According to Rep. Gerry Connolly, the behavior of Rep. Darrell Issa (R) yesterday was not just some "inside baseball" or "petty squabbling," but was "all about minority rights." What Issa demonstrated yesterday was "profound disrespect...with respect to one of the most distinguished members of our caucus, the ranking member, Elija Cummings, who's a real statesman." As Connolly explains, "to have a chairman of a committee cut off another member's microphone because he doesn't want him to be able to speak while considering contempt against a woman who has invoked her constitutionally protected privilege, the 5th amendment, is a mountainous irony...a shameful episode." To put it another way, Darrell Issa is a disgrace to the country and to the Congress, a throwback to the McCarthyism of the 1950s, and fundamentally unAmerican in the way he operates.
P.S. Connolly adds that "if I were a Tea Party Republican in this country, I would be really concerned about the actions of Darrell Issa and Company" in suppressing 1st Amendment rights while simultaneously undermining the 5th Amendment.
I've often heard it said that the people in the Republican base, who believe the patent falsehoods purveyed by their leaders, are "stupid." But I don't think that's how they're to be understood. I've known too many people who buy the almost transparent lies nonetheless show real intelligence in other areas of their lives.
Here's what I think we're looking at that may look like "stupidity."
A person's consciousness --- the form their awareness takes --- is not all of a piece, not identical in every situation. We tend to operate differently in different contexts, to have different capacities that get engaged in different aspects of our lives. We might think of people as having different "modules" of consciousness that kick in depending on what "programs" they've learned to apply in each realm of their lives.
With the people on the right, in our times, what I believe is that they've been taught over time to bring a far-from-best self into the specifically political realm. Part of the teaching has been from the deep, long-established culture, which inculcates in those who grow up in it certain ways of dealing with issues of power and authority and rage and pain. But, most recently and most visibly, they've been systematically taught -- for a full generation now by skilled and completely unprincipled propagandists, like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove -- how to be members in good standing in the right-wing political culture.
These propagandists have worked to get people to look at politics through a particular, warped lens. Feeding their fears and hatreds, and turning off their intelligence in the political realm. Over the years, a module has been constructed in their minds for how to think and feel when the cross into the political world-- a module that gradually transferred a bunch of sane Republicans into a bunch of people who support the very opposite of what they think they're supporting.
Mistaking the evil for the good is surely a manifestation of profound brokenness. And the error is built upon brokenness.
President Obama was born in 1961, so I was thinking it might be fun on Presidents Day to rank the U.S. presidents since 1961 from worst to best. I'll also explain my reasoning.
10. George W. Bush (2001-2009) - No doubt, one of the worst U.S. presidents in our history, a disaster on almost every front (starting with massive tax cuts to the wealthy and failures to heed major warnings about a potential terrorist attack on the U.S. in the months leading up to 9/11). The only saving grace, really, was his reaction to the financial meltdown in the fall of 2008. For once, instead of just doing the right-wing ideological thing, he actually did what was necessary to save the U.S. (and world) economy from total meltdown. Other than that, he was horrible: turning budget surpluses into deficits for no good reason, misleading the country on the reasons for war with Iraq, failing to take action on climate change, allowing freakin' torture to take place on his watch, the Katrina debacle/disaster, letting Dick Cheney and others corrupt/buy the government for their cronies, screwing up the North Korea situation big time, on and on and on...near-total #FAIL.
9. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) - The Iran-Contra scandal alone puts Reagan down towards the bottom of the list. Then add to that the Lebanon fiasco, in which 241 American servicemen were killed after the Reagan Administration pretty much did everything wrong -- mission creep, no clue what we were doing there, an indefensible position, inadequate security, "cutting and running" as the right-wing would say if it were a Democrat in office, etc, etc. (also note that the Lebanon disaster was a gazillion times worse than the Benghazi tragedy, yet Democrats did NOT pile on Reagan for it). Then add to that Reagan's disastrous economic, environmental, and many other policies. Plus, he raised tensions with the Soviet Union to dangerous levels; invaded Grenada for no good reason; helped lay the groundwork for the rise of Al Qaeda by heavily funding and supplying the Afghan mujahadeen; putting the horrendous Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court; etc. The saving grace of Reagan, ironically, was that despite the worshipful attitude towards him by many on the right, he committed a series of heresies: raising taxes multiple times, increasing government spending and the size of government, offering to get rid of all nuclear weapons, granting "amnesty" to 3 million undocumented immigrants, etc.
What a distraction, this military pension debate; pandering to a small entitled constituency and using misdirection to play to an emotional and uninformed public. The discussion is superficial. Always missing is the financial rationale for the military retirement system. This change is being called a cut. But is it really?
When you compare the retirement benefits of a Viet Nam era military retiree, even with the cost of living (COLA) adjustment reduction of a percent a year, at current pay scales very few future retirees would receive less compensation in real dollars than those who retired in 1970. In fact, the vast majority would receive significantly greater compensation, not only after the COLA is restored after age 62, but even during the years of the COLA adjustments. In real dollars, enlisted personnel start retirement at compensation amounts that are 12 to 19% higher (commissioned officers 5 to 6% greater) than their Viet Nam era contemporaries. And job prospects are significantly better for these retirees who are better educated and connected than their predecessors ever dreamt.
Fewer than 10% of all veterans are military retirees. Congress does little more than pay lip service to the remaining 90%, many of whom go unacknowledged beyond gratuitous platitudes during campaigns. With this approach, those whose service resulted in debilitating injury often end up relying upon the kindness of strangers.
Although politicians frame this as a veterans' issue, it isn't. Consider that not many military veterans are retired. Next, the pension program in place is a conscription era relic the Reagan administration tried to reform. The recent aborted attempt by Republicans to hold the debt ceiling hostage leveraging military retirements failed because members of Congress know that even "reduced," this retirement system is more than generous.
For more than a year, since the 2012 election, I have been working to devise a new strategy to help turn America's dangerous political dynamic around. Now I've come up with a plan.
With the talk described below, I'm launching a new "campaign." This one is not for elective office, but it is at least as ambitious.
It's a campaign to have an impact on our national public discourse. More specifically, it is a campaign to bring to the center of our national conversation what I believe to be the central political reality of our times: the rise on the political right of an unprecedentedly destructive and dishonest force, and the weakness of Liberal America in calling out this force for what it is.
America desperately needs an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment, and I believe this new campaign has a chance of helping to bring it about.
With the talk described below in Harrisonburg this coming Wednesday (February 12), and a similar public event I gave in Berkeley on January 29, and another talk to come in Washington, D.C. on March 24, I am launching this new campaign.
I invite you to come to Harrisonburg, if it is within your reach. And I would welcome the opportunity to speak in other venues.
Here is the flyer for the talk, with all the pertinent information about the time and date and nature of the event.
Sailing a couple of ships into the Black Sea accomplishes what? One is there to protect the other. The other is there to command and control...nothing. This is grandstanding. If tragedy occurs and Americans are involved, this self-licking ice cream cone will be revealed. What to really watch for?
The Russian "ring of steel" illustrates the dilemma faced when confronting an asymmetrical threat. The choice to harden a target is the choice to uncover others. There is only so much mass to go around and Russia's focus has been around the main venues and Sochi itself. But the greatest vulnerabilities are the routes to the venues on the slopes miles from Sochi. These are perfect targets for remotely detonated improvised explosive devices, the types of which Americans leaned to counter in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for pragmatic reasons, the United States has not shared that technology with Russia. To compensate, thousands of Russian soldiers guard those routes; a miserable assignment with many distractions.
That lack of cooperation has not been lost on the Russians and the situation in the Ukraine has washed over this event. If it comes time to react (and that is all we would be able to do since we are not integrated into the force end of the security plan) we can only wait for clearance from the Russians to respond. Sadly, that may be too late. We have observed the "lack of finesse" by Russian forces in hostage situations involving insurgents. Their doctrine is more focused on killing the perpetrators than saving the victims.
Are we are supposed to be reassured by the staging of military airlift aircraft in Europe? They are hours away and would compete with aircraft from any and every other nation for clearance and space at the airhead(s) in Sochi. A real capability in the Black Sea would include air and landing craft that are truly expeditionary with forces to conduct an evacuation to ships with hospitals at the ready. Instead, after waiting to gain access to Sochi, American aircraft will serve victims that may or may not be Americans (we always have protocols with other nations in these situations) and who may or may not have been properly triaged. These aircraft will not all immediately have access to medical personnel and equipment for care during transit. Hard choices could be forced on the tarmac in Sochi. Do you evacuate victims who may not survive the long journey leaving persons who would survive vulnerable to further violence while waiting for later evacuation?
This piece ran as an op/ed in almost all the major newspapers of Virginia's 6th congressional district.
Oh how I wish the people of America - liberal and conservative - could join together to protect our common interests and shared values. While focusing on issues that divide us, we are in danger of losing our birthright.
Power in America has shifted from the citizenry to the corporate system. The role of money in American politics - always a problem - has greatly expanded. At the same time, wealth has been drained from the middle class and increasingly concentrated in the hands of giant corporations and the relatively few individuals who run them.
As our democratic government becomes ever more an instrument of the corporate system, our nation's constitutional doctrine is being pried open ever wider to allow corporations the political rights of actual "persons."
We Americans should be asking, "What kind of 'persons' are these corporate giants whose rights and powers in our political system are expanding so dramatically?"
I strongly agree with Senator Kaine on this one; let's give diplomacy a serious chance before we rush into...god knows what.
KAINE: GIVE DIPLOMACY A CHANCE TO PREVENT IRANIAN NUCLEAR WEAPON
WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today on Iran, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Near Eastern, Southern and Central Asian Affairs, advocated strongly for exhausting all diplomatic options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He argued that despite "good faith differences" in tactics, both sides in the Iran sanctions debate actually have the same goal: a nuclear weapons-free Iran achieved through diplomacy, rather than military force.
"We have got to be able to look our allies and our citizens - especially the men and women we would ask to fight that battle - in the eye and tell them we have exhausted every diplomatic effort prior to undertaking that significant step," Kaine said.
Kaine also applauded the work of Senator Menendez and others in Congress for putting the tough sanctions in place that brought Iran to the negotiating table, as well as reiterated his support for additional sanctions should current diplomatic efforts falter.
Kaine said, "I support the sanctions, and I'll easily and gladly vote for more if we cannot find an agreement. ... The joint plan of action slows and even reverses critical aspects of the Iranian nuclear program, which sanctions alone have not been able to do. And it also provides this country and our partners around the world a better, early warning system about whether or not Iran is cheating. We get more time on the clock and a better, early warning system because of this deal."
In closing, Kaine called aggressive diplomacy an under-exercised muscle, and urged his colleagues in Congress and the administration to make this negotiation about Iran's good faith.
The most obvious example is Republican support for our government killing people, explicitly and in cold blood. That's what the death penalty is. State sanctioned killing of a citizen in cold blood. Regardless of your position on the morality or constitutionality of the death penalty, it is, quite simply, support for state-sanctioned death. And as an example of the bedrock principle for Republicans that the state should be allowed to kill its citizens, there is no better example.
How about Republican's opposition to reasonable gun safety legislation? To the point of actively repealing gun safety legislation already in place when they take control of a state? Did you know that Missouri repealed background checks for gun purchases recently? And when it did, gun murders went up 25%?
"Hey, this legislation will cause more people to be violently murdered!"
Emails obtained by ThinkProgress reveal that the [Washington ***skins] consulted with a group of high-profile Republican advisers, some of whose involvement with the team has not been previously reported, about how to handle this reporter's questions about the organization's approach to the campaign to change the team's name.
Included in the email chain were Frank Luntz, the Republican messaging consultant famous for coining phrases like "climate change" and "death tax"; Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary under George W. Bush from 2001 and 2003 and now runs a consulting firm called Ari Fleischer Sports Communications; George Allen, the former Virginia governor and U.S. senator who now runs the consulting firm George Allen Strategies; and Bruce Allen, George Allen's brother and the organization's general manager. Both Allens are the son of former Redskins head coach George Allen. The web sites for neither Fleischer nor Luntz's firms include client lists. The Redskins' vice president of communications, Tony Wyllie, confirmed that while Luntz had conducted a focus group on behalf the team, he has not been paid for other work with the Redskins, and that Fleischer and George Allen's firm do not have contracts with the team. Fleischer, Luntz, and George Allen had not responded to requests for confirmation at press time.
But the fact that the men participated in the email chain at all is revealing. Last summer, when ThinkProgress first reported Luntz's involvement in the team's efforts to focus group the name, the Redskins and Luntz declined to confirm that Luntz or his firm, Luntz Global, were involved in the project.
The email chain shows that after this reporter requested comment on a number of issues related to the Redskins name and claims made by its opponents, Wyllie, forwarded the email to Luntz, Fleischer, and the Allens. George Allen's response is the first included in the chain, and it suggests that the team reiterate its story about changing its name to honor Lone Star Dietz, even though the team can't prove its claims.
Again, let's just remind everyone that George Allen is the same guy who attacked a young Indian-American staffer for the Jim Webb for Senate campaign in 2006 as a "macaca" (racist term used in his mother's native Tunisia). George Allen is also the same guy who reportedly "used the 'n word' habitually," who loved the Confederate flag when he was growing up in the south...of California, that is; as a joke, stuck a severed deer head in a black man's mailbox; referred to areas of Virginia with high minority populations as not constituting the "real Virginia;" etc. Yet THIS is one of the main people - along with the despicable/evil Frank Luntz - advising the Washington ***skins on how to (not) deal with their racist name? Lovely.
Here's Sen. Tim Kaine laying out his expectations for the 2014 State of the Union Address. Key words: "Candid, practical and optimistic." Personally, my #1 priority is climate change, and specifically what we're going to do about it. What would you like to hear tonight?
Think that title is a joke? If so, then you haven't read "The Agony of Frank Luntz" in The Atlantic, or you aren't familiar with how much damage this guy has done to our country. Personally, I first met Luntz back in the late 1970s in Connecticut, when we were both Teenage Republicans (yes, believe it or not, I started off as a Republican, albeit of the progressive, Teddy Roosevelt/Lowell Weicker sort). Unlike Luntz, though, I quickly realized that progressive Republicanism had no future, and that what was rising in its place was an extreme, theocratic (e.g., Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson/"Moral Majority"), anti-environment, anti-science, anti-worker, anti-government, conspiracy-theory-minded, xenophobic, hard-right-wing force in American politics. In other words, the Republican Party was in the process of lurching far off the right-wing deep end, and I was outta there!
But not Frank Luntz. Instead, he's dedicated the past 30+ years of his life to making s***-tons of money, while making America a much worse place (unless you're super rich or a big corporation, of course). Here are some "highlights" (actually lowlights) of Luntz's "notable work and views":
*"Luntz was Pat Buchanan's pollster during the 1992 U.S. Republican presidential primary." Yes, Luntz worked for a white supremacist and anti-Semite (even though Luntz himself is Jewish).
*"Luntz also served as Newt Gingrich's pollster in mid-1990s for the Contract with America...During that time, he helped Gingrich produce a GOPAC memo that encouraged Republicans to 'speak like Newt' by describing Democrats and Democratic policies using words such as 'corrupt,' 'devour,' 'greed,' 'hypocrisy,' 'liberal,' 'sick,' and 'traitors.'"
*"Although Luntz later tried to distance himself from the Bush administration policy, it was his idea that administration communications reframe 'global warming' as 'climate change' since 'climate change' was thought to sound less severe." *In general, Luntz's approach is as follows: "Luntz's description of his job revolves around exploiting the emotional content of language. 'It's all emotion. But there's nothing wrong with emotion. When we are in love, we are not rational; we are emotional...my job is to look for the words that trigger the emotion....We know that words and emotion together are the most powerful force known to mankind..'"
In sum, Luntz has spent his adult life helping to divide America; to demonize Democrats, liberals, and progressives; to promote climate science denialism and to delay or prevent actions aimed at dealing with climate change; to prey on people's darkest emotions rather than to their better angels of our natures (e.g., compassion, reason). And he's done all this for two main reasons, as far as I can determine: 1) he's a right-wing Republican true believer himself; and 2) more importantly, it's made him gobs of money and gained this self-described "schlub" access to the highest levels of power in our country.
In a recent Facebook thread, I was asked the question, "Lowell, what do you think makes a progressive dem?" My immediate response was basically that this was a question that would require a long answer to do it justice. Now, I feel that I'm ready to provide a somewhat longer, more fleshed-out answer (although FAR from complete - please add additions, corrections, etc. in the comments section) to this important question (although note that I'm tweaking the question a bit to "what should it mean to be a 'progressive' in today's America?").
First off, let me be clear that by "progressive" I don't mean a synonym or code word for "liberal." Not that there's anything wrong with the word "liberal" or its values, but I've always considered my political beliefs to be more in the mold of the Progressive Era of the early 20th century, obviously updated to the present day. What follows is what I believe it should mean to be an early-21st-century progressive, compared to what it meant to be an early 20th century Progressive (note: in the interest of length, I'm going to skip the parts of Progressivism, like Prohibition and some weird ideas about immigration, which most definitely should NOT be part of progressivism in 21st century America).
1. Good Government/Anti-Corruption. To me, this one's obvious: government should be effectively, transparent, and not subject to corruption of any kind. On the latter, that doesn't just mean making it illegal for someone to offer an elected official a freezer full of cash. It also means making sure that nobody who stands to make money off of government policies should be in a position to influence the government through campaign contributions or whatever. We also need to shut the "revolving door" between government and industry, or at least slow it down to a crawl. And government needs to reform itself so that it attracts the best and the brightest, so that there are incentives for people to work effectively, and so that taxpayer money is never wasted. That's just for starters; there are many more items needed to make good, clean, effective government a reality. As the great Progressive Teddy Roosevelt said, quoting from the 1912 Progressive platform, "to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day..... This country belongs to the people. Its resources, its business, its laws, its institutions, should be utilized, maintained, or altered in whatever manner will best promote the general interest." And as the 1912 Progressive Party ("Bull Moose") platform stated, "We pledge our party to legislation that will compel strict limitation on all campaign contributions and expenditures, and detailed publicity of both before as well as after primaries and elections."
2. Education as Essential to Meritocracy. Having a system of top-notch, affordable education (at all levels) is about having a system in America which rewards merit, as opposed to connections, family wealth, or other non-value-added attributes. Ensuring that everyone in this country has access to affordable, top-notch education (that should start young, with universal pre-K, and continue throughout life, so that people can get retrained for other careers) is a necessary, although not sufficient, component of having a meritocracy. Without it, we're going to see the continuation of a nasty trend which has the U.S. falling behind many other countries in terms of the potential for social mobility (e.g., if you're born poor, you can become middle class or wealthy). That's not an acceptable situation.
2a. Meritocracy means no discrimination of any kind. This one should go without saying, but I noticed a comment which asked that it be spelled out explicitly. So let me do so: being a progressive means no discrimination of any kind against anyone due to their race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientiation, gender, or anything else intrinsic to them as a human being. Againk, this one should go without saying for a bunch of reasons, among which are that it's not possible to have a meritocracy when there's discrimination. It's also just plain wrong to discriminate.
The following op/ed by me has appeared in newspapers in my part of Virginia.
I want to speak to the conservatives in this area.
I know from experience that you are good neighbors, and that you make a local society in many ways is admirable. But I am concerned about what's happened with you in the larger political world.
It's not about your conservative values, which on the whole I think are valuable to America. It's about what's happened over the past generation regarding the things you think to be factually true. I ask you this question: If a lot of what you believe to be true were actually false, would you want to know?
At this point, I imagine many of you angrily dismissing my question. After all, am I not the guy who ran for Congress as a Democrat, and aren't Democrats the enemy and not worth listening to?
Setting aside this demonization of the "other side," I hope you will recognize that I speak to you not as a Democrat but as a person with a lifelong passion for truth.
It's amazing, it truly is: as far right wing as many elected Republican are these days, it never seems to be far right wing enough for their most rabid, teahadist supporters. For instance, a number of elected Republicans have shown class in their responses to the death of Nelson Mandela. That, in spite of the fact that Mandela was proudly a man of the left, a "democrat and a socialist", who also was a "die-hard supporter of labor unions," a strong critic of the war in Iraq and the "war on terror," and someone who "considered poverty one of the greatest evils in the world, and spoke out against inequality everywhere."
Despite all that, Virginia Republican politicians - including Bob McDonnell, Eric Cantor, and even E.W. Jackson - had nice things to say about Mandela upon the news of his death yesterday. For instance, Jackson wrote that Mandela was "courageous," a "great man," and "exactly the leader South Africa needed - even if he didn't start out that way." For his part, Gov. McDonnell wrote that Mandela was "one of the true giants of history," a man who "lived a life that broke down barriers, tore down walls, and lifted up a nation, a people, and a world." McDonnell added, "This is a better world for the long and uplifting life of Nelson Mandela." Finally, Eric Cantor commented, "The world has lost an exceptional leader who made the world a better place."
Many of the responses to these comments, to put it mildly, didn't match the class of E.W. Jackson, McDonnell and Cantor in this case. For instance, Cantor has now received 400+ responses, the overwhelming majority of which are negative - even viciously so. For instance: "Mandela was a communist and a terrorist!;" "he and his animal of a wife were mass murderers and torturers;" "You've got to be kidding...he was responsible for the murder of over 20,000 people;" and "The world has lost a Marxist/Communist dictator! Mr. Cantor, are you falling in line with Obama's minions??"; and "I'm saddened and disappointed to see such a post." Yikes.
How about responses to E.W. Jackson? Not much better, although there are a lot fewer comments than to Eric Cantor (apparently not many people care what Jackson has to say at this point). A few examples: "This man was a straight up communist;" "And he gave all South Africans the right to abortion on demand;" "Hope he knew Christ as his savior;" and "You, Mr. Jackson, have bought into the communist/Marxist/liberal ideology of rewriting history and eliminating history by making Mandela into a saint." Well, alrighty then.
Finally, Bob McDonnell appears to have deleted the entire thread, as there are now no comments at all. I can just imagine how bad it must have been for them to do that...
Of course, I'd point out that Nelson Mandela was far to the left of Barack Obama, who Republicans routinely call a commie (and many other choice words). I'd also point out that many leading Republicans - Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney, Jack Kemp - opposed sanctions against the white, apartheid regime in South Africa. So yeah, Republicans have some serious "issues" when it comes to consistency here, but still...c'mon, a great man just died, and THIS is what spews out from right wingers on their "leaders'" Facebook pages, just for saying a few appropriate words at the death of a major 20th century historical figure, one admired by billions of people around the world? Scary.
P.S. Ken Cuccinelli hasn't said a word about Mandela's death on his Facebook page. Nor has Mark Obenshain. Rep. Bob Goodlatte wrote "We have lost a great leader." Rep. Frank Wolf said "Nelson Mandela's unyielding fight against apartheid was truly heroic and evidence of an unyielding belief in the basic dignity of every person" (lots of nasty responses on Wolf's page as well). Rep. Scott Rigell said "the world lost a remarkable and truly transformational figure in Nelson Mandela" (several nasty responses to that one). Rep. Robert Hurt wrote "The world has lost a great leader." Etc, etc.
From Sen. Kaine's office, this is where he is and what's he's doing right now:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, during a visit to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet (NAVCENT) in Bahrain, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine toured the Norfolk-based USS San Jacinto and met with Virginians serving with the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces.
"I had the chance to board and visit the crew of the USS San Jacinto which deployed out of Norfolk a few months back when the Harry S. Truman deployed. They're in dock here in Bahrain and I had a chance to visit with them and have lunch with a number of Virginians who serve in the Navy and a couple of folks in the Marines as well," said Kaine. "I talked with them about a range of issues, from the bigger picture security challenges facing the region, to how come traffic is still so bad in Hampton Roads. Any time I have a chance to spend time with those who serve and especially those from Virginia who serve, I always walk away with a sense of pride and admiration."
While in Bahrain, Kaine is participating in the 2013 Manama Dialogue, the International Institute for Strategic Studies' 9th annual regional security conference.
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