Archive for the ‘ Politics ’ Category

That Crazy Right Wing

My father just emailed me about the debt-ceiling agreement and I wrote back about some of the feelings I’ve had today. Since I went on a bit, I thought I would put my thoughts up here:

My rep voted no, but it’s hard to avoid feeling like this was theater. The Republicans and Democrats each let enough members of their caucus off the hook that they could cast a phony protest vote when the outcome was not in doubt. Republicans should have been forced to get a majority from their own caucus, so the Tea Party couldn’t indulge in any fiction about this deal not being what they want. And if they really were so extreme they couldn’t pass it by themselves, that should have been Obama’s cue to say, “I can’t reason with these people,” and go the 14th Amendment route.

I have been discussing this online and reading reactions and I have reached the conclusion everyone, but particularly liberals, puts far too much emphasis on what people say and not enough on what they do. All last night I was hearing that this deal was better than a default, and the Democrats had no choice but to bargain with the hostage-takers. I could not disagree more.

The current GOP, like North Korea, derives much of its bargaining power from the belief that it is crazy enough to do anything, regardless of the cost to themselves or the country. From the rhetoric and symbolic maneuvers, yes, they do indeed seem crazy.

But deeds and outcomes tell the real story. The Republican Party has pushed the country to the brink repeatedly, and each time it extracts positive outcomes. It profits by its extremism so consistently that any argument that their actions are irrational is false on its face.

Note that the TARP went through under a Republican president with Republican votes in the House and Senate. Oh, they hate bailouts, but they only drew a line in the sand after the banks had received their money. When it came to mortgage relief or financial reform, they turned into radical anti-government insurrectionists.

They threated a budget shutdown in December, and walked away with the Bush tax cuts extended and major budget cuts. Then they say they are ready to see the country default, and get another massive round of cuts, and a commission that they already vow will not be permitted to mandate tax increases.

I believe someone is crazy when they do harm to themselves and their loved ones. Perhaps Tea Party foot-soldiers do burn with fanatical zeal. But as a movement, they have never known defeat. This does not happen by accident. It is a product of cold calculation, and they will continue making those calculations until the Democrats force them to either see their rhetoric through or acknowledge they have limits.

But we don’t have Democrats like that. Perhaps Pelosi. Certainly not our president.

Last Call for Debt Increases

It looks like we may have a debt-deal. It is a bad one in every respect.

I have neither the time nor inclination to begin cataloging the ways in which Barack Obama has been a disappointment. With civil liberties, global strategy, and the economy he has proven beyond doubt that his judgment is unreliable and his motives dubious. Now he seems intent on co-opting the GOP’s extreme agenda. I don’t know why. Perhaps his centrism is such that he is desperate to find any middle-ground, even if it lies only between Madness and Lunacy.

The debt-deal will require House and Senate Democrats to vote for it. This is what I wrote my congressman:

I am writing to express my extreme displeasure with the debt-ceiling agreement President Obama appears to have struck with the GOP leadership in the House and Senate. It is now clear that we are still in a recession, there was never a significant recovery, and all economic reason dictates that this is a time for the government to stimulate the economy through spending. Compassion dictates this is a time to extend the social safety net, with aid to the long-term unemployed and homeowners struggling with their mortgages (those few who have not already suffered foreclosure). Yet at such a time, President Obama is agreeing to slash entitlements, with the guarantee of more cuts down the road, all in exchange for the absolutely routine and unremarkable act of increasing the debt-limit. The reason, we are told, is because the House Republicans will refuse to raise the debt-ceiling, and therefore deal a body blow to the country’s credit and the economy as a whole.

Congressman, this situation is intolerable. What’s most galling is that this agreement will require the complicity of Democrats like yourself. Speaker Boehner cannot deliver enough GOP votes to pass this odious bargain. Are Democrats, currently in control of the Senate and White House, really going to vote in favor of wrong-headed economic policy and cruelty to the millions of Americans who need jobs and welfare? How will you ever ask for our votes again if you not only fail to prevent this agreement, but actually guarantee its success?

I know the stakes are dire. I know your Republican colleagues are recklessly intransigent and indifferent to the health of the economy under a Democratic administration. I know the grim consequences that would follow failure to increase the debt-ceiling. But Congressman, our failure to take a hard line with GOP extremism has led us to this juncture. It is time to answer the question: do we still have a functioning, two-party democracy, or has GOP extremism finally broken the machinery of government? If the former, then Democratic resistance to this agreement will lead to a better one, perhaps to the clean debt-ceiling increase we should have had all along. If the latter, if the GOP is really willing to harm the entire country in order to advance their agenda of irresponsible tax cuts, then supporting the President as he surrenders Democratic principles only postpones the day of reckoning. It guarantees more pain and suffering along the way, and makes the Democratic Party their agents.

I have learned to expect very little from the President when it comes to fighting for liberal values. I hope that courage and principles still exist among the Democrats of Congress. I hope you and your colleagues will listen to conscience and reason when this deal is presented to you, and vote no.

I will remember this next November, and every primary.

Partisan Because We Have to Be

Just a quick thought here before I go to bed. It’s prompted by my (over?) reaction to something someone said on Twitter. He was admonishing partisans on the left and right who were using Bin Laden’s death to make political points. In so many words, he said they should grow up, that an historic event like this one isn’t the time or place. I took issue with that.

I have no stomach for laments over “petty politics” or the divisions that manifest themselves at important moments. In most cases, our differences are not petty. We are divided by deeply-held and opposed points of view. I have spent years listening to warnings about liberals’ “pre-9/11 mentality” and a GOP that insisted it was responsible for “keeping America safe” while rejecting criticism of misguided wars, failing strategies, and unconstitutional policies. The specter of 9/11 and Osamba Bin Laden were evoked again and again to justify or defend decisions that I and many other Americans found utterly repugnant. They were evoked to discredit alternate points of view, to defeat every effort to alter the broad outline of our national security strategy from the template established during the Bush administration.

So when Osama bin Laden is killed during a Democratic administration, the moment is already loaded with implicit partisanship. There is nothing beyond the cold comfort of a murderer’s death around which the country can come together. Every other aspect of this war has been defined by political conflicts that have had very real consequences here and around the world. The illusory unity produced by Bin Laden’s death cannot and should not change that.

Another Damned Election

I’ve lost count of the number of times I decided not to vote in this election. It wasn’t even anything to do with Congress, since I think the Democrats in Congress did a very good job this session (with predictable exception of the craven Blue Dogs). Rather, it was frustration with the Obama administration, and its air of entitlement toward the support of liberals, its reflexive centrism on issues where it accepted its enemies’ definition of the center.

The decision to escalate in Afghanistan, for instance, was one of the sorriest episodes of policymaking since Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Since that decision, we have seen countless stories on the corruption of the Karzai regime, and how it makes trust and collaboration with the Afghan government nearly impossible. But of course we knew that. We knew that before the policy review, and that’s why I was so opposed to increasing our commitment there. There was an insoluble problem that, for any military strategy to succeed, had to be solved. So here we are, with an Afghan war that is getting bloodier, an “ally” that is getting less reliable, and a strategy that seems to be treading water.

Detainee policy? State secrets? Obama hasn’t broken with the precedents set by Bush. Much though I love healthcare reform, I’d like to live in a country whose security policies don’t sicken me. I guess I’m glad that we’re no longer actively encouraging torture, but, to paraphrase Chris Rock, you’re not supposed to torture, motherfucker!

Then there’s the capitulatory Obama style. He never pushed back against “conservatives” who decided that railing against the deficit would be a winning issues. His promise of a spending freeze was laughable, a comically inept “me too!” moment from someone who is clearly too delicate for tough politics. In every negotiation, he has pre-emptively conceded on major points to demonstrate his centrism.

Blue Dog Democrats and the often nerveless, resentful Obama administration deserve to twist. But unfortunately, being a reasonable person means considering the alternatives. And they’re not good.

The Republican party never has and never will take responsibility for its role in creating the problems the country faces. Insofar as they’ve ventured toward introspection, they’ve largely settled on the kind of comforting narrative that David Brooks likes to use: the Republicans came to Washington full of virtuous purpose, but were corrupted by the city and eventually ended up abusing power. Note the lack of agency in this narrative. “Washington” corrupted Republicans, not that the Republican chose corruption or abuse, or promoted it. They were victims of political culture, one they had no hand in shaping.

With that in mind, the Tea Party was, in retrospect, an entirely predictable phenomenon. The very same people who had voted higher debts, who had cut taxes while allowing spending to explode, who had done their best to hamstring government oversight and regulation of markets… these hypocrites simply persuaded themselves that they had nothing at all to do with any of it. They convinced themselves they were a new force in politics, reformers and restorationists, and never experienced the slightest cognitive dissonance that their movement was laced with the exact same power brokers and insiders they were supposedly railing against.

That we’re still stuck with some kind of myth of “fiscal conservatives” in the Republican party is testament to conservatives’ limitless capacity for self-deception and the power of messaging to overcome facts and records. Yet they will doubtless spend the next two years blocking every effort to stimulate the economy, improve infrastructure, reduce the size and cost of the military, or aid the unemployed. They will probably manage to ram tax cuts through by tying them to the increasingly speculative “middle class”. All in the name of thrift and austerity.

I have no doubt that by Wednesday morning, the Republicans will be celebrating having “taken their country back.” Some good people will be lost in the election. Russ Feingold might be out of the Senate, one of the very few people who has actually be right about damn near everything in the last decade. Pelosi might leave the House, a lightning rod for criticism due to the twin sins of being a woman with power and having the temerity to exercise it.

That’s too bad, but ultimately I can’t do anything about it. If it were just a regular midterm I’d probably sit at my desk and watch the world go to hell. But there are local questions on the ballot and I’ve come to really like my adopted state, and don’t want the asinine sales tax initiative to go through, and I really don’t want Charlie Baker to win the governorship. His relentlessly petty, small-minded campaign ads have convinced me that as disgusted as I am with the state of American politics, I’ve got to go see if I can help Massachusetts remain a commonwealth of decency in a country of self-pity and pettiness. Because make no mistake, that is exactly what the GOP is selling this year.

Pentagon Morality

As a standard-bearer for responsible disclosure, Wikileaks is a deeply flawed organization. Too much Julian Assange’s brainchild, its moralizing and the obvious glee in spiting institutions it exposes serves only to undercut the often important information Wikileaks brings to light. I suspect that its high-profile will only serve to make sources, like Bradley Manning, more reticent about sharing classified information. This is especially true in light of the fact that the Afghanistan war documents apparently compromised the identity of some Afghans who have aided NATO forces. What conscience-driven whistle-blower is going to entrust information that could harm comrades and allies to an organization that does not respect the import of the information? Wikileaks may have harmed its mission.

This all looks rather bad until you consider its adversary, the Department of Defense. The other day, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell demanded that Wikileaks “do the right thing” by returning the leaked information to the DoD, and removing it from Wikileaks’ website and computers. It was when the DoD invoked the justice and morality of its cause that I remembered exactly why an organization like Wikileaks is so important.

The only reason the government is appealing to Assange’s and Wikileaks’ better angels is because, for once, it has absolutely no coercive power or legal protection. Men like Morrell or Adm. Mullen are shocked, shocked that an organization devoted to the disclosure of classified information would leak information that offers insight into American operations and might reveal the identity and methods of classified sources. Missing from this self-righteous anger is an acknowledgment that the government has made a habit of classifying any information that sits still long enough for its lawyers to get to it. We need leakers and snoops to steal government information because the government has long since stopped providing it legally.

Where was this dedication to “the right thing” when the US kidnapped Maher Arar? Or sent him abroad to be tortured? Where was justice when it came time to hear his case in court? Nowhere, because “national security” means the government can do as it damned well pleases.

When Reuters used the Freedom of Information Act to inquire exactly why in the hell two of its Baghdad bureau reporters were slaughtered by American gunships, did the DoD own up to what had happened? Of course not. They gave assurances that the shooting was in accordance with the rules of engagement, and blew off the FOIA request. It only became a problem once Wikileaks released a video showing the shitty judgment and half-assed oversight that led to the killing.

(If you’re going to offer a “we can’t judge” defense or complain that the video doesn’t show enough conquest, save us both some time and don’t. From 7:30 on the long version of the video, it’s an unambiguous fuckup.)

Then we have the Obama administration descending on leakers and whistle-blowers with the zeal of the Inquisition. This isn’t just about people ratting out his administration, it’s going after people who called the Bush administration on illegal activity and waste. Now it’s true that there are proper channels for employees to take their grievances, but proper channels are worthless if they’re controlled by the same corrupt people you’re trying to expose. In such cases, speaking truth to power is a quick way to ruin your career. Maybe your life. So it’s little wonder that troubled federal employees choose to go the press. Or, to even better protect their anonymity, go to Wikileaks.

But, come on Wikileaks, do the right thing.

Tyler, My Eyes Are Open

There are some great things about The New York Times. For instance, I have a binder full of great recipes from their food section. And people like Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott make the film section a treat. If The New York Times was a cultural and gastronomical digest, it’d be one hell of a paper.

But a news outlet is responsible for letting people know what’s happening in the world, and occasionally making a judgment about what it all means. Sadly for all of us, The Times treats this responsibility with an unappealing combination of pompous milquetoast smugness (typified by its editorials, and writers like Friedman, Dowd, and Brooks), and an elevation of fair-mindedness to the point of moral cowardice and delusion. The best recent example is probably The Times’ Executive Editor, Bill Keller, who dismissed the significance of the paper’s decision to stop referring to waterboarding as torture the moment the Bush administration told The Times it wasn’t torture.

But there are also web series like The Thread, which purports to provide an “in-depth look at how major news and controversies are being debated across the online spectrum.” We’ll set aside the usefulness of this particular service, which seems to do nothing than add more reverb to the already deafening crosstalk between blogs and opinion writers.

No, what I find telling is this meandering essay on the modern “race card” and who has been playing it lately and how that’s been received. The point of departure for this discussion is an NAACP resolution that calls on the Tea Party movement to renounce the racists among its leadership. After looking at several arguments of when it is appropriate to call someone or something racist, Tobin Harshaw concludes with this irrelevance:

It’s pretty complicated here as well, to the point that this week arguments that were initially about health care, national security and the economy are now all about race… Roslyn Brock, the new chairman of the N.A.A.C.P., told the group’s convention this week that “contrary to popular belief, we do not live in a post-racial society.” Based on this week’s evidence, it seems that nobody much held that belief in the first place.

What raises this from a merely boring article to something banally sinister is its failure to cite one important development in this story. Namely, a leading Tea Party figure writing something obscenely racist. The author, Mark Williams, has since taken it down. But The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates has the original text:

Dear Mr. Lincoln

We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!

In fact we held a big meeting and took a vote in Kansas City this week. We voted to condemn a political revival of that old abolitionist spirit called the ‘tea party movement’.

The tea party position to “end the bailouts” for example is just silly. Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn’t that what we want all Coloreds to strive for? What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare? What they need to do is start handing the bail outs directly to us coloreds! Of course, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the only responsible party that should be granted the right to disperse the funds.

And the ridiculous idea of “reduce[ing] the size and intrusiveness of government.” What kind of massa would ever not want to control my life? As Coloreds we must have somebody care for us otherwise we would be on our own, have to think for ourselves and make decisions!

The racist tea parties also demand that the government “stop the out of control spending.” Again, they directly target coloreds. That means we Coloreds would have to compete for jobs like everybody else and that is just not right.

Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government “stop raising our taxes.” That is outrageous! How will we coloreds ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?

Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.

Sincerely

Precious Ben Jealous, Tom’s Nephew
NAACP Head Colored Person

This is news. This is not some nut at a Tea Party rally with an Obama-witch doctor poster. This letter comes from the spokesman for the Tea Party Express. Its omission from the Times piece is exactly what makes that piece subtly toxic. Harshaw’s piece asks whether the Tea Party is racist and portrays the entire issue as nothing more than competing points of view. There is no truth, only arguments. So the truth revealed by this communique from Mark Williams, that the NAACP was right about the Tea Party having some seriously racist leadership, doesn’t make it into the final draft.

Coates says something at the end of his post that’s worth repeating here.It speaks to a lot of the way mainstream outlets cover the news now, and the way a lot of us have started conceptualizing issues.

I would not endeavor to speak for anyone but myself when I say that I owe the NAACP a debt of gratitude. I have, in my writing, a tendency to become theoretically cute, and overly enamored with my own fair-mindedness. Such vanity has lately been manifested in the form of phrases like “it’s worth saying”  and “it strikes me that…” or “respectfully…”

When engaging your adversaries, that approach has its place. But it’s worth saying that there are other approaches and other places. Among them–respectfully administering the occasional reminder as to the precise nature of the motherfuckers you are dealing with.