Keystone Kop

George W. Bush sees no problem with the Keystone pipeline.

Former President George W. Bush Jr, to an oil industry conference on 14 November:

I think the goal of the country ought to be “how do we grow the private sector?” That ought to be the laser-focus of any administration. And therefore, once that’s the goal, an issue like [the] Keystone pipeline becomes a no-brainer.

He should know.

Food stamps

This is vile, it stinks to heaven.  I used to be pretty good at teaching public policy in a non-partisan manner (we have some of my former students reading this blog and if I’m wrong, don’t hold back) but the last decade or so has really cramped my style, hooboy.  The insouciant cruelty of fat and happy Republicans simpering about making hungry children dependent (are there no poorhouses?  do the mills not offer employment to a deft eight-year old?) after they engineered the budget deficits they have now decided to rail about, and carried water for the “job-creators” who feathered their nests giving us the recession that’s put so many people on the street and on food stamps, is simply Dickensian.  Eric Cantor is a horrible person, whipping a gang of racists and ignorant, fearful, haters into increasingly unspeakable behavior with fake moralizing and outright lies.

And the horse’s asses he rode in on.

Medicaid expansion, too.  Mississippi, our own Haiti, land of poverty, despair, and early death, turns down free federal money in order that its poorest don’t get medical care?  It can’t even be selfishness among the plutocrats: how is it good for business that its workforce is sicker?  It’s simply cruelty, far beyond the possible bounds of policy debate or the scope of ideology, an abomination no religion can countenance. What did these people’s parents raise them to be? What were they told in Sunday School?

I give up, I’m not up to this.  But luckily, there is Käthe Kollwitz.

kollwitz 1 kollwitz 2 kollwitz 3

and George Grosz.Untitled 4Swim if you can, and if you are too fat, go under (Schwimme, wer schwimmen kann, und wer zu plump ist, geh unter!)

May your dreams be haunted with sick, starving children, you swine.




The theocratic party

55% of Reps favor making Christianity the official state religion. Only a third support religious freedom.

Fifty-five percent of Republicans in a YouGov poll would support making Christianity the official religion in the states where they live. Only 33% support religious freedom, only 15% “strongly.” A plurality of Republicans, but short of a majority, would amend the Constitution to make it the official religion of United States.

And you probably thought I was kidding, or exaggerating, when I called the GOP “theocratic.”


So yeah, the Heritage Foundation hosts a “Jesse Helms” lecture series…

Senator Cruz got in trouble for praising Jesse Helms the other day. In particular, Cruz is quoted as saying: “We need 100 more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.” This is a ridiculous thing to say. But the most ridiculous and indecent aspect of this story isn’t anything Cruz actually said. It’s the simple fact that the Heritage Foundation chooses to host such a lecture series in the first place.

I won’t bore you with a recitation of the many, many examples of Helms’ awfulness over his long career. My personal favorite was Helms’ charming habit of referring to African-American men, out of earshot, with the uniform moniker, “Fred.”. But wow, there’s much choose from, ranging from his opposition to civil rights to his disparagement of immigrants  to his concerted opposition at the worst possible moment to effective measures against HIV/AIDS.

The normally mild-mannered David Broder nailed it on Helms’ retirement:

What really sets Jesse Helms apart is that he is the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country — a title that one hopes will now be permanently retired…. [T]he squeamishness of much of the press in characterizing Helms for what he is suggests an unwillingness to confront the reality of race in our national life.

My own paper, The Washington Post, carried three stories about Helms’s departure. In their 54 paragraphs, exactly two — the 10th paragraph of one story and the last paragraph of another — alluded to the subject of race.

Rather than say more, I simply offer this inspired bit of ACT-UP guerilla theatre in the video below. If Republicans wish to establish a decent, inclusive party, some house cleaning is in order.

Senator Ted Cruz (R, CN)

Ted Cruz, Canadian.

It turns out that hard-right Republican Senator and Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz is a Canadian citizen as well as an American one. TPM:

The birth certificate [released by Cruz] confirmed that the Texas Republican was born Dec. 22, 1970 in Calgary, Alberta. Because he was born to an American mother, Cruz instantly became an American citizen. But he also immediately became a Canadian citizen under the country’s law.

However, the choice between becoming a Mountie and a mountebank is one Cruz has already made.

Roger Simon FTW

Reince Priebus (rhymes with Benedict Cumberbatch) was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee on the seventh ballot on Jan. 14, 2011, because delegates thought his name was Latin for “none of the above.” He was reelected in 2013 because few Republicans were aware the party even had a chairman and nobody wanted to waste money changing the stationery.

Roger Simon on the Republican clown show:

Reince Priebus (rhymes with Benedict Cumberbatch) was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee on the seventh ballot on Jan. 14, 2011, because delegates thought his name was Latin for “none of the above.” He was reelected in 2013 because few Republicans were aware the party even had a chairman and nobody wanted to waste money changing the stationery.

The Ethnocentrism of Messina Bashers

Lots of leftists are beating up on Jim Messina, a wizard of President Obama’s presidential campaigns, for taking a job advising the UK Tories of David Cameron. To some observers it looks like utter hypocrisy: In exchange for filthy lucre, a soulless political operative who advises Democrats is now also going to advise the equivalent of the Republicans in another country!

I too am shocked and appalled, not by Messina but by the gobsmacking ethnocentrism of his critics. They don’t seem to realize that other countries have their own politics, which differ from those of the United States.

The center of British politics is well to the left of the center of U.S. politics. The “right-winger” David Cameron whom Messina will be advising opposes the death penalty, supports a right to abortion, extols the virtues of a single payer government-operated healthcare system and just expended enormous political capital on legalizing same-sex marriage. If he walked into a CPAC meeting he’d be torn to shreds rather than greeted as a fellow traveler. Indeed, on the death penalty and universal health care, he is to the left of most of the Democratic Party.

I don’t know Messina or his politics, so I can’t speak to his personal motivations. But I do know that given how much space there is between the political center of the U.S. and that of the U.K., there is plenty of room to allow the existence of reasonable people whose policy preferences are to the left of the American center and to the right of the British center. There is therefore no inherent contradiction between advising the Democrats in the U.S. and the Tories in the U.K. Indeed, it’s easy to understand as soon as you let go of the idea that the U.S. is the template for the rest of the world’s political arrangements.

Heroes and scoundrels

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis is a hero.

Texas Sen. Tommy Williams, by contrast, isn’t even a gentleman.

Davis is in now in the final three hours of a thirteen-hour ordeal to block a law that would make legal abortions virtually unobtainable in most of Texas by creating unmeetable rules (e.g., the physician must hold admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic). As it happens, Davis only holds office due to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which prevented the Republicans from districting her out of her seat.

The Texas Senate filibuster rules require a single senator to hold the floor and to remain standing at all times, without food or water. The senator must keep speaking unless relieved by colleague who asks a question, but must keep standing in any case, without leaning on anything or receiving assistance from anyone to remain standing. That sounds to me like a rule against holding someone up.

But when a colleague helped Davis adjust her back brace, the low-life scoundrel Williams raised a point of order, the coward David Dewhurst, presiding, lacked the guts to make a ruling, and the Republican majority in the Senate duly voted that Davis had broken the rules. She was called out on another occasion for what the Republicans held was non-germane speech. If they find a third excuse to ding her before midnight, they can then invoke cloture.

Alas, Rick Perry has the power to call the Legislature back into session, so Davis’s heroics probably won’t succeed in stopping the bill from becoming law. But she has already succeeded in forcing the GOP to demonstrate, once again, how utterly removed it is from the basic human decencies. I have a feeling – and a hope – that we will be hearing from her in the future.

Footnote If you Tweet, the hashtag is #standwithwendy. Davis has already gotten a Twitter shout-out from the President.

Update Dewhurst has now ruled that Davis’s remarks on Texas’s transvaginal sonogram law – a law passed for the same purpose as the measure under debate, to wit vitiating the right to choose under Roe v. Wade by making its exercise uncomfortable, expensive, and impracticable – were not germane to the debate. The Democrats are now extending the filibuster by raising points of order of their own and attempting to force a debate on overruling Dewhurst’s ruling.

It’s not looking good for the good guys. The moral of the story, once again, is that Republicans lie, cheat, and steal to get their way. Is it – barely – possible that today’s antics in Texas and Washington will spark a backlash at the polls in 2014. It seems to me that Barack Obama, having already earned his Not An Angry Black Man merit badge, needs to show some righteous anger.

Second update After the presiding officer twice refused to recognize a female Democratic Senator to make privileged motions, she called him out with a “parliamentary inquiry”: “At what point does a female senator need to raise her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?”

That set off the crowd in the galleries, who are still making so much noise that the vote on the motion on the previous question could not be completed for fifteen minutes. Unless there’s a “stop the clock” rule, I think the good guys managed to run the clock out. Astounding!

Third update No, they’re voting on the bill, clearly after midnight. Remarkable what you can get away with when there’s no limit on your willingness to cheat.

What Detroit means

The first thing I thought about Detroit is that the state’s appointment of a receiver demonstrated the Republican governor’s profound indifference to the democratic process of a Democratic city, not to mention a white governor’s profound indifference to a black city.   This may be true, but it’s also true that Detroit’s finances are such a catastrophe that, like New York in the 1970s, it seems to need an outsider to get its house in order. It helps that the trustee is African-American, though not very much: even temporary government without the consent of the governed should cause us alarm.

The second thing I thought about Detroit is that selling off the collection of the Detroit Institute of Art, which the trustee estimates would be sufficient to retire all of the city’s debt, is the best of a number of bad options. Museums nationwide are hyperventilating at the prospect, but they also think it’s sensible to keep on hand huge numbers of items that no one ever sees.  I don’t quarrel with the need to have a deep collection for research purposes, but I also don’t see why it’s considered bad form verging on unethical to sell the parts of the collection you’re not using in public to sustain the parts of the collection you ARE using in public, and at the same time not coincidentally making the sold pieces available to the public, albeit in a different location.

If there had been a Great Fire of Detroit, and the whole city destroyed, no one would argue that recreating the city’s art collection should take priority over food and shelter for the city’s people.  The years of financial mismanagement have incinerated Detroit just as surely as a physical fire; why shouldn’t we pay more attention to basic needs than to cultural institutions?

And isn’t the whole function of assets to provide financial security when income doesn’t suffice? Again, I wonder about the racial composition of those who champion the inviolability of the collection as against the racial composition of those who think it might be necessary to dispose of it. The state’s Attorney General has opined that the city may not sell them because they’re held in trust for the citizens.  But “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,” and I don’t notice anyone’s raising a ruckus about the loss of that part of our patrimony.

The third thing I thought about Detroit is that the bondholders’ interests are being given absolute priority over the interests of current and former employees, whose pensions are at stake. This is the case in Illinois as well, where at least some portion of the pension “crisis” could be solved by refinancing the debt and stretching out repayment but where that solution is not even considered because the bondholders don’t like it. I understand the value of the municipal bond market to cities’ ability to expand infrastructure but municipal bond investors are investors and should be prepared to accept some pain when they toss their dollars into what’s obviously a money pit.

And the fourth thing I thought about Detroit is that it’s Americans’ closest analogue to what’s casually referred to as “the European debt crisis,”  throughout which salvaging the Euro has meant satisfying bondholders at the expense of people who’d like to work or collect their pensions.   Very few commentators seem aware that the real crisis is one of self-government (or its destruction), or that the Germans have managed to do through economics what they couldn’t do through war, that is, run Europe.  When externally-imposed austerity hit Greece, all I could remember was the bumper sticker from the era of the junta: “Greece: Democracy born 508 BC, died 1967 AD.”  Or, this time around, “reborn 1974, killed again 2011 or -12 A.D.”  As the saying goes, same s**t, different day.

Back to Detroit: if I were trustee, I’d sell off DIA’s assets in a heartbeat and use the proceeds to protect employee pensions. If there was anything left for the bondholders, fine; if not, too bad: it’s the pensioners who paid their share and are entitled to what they were promised. Even after years of trashing public employee unions (brought to you by the Heritage Foundation and other fronts for wealthy people who don’t like to pay taxes or see working people make reasonable money), there must be some court somewhere willing to recognize that the obligation of contracts shall not be impaired.

Of course, I would never be chosen trustee, but that’s not the point. The point is, my solution is what would happen if Detroit were still governed by its people. Detroit: Democracy died 2013 A.D.

Conservative Morality In Action

Via Jared Bernstein, we learn about how the sequester has made us a stronger country:

At least two Indiana Head Start programs have resorted to a random drawing to determine which three-dozen preschool students will be removed from the education program for low-income families, a move officials said was necessary to limit the impact of mandatory across-the-board federal spending cuts…

Columbus resident Alice Miller told WTHR-TV that her 4-year-old son, Sage, was one of the children cut from the program. She spoke about how the program has helped her son advance academically and socially…“He loves school,” Miller said. “I don’t know how I’m going to tell him he’s not going back.”

To this, Bernstein responds, “If that doesn’t break your heart, you might want to get to the emergency room to see if it’s still there.”  I part company with him somewhat on this.  This story doesn’t make me heartbroken: it makes me angry.  I am sad for the little boy who now cannot go to school, which he loves.  But I am outraged at those who think that this bears any relationship to justice.  Sage Miller can’t go to school because Republicans think it is more important to protect the carried-interest loophole.  The supposedly religious Christians who think we need to bring God into public policy might want to review the story of Nathan the Prophet after they finish demonizing gays and lesbians.

It also outrages me as a taxpayer.  We are injuring these children, and that will injure our country in the future.  You don’t have to be a bleeding heart, or Nathan the Prophet, to object to this.  You just have to be a patriot.