not going to play well over the kitchen tables at a lot of voters' homes.

Consider Machiavelli's question about whether it is better to be loved or feared... the real trick was to avoid being hated, and a political party or elected official intentionally going out of his/her way to inflict pain on a lot of people - on a lot of families - all at once is a very good way to become hated.

Public Puts the Blame On Where The Problem Is: Congress

If you're gonna blame the gridlock in our nation on someone, you better blame the right suspect(s).  The recent polling from Quinnipiac suggests that a slim majority of Americans are figuring it out:

According to the latest survey from Quinnipiac University, 51 percent of voters believe gridlock is mainly a result of the congressional GOP's determination to block any of Obama's initiatives. A mere 35 percent blamed gridlock on Obama's lack of "personal skills to convince leaders of Congress to work together." Obama has drawn blame from both Republicans and the press for purportedly being too isolated and unwilling to perform the type of cajoling necessary to making a deal in Washington...

I wouldn't say 35 percent is "mere", but at least 51 percent can tell where the gridlock is really happening.  After all, Congress is where the legislation is supposed to come from.

And this is happening despite the Republicans' best effort to lay the blame on Obama (or on Obamacare.  Or on libruls.  Or on zombie FDR.  Anyone but themselves).  The voters are starting to not buy the snake oil they're selling.

In this, I refer back to John Cole, who brought up current pundits' observations at how broken Congress has become, and how he noted even as far back as 2009 just how stupid and horrifying the GOP Obstruction gameplan was going to be:

I really don’t understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties is insane. Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with your date, and you suggest Italian and she states her preference would be a meal of tire rims and anthrax. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can probably figure out how bipartisanship is going to work the next few years.

This is why I've been saying "Don't Vote Republican" the last 6 years 10 years.  And it's only now that a decent majority of fellow Americans are waking up to how bad Teh Crazy really is.

I can only hope this growing outrage against Congressional incompetence and insanity leads to more voters tossing the Far Right wingnuts out of office this 2014.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

When You Meet A Better Wit Than Thou

You have to give props.  (with thanks to Digby for mentioning this earlier)

Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) received a petition by House GOP members over the immigration reform issue.

Takano's background was working as an English high school teacher.

He used those teaching skills to grade that GOP petition an "F".  You have to click the link and see it to believe it.

My mom worked as a high school teacher, albeit in history but working with the same skill sets of grading essays and term papers.  When I saw Takano's red pen mark-ups on the GOP petition, I couldn't help but laugh.  He specifically ripped the petition writer(s) on failure to provide citations, relying on allegations, and overuse of hyperbole/exaggeration.

Well played, professor.  Well played.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Part Two of Today's Post: Why I Think the GOP Is Going Overboard to Pass Anti-Abortion Laws

Actually, there's a good number of reasons.  For starters, banning abortion has been a top ticket item for the Republicans ever since Roe V. Wade became a campaign issue.  It's just never been a Top 10 issue for voters overall (most voters have as their top issues Jobs, Jobs, Better Wages for Jobs, Better Education, Education That Leads to Jobs, and Not Having Anybody Pay For Anything Anymore).

The second reason there's been a recent surge in the anti-abortion legislation has been that Tea Party "revolution" the Far Right kicked up in response to Obama's 2008 win.  While the Tea Party supposedly formed over libertarian issues such as opposing government-controlled health care reform, in practice the Far Right that benefited from Tea Party support has been pushing a harsh socio-religious agenda and ignoring economic issues outside of massive tax cuts to corporations.

But what got me quizzical is "why now?"  Why are the Republicans - at least at the state level - going batshit crazy trying to get restrictive legislation that would essentially block any abortion, and doing so in such heavy-handed ways?

It's not that the courts are suddenly more pro-fetus than ever before.  Wisconsin's anti-abortion legislation just got held up by the courts already, and there's a certain guarantee that the Ohio, Texas, and North Carolina anti-abortion laws (North Carolina's lege hid their anti-abortion bill in a motorcycle safety bill!) will get blocked by the courts as well.

And, here's the thing that gets me, it's not like the Republicans ever really pushed this hard against abortion when they really had the opportunities to do so.  I mean, look at the states that had a Republican-controlled legislature for the last two or three decades.  Outside of the occasional attempt to restrict funding and access - and taking on partial-birth abortions as a method sure to turn off even pro-abortion supporters - I don't recall any of those states making a major push before 2011.  I live here in Florida, where the Republicans have basically been in control since Jeb Bush was governor in 1998 onward: I don't recall any major anti-abortion fights (and still haven't, probably because of other reasons I'll get into later).  Texas has been pretty much all-GOP since Dubya was governor in 1994... until this year, not a peep.

The thing I figured out, pretty much around 2006, was that while the Republican Party talked tough on the abortion issue, they really didn't want to vote it out of existence.  Partly because it would get rid of their most fanatical voting base: the pro-fetus voters are almost uniformly single-issue voters, and uniformly GOP.  Get rid of that as a rallying issue and you'll see the support wither.  But also because if the Republicans did make a major push against abortion, it would not only rile up and unite the Far Left voters (who've been for the most part disorganized compared to their Far Right numbers) but also alienate the more moderate voters who normally wouldn't care.

It's one of the paradoxes of being human: we're against something unless we gotta be for it.  Most Americans would consider themselves pro-life in that they don't want to see a fetus get aborted: most would never consider it, they'd want to raise the child or see it raised by an adoptive family.  However, most Americans also know that there are cases - rape especially, also the health of the mother - where abortion is an honest option.  (This is why the Far Right tries to dismiss rape as an issue nowadays, they're trying to degrade rape as an exception.)  If the GOP went after abortion access even in cases of rape, incest and saving the life of the mother, there would have been a huge cry from voters who'd otherwise not even think of abortion and those voters would have switched to more pro-choice candidates.

I'd thought this was the real reason why, when the Republicans had all three branches of the federal government - Dubya in the White House, control of the House and for the most part the Senate, 5-4 control of the Supreme Court - they barely ever looked at abortion as an issue.  They went after partial birth in 2003, but then... nada.  Cricket chirp noises.

But now, ever since 2010 when the Far Right used Tea Party outrage to retake the U.S. House and a good number of state governments, there's been a massive push.

Part of it is due to Reason Two I gave earlier: the Tea Party movement brought into power elected officials who were far more wingnut than previous officials, and more likely to push the agenda in spite of the electoral hazards.  But this doesn't explain all the normally standard-issue Republicans suddenly backing these pushes (and fear of getting primaried out isn't that high a reason: there's too many seats involved and even Norquist doesn't have that kind of reach).  This is where Reason Three comes into play: the underlying fear by the GOP at both the state and federal level that their party is running out of time.

Look again to Texas.  Like I noted earlier, Texas has been GOP for decades, they've been socially conservative on a lot of issues for far longer.  But the population has been trending further Hispanic, (and not even due to illegals, simple birth rates are what's happening) enough that even the massive gerrymandering efforts to hinder Hispanic voter responsiveness won't protect Republican incumbents.  And Hispanics, despite being conservative on some issues, tend to vote for Democrats because they agree with Dems on health care and education. (the shift in Hispanic population is one of the reasons California's gone Blue State).  The painful thing: Hispanics may be prominently pro-life, but they still vote Democrat because health care and education and immigration are bigger concerns.  Texas may not shift to Democratic control by 2014 (or even by 2016), but sooner rather than later the Democrats will have solid control of Texas at a national, state and maybe even local levels.  Texas has an even better chance of going Purple (like Florida and Pennsylvania) this 2014, which still hurts the wingnut agenda.

The other states like Ohio, Wisconsin and North Carolina are under threat of losing Republican control as well (I'd throw in Florida, but for some reason we're not pursuing a heavy pro-fetus agenda in this state.  I think the heavy Hispanic population is already a deterrent), less due to Hispanic voters and more due to the GOP voting base - angry elderly white guys - dying off and getting replaced by Millennial voters who are more left-leaning on a lot of issues than even previous generations at their age.  Those states are not as solidly pro-Republican as the party would admit: North Carolina in particular is showing major signs of buyers' remorse letting the wingnuts take control, and the next election cycle might see a major purge (unless the voter ID laws they're bound to push effectively cut off voter turnout).  Walker might skip running for Wisconsin governor for the excuse of focusing on 2016 and the White House (conveniently avoiding the embarrassment of likely losing re-election in 2014).

It's this reason - the Republican Party as it knows itself is doomed by basic demographics and the march of time - that I think the Far Right has gone overboard this year pushing their pro-fetus, kill-Planned-Parenthood, fuck-women's-health agendas.  They may not get another chance like this again.  Even though this may accelerate the Republicans' loss of control by alienating more voters than ever before, they'll do it.  They have the wingnut will to do it now: and they only have two more election cycles (2014 and 2016) to do anything about it before the population really does turn against them.

For what it's worth: just don't vote Republican, okay?  Please?  Thanks.

Part One Of Today's Post: Congress, Well Actually The Republican Party Sucks And Here's Why

I mentioned earlier about the immigration reform issue that's now a matter for the GOP-led House, and how even failing to get something out of committee would be a sign of how incompetent the Republican Party has become.


...The key moment came when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — the leading Democratic author of the Senate’s immigration bill — laid things out for House Speaker John Boehner.“Without a path to citizenship, there is not going to be a bill,” he said. “There can’t be a bill.”Convening a conference committee with a House Republican bill that does not include a path to citizenship, he added, would amount to a “a path to a cul-de-sac, to no immigration bill.”In a Tuesday meeting with fellow Democrats, Schumer laid out Boehner’s five options, according to the New York Times.“(1)Doing nothing; (2)opting for a piecemeal approach of several separate but related immigration bills; (3)passing a comprehensive bill that does not include a path to citizenship; (4)passing a comprehensive bill that does include a path to citizenship that is different, and likely stricter, than the one offered in the Senate bill; (5)or taking up the legislation that has passed the Senate.”We still don’t know for sure what the House will do. But under Schumer’s terms, options one, two and three are deal breakers. Option four is extraordinarily unlikely under the constraints House Republicans have imposed on themselves (the Hastert rule, the preference for a pathway that’s “triggered” once the border is secure in some abstract sense). Boehner has ruled out option five.
So the question is whether House Republicans can get it together enough to do something like option four, in a way that wins support from at least half the conference, but that 
doesn't cop out on citizenship.
Here’s why I don’t think that’s possible: Even if the House GOP pulls off the unthinkable and puts a bill on the floor that includes a citizenship component — even one that’s “triggered” — conservatives will recognize it as a feint. They’ll be convinced, perhaps correctly, that the Senate position will win the day in conference, and that they’ll be faced with a take-it-or-leave-it proposition once the bill is really, truly finalized.So they’ll withhold support for that reason. And suddenly the bill will no longer be Hastert rule compliant.That’s why I think we’re in the defibrillation stage... They could drag this out for months before settling on terms of eventual citizenship. Democrats could fold on “triggering” the citizenship guarantee — or come to terms with the GOP on something that could be sold as both a “trigger” and a guarantee. Boehner could step up, break the Hastert rule, probably lose his job. But these are all pretty implausible scenarios. Particularly given how averse House Republicans and movement folks have become even to highly conservative legislation that they recognize as a potential vehicle for compromise.
The House won't even go with the "totally evil" route of coming up with an immigration bill that's so restrictive the Senate would balk, giving the House GOP the excuse of "blaming them libruls".  This is going to fall entirely on the House for the bill failing.  They'll still try to blame it on Obama - they always do - all the while refusing to admit in public something that's been pretty clear since Day One of Obama's tenure: the Far Right Republicans in control of the U.S. House simply do not want to pass legislation for Obama to sign, especially any legislation that Obama could hold up as an administration win.
So in the meantime nothing gets done.  Nothing gets passed.  We're stuck with a sequester budget that nobody really wanted because the Congressional Republicans refused to deal on tax hikes on the upper incomes.  We're stuck with a Congress that refuses to pass any meaningful jobs bill that could help relieve our stagnant economy.  We're stuck with a Congress that refuses to do anything about reducing the insane increase in college loan rates and the overall costs of going to college.  We're stuck with a GOP-led House that's about to vote for a repeal of Obamacare for the 38th time (what are they aiming for, 42?). 
We're stuck as a nation chugging along.  
As long as we've got a political party in the Republicans who refuse to do the actual hard work of compromising to get bills passed, as long as we've got party leadership that kow-tows to Rush Limbaugh and Fox Not-News and the National Review editors, as long as we've got a party that openly hates the poor and minorities and voters young AND elderly, we as a nation are screwed.
Please.  For the love of God, voters.  Stop voting Republican.  You don't have to vote Democrat if you don't want, you can always see if there's a Modern Whig ticket on your ballot or something, just PLEASE stop voting Republican.  It's not that they're too ideologically rigid, it's not that they're too Far Right.  It's that they're too damned incompetent.  It's because they as a party ARE DOING NOTHING AT ALL.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Anniversaries: On This Day In Zeta Reticula History

Google has an animation gracing their search engine page honoring the 66th anniversary of the Roswell UFO crash.

Yep, we're celebrating the fact that highly evolved lifeforms couldn't handle New Mexico traffic stops at night.

In seriousness, I grew up reading up the paranormal: I spent more time in the 133 shelves than the juvenile fiction.  Flying Saucers for me was a mind-blowing thing.  When The X-Files started I got hooked right off the bat.  Part of me understands the sheer improbability of space travel - damn you, laws of physics - but the child in me hopes we are not alone in the universe and that there are enough nice - the ones that won't eat our brains - sentient beings to co-exist with us.

Of course, the guy at xkcd just has to point out something for the anniversary as well: with the spread of smartphones with cameras, trucks with dashboard cams, the immediacy of YouTube... the evidence of UFOs, Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and ghosts hasn't kept up.

Which is actually kind of heart-breaking...

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Twenty-Three, I Got Nothing But a One-Termer Again

Another One-Term President to evaluate.  This shouldn't take too long...

The Republicans had enjoyed from Lincoln up to Arthur an extended period of White House control.  Grover Cleveland broke the cycle, bringing into office a reform-minded but-strict-as-hell Democrat that may have functioned but remained vulnerable to the whims of an electorate frustrated when Cleveland's administration failed to respond to their wants (not exactly their needs...).  They came into the 1888 election cycle with high hopes... and promptly ran into a deadlocked convention between two popular choices at the time.  Forced to find a compromise candidate, they settled on Benjamin Harrison, grandson of the late William Henry Harrison (yeah, they facepalmed about that back then too), scion of Ohio, officer of the Civil War (still a major campaign plus), occasionally elected to various offices... and pretty much one of the most bland unremarkable figures to get tabbed for the Boss job.

I exaggerate, I suppose.  Harrison had to have some qualities of value that made him an acceptable candidate.  Unfortunately, the biggest value he had was his malleability: the party bosses knew they could manage him.

Harrison's personality was one of reluctance.  He had to be talked into running for Governor of his state once (he lost a narrowly contested campaign).  Tabbed to serve as Senator (back then, a Senator was nominated by the controlling powers of the state legislature, not direct vote), he did so with little distinction preferring to vote along party interests and rarely making a name for himself.

And yet, Harrison doesn't entirely fit the Passive-Negative model of Presidential Character.  He shared a positive view of government's role in education and social improvement: he was the first President since Grant to make serious efforts to break the Jim Crow power in the south by pushing for federalizing the elections process and ensuring education funding for all.  Both didn't get far in a Congress where Republican allies traded away those issues for economic ones.

If I had to, I'd have to put Harrison right on the edge of the Passive-Negative line, but would make him a Passive-Positive.  Either way, he reacted to issues rather than acted, sought compromise, and worked with others to achieve their goals more than his own.

Next Week: Hey, didn't we meet this guy already...?

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Nobody's Winning Egypt

It's pretty harsh to say it, but so far this has been a no-win scenario for all parties concerned.

For Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party, it's a clear loss because he's been kicked out of office.  There were valid reasons for it: there were no check/balance mechanisms in place to make Morsi more responsive to the needs of the people; Morsi had done nothing to clean up the corruption that existed under Mubarak and in fact it was getting worse; the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) may have been better organized than any other coalition in the nation, but they simply weren't designed to make decisions and compromises that high office requires.  And consider the origins of the MB as a radical, occasionally violent opposition: by ousting them like this, they won't see any incentive in taking democracy seriously as a means to power.  They may well fall back into their old bad (and violent) habits, as demonstrated by the outbreak of violence between the pro-Morsi forces and the protesters last night.

The Army may look like the winners (again), but in truth this coup has hurt their position as well.  Rather than being unbiased players in the game, they've re-inserted themselves into the democratic process in a way that weakens said democratic process.

The foreign policy wonks pushing for democracy aren't happy: while Morsi was a terrible President he was democratically elected.  This coup discredits the validity of elected leadership across the Middle East, especially at a time when nations shrugging off decades of dictatorship - Algeria, Libya, Iraq - are struggling to forge new governments.  Tossing him out in a coup merely sets up the possibility of any future Egyptian President getting tossed out even if said President is actually doing his job.

The people protesting in the streets may have gained their primary objective - ousting Morsi - but there's no guarantee his replacement will fare any better.  Egypt's economy is in the tank alongside half the planet thanks to this global recession: tourism is also suffering, and being an unstable nation two steps away from open rioting doesn't market well at the AAA travel agency.  The corruption hurting Egypt's ability to provide even basic services like trash pick-up is deep rot: it will take years to flush it out even for a principled reformist.  The protesters may just be back out in the streets within another year.

The more liberal and moderate parties in Egypt may benefit from this, but there was a good reason why the MB won elections: the liberal and moderate groups in Egypt are not that well organized and in some cases unwelcome to a populace that may benefit from liberal reforms but in practice aren't fond of liberal ideas.  There's no sign of anyone in any position to step up and provide a moderate alternative.

There is a chance this could all still work out.  The Army has set up for emergency elections, and depending on the results a sensible moderate leader could be found.  But then the Army has to step back to let that President do his job.  There has to be serious reform efforts in both service and in the legal system (and in local law enforcement) to crack down on the corruption (and provide security against any violent reaction from the far right).  And whoever gets elected President has to make good-faith efforts to keep the Brotherhood engaged... and the Brotherhood has to make good-faith efforts to learn from this and change their methods to be more compromising and amenable to criticism.

It's a very thin needle eye to thread.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Anniversaries: Gettysburg Day Three

The battle in most respects determined the fate of the war: the South suffered a decisive loss in the Eastern theater for the first time; Lee's army lost men it couldn't replace; and it failed to end the siege of Vicksburg the way Lee had hoped.

The war was fought for another two years (close enough) after this, because by this point only a total defeat of either side - especially the South, its leadership convinced in the righteousness of its cause - would have ended it.  But from this point on, all the advantages were to the Union: they had finally gotten a semblance of military leadership under Meade (and later Grant) to fight the Virginian theater, they had the numeric advantage of troops (the South intentionally fought with less manpower because they needed to keep enough white men back home to keep the slavery population in check), they had the economic and engineering might (the South had foolishly stuck to a cotton industry dominance and failed to create enough ironworks and grain farms to supply themselves).  This defeat combined with Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation effectively kept Europe out of the war for good.

On an end note, a fellow Hordian Andy Hall runs the Dead Confederates blog (tracking southern and Texan history), and had his own take on the Second Day of Gettysburg from the memoirs of a Texan soldier caught in the thick of it.  He's got a great blog: link it.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Anniversaries: Gettysburg Day Two

This happened 150 years ago today:

That sound you hear is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine codifying the Badass Bookworm trope for American history buffs.

Monday, July 01, 2013

July 1st, So Many Things To Say

I was going to just focus on the fact that today is the 150th anniversary of the First Day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

But there's a ton of stuff happening in the world, which I gotta mention:

In Texas, the people are up and protesting against the Far Right Republican push to restrict access to abortion - and basically making it impossible for women to have decent health care in the process - using another special session of their legislature to circumvent a good number of procedural rules normally part of the regular sessions.

In North Carolina, the people are up and protesting against the Far Right Republican push to, well, destroy everything that's not a corporate tax cut.  Not just the pro-fetus agenda, but that the state GOP has killed off unemployment benefits (RAAAAAAGGEEEE!) in order to push their austerity agenda.  And this is in face of the facts that this has been one of the worst employment markets ever, and the fact that the unemployment benefits help the unemployed look for a job... any job...

In Egypt, they don't have Far Right Republicans to protest against... they do have the Muslim Brotherhood and their self-serving President Morsi, who have basically mismanaged the nation in its first year of supposed democracy into bringing out protests LARGER than the ones that pushed out Mubarak.

In fact, it's been a really busy week in protests.

More on Gettysburg for Day Two.  That is the one with Little Round Top. (fanboy squeal)