Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Short: Will Republicans let other Republicans drive drunk?

Will the more establishment Republican senators, like Coburn of Oklahoma, Cornyn of Texas, and of course Mitch McConnell, let the Tea Party senators delay the appropriations bills due on Sept. 30? That's what rebels Mike Lee and Ted Cruz are planning. They have threatened to stop any bill with funding for Obamacare, so the target is the Continuing Resolution for the next fiscal year starting Oct. 1. That is a promise to shut down federal government.

So, will the other GOP senators hand them the keys? That's the only unknown for the next two months. It's screaming for a ModeratePoli prediction, but I don't know yet. I'll update here when I have a solid guess.

Josh Barro, my new favorite pundit, says the sober ones will keep the keys. I'm rooting for the other option. Guess why! (No hints.)

Image: carkeyphiladelphiacarkeysphiladelphia.blogspot.com (really)

Meanwhile, the Dems continue their winning strategy of not letting the crazy get loose. Boring...

Leak: For them, Norquist is a RINO

OK, folks, I have no idea how politics is done, so this was eye-popping. You see, to be infulential (I mean influential) in politics, you have to host a weekly members-only strategy session where you talk about who's not pulling their weight, who stabbed you in the back, what words to use to attack someone, and what everyone has to accomplish before next week.

This is like Journolist, but for conservatives. The problem is that there's more than one of these members-only conservative networks. Norquist has had one for twenty years, but now there's an upstart that hates Norquist as a compromising-squish-establishment-fake-conservative. Wow. The right keeps moving so fast that we normal people can't keep up with what's extreme nowadays.

The people behind this ultra-conservative scout troop include Justice Clarence Thomas's wife, defunct representative Allen West, Ted Cruz, and a bunch of, ahem, journalists from Breitbart.

How do we know this? Someone got hold of documents from their private Google site and leaked the whole thing to Mother Jones. Just as I keep saying, whatever you want to hide, it ain't gonna stay hidden.

A good introduction is here, but be sure to read the long version to find out how the powers-that-be craft the news memes you can't stand. One. More. Second.

Oh, and they hate Karl Rove too.

Image: motherjones.com

Extra. Why are we bombarded with so many talking points? Per the Leesburg grid:
"Where this really gets interesting is when you're covering points faster than the opponent can create them. This puts them 'behind the eight ball,' and they never seem to create their own ideas; they only respond to yours."
Please, God, no, it's actually designed that way.

Update 7/30/13. Jonathan Bernstein of PlainBlog (still fascinating during these doldrums--great job!) says:
"Really? You're telling me that the same right-wing kooks who were publicly hyping Benghazi! and publicly urging Boehner and Issa to 'make this supposed scandal a top-priority' were...also doing the same thing when the TV cameras weren't on!"
He makes a valid point--none of this is particularly surprising or a scandal. I still found the information fresh, especially to know who's in the group and who's not.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Short: Sabotaging Obamacare

The GOP isn't going to let Obamacare die because it's a terrible program that people will hate or because it will cost too much. No, they have to torpedo it by all means possible. That includes making sure NFL players don't appear in any public service announcements. (How to prevent that? Intimidating letters to the commissioner.)

Norm Ornstein, a well-rounded egghead, writes this: [emphasis added]
But to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation—which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians... —is simply unacceptable, even contemptible. One might expect this kind of behavior from a few grenade-throwing firebrands. That the effort is spearheaded by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate—even if Speaker John Boehner is motivated by fear of his caucus, and McConnell and Cornyn by fear of Kentucky and Texas Republican activists—takes one's breath away.
Hat tip: PlainBlog.

Image: littlegreenfootballs.com

Last outpost of crazy: For sale on ebay

These items for sale surprised even me:

Antique Amazon Indian LARGE Spears Native American South Peru Brazil Primitive

Image: ebay com

Now I'm going to see whether I can buy a brain on ebay.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Derbyshire Junior at National Review

Victor Davis Hanson has a column at National Review about race. Facing Facts about Race is a mess of a column, so I'm not quite sure what facts we are supposed to face.

The occasion for this column is the perennial race issues surrounding the Trayvon Martin shooting. Every time something happens in this case, certain people get bent out of shape because they don't want to be reminded that a guy with a gun shot an unarmed black teen that he wrongly suspected of being a burglar. I'm not sure why some people find that so uncomfortable, unless of course they see themselves in Zimmerman's shoes, wanting to catch a burglar and shoot in "self-defense."** But something about this case drives some white conservative bloggers to post reminders that blacks really are dangerous, this is all a case of race hucksterism, or some such.

Hanson complains about Obama's short speech (which I read) and Holder's longer speech to the NAACP (which I haven't read). I think I grasp the point of Obama's speech, which is to be careful about profiling young black man as thugs, because most aren't--some are just like he was when he was young.

Hanson's column is less clear:
  • Maybe he's saying that blacks shouldn't have solidarity because there are a lot of young black male criminals. 
  • Maybe he's not saying anything about solidarity, but just thinks Obama needs a reminder about black criminals. 
  • Maybe he's trying to tell everyone to beware of young black men, because a lot of them are criminals. 
This last guess is probably closest to what he's attempting to say. However, this leaves us with a big problem in that there are a lot of young black men all over this country, and we really can't wall them off in a huge compound somewhere. Or maybe Hanson thinks we should do that. I can't tell because he's hasn't gone at all beyond his one fact to anything remotely helpful to anyone. So much for facing facts in the plural.

Hanson says to be careful of groups of young black men, but Trayvon Martin was just one black man. So, what advice does Hanson have about how to deal with a single black man walking in your community? Is Hanson implying that you should do as Zimmerman did? I don't think so because we don't particularly want to see that outcome repeated.

So I won't assume Hanson is giving any advice about single black men, but just groups of young black men. I'm not sure what his advice was. There were some anecdotes of his father's experience being robbed and Hanson's own two experiences, but what exactly is his prescription for the reader, and for his sons, to whom he passed on these anecdotes?

Well, that's not clear in the least. Maybe Hanson should reread Derbyshire (the piece that got him fired) because at least Derbyshire had some actions you could actually follow--if you want to live in a mostly white enclave and be frightened whenever you're in the company of any regular black folks on the sidewalks, shopping, or at the beach.

Why has the Zimmerman/Martin case prompted so much bad advice from conservative white columnists? How much longer are they going to keep doing this? Why are some people so deranged about the Zimmerman/Martin case?

Frightening group of young black male dancers
Image: kootation.com

**OK, I did think of one reason why people get upset about the Zimmerman investigation and trial. They are tired of being accused of racism. So anytime someone else is accused of racism, they rush in to defend the maligned person. They don't bother to notice that they aren't being accused, or that some people aren't making the argument that it was racism. It's all blurred together, and they are deep in reactive mode. Please, people, get out of reactive mode. I don't want to have to write about this anymore.

Update 1/14/14. I just wanted to note that I haven't had to write about this subject for nearly six months now. Very good, everyone.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Last outpost of crazy: 2016 preview!

Image: theatlanticwire.com

Should Zimmerman have been tried?

After the acquittal of George Zimmerman, many are trumpeting that he should never have been tried in the first place. Well, if acquittal is the reason, then Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson should never have been tried either.

So it's more than the acquittal that prompts this outcry. Many believe that the charges against Zimmerman were trumped up, that it clearly was self-defense, and that Zimmerman was charged and put through this ordeal merely to placate race baiters and their mobs.
"First, I believe all the fury over this case is the product of (a) the media and (b) the racists in the black community." -- blog comment
It's not that there's no evidence for this viewpoint. Definitely the case went forward because of media pressure (also known as reporting) and because of  demonstrations in the black community and the involvement of black political leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. 

However, it's important to view more than just the media involvement, and not forget the particulars about the case. It seems to me that the shooting and killing of an unarmed man should be investigated. Really, any killing should be investigated. So the question is how deeply to investigate. 

The Martin family felt that the investigation had been too cursory. The lead detective agreed, the police chief and local prosecutor did not. Those against bringing charges felt there was not enough evidence for a conviction, which was born out. However, was there enough evidence to bring the case to a grand jury?

From what I saw, yes, there was plenty for evidence. The people who say Zimmerman shouldn't have been tried  have to ignore a lot of evidence, which they do. They tend to focus on the mediand what they call racial hucksterism.

It's a losing argument to claim there was no media frenzy or race baiting. Why? Because there was some, so the proponents of this argument have examples to point to. However, it is unfair and impossible to demand that an issue have NO associated media hype or political grandstanding. You really can't defeat the argument that "it's all based on political X." That argument is not disprovable, but it also makes it suspect. 

So instead, I would hammer away at the non-political and non-hyped reasons why it was right to try Zimmerman. Like he shot an unarmed, non-burglar in his neighborhood. Like his story of what happened contains a lot of dubious claims, such as being punched in the nose 25-30 times. Besides, we usually want the deceased and their family to get to see some justice. Gee, I don't think I had to mention race once in this short list.

So I strongly contend that it was right to try Zimmerman. I was surprised to find out that Zimmerman, or at least his lawyer, agreed that he should go to trial. His lawyer, Mark O'Mara, waived his right to a Stand-your-ground hearing, clearing the way to go to trial

So, among those who think Zimmerman should go to trial is Zimmerman's own lawyer. I guess that answers the question I started with. Do I get to say QED?

...a head (not) slammed about a dozen times onto the cement sidewalk.
Image: everywhere


  • always say and said that there needs to be a full investigation. 
  • The major GOP leaders agreed at one point. Google shows that the change occurred approximately March 25 after Gingrich blasted Obama's comments on the case. BC (before change), what Gingrich says.
  • Good pictorial review of evidence, also cited above.
  • Important evidence turned up by the parents, ignored by the stalled investigation.
  • Review of Zimmerman's many calls to police (scroll down for it)
  • The chief investigator, Chris Serino, is a fascinating gauge of this case: thinks the investigation should continue, thinks they should file charges, thinks they don't have enough evidence. For you to follow up via your own searches.
  • Typical laundry list of complaints--so much the same with most complainers, and not relevant to the evidence of this particular crime.
  • Window into the alternative view of Trayvon. So little overlap in the set of facts each side looks at and considers. Surprise! There really is a drug you can make with skittles and a drink. Possible whitewash in the mainstream media? Or fake Facebook pages.
  • Google white-on-black crime (one of the complaints).
  • Got to see this: true-blue hucksterism.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

GOP sets the table for a debt fight

I haven't been hearing previews of the next big fiscal fight between the Dems and the GOP. If you recall, the GOP keeps saying they're going to stand firm and make the Dems give ground in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling. Then each time the GOP capitulates. Well, at least that's what's happened every time after their success in August 2011.

But this time will be different, the GOP leaders swear. Let's just check on that. Hmm, it seems that the GOP has a menu of concessions it wants. They want entitlement reform based on Paul Ryan's formula (yes, that losing formula). If that's doesn't lure Obama into a deal, there's tax reform along GOP guidelines. Further down the menu there's a demand that Obama gut Obamacare and/or approve the Keystone pipeline.

There's a huge problem in the GOP plans. They amount to inviting Obama to come to a table to eat crow. But Obama doesn't have to eat crow. If the GOP wants a negotiation, it needs to set out more tempting options, and they need to be more pleasant dinner company. However, the GOP isn't ideologically ready for that, so it's acting to type.

Here's what will happen: Obama will call the bluff, not negotiate, and also show that the GOP isn't negotiating either. The debt ceiling will approach, and (say it in unison) the GOP will capitulate.

The GOP isn't actually getting ready for a fight or a negotiation. If they were, they would be doing a media blitz on their ideas in an attempt to gain momentum in popular opinion. They aren't doing that, so there won't be a swell of support that pushes Obama to the table. He can simply resist, and let the concerns about government shutdown overwhelm the GOP position.

This is so obvious to me, and I'm no guru of political analysis. Why isn't it clear to the leaders of the GOP? I've got to conclude that they know they're in a stalemate, but they're trying to keep morale up. In the end, they'll declare victory in stopping Obama from raising taxes. Very likely they'll also have the fig leaf of appropriation deals that keep the status quo going one more year. Hoorah for our great heroes!!!

The wonderland of GOP negotiations
Image: democracyforvancouver.org

Extras. The author of this article discussions the GOP strategy. She also predicts that immigration reform will happen in the House after it's too late for primary challenges.

My apologies for this additional boring installment in my series about our frozen politics. My point--no major changes, status quo budgets. Yawn.

The future of the Senate

I was going to write about how the Dems were doomed when it came to holding the Senate (not for the first time either). It stands to reason that with so many rural and southern conservative states, the Dems can't hold the Senate much longer.

Wrong. I checked out my hypothesis that there are more conservative states than liberal states, but that's not true. According to the 2012 presidential election returns, Obama won 26 states, and Romney won 24.

Image: freedomslighthouse.net

Of course, about a dozen of these are swing states. Many more are not so liberal that they won't elect a Republican senator. But it's not the slam-dunk for the GOP that I initially thought.

The GOP should have been able to flip the Senate, but they've picked some terrible candidates (roll call: Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, Christine O'Donnell). The GOP establishment keeps hoping, but the GOP base keeps undermining them. It'll interesting to watch what happens in 2014 because the Dems are still vulnerable.

The GOP desperately needs to turn the Senate. Their power in the House looks impregnable (thanks to their control of a majority of state governments and the tradition of gerrymandering), but it hasn't done them much good. The Senate routinely ignores the highly partisan bills arriving from the House, making the House look stupid and the Senate wise.

It's questionable whether the GOP can turn the Senate while they behave as they do in the House. There is no better incentive for voters to choose a Dem senate candidate than the current crop of House Republicans.

If the GOP were to gain the Senate, what would they do with it? If they became as extreme as the House, they would not keep the Senate long. Fed-up senators have already been quitting on a regular basis. On the other hand, the GOP have passed a lot of their agenda in a short time when they had the chance, as in 2001. That won't happen after 2014 with a Dem still in the White House. It's questionable what they could do with the Senate, except hope to build momentum for a complete sweep in 2016.

In the meantime, the GOP has got to be looking over its shoulder as some states are turning blue, or bluish. Virginia is one of the first, but Georgia and Arizona are getting ripe.

It seems to me that there's no strategy for the GOP to gain a lot of power, between their base, their extremists in the House, their frequently execrable candidates, and looming demographics. But I did think of one thing that could help them! If they just gave the House back to Nancy Pelosi...

Image: suitablyflip.blogs.com

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Short: Trayvon Martin gunshot forensics

According to a forensic expert, Martin was on top of Zimmerman and leaning forward when the shot was fired from 2-4 inches away. This is consistent with Zimmerman's account of Martin being on top of him. I've been waiting for forensic evidence either supporting or refuting this claim, and here it is.

Some people think Martin got what he deserved. My opinion is that Zimmerman following Martin is significant in contributing to Martin's assault on him, so this isn't a simple case of an unprovoked assault.

Image: axiomamnesia.com

Monday, July 8, 2013

Short: Good news from a plane crash?

Image: businessweek.com

If the plane looks like this, what happened to the soft, squishy passengers inside?

That's the good news. Even with over 300 people aboard, only 2 were killed in the crash. Read this for a brief discussion of why planes are safer. Also consider if this is an example of the type of regulation we want. I'm certainly impressed by this demonstration of the benefits of airline safety.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Now I know Zimmerman/Martin is a case of racism

How did I finally figure that out? Because it is so adversarial.

Let's suppose Zimmerman was following someone (race unknown) walking through his condo complex. There are harsh words, the guy punches him, jumps on him, Zimmerman reaches for his gun and shoots him. Then, when the police come, the dead guy (we'll call him the victim) has a wallet that identifies him as living at the complex.

I contend that scenario would have played out very differently from the Zimmerman/Martin case. For one thing, there would have been no doubt that Zimmerman shot one of his neighbors, though the guy was a stranger to him.

It would have been clear that Zimmerman had been overzealous in his patrol and his handling of the situation. It also probably wouldn't have been considered for a second-degree murder charge, nor for a "Stand Your Ground" defense.

Because Trayvon Martin didn't have ID, and perhaps because he was black, he was treated by the police as someone who didn't belong at that place, when actually he did.

Zimmerman thought this was 'us vs. them.' Even when it turned out that Martin was 'us' (a legitimate visitor), the case stayed polarized as us vs. them.

The police didn't treat it as an incident between two people from the same neighborhood. Zimmerman didn't seem to treat it that way either. He didn't apologize for starting this whole horrible incident, and he didn't arrange to plead guilty to an appropriate charge, such as involuntary manslaughter. Isn't that what a person does when he accidentally kills a neighbor's kid? I think so, unless the person didn't care about the wrong he did.

Martin is still viewed with suspicion by many people, but there's very little reason for that suspicion. Martin was just a teenage kid walking home from the convenience store. People trying to paint him as violent and disrespectful do so in an attempt to mitigate what Zimmerman did, which was provoke an incident and shoot an unfamiliar neighbor.

Some of Martin's actions may have been based on 'us vs. them' thinking too. He referred to Zimmerman as a creepy-ass cracker in his phone call. But we'll never know if he attacked Zimmerman, or whether he wanted to beat the crap out of a creepy-ass white guy. Anyone who is sure that's what happened is projecting prejudice that they wouldn't have if the victim was a white neighbor of Zimmerman's.

This is horrible. You can be minding your own business, walking in the neighborhood, but if you're a young black male, you're a suspect before you've done anything in the least bit wrong. And if you're not submissive and very careful, you can end up dead. Our prejudices and our suspicions not only shred our sense of humanity, they also kill.

 How suspicious?
Image: frontierdreams.blogspot.com

Clarification 8/22/13. This case continues to weigh on my mind. I'm less certain there was racism on Zimmerman's part, though there is still a lot of evidence for it. I think he lumped Trayvon Martin in with a known burglar, also a black teen, who lived in the complex. That is still profiling, but to some extent, Martin fit the profile as a criminal, not just as a black teen. There are indications that Martin had stolen jewelry in his backpack while he was living in Miami.

Zimmerman may have been able to rationalize away his moral responsibility in Martin's killing by thinking Martin was no different from the other burglars that "always get away with it." He shouldn't be allowed to rationalize that he, Zimmerman, provoked this entire incident by following a young man who was doing nothing wrong, and that Zimmerman shot him, seemingly without remorse.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Short: Political overreach ... in Egypt

"After Mr. Morsi persuaded the military to yield him full powers last August, he and his Brotherhood allies increasingly operated as though his narrow electoral victory gave them a mandate to override their civilian opposition." -- New York Times article [emphasis added]

Gosh, where have we seen that before?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

DOMA argle-bargle

I started reading significant Supreme Court rulings last year with the Obamacare ruling. Luckily there hasn't been another ruling I felt compelled to read... until the DOMA ruling in June. A layman's opinion is only mostly useless, but I persist because I want to read and critique the arguments that the justices make.

Majority opinion
The majority opinion spends pages 4-13 justifying taking the case. I readily see how it was justified, since the issues were about due process and especially equal protection. That sounds constitutional to me. After all the justifications, the majority finally indicates its decision at p.20. It threw out section 3 of DOMA for violating equal protection and due process. The 5 to 4 majority is rather harsh about the objectives and motivations behind DOMA:
"The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages..." p.21
The majority, beyond using the words "disadvantage" and "stigma," also labels DOMA's intent or effect as to demean, humiliate, degrade, and disparage the unworthy, second class marriages. However, this isn't just the majority's interpretation. When the House passed DOMA, it did so to express, in the House's own words:
"...both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially JudeoChristian) morality." p.21
The majority makes a strong argument for its equal protection ruling:
"DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state sanctioned marriages and make them unequal." p.22
Their argument is: what the states have determined should be equal, the federal government has tried to undo. That sounds like a clear violation of equal protection to me. Not everyone agrees...

Scalia dissent 
Scalia rips into the majority. First, he argues for pages why the Court shouldn't have taken the case, while ignoring all the reasons it should have. Though there were clearly constitutional issues, Scalia claims that the Court can only make such interpretations when it has a case it must settle, regardless of how many other obvious cases on the same issue might be out there (p.2). He would have liked the case to stay out of court until there was a GOP administration that would enforce DOMA and defend it whole-hog. If Obama thinks DOMA is unconstitutional, he just shouldn't enforce it. (Then we could have the nauseating whiplash of DOMA rules changing every four or eight years. But that's not a reason to hear the case now, according to Scalia.)

Scalia does correctly point out that DOMA could be construed as having a positive purpose--consistency of federal response to marriage (p.20). He errs by imputing only good intentions to DOMA, but he shows that the majority errs by imputing only nasty intentions.

Scalia makes a slippery slope argument that the Court will next make same-sex marriage legal in all states, imagining the exact words the Court could use to force same-sex marriage on all states (p.23). Having divined what (he thinks) the majority wants, he then uses the harshest language in the entire decision, but projects it onto the majority:
"[the] Court ... finds it so horrific that Congress irrationally and hatefully robbed same-sex couples of the 'personhood and dignity'... By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority..." p.24
Wow. I thought the majority emphasized the unfairness a bit too much, but Scalia saw their bet and went all in. I don't think the majority declared that those who are against same-sex marriage are devoid of human decency, but it must be so because Scalia says it is.

Scalia doesn't bother to discuss the equal protection considerations. That seems to be the crux to me, and hard to defeat, so it's no wonder he doesn't touch it.

The most quoted part of Scalia's dissent was his labeling of the majority's reasoning as "argle-bargle" (p.22). No Scalia dissent is complete without some sort of ridicule of the majority's line of reasoning, but the "argle-bargle" quip wasn't nearly the worst of it.

Alito dissent
Unlike Scalia, Alito spends most of his dissent grappling with the question of equal protection. At times, he's just dismissive: "that framework is ill suited for use in evaluating the constitutionality of laws based on the traditional understanding of marriage" (p.10). He spends a long time on classifications and scrutiny questions relating to which classes deserve "equal protection" and which don't.

At the end, he lauds the majority's emphasis on letting states decide. Then for no reason I can see, he blithely skips over equal protection considerations. Sorry folks, no equal protection for you. Still, he "respectfully dissents," in marked contrast to Scalia's fierce and disrespectful dissent.

Justice Thomas signed on to Scalia's dissent. Roberts thinks the Court shouldn't have taken the case, and dissents to any change in the law. By my score, 6 are OK, 1 is a wimp, and 2 are high-handed, insulting autocrats. If you disagree with me, ARGLE BARGLE!!!!

Image: quickmeme.com