You have to go back to January 20, 1961 to find a US President who didn’t screw the pooch in his second term. Nixon had Watergate and resignation. Reagan had Iran-Contra and taped testimony that made him look old and feeble (foreshadowing the Alzheimer’s that would eventually take his life). Clinton had Monica Lewinsky and an impeachment trial. George W. Bush had Hurricane Katrina and a financial meltdown that at least for the time being puts his presidency among the ranks of Buchanan, Harding and Hoover.
I can’t speak for all liberals but both times that I voted for Barack Obama I never dreamed his second term would melt down like those before him. There are two schools of thought about Obama. One claims he is an evil thug (turn to Fox News for that story). Another says he is asleep at the wheel. I tend to believe the latter. This is a man who, for reasons that escape me, still has not learned that the presidency is about leadership. It’s about knowing what the hell is going on around you. It’s about activity, not just passively relying on your daily briefing. As a non-sports fan, I’ll risk using a sports metaphor and say that Obama seems to think the MVP on the basketball team is the dude who can pass the ball to the best shooter. Obama never seems to go for the slam dunk himself. He passes to Pelosi (look at ACA) or he passes to Biden (gun control). Now he’s got three “scandals” on his hands that he needs to take the lead on if he is to maintain any credibility.
Benghazi up until this week was a tragedy exploited for political gain. Then a memo from one of Hillary Clinton’s flunkies surfaced that spelled out the petty politics at the heart of the matter. No, contrary to the opinion of Republicans who are in permanent denial about the implausibility of a Mitt Romney presidency, there was no attempt to tamp down the terrorist aspect for the sake of Obama’s reelection. The memo from Victoria Nuland (which has been in the hands of Congress for some time but strangely only surfaced this past week) spells out the reason for sanitizing the CIA talking points. She wanted to save face for the State Department. So the American people were lied to over petty office politics. Not even big stakes electoral politics. The equivalent of the software development team spinning the bad message from the testing team about the lousy code they produce. Had the GOP proceeded with moderation, the memo could have seen the light of day sooner and Nuland could have been fired as the appropriate sacrificial lamb for the lie perpetrated on the American people. Bottom line, despite the overplay by the GOP, the truth about the Benghazi talking points are a supreme insult to the memory of Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The IRS is caught targeting right-wing groups for added scrutiny. Something right out of the Nixon playbook, although as I said earlier, I doubt this goes as far up as Obama. I think Obama is innocently or willfully ignorant of the shenanigans going on around him. Now let’s be perfectly clear, some of the groups targeted ARE full of horse manure, applying for tax exempt status as a community service when they are a pure political organization. The problem is that they were targeted based on profiling. It’s like pulling over the black guy cos you think he’s more likely to have committed a crime. It’s immoral. It’s indefensible.
The Justice department is caught listening in on the calls of the Associated Press, encompassing the conversations of some 100 journalists, at least some of whom are talking with confidential informants. The excuse is that Eric Holder and company were cracking down on leaks that could endanger national security. But let’s be honest here. Washington is hardly leak proof when it comes to national security, particularly if the leak makes the administration look tough on terrorism. Where I come from, conservatives intimidate the press, not liberals. But then again, where I come from conservatives drone-kill innocent 16-year-old boys, not liberals.
What the hell is going on?
And the best my beloved news source MSNBC can do is say “all the presidents have done it” or “Nixon did it” or “Bush did it and where was the Republican outcry then?” Are you kidding me? The best you can do in defense of this presidency is say he is just like every lousy president before him? Didn’t we hope for more?
I don’t know where we go from here. Obama clearly needs to fire a few folks. Credibility needs to be restored. And MSNBC needs to catch up with the rest of the press who are not so enamored of our historic President right now. We need to be honest and say this stuff stinks to high heaven and we need to clean it up. Stop making excuses. Stop covering up. One common theme to the second term curse is that the cover up is always worse than the crime. Obama better wake the hell up and start managing his administration or he will find himself right down there with Bush, Buchanan, Harding and Hoover.
Despots thrive on ignorance. After watching US foreign policy for the past 10 or so years, it is not too far-fetched to say that people get the government they deserve. We have learned this lesson time and time again. First we thought we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq. Then we moved from anti-terrorism to nation building in Afghanistan. Then we cheered on the Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya. In all cases we have discovered that the country post-despot is far more dysfunctional than the country under the despot. This may sound callous bordering on bigotry but some countries are so full of ignorant people, incapable of self-government that they need a strong-arm to keep things in order. I believe the jury is out on whether the world is better off without Hussein, Mubarek and Gaddafi. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention knows that Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai is a bad joke. And now what are we doing? We are seriously contemplating a contribution to the demise of Syria’s Assad with zero knowledge of what will follow his departure.
Is the lesson this teaches us here at home limited to foreign policy? No it isn’t. A smart electorate can become a dumb electorate. Dumb people get leaders who end up not acting in their best interests. Dumb people end up losing their freedom. I argue we are becoming a dumb people and I say this in a totally bipartisan way.
In the past week I have watched several exchanges on television that left me very unnerved. Bill Moyers interviewed Glenn Greenwald a journalist who has written about the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistle blowers. The government tactics range from intimidation to criminal prosecution. According to Greenwald, more whistle blowers have been harassed by this administration than any other administration combined. Recent developments suggest that those offering evidence on the Benghazi terrorist attack of 9/11/12 that was contrary to the government account were being shut down. I have spent some time on this blog and in the comments section defending Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Benghazi affair but when a mainstream show like “Face the Nation” this morning reports that the administration knowingly lied or distorted the facts about Benghazi how can there be any more defense? In fact, we risked endangering our relationship with the new President of Libya by essentially calling him a liar when he said the attack on the embassy was planned.
Then a few nights later a PBS “Frontline” report talked about America post-9/11 and painted a picture of a government shrouded in secrecy doing things in “America’s best interest” without their permission. This policy was passed on to the Obama administration and expanded by him. Billions of our e-mails are read every day by folks employed in Homeland Security.
Later in the week HBO’s Bill Maher interviewed Jeremy Scahill, a reporter whose eyes burn with anger when he recounts how we brazenly killed the 16 year old son of Anwar al-Awlaki simply for being the son of a terrorist instigator. Press Secretary at the time, Robert Gibbs, reportedly said this is what happens when your Dad does bad things. Scahill seems to be alone while most liberals turn a blind eye to a liberal administration flushing liberal ideals down the toilet. Scahill went on to discuss the near indiscriminate killing of Afghan civilians by our special ops forces. As Scahill puts it, if someone steals your goat, you can report them to the Americans as a suspected terrorist and our special ops team will storm their house and kill everyone in it.
Later on that same broadcast an argument broke out, so brief that if you blinked you missed it. Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC uber-liberal, flew off the handle when conservative guest Pete Hegseth launched the old 2nd Amendment defense of an electorate needing to protect itself from government tyranny. O’Donnell said what I have been saying for years … and very recently in the comments section of this very blog, namely that the time for us to be worried about government tyranny is long past. Our well oiled democracy has built-in safeguards that ensure government tyranny would never happen. Along with that is the ironic and contradictory side argument that all of our US militias would never be a match against a government armed with drones and nukes — that same government that would never resort to tyranny. Essentially “they would never be tyrants but if they were you’d be no match for them.”
Well, I’m no longer so sure O’Donnell is right. We saw a militarization in Boston a few weeks ago that should give us all pause. When asked if America would ever drone strike its own people, Attorney General Eric Holder’s initial response was a hypothetical yes. He only backed off after an old-fashioned filibuster by Senator Rand Paul focused attention on it. Combine this with the other stories I watched this week, and we no longer have the liberal ideal of America that I vote for every four years.
But beyond all that, we have a conservative populace with a sizable number of folks who still don’t believe Barack Obama was born in America and a liberal populace too ignorant to understand that universal background checks (which I support) would have done nothing to prevent the tragedy of Sandy Hook. We are, as a nation, getting dumber and dumber. If we don’t turn this around, we will wake up one morning and not recognize the America in which we live. Our ignorance will be the food that one day nourishes a true despot.
Poster from National Archives
Nine Unarmed Men and an Armed Man Walk Into a Bar
This evening, barely disguising his anger, President Barack Obama asked how the Senate could ignore the will of 90% of the people by not passing a bipartisan written bill for expanded background checks on gun purchasers. The answer is simple. Nine men without a gun ask for expanded background checks. One man with a gun says no. Who are you going to listen to?
The Stupidity of Confiscation
There is an odd intersection of the illegal immigration debate and the gun safety debate. We have approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in this country and no one but the nuttiest on the fringe would suggest rounding them up and kicking them out of the country. On the one hand, there are humanitarian considerations in that many of these folks have lived here a long time and are law-abiding. However, there is a far less altruistic reason for not kicking them out. It’s a practical near impossibility, a logistical nightmare.
There are approximately 270 million guns owned by civilians in the United States. Does anyone really think there is any practical means by which the US federal government could confiscate these guns? It is, like deporting every illegal immigrant, a logistical nightmare. And while kicking out immigrants might not be met with violence, you can be sure as hell that trying to take even a fraction of those 270 million guns away from their owners would result in a bloodbath. Yet the fundamental opposition to any gun control legislation comes from the slippery slope theory. First, they expand background checks. Then they register gun owners. Then they “come for your guns.” It’s the very definition of paranoid stupidity. In fact, the legislation that was shot down today (pardon the pun) contained a provision making it a felony to maintain a registry of gun owners. Wayne LaPierre and the gun industry funded NRA won’t tell you that. That’s because they think you’re an idiot. Enough idiots intimidated their Senators today to defeat a perfectly reasonable gun safety bill.
No Need to Pass Laws Because Criminals Will Violate Them Anyway
This has to be one of the hallmark idiotic premises of the pro-gun gang. There is no sense passing new gun legislation because criminals don’t abide by the law. Thankfully there are some in the media who won’t let folks get away with this idiocy. Witness this exchange between Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio and “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer.
RUBIO: My problem is this, in addition to the issue I’ve just raised, which is that this debate needs to be about violence, not just about guns, we have to ensure that the laws that people are putting out there do not infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens and that actually do keep guns out of the hands of criminals. And my skepticism about gun laws is that criminals don’t follow the law. They don’t care what the law is, that they don’t — you can pass any law you want, criminals ignore it, by definition they’re criminals.
SCHIEFFER: You know, Senator — are you still there, Senator?
SCHIEFFER: You know, criminals don’t follow the laws on burglary and on murder and on auto theft. But those laws still, I think…
RUBIO: And we prosecute those.
SCHIEFFER: I think most people would say those laws are fairly effective.
My Conversation with an Idiot
OK, to be fair the following actually represents my exchange not with one idiot but with a composite of folks I’ve talked to online about gun control or more specifically, limiting the capacity of ammunition clips. Let’s call our idiot Quick Draw McGraw.
Rutherford Lawson: I advocate limiting clip size to ten rounds. That way a gunman can only fire ten bullets before he has to change clips.
Quick Draw McGraw: That’s ridiculous. I can change a clip in less than two seconds. If I have multiple ten round clips, I just change them once one is empty and I keep shooting.
RL: While I doubt the average person can change clips in under two seconds, even so, every time you interrupt the gunman you give advantage to the victim.
QDM: What’s the victim gonna do in 2 seconds?
RL: Jared Loughner in Tuscon got tackled while changing clips. If his first clip had only ten bullets perhaps fewer folks would have been shot?
QDM: Yeah, well you realize that when you limit my clip capacity you put me at a disadvantage to protect myself.
RL: How’s that?
QDM: I’ve got an assailant coming at me and I don’t have time to change clips.
RL: If you can’t drop a guy with ten bullets, you’re not a very good shot, are you?
QDM: A lot you know! You watch too many cop shows. Do you know how hard it is to shoot accurately under pressure?
RL: But I thought you said you could change a clip in under 2 seconds?
QDM: Uhhhhh …..
RL: So let me get this straight. Limiting clip size does nothing to slow down a potential assailant but it can slow you down. Is that what you’re saying?
QDM: Uhhhhh ….
It is really hard to understand how we are losing the debate to these people. Hopefully, the passion for better regulation will not die with today’s vote and we can take some sensible steps toward a safer nation.
Art by INVERTED (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As we approach the four-month anniversary of the senseless slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there is much talk in the media about our tone-deaf Congress ignoring the 90% of the country that wants stricter background checks on gun buyers. Indeed, we hear lots of statistics pointing to a majority of Americans favoring restrictions on type of guns sold, and size of ammunition clips. The fault my friends is not in Congress but in ourselves.
When I was a kid, the evening news was full of coverage of protesters marching outside the White House over the Vietnam War. Who’s marching now? There are those who say the most effective thing a citizen can do is call his Congressman or Senator. I don’t buy it. Politicians respond to two stimuli: money and discomfort. Don’t get me wrong. I am not calling for violence. I’m calling for good old civil disobedience. If you’re tired of hearing about dead kids, whether it’s in the cushy CT suburbs or the inner city of Chicago, chain yourself to the nearest immovable object outside Congress and stay there. Do it until the press comes to cover it. Do it until the police arrest you, again with the TV cameras watching. The notion that you can drown out the NRA’s money with a phone call to your representative is pure nonsense.
I might be accused of being the pot calling the kettle black. I’ve never protested in my life and probably never will. It’s just not where my abilities and talents are best invested. However, I associate myself with the liberal cause because I support those who DO have it in them to protest for change.
Our current predicament only highlights what nonsense Occupy Wall Street was. Yes I’m doing an about-face on that topic because a bunch of liberals camped out in a NYC park to protest “unfairness”. We’re great about belly aching about a concept but when it comes to taking decisive action on a specific topic like dead kids, nobody is camping out anywhere.
Getting back to the Vietnam war for a moment — back then we didn’t employ the cowardly combat method of sending remote control planes to bomb our enemies into kingdom come. Now, we kill enemy and innocent alike with no risk to our own men. Now we drop a bomb on a teenager because he had the misfortune of having a traitor for a father. Where are the protesters? When Senator Rand Paul recently asked the White House whether they felt emboldened to drone-attack American citizens on American soil, he got a hypothetical yes from Attorney General Eric Holder. Only after Paul pulled off the grand old tradition of a true stand-up filibuster did the White House back off a bit. And what did we hear in the media? Nothing to see here because Obama is a nice guy who would never abuse such powers. Fortunately there were those who, like Senator Paul, pointed out that we must control the office, not the man. Obama could go crazy. Obama’s successor could be a nut job. When you enable the office, you give powers to the man holding that office.
What does it say about the liberal cause that it took a Republican, Rand Paul, to take serious issue with our drone policy?
Maybe I’m being too hard on Liberals? Perhaps the Internet has become a proxy for real protest? Whereas the Arab Spring was punctuated by social media being a driving force for communication AND organization, here in the States, we “like” some post on Facebook and think that we have made a difference. Have we been lulled into thinking electronic protest can match the power of the NRA’s money or the strength of the military industrial complex?
Have we become too cute and clever by half? Last night Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote about the changing face of protest. He cited an “eat-in” outside the FDA where protesters brought and consumed a huge vat of soup to protest the FDA not demanding labeling of GMO’s in foods. Milbank argues that these folks are opting for persuasion over confrontation. I am left scratching my head. How effective is quaint persuasion with politicians whose pockets are lined with money from the food manufacturers? How effective is gun control “persuasion” with politicians whose pockets are lined with gun money?
In the 1960′s the people pushed the President. In 2013, the President is forced to push the people. Obama has to give speeches imploring citizens to make their preferences known on the gun issue. Why do we need imploring? Where is our passion? Where are our ethics? Where is our shame?
Photo by Brigadier Lance Mans, Deputy Director, NATO Special Operations Coordination Centre [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve written on this topic before (here and here) but every now and then I’m struck anew by the concept of religion as salad bar. Folks are usually born into a religion. They tend to practice the religion of their parents. There comes a time in every adult’s life that he chooses his religion. Once that choice is made, many if not most people treat their religion like a salad bar, adhering to the beliefs that are convenient for them and discarding the rest.
The selection of Pope Francis I has triggered renewed public debate about the beliefs of the Catholic church. Once again, I can only chuckle at the sturm und drang. On MSNBC a couple of weeks ago we witnessed Jacqueline Nolley Echegaray, a member of the group Catholics for Choice. I don’t even need to hear a word she has to say before starting to laugh. “Catholics for Choice”? Might as well be “Negroes for Lynching” or “Dentists for Tooth Decay”. What utter nonsense. One of the fundamental precepts of the Catholic church is reverence for human life up to and including non-interference with the process of procreation (i.e. no birth control). Asking the Catholic church to change its view on procreation is like asking a tiger to shed his stripes.
In her TV appearance, Ms. Echegaray famously declared that the Catholic church is not the hierarchy, it is the “people”. I think she is confusing the Catholic church with a democratic republic. I know I’m no expert on organized religion but I’m pretty sure the edicts of the Catholic church are not up for popular vote. Ms. Echegaray goes one step beyond treating religion like a salad bar. She’s demanding that the restaurant owner change the menu for everyone just to suit her preferences.
I offer Ms. Echegaray some free advice. It’s the same advice I gave Patrick Kennedy in an earlier post. If you don’t like the “rules” of the Catholic church, get out and find a religion that better matches your belief system.
The Democrat Tax Trick
When it comes to economics, I am a simple man with a simple understanding of how things work. So it seems to me that as we approached the “fiscal cliff” in January, the Democrats either pulled off what they thought was sleight of hand or they were plain stupid. In resolving the fiscal cliff crisis Barack Obama and the Democrats got Republicans to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest of tax payers. Democrats claimed victory with a tax hike on the rich and Republicans played word games saying they voted to keep taxes low for the middle class and technically did NOT vote for a tax hike, after all, the expiration of a tax decrease is not a tax hike (yeah right).
Here is where the trick, or the stupidity comes in. Any wealthy individual who couldn’t somehow work around the January tax hike needed to fire his or her accountant. Not one single well-connected rich dude will pay one more cent of tax. So the tax hike was symbolic at best. Now we come to the sequester and the demand from Obama and the Democrats for more revenue via closing tax loopholes. Ahhhh, that’s the ticket! So the question is, did the Dem’s think they were being clever in January by going after the symbolic victory with the real revenue generator in their back pocket to whip out in March? Or did they waste the opportunity for real revenue generation by not going after loopholes in the first place?
Republicans can now express righteous indignation at Democrats for going to the revenue well again and holding it as a precondition for entitlement reform but aren’t they being a bit disingenuous? The GOP knows as well as anyone else that as long as loopholes exist, the rich don’t pay taxes. Since it is highly unlikely that we will see true tax reform, the end result of all this Democrat brinksmanship will be the continuation of the imbalance of wealth in America.
My Nominee for Pope
Everyone was shocked by Pope Benedict XVI offering his resignation, a once in 600 year event. So now a conclave of Cardinals will descend upon Rome to elect his successor. I won’t even get started on the pure lack of logic involved in a man with a supposed hotline to God being elected. Does God influence the vote somehow? But let me jump to the chase. My nominee for the next Pope is …
That’s right, nobody. Most of the world’s religions seem to have a flat organizational structure with churches and temples loosely affiliated and no single person presiding over the whole shooting match. The Catholic church stands nearly alone in having a complex multilevel hierarchy protected by “religious freedom” and stuffed to the brim with wealth. There is a mathematical fact in this life as true as one plus one equals two. Complex hierarchies plus wealth equals corruption, often on a grand scale. The most flagrant scandal haunting the Catholic church is that of its pedophile priests who get shuttled about from place to place to avoid punishment and to inflict pain on another community’s children. In his pre-Pope days, when Benedict had the chance to aggressively pursue the issue, he fell short. But Benedict should not be the scapegoat here.
Folks, when Penn State got caught looking the other way as Jerry Sandusky abused children they got severely punished. Their sports program is now a shadow of what it once was. Where is the ability to similarly punish the Catholic church as an institution? Having a Pope is not a prerequisite for Catholics worshiping God in their way. I’m not calling for Catholics to stop being Catholic. I am calling for the entire Catholic power structure that protects and nurtures corruption to be torn down completely. Let Catholics rebuild their church from the ground up in a grass-roots fashion. Let all that wealth that maintains the “country” of the Vatican be given to charities who desperately need it. It’s 2013 and it’s time for the Roman Catholic church in its current form to cease to exist.
Late Breaking News–One Less Person for Paranoid Conservatives to Hate
As I write this, fresh news has come across the wire that the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has died. Looks like crackpot Conservatives will have to find someone new to hate … and to somehow tie to Barack Obama.
While we pop Rolaids over Iran getting the bomb (when they’re not even close), North Korea has detonated its most powerful nuclear bomb yet. They are also developing miniaturization that will allow the same blast in a smaller payload, easier to deliver to the USA.
Oh well, maybe when they threaten to annihilate Israel we’ll pay some serious attention.