Thursday, May 31

Answer: His Lips Are Moving

George Eff Will, "Montana bucks the court". May 30

VINTAGE George Eff Will--but I repeat myself!--wherein the mock aristocrat's mocking sneer withers all the imaginary Liberals in his path:
Montana uses an interesting argument to justify defiance of a Supreme Court decision: Because the state is particularly prone to political corruption, it should be trusted to constrict First Amendment protections of political speech. At issue is the court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which held, unremarkably, that Americans do not forfeit their First Amendment rights when they come together in corporate entities or labor unions to speak collectively. What do liberals consider the constitutional basis for saying otherwise?
Yes, Reader, I too descended into hours of blackest Despair on realizing there was absolutely no counter-argument to Citizens United.

So I did what I always do, and in the middle of my laudanum dream it occurred to me: Let's make the same Constitutional argument Will's Catholic Right has made against Roe. I had just managed to scribble this down when the doorbell rang, jarring me from my reverie, and I realized that "None" probably wouldn't do in this instance. Since George Eff Will is the arbiter.

Oh, let's turn it on its head, then. Suppose the inherent right to privacy was the foundation of Citizens United, and the notion of corporations as people and money as speech were at the heart of Roe. Fill in Will's subsequent arguments for yourselves.
Reasons for the Supreme Court to reconsider Citizens United are nonexistent. The ruling’s primary effect has been to give unions and incorporated nonprofit advocacy groups freedom to spend what they choose on political speech as long as they do not coordinate with candidates or campaigns. Campaign “reformers,” who advocate speech rationing, apparently regard evidence irrelevant to argument, probably because there is no evidence for their assertion that 2012 has been dominated by corporate money unleashed by Citizens United. An amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Congress’s staunchest defender of the First Amendment, notes: 
Through March 31, the eight leading super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates received contributions totaling $96,410,614. Of this, $83,220,167 (86.32 percent) came from individuals, only $13,190,447 (13.68 percent) from corporations, and only 0.81 percent from public companies. McConnell says, “Not a single one of the Fortune 100 companies has contributed a cent” to any of the eight super PACS. These facts refute such prophesied nightmares as The Post’s fear that corporate money “may now overwhelm” individuals’ contributions.
While you're at it, write your own union joke. I'm tired.

Here's a glorious thing about the modern age: one no longer has to rely on Mitch McConnell, Congress' staunchest defender of the First Amendment, for information. As of today Super Pacs have raised $218 mil and spend $115 mil. The political parties themselves, which people are still free to donate to provided they don't object to bright light, have spent $4.5 mil. Corporations, unions, and individuals have spent another $19 million. Get the picture? [Full disclosure: I don't know how much, if any, of that money has gone to George Eff Will's wife.]

Congressional aspirants in the 2010 midterms spent $1,433,017,867. That's campaign totals, not outside money. They didn't do so for the salary.
Before Citizens United removed restrictions on independent expenditures by for-profit corporations, a majority of states already had no such restrictions. Neither did they have records of distinctively bad behavior.
Good Lord. The man has a Ph.D in politics from Princeton.
Last year, Procter & Gamble, America’s largest advertiser, spent $2,949,100,000 — more than will be spent by the Obama and Romney campaigns and super PACs supporting them. The fact that more is spent to influence Americans’ choice of their detergent than of their president is as interesting as this:
Ah, yes, Corporate Advertising vs. Quadrennial campaign expenditures, another pet trope of the sort Will's been able to get away with for his entire cosseted career--he was added to This Week, chilluns, in 1981, in order to "balance" the Evil Librul Media Bias; in thirty years of America's rightward plummet no one's felt obliged to add a liberal voice to balance him--like Political Correctness, Liberal Elitism, Media Bias. And with the same cheap veneer of Truthiness: the 2008 Presidential campaigns spent $2.4 billion; anybody wanna take the Under this time?

Of course the major difference between Proctor&Gamble and our two major political parties is that the former is erroneously accused of working for Satan.

Hell, not only does this not pass the Laugh test, or the Smell test, the question is how the stench hasn't knocked every citizen of the country to his knees. There's no recognition of a corporate right to petition the government in the Constitution; corporate personhood is based on a notorious misreading of the 14th amendment, and the fact that shame alone was not enough for the current Court to rein that in is telling. It's entirely a matter of Money, and the convenience of the ruling class. That this is now celebrated by the so-called "conservative" party ought to be enough to make Will's head explode. Instead it's grounds for him to lecture "liberals" on intellectual consistency. Does P&G make eye bleach?

Monday, May 28

Vast Wasteland

Isabel Sawhill, "20 years later, it turns out Dan Quayle was right about Murphy Brown and unmarried moms". May 25

If you're gonna be snooty, at least learn how to hold a wineglass. 

FOR several years now I've harbored the suspicion that we're asking the wrong questions. Not "How did the Right/Republican party get so nuts?", which could be asked only by someone unfamiliar with the last sixty-five years. And not, of course, "When did the Brookings Institution go from Nixon firebomb target to Reagan pet turtle?" since everybody has one of those pocket calculators these days.

But "When did educated, well-off Americans of reasonable political mien decide they just couldn't be happy so long as the rabble were out there mongrelizing?" I'm not sure we've looked into that enough.

Dr. Sawhill is a Doctor of something-or-other; the answer seems hidden, somehow, from the casual and indolent internet researcher, but her Ph.D's from NYU, not Oral Roberts. She was once Brookings' Vice President and Director of Economic Studies, which I'm guessing is sorta like being President of the World Bank, but with Monopoly money. She was an Associate Director of the OMB in the Clinton administration (Motto: "Thank God We Were Followed By The Bush Administration, Or Our Appointments Would Look Particularly Crappy"). How then does she come to say something as crazy-assed as "Twenty years later, it turns out Dan Quayle was right"? Except, I mean, for the honor of being published in the Washington Post.
On May 19, 1992, as the presidential campaign season was heating up, Vice President Dan Quayle delivered a family-values speech that came to define him nearly as much as his spelling talents. Speaking at the Commonwealth Club of California, he chided Murphy Brown — the fictional 40-something, divorced news anchor played by Candice Bergen on a CBS sitcom — for her decision to have a child outside of marriage.  “Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong,” the vice president said. “Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.” Quayle’s argument — that Brown was sending the wrong message, that single parenthood should not be encouraged — erupted into a major campaign controversy.
Here's an interesting reversal which might actually mean something: twenty years ago a political "controversy" could erupt over something a politician actually said. And today an academic--who lived through it at the time--can look back at it and get it bass-ackwards.
Twenty years later, Quayle’s words seem less controversial than prophetic. The number of single parents in America has increased dramatically: The proportion of children born outside marriage has risen from roughly 30 percent in 1992 to 41 percent in 2009. For women under age 30, more than half of babies are born out of wedlock. A lifestyle once associated with poverty has become mainstream. The only group of parents for whom marriage continues to be the norm is the college-educated. 
Well, let's raise a glass to Our Sort, then. Once we learn how to hold one.

Fer chrissakes, that wouldn't qualify as "prophecy" even if it reflected what Vice-President Potatoe Head had said. What controversy there was--and, hell, Quayle was taken about as seriously as Sarah Palin is when the mic is off--centered on Quayle's apparent confusion of a teevee character with a real person. He made a right-wing social moralist argument, and he got laughed at. Rightly so. Sure, no man is a prophet in his own country. But Dan Quayle isn't one anywhere.

Look, the misapplication of scientificalism is nothing new; it's practically a tenet of the social sciences. But it shouldn't be done so clumsily by someone who's made her living at it for forty years. I believe we can take it as a given that a thirty-percent increase in out of wedlock births in twenty years was not caused by a fictional character few women of childbearing age even remember. We might also remember that the divorce rate skyrocketed in the 1950s, the Golden Age of Ozzie and Harriet.
In later research, Ron Haskins and I learned that if individuals do just three things — finish high school, work full time and marry before they have children — their chances of being poor drop from 15 percent to 2 percent. Mitt Romney has cited this research on the campaign trail, but these issues transcend presidential politics. Stronger public support for single-parent families — such as subsidies or tax credits for child care, and the earned-income tax credit — is needed, but no government program is likely to reduce child poverty as much as bringing back marriage as the preferable way of raising children.  
Hey, no one admires the source of a good Mitt Romney talking point more than I, but to begin with, 80% of that is in finishing high school. And, to date, there's a wealth of literature somewhere which points out that no amount of sneering at unwed mothers has affected the graduation rate. Or the unemployment rate.

And nothing changes the fact that over the lifetime of Dr. Sawhill's career, Republican and centrist Democrat policies have drastically shifted wealth upwards, to those married college grads with the 2.5 children and the SUV with the trendy dog strapped to the top. The lower classes aren't the only ones who enjoy a little economic irresponsibility. They just don't fuck as many people at once.

Why don't you and Mitt work on that for a while, Doc?

Wednesday, May 23

How Shit Gets Sugared

David Brooks, "How Change Happens". May 21

IT is May 23rd in Indiana, Land of the Midnight Sun, and I have already seen 5,673 Mike Pence For Governor spots.

I tuned out 5,672 ago, but that isn't the point. What is the point is that this is what people like David Brooks peddle as "freedom". But the system this replaced, where campaigns did not begin until Labor Day, and the Trustees of the Public Airwaves had a responsibility to present a balanced picture, wasn't Tyranny; it was Decency. Of course, the modern American Right didn't invent Doublespeak. It simply, as here, realized the benefit in raising generations of Americans so inundated with crap that few can tell the difference anymore.

(Which reminds me that in between Pence commercials yesterday I saw somebody's exposé of rampant teacher cheating on Indiana's standardized high-stakes testing. Teachers are cheating on tests. Sometimes en masse. Congratulations all around. I'm sure the state legislature would get around to finding innovative solutions to the problem in twenty years, or at least auctioning off the right to find a solution to the highest bidder, but there won't be any public schools left, so why bother?)
Forty years ago, corporate America was bloated, sluggish and losing ground to competitors in Japan and beyond. But then something astonishing happened. Financiers, private equity firms and bare-knuckled corporate executives initiated a series of reforms and transformations.
Once again, one starts off picking a nit with Brooks and finds his whole column unraveling. Forty years ago it was 1972. The less said about the political situation the better, but let's say this about economics, with the usual caveat that I know nothing whatsoever about the subject and cannot be induced to care: Nixon and his advisors had frozen Wages and Prices the previous year, imposed an across-the-board tariff, and taken us off the Gold standard. The last of these either acceded to, or kicked the ass of, the international financial community, which had been devaluing the Dollar relative to Gold because, if I may be so illiterate, of Vietnam. Like it or not, Mr. Brooks--and just joking; I know the answer--our little Indochina excursion showed a lot of people worldwide what we had truly become since the days of the Marshall Plan. And it had created commodities scarcities which seemed for the first time to get people thinking about limited global resources. Or so it seemed to me; I was seventeen, and make no apologies for not understanding everything that happened before my time, seeing as how so many people earn a living at the New York Times writing as though the history of the Republic precisely corresponds to their cherished notions about it.

Anyway, maybe the international financial community had also glommed on to what the Big Three were beginning to figure out: that so long as American industry could finagle the courts it could pretty much do as it damned well pleased. And would. It's true that at the time UAW workers made 50% more than comparable working people in other industries. Nobody's ever said that the history of trades unionism is one of unprecedented altruism. But if you want Bloat, try what was stuffing the skulls of the Big Three boardrooms of the era. Japanese car makers didn't eat America's lunch because of innovation (and they weren't doing so in 1972, a year before the first Oil Embargo). They made smaller, quality vehicles, while the nepotistic Big Brains in Detroit insisted good gas milage and reduced emissions were un-American.

Which organized American (that is, multinational) business is still doing, mutatis mutandis. If "bloat" is a large, prosperous workforce, "slimming" doesn't consist of letting Mitt Romney and his fellow sociopaths make 50 times the yearly income of the average family of four per hour. The word I believe we're looking for there is "piracy".  Nobody (that I know of) has questioned whether what Mitt Romney was up to at Bain was legal. Many of us question its morality, and its sanity.

Private equity firms aren't founded by moral crusaders. They're founded, and operate, in order to use large piles of capital to strip value from anything in their path. That much is pretty straightforward. You can't simultaneously praise their economic carrion-feeding and pretend they're all charity organizations.

Oh, sorry. You can, of course.

But the rest of us might see it from a little different perspective, and many of us are old enough that the whining about "how our elections have sunk to this point" just provokes a memory of the cruel laughter this sort of hypocrisy used to jam in our gorges, back when it at least seemed fresh. And with all due respect to the hard scrabbling economists at the Harvard School of Business and the University of Chicago--I'm sure someone will be along any minute now to explain to me how much respect they are due, and why--anytime someone with a vested interest can do no better than to claim "a modest overall effect"--no one in Vegas would take my bet that the reveal would be "modest overall negative effect", even if I discounted "modest"completely--it's time to put both hands on your wallet. For all the good that does ya.

Six percent job loss due to equity scavenging. That's the best they can do. In other words, rust would be an improvement. Unless you're Mitt Romney.

Tuesday, May 22

Questions For Review

1) Supposing you are the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, or the governor of its comparably noxious-smelling state. Does this suggest that you should have better things to do with your fucking time than tell the President how to do his job? 

2) Speaking of Chris Christie, he is frequently mentioned as a possible running mate for Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Would this be a good time to make "shoveling snow" one of the duties of the Vice President?

3) Eight years after Mitch Daniels elevated Legislative back-marker Becky "GED" Skillman to prominence as his running mate, designated successor Mike Pence has tapped freshwomyn Representative Sue Ellspermann as his Lt. Governor. What chronic, debilitating, but symptomless diseases are left for her to contract so Republicans can run another man in 2016? 

Sunday, May 20

There, But For The Grace Of God, Goes God

CHANNEL 13 investigative reporter Sandra Chapman finds Indiana state agencies pay $1.8 million in late-payment fees for last year, up from $1 million the year before. Chapman asks worst-offending agencies for comment, is turned down. Chapman asks state audior for comment, is turned down, and directed to governor's office. She asks the governor's office for an interview, is turned down. Finds the Guv at a statehouse function, and asks him for comment. The fun begins around 4:48.

Note that this is the guy many Republicans wish was running instead of the animated corpse of Mitt Romney. Note that his reputation rests on his economic Big Brainedness; here a million taxpayer dollars is small potatoes. (It's $1.8 mil, Shorty; one mil was last time. Maybe that's the start of the problem.) 

Note, too, that some part of this hissy fit is generated because Chapman didn't get an official interview granted, and presumes to point a microphone at the Great Man and ask a question that isn't flattering, or a puffball served underhand.

Note that this is the Mitch Daniels we saw in Indiana for his first six months in office, before his handlers spirited him away and put an end to extemporaneous displays.

Saturday, May 19

Clock Stoppage

David Brooks, "The Age of Innocence". May 17

DO you find it as curious as I do that David Brooks can trot out three sociologists, or economists-turned-sociologists, to back him up, but is apparently unaware of the existence of historians?
The people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn’t be ruined by their own frailties.
How many things are wrong with that paragraph, not counting its publication in the New York Times? Should we try to count? Should we start with the standard rejoinder of the American right--home of the Republican party--that we live in a Republic, not a Democracy?

That playground retort--designed, I need not remind you, to cover the anti-democratic inclinations of the Republican party and the man who presumes to explain Democracy to us here--soon turns serious; assuming we're speaking of the Modern, not the Ancient, World, the "people" (funny how fastidious "conservatives" are about avoiding gender-specific collective nouns when the subject is something females were excluded by brute force and religious dogma from participating in) who "pioneered democracy" (horrid construction designed to prove Brooks' point for him without effort) were wealthy aristocrats who intended (and did) to preserve their own advantages above all. The authors of the Magna Carta and the various founding documents of the United States had no intention to share governance with the demos. The real European "pioneers" of democracy were the French, and we know what Brooks thinks of that.

And this is before we get to the idea of European or American democracy as a sort of Ur-sociology experiment. Sheesh. Can Brooks win an argument when victory is not pre-loaded? My guess is we'll never know. (And, look, I'm not gonna go on forever here, however warranted it might be, but this notion that there's some plerophory about human nature at the heart of everyone's political outlook is self-evident bullshit. People are corrupt, incorrigible, ill-bred and unmannered, ignorant, superstitious, generous, humble, brilliant, funny, compassionate, hateful, perverse, and confused. Who denies this? Which "side" in our modern debate has, since Hamilton, portrayed the rabble as criminal, hotheaded, deceitful, and self-serving, while demanding we honor those very qualities in Business? Hmmmm?)
But, over the years, this balanced wisdom was lost. Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it. A gigantic polling apparatus has developed to help leaders anticipate and respond to popular whims. Democratic politicians adopt the mind-set of marketing executives. Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right.
And which side is it keeps complaining that government isn't sufficiently Business-like?

What is this, exactly, if not a victory lap for having preempted argument in the first place? The "pioneers" of democracy specifically design it to constrain human nature; the system is then corrupted by human nature. So the fault lies with the manufacturer. And leave us mention that here, again, we see that the most accurate definition of "conservative" in contemporary American politics has nothing to do with a stance on the issues so much as with the magical ability to compare different historical periods as though they were everywhere the same, and choose a favorite based on how easily it is simplified into agreement with oneself. Pierce, in reviewing Douthat's new book, noted "He gives the game away right at the outset when he decides that American religious history will begin in or around 1950, which Douthat sees as the high-water mark of mainstream Christian consensus in America." For Brooks our understanding of human nature has devolved since the 18th century. Despite all that sociology research, somehow.

Just imagine the United States having reached this technological point in the 21st century while maintaining the social structures of the first quarter of the 19th.

I sure ain't gonna defend the current state of our politics, but I will mention, yet again in regards to Brooks, that the sainted Al Hamilton, the Nostradamus of Capitalism, never in his life saw a smokestack. And ignoring who does the pandering, who pays for it, and what it buys these days seems sadly lacking in an appreciation of just how venal natural man really is.
Having lost a sense of their own frailty, many voters have come to regard their desires as entitlements. They become incensed when their leaders are not responsive to their needs. Like any normal set of human beings, they command their politicians to give them benefits without asking them to pay.
Okay, so who had "Three hundred sixty" in the Words Until Brooks Says "Entitlement" pool?

Even better, who had "Less than 300" in the How Long It Takes This To Go From A Lecture On the Wisdom of Checks and Balances to An Apparent Ignorance of the Concept of Judicial Review? What, exactly, is the wish to run unfettered through the economic system like a privateer if not a desire which has come to be regarded as an entitlement? Or the desire to maintain an armed force twenty times the size, and fifty times the expense, of the greatest theoretical threat? Or to use it to push around tenth-rate, Third World countries. Is "actively pursue foreign entanglements" in the Constitution somewhere? Is "promote the general welfare" not?

Blah blah blah blah Cradle to Grave blah blah Julia. Y'know, the worst excesses of the Gimme Gimme Gimme Don't Tax Me attitude are on the Teabagging right, the home of Keep Gubment Hands Off My Medicare and No Death Panels! Let the Insurance Companies Decide! But even that pales in comparison to the "principled" arguments of people who Got Theirs, Jack, and are only interested in pulling up the ladder behind them because John Locke would have wanted it that way, really.

Wednesday, May 16

The Evan Bayh Diet: Let Someone Who Knows Better Than You Eat Your Lunch

Evan Bayh, "Profiles in Partsanship". May 15 (h/t Tracy Mohr)

HONESTLY, the inertia that must be overcome to say more than three words ("Go fuck yourself") about Birch Evans "Evan" Bayh, Public Citizen, is enormous, and my frail human canoe ain't gettin' any sleeker.

The task is made a little easier because Bayh starts off touting Profiles in Courage, the 1956 volume for which Jack Kennedy's name won a Pulitzer, as this in itself provides the energy required to hurl a hardbound copy at Bayh's head, should one get the chance. Whoever wrote Kennedy's book extolls a single virtue--it's Profiles in Courage, not Wisdom,--of a handful of Congressmen who defied party and/or constituents. It may very well have required Courage for Daniel Webster to stand for the Compromise of 1850, but that doesn't turn that turd into a Tootsie Roll. Courage, in this instance, is a lot like patience: whether you admire the quality in a driver depends on whether he's in front of or behind you.

So, despite the lethargy and indolence (Profiles in Lethargy has a nice ring to it; I should get around to that), someone of my height and temperament is immediately driven to ask what Courage Evan Bayh ever showed after being given the governorship of a nondescript state, and later two terms in the Senate, because he had a famous name and coiffure well above average. The answer is "none". Bayh sniffed the prevailing winds in the late 80s, located the source of the stench, and immediately became Young Ronald Reagan. That wasn't an act of courage; it was the decision of a committee of actuaries. The contemporary reader will probably be more familiar with Evan Bayh, the Dilute Solution of Ben Nelson, whose Senatorial career is remembered, if at all, for his brave stance in helping prevent a so-called Democratic so-called supermajority from exercising that power, especially in the matter of achieving something approaching a reasonable health care policy in this country. Then quitting.

Oh, but this time Bayh doesn't mean himself; he means Dick Lugar, lately deposed as Indiana's senior Government Accolade Collector by--we'll remind you, because Ev seems to've missed it--Republicans voting in an open primary. So send the man a sympathy card and be done with it, huh?
Lugar served the people of Indiana in the U.S. Senate for 36 years. My father was a colleague of his for four years, and I served with him for another 12. My father and I saw the world differently from Sen. Lugar in many respects, and we often voted differently. But Lugar is a statesman in the best sense of the word. He was thoughtful, civil and willing to find common ground when doing so served the best interests of our nation.
The man--Bayh will actually note this--had a 77% Lifetime Rating from the ACU. That's "lifetime" as in "Dick Lugar's Senatorial career", or, roughly, the life span of a giant tortoise. As his inexplicable primary campaign was going down for the third time, Lugar's people brought up that he'd "voted with Ronald Reagan more than any other Senator" (Bayh notes this, too). So some percentage of that lost 23%, the amount perhaps due to the moving of the Overton Window, is something Lugar helped bring on himself.
But Lugar also worked with Democrats to safeguard loose nuclear materials in post-Soviet Russia. He took bold bipartisan votes to rescue the American financial system and save the American auto industry even when it was unpopular. And he upheld the long-standing tradition that Democratic and Republican presidents should have the right to appoint qualified jurists from their own party to the federal bench.
Okay, again I'll ask what powerful constituency in the United States favored loose Soviet nukes. Beyond that, it's interesting that Bayh really can't come up with any bipartisan praise for Lugar that the Mourdock campaign didn't already use to damn him. Lugar voted to rescue the world financial markets, and domestic auto production, nearly destroyed by policies and lack of oversight he and his party had championed for decades. His replacement will watch them spiral down the drain, should he get the chance. Which makes this more of a Profile in Minding the Fucking Consequences of the Stupid Shit You Put in Motion in the First Place. After all, Daniel Webster didn't help create the North/South divide. Lugar's votes to confirm Kagan and Sotomayor were what a Senator is honor-bound, you should pardon the expression, to do. He didn't vote against them because of competing ideology. Hip hip hooray. Take this up with Republicans who just voted for a guy who suggests he'll vote against any liberal. The mob has spoken.
Pick any problem facing our country. Our flawed tax code. Our broken immigration system. The fact that we need to create more jobs and spend less money.
How 'bout "Evan Bayh is a Democrat and he can't seem to think of a 'problem' facing 'our country' that affects average Americans"? We've had this sort of "bipartisan" Congress, to greater or lesser concentration, since the 1970s, Lugar's entire career, a working coalition of southern and western anti-government, anti-social-spending ideologues. Name a real problem that's gotten better in that time.

I'm sorry, but the Republic ain't lost because Dick Lugar's brand of bipartisanship is about to disappear; we're in the shape we're in because of the Lugars, and the Bayhs, and their comfort in equating "problems facing our nation" with "what big-money donors want done."

Monday, May 14

All Hollows

MITT'S speech, at Falwell U., which Grace Wyler described to her fellow Business Insiders as "the biggest speech of the 2012 campaign", evidently because something has to be:
Blah, blah, blah, people. Congratulations, look forward to the future, thanks for the hat… 
Some of you may have taken a little longer than four years to complete your studies.  One graduate has said that he completed his degree in only two terms:  Clinton’s and Bush’s.
Okay, I don't mean to start off picking nits, but, first, Time-Sensitive Material which expired in 2010, and was already stale. What, this guy waited 3-1/2 years to attend graduation? The reaction of the listener is 1) joke; 2) clever; 3) out-of-date, and that whole process takes about 0.8 seconds. And once you realize the out-of-date business the joke's over. You realize they didn't want to say "Obama", who hasn't completed a term yet, and that whoever wrote it was too damned lazy, or tone-deaf, to change it to "I was speaking to one of your graduate students this morning, and he said he completed his undergraduate degree in…."

Second, although the use of humor is a time-honored device in oratory and campaigning, your man is a stiff. Try to keep it to a minimum. In fact, try to keep the opportunities for him to open his mouth, or do things, to a minimum.
In some ways, it is fitting that I share this distinction with Truett Cathy.  The Romney campaign comes to a sudden stop when we spot a Chick-fil-A.  Your chicken sandwiches were our comfort food through the primary season, and there were days that we needed a lot of comforting.  So, Truett, thank you and congratulations on your well-deserved honor today.
Y'know, I admire the fact that Chick-fil-A has the courage of its convictions to close on Sundays. This is not nearly enough, in my book, to overcome the fact that someone decided "Chick-fil-A" was pronounced "chick filet". Plus, lemme just say that whether Romney is claiming that he and his copious family actually ate that stuff, or just "the campaign" did, reminds me how much I hate patricians who can't be bothered to behave like patricians. The true test of Romney admiration here would be units moved, not bowels moved. If there's to be any validity to the American Dream bushwa of yours, don't pretend you were eating anywhere they serve ketchup and wet-naps.
There are some people here who are even more pleased than the graduates.  Those would be the parents.  Their years of prayers, devotion, and investment have added up to this joyful achievement.  And with credit to Congressman Dick Armey:  The American Dream is not owning your own home, it is getting your kids out of the home you own.
Or in my case, and Dick's, homes, plural. Really, can the man get through a paragraph without saying "investment" and "credit"?
Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about life in four-year stretches.  And let’s just say that not everybody has achieved as much in these last four years as you have.
Har, har. I refer, of course, to the United States Congress.
That’s a theme for another day. But two observations.  First, even though job opportunities are scarce in this economy, it is not for nothing that you have spent this time preparing. Jerry Falwell, Senior, long ago observed that “You do not determine a man’s greatness by his talent or wealth, as the world does, but rather by what it takes to discourage him.” 
Who was it who observed that it's a lot easier to overcome discouragement when you've got Jerry Fucking Falwell's money?
America needs your skill and talent.  If we take the right course, we will see a resurgence in the American economy that will surprise the world, and that will open new doors of opportunity for those who are prepared as you are. 
Romney 2012: He's Ready To Take The Credit!
I consider it a great life honor to address you today.  Your generosity of spirit humbles me.  The welcoming spirit of Liberty is a tribute to the gracious Christian example of your founder. 
Jesus walked with prostitutes, but it took Jerry Falwell to open His church to panderers.
In his 73 years of life, Dr. Falwell left a big mark.  For nearly five decades he shared that walk with his good wife Macel.  It’s wonderful to see her today.  The calling Jerry answered was not an easy one.  Today we remember him as a courageous and big-hearted minister of the Gospel who never feared an argument, and never hated an adversary.  Jerry deserves the tribute he would have treasured most, as a cheerful, confident champion for Christ.
"Racist, homophobic gasbag and licensed beggar" not so much.
I will always remember his cheerful good humor and selflessness.  Several years ago, in my home, my wife and I were posing for a picture together with him.  We wanted him to be in the center of the photo, but he insisted that Ann be in the middle, with he and I on the sides.  He explained, by pointing to me and himself, “You see, Christ died between two thieves.”
Like all successful theologians, Falwell could afford to be honest in private. On occasion. (How many times do you suppose he used that joke?)
He believed that Liberty might become one of the most respected Christian universities anywhere on earth.  And so it is today.
Or, among that subset that teaches Creationism in its life sciences program. (Once again, for these people "respect" and "units moved" are synonymous.)
Today, thanks to what you have gained here, you leave Liberty with conviction and confidence as your armor. You know what you believe.  You know who you are.  And you know Whom you will serve.  Not all colleges instill that kind of confidence, but it will be among the most prized qualities from your education here.  Moral certainty, clear standards, and a commitment to spiritual ideals will set you apart in a world that searches for meaning.
Let's just note here that the "Most Important Speech of the 2012 Campaign" is delivered by a Mormon, who avoids mentioning Mormonism, to a graduating class at an evangelical religious institution affiliated with the "Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, Since 1996" (Motto: "For Those Times When The Southern Baptist Convention Just Isn't Reactionary Enough"), both of whom appear to imagine somehow that they're standing squarely in the center of Christian thought.
Christianity is not the faith of the complacent, the comfortable or of the timid. It demands and creates heroic souls like Wesley, Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer, John Paul the Second, and Billy Graham.
"And many other right-wing autocrats, larded with the sort of human rights advocate who'll never be invited to speak here, or join either of our sects, too numerous to list here."
You enter a world with civilizations and economies that are far from equal.  Harvard historian David Landes devoted his lifelong study to understanding why some civilizations rise, and why others falter.  His conclusion:  Culture makes all the difference.  Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value. Central to America’s rise to global leadership is our Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life.
Fortunately for us, God, not being a Harvard historian, still backs the bigger battalion.
The power of these values is evidenced by a Brookings Institution study that Senator Rick Santorum brought to my attention. 
"Things Rick Santorum brought to my attention". Make an excellent book.
For those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and marry before they have their first child, the probability that they will be poor is 2%.  But, if those things are absent, 76% will be poor.  Culture matters.
Used to be that all it took for a Christian to be supremely confident was a hand full of aces. Now he's got to load the dice. How many people believe "holding a full-time job" is about 85% of that? That if we add "not at Wal*Mart" the percentage reaches 92, and much of the remainder could be made up by not having children at all, or a second income (monogamous, polyandrous, gay, straight, or Communist)? Isn't it time for the Republican party to start thinking about the wisdom of having a coalition which falls for that sort of argument every time, provided it says what they want to hear?
As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate.  So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage.  Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.
Well, that was the quickest debate on record.
The protection of religious freedom has also become a matter of debate.  It strikes me as odd that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of blessed with.  Perhaps religious conscience upsets the designs of those who feel that the highest wisdom and authority comes from government.
Jesus Christ, you should pardon the expression, who believes that?
But from the beginning, this nation trusted in God, not man.
Did not. Hey, this rhetorical victory by fiat thing is fun!
Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution. 
Actually it's "Justice", followed by "domestic Tranquility", which, I suppose we shall have to remind your ilk forever, applied only to white male landowners. "Religious liberty" is the first freedom in the Bill of Rights, which was sorta tacked on a bit later, and it begins with freedom from religious tyranny, not the freedom to impose it.
And whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action.
"The persecuted" here meaning "parents outraged at their public school's choice of napkin color for the Christmas buffet", and "compassion for the needy and sick" meaning "feeling sorry for". Of "mercy for the child waiting to be born" let us admit that this is an accurate statement, so long as one doesn't ask any questions.
In all of these things – faith, family, work, and service –the choices we make as Americans are, in other places, not choices at all.  For so many on this earth, life is filled with orders, not options, right down to where they live, the work they do, and how many children the state will permit them to have.  All the more reason to be grateful, this and every day, that we live in America, where the talents God gave us may be used in freedom.
Yes, as your travel through life, always remember: you could be living in whatever vaporous land Mitt Romney is invoking here. You could be a parent in China, limited to one child. You could be a young girl in Afghanistan, prevented from learning to read. You could be a Negro owned by a Southern Baptist in 1845, or living in Salt Lake City in 1978. Thank God you live in a country where you can thank God you aren't.

Friday, May 11

Could Be Worse. You Could Have Nominated One Of The Unelectable Ones.

LEAVE us now consider Mitt Romney. Or just why we should consider him.

First: is there some reason anyone should be surprised, or feign surprise, that fourteen-year-old Mitt behaved like a prep school son of privilege? Isn't "organize gang of snotty, well-off bullies to torment the less fortunate" pretty much a description of the man's business career? And isn't he proud of that?

Or is this another Republican Presidential nominee whose youthful indiscretions extended into his forties?

Second, about the "youthful indiscretion" defense: I did a lot of stuff in my youth I wouldn't want publicized, too, but most of that is because of various statutes of limitation. None of it ever included picking on children younger or smaller than myself, and certainly not joining or organizing gangs to do so. Because I knew that was wrong. Because I'd been taught it was wrong. And because it is wrong. And a mark of cowardice. Most Vietnamese are smaller than Mitt Romney, too. Just a fun fact.

Finally: that "the boy later turned out to be gay" routine seems designed to induce empathy in the modern reader. I happen to believe Romney's FOX defense--what I could hear of it through his Haw-haw-hawing--that homosexuality had nothing to do with it. This was Ur-Hippie punching. As such, it's precisely the same, and a damned fine lasting metaphor for Romney, his party, and their economic policies.

Should this be an issue in a Presidential campaign? In a sane and sensible time and place, no. Does that answer the question?

Thursday, May 10

Yeah? And…

YOU'LL forgive me if I'm less than impressed by the President's Big Reveal, even if it was masterfully done.

Has "masterfully done" applied to anything the Republicans have done or said in living memory? How has that hurt them, exactly? "That was a nifty 'White House watermelon patch' gambit"? "Wow, Frank Luntz is quite the wordsmith"? Nope. Those motherfuckers pander to their base, unashamedly, unabashedly, and unapologetically. Why isn't it a fucking given that a "liberal" politician supports marriage equality? Who, exactly, are we no longer afraid of offending that we were afraid of offending two weeks ago?

Sure, sure, the game is still politics, but maybe if Democrats weren't so afraid of drawing distinctions between themselves and the rabid horde across the aisle they'd find that large numbers of "Undecideds" might decide to agree with them.

Dick Lugar read the polls. Enough said.

Wednesday, May 9

Yeah, And?

LET'S say this apropos of Dick Lugar's defeat: so far as I can tell, the only thing that can be understood, politically, in this country is complete disaster.  That is, the slow-motion train wreck cannot be grasped until the last piece of debris comes plummeting back to earth.

And, unfortunately for the people who want easy answers or else none at all, that's not going to come from an underwear bomb. They say it's the bullet you don't hear that gets you. Well, it's the bullet the public has refused to listen to that's gonna get us. Incontinent tax-cutting, education "reform", unfettered corporate power, money as speech, the idea that 40% of the Budget--and Social Security and Medicare, which aren't even part of the Budget--miraculously contains 100% of the deficit. These aren't bad ideas. They're proven disasters. And they're not going away. We couldn't even reform the financial system when it came within a hair of bankrupting the globe--and would have, without the massive government intervention the Party of the Banks now runs against--let alone throw anyone in prison. (It's a shame Haley Barbour couldn't pardon Bernie Madoff, and complete the Circle of Life.) Is there anyone out there who seriously doubts that the Beltway insider calls for Bipartisanship (as in, "Dick Lugar was willing to reach across the aisle") will, ultimately, be listened and responded to by one party, and one party only? Anyone who doubts which one?

And Dick Lugar got topped by the whizzing, NRA-approved, cop-killer bullets that he and his party have been ignoring at least as long as Lugar's been in the Senate. Dick Mourdock is Dan Burton minus the produce. So far. You remember the time Moderate Dick Lugar excoriated the wingnuts in his party, right? Yeah, me neither.

What I do remember, now that Indianapolis Public Schools have descended into a "crisis" so profound that auctioning them off to for-profit charter school operations is the only possible solution, is that Moderate Dick Lugar is the reason one can live in Indianapolis, pay property taxes in Indianapolis, and send one's children to public school in Indianapolis, and have nothing to do with Indianapolis Public Schools. Lugar wasn't Nixon's Favorite Mayor for nothin' (although it was a source of endless amusement in those days that Nixon always called him LOO-gar, not looger); he's the guy who helped bring the Southern Strategy north of the Confederacy. (The takeovers are a disaster in the works; look for accountability to disappear in 3…2…. Meanwhile, I'd like to thank the New York Times for yesterday's update on Joel Kline, once Mike Bloomberg's know-nothing Education Czar. Kline thoughtfully came to town last year to pitch in for the private takeover. Kline, it turns out, is now heading Rupert Murdock's attempt to take over education publishing. Rest easy, Murrica.)

Inside inside the Beltway the punditasters have been quick to bemoan the loss of Lugar's statesmanship; they, just as he did in his concession speech (in which Dick Lugar suddenly became a moderate again, after running as a Conservative), point out his remarkable outreach to former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, the Liberal's Liberal, an historic act which led to the United States Congress denouncing the Soviet military. I guess it was Lugar's statesmanship and bipartisan outlook on national defense which caused him to vote for every Defense bill that's come down the pike for thirty years. I guess it was his sage and seasoned wisdom which caused him to warn that we were rushing too quickly into Iraq War II, before voting for the resolution, and the blank-check funding, then, two years later, when the whole thing was unquestionably a steaming pot of shit gumbo, reminding everyone that he'd warned us about it.

The Senate loses Dick Lugar. What has the Senate accomplished because of Dick Lugar, exactly?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So Senator Mourdock* won't vote to confirm "liberal" justices. So he's gonna end Obamacare, and abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. So the Club for Growth bought itself a US Senator, which it couldn't have if Lugar's President, and his party, hadn't ended the Fairness Doctrine and limitations of media ownership in the 80s. So go piss on George Eff Will's bowtie collection. We're not getting out of this until the next global financial market manipulation is allowed to proceed to Zero, the point of Ultimate Freedom, when the teeth of US Senators will be highly regarded as currency.


 * Assuming you're the sort of person who looks at this and feels some small stirring of hope that Indiana will now elect a Democratic Senator, the answer is "we don't have any".

Monday, May 7

For The Love Of Dick

LATE last week the local teleprompter readers were touting a poll that purported to show superannuated Indiana Senator Dick Lugar with a small lead (less than the "margin" of "error") over Teabagging challenger Dick "He's Won Two Statewide Contests" Mourdock.

(Wait, sorry. I apologize for the fact that as part of my typical, if not knee-jerk, attitude about polls I almost never pay attention to who conducted them, and I'm rarely, if ever, interested enough to go back to look.)

The next day a new poll came out showing Lugar roughly 10 pts down. I know the source for this one, since every report was careful to tell me right at the top that it came from The Respected Howey/Depauw Indiana Battleground Poll. [on edit: it turns out that it's actually just the Howey/Depauw Indiana Battleground Poll, not The Respected, etc. Honest mistake. That's the only way anyone referred to it, for some reason. Interesting that "respected" means "academic, and not for rent". We have a real propensity in this country for saying what we know about Business only when we think no one's listening. Or else when there's a buck to be made.]

Anyway, not only were we supposed to believe Howey, it seems as though we should. Lugar seems to. He gave an interview Saturday which basically ran: "Help me! Please! Democrats should cross-over and vote for me next Tuesday, although I want to go on record as saying that I never said Democrats should cross over."

I may have mentioned, once or twice, but it bears repeating: the Lugar campaign is the gosh-darned stupidest thing I ever saw, and I live in Indiana. The longest-serving Senator in Indiana history is now in danger of losing a Republican primary to a Teabagger nutjob two years after junior Senator Dan "Carpetbagger" Coats managed to defeat one two weeks after moving back to Indiana. He's losing despite the "support" of "wildly popular" Indiana Governor Mitch "RV" Daniels. He's losing despite Mourdock's clear and wide slime trail in Indiana Republican politics.And Lord knows I'm no expert, but I think saying "I need your help" to Democrats and independents at the eleventh hour might have been a little more effective if you hadn't just spent the past four months, and untold thousands, on campaign ads that spit out "Obama" the way you might say "Gonorrhea" to the person you just learned had infected you.

I'm not sure why Lugar took this guy seriously in the first place, and I really don't understand how a guy who's been in the Senate since Cicero was Chairman of the Armed Services Committee couldn't have him crushed at the local level, before it got to those unfortunate campaign ads. (Speaking of which, Mitch Daniels may be about as honest as he is power forward material, but his commercials have certainly been effective. Until he made some for Lugar, anyway. Lugar's staff didn't have the phone number?) He ran in fear of being called moderate. So now the national punditasters are bemoaning how There's no room in the Republican party for Dick Lugar anymore. Well, fuck. If you listen to his campaign ads he's just slightly to the left of Jim DeMint. In fact their voting records are really all that different.

Why didn't Lugar just come out and tell the truth? Why in the world do you even care to keep a job where you can't? The Congress can't get anything done. Replacing Lugar with a Teabagger isn't going to change many votes, it's just going to give you a Senator with no influence, to match the other one. Why not say so?

I don't think the problem is there's suddenly no room for a "moderate" Republican. I think the problem is that for the last thirty years, anyone who might've qualified has been too afraid of his own electorate to open his mouth.

Wednesday, May 2

Let The Pre-Postmortemizing Begin!

I admire him [Cecil Rhodes], I honestly do. And when his time comes I shall ask for a piece of the rope as a souvenir. 

 --Mark Twain 

NOTHING is ever going to change my perception of Dick Lugar. As long as I live he's the man who--five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and four years after the Voting Rights Act--spearheaded his party's (successful) efforts to re-disenfranchise African-American voters in Indianapolis, by moving the city's boundaries to accommodate White Flight and Republican majorities.

Hey, Robert Byrd apologized for his Klan membership. If Lugar's said anything to the black community in Indianapolis in forty years I don't know what it might've been. You can shove all that intervening "statesman" crap into a tricorn hat.

Lugar turned his status as Richard Nixon's favorite mayor into a losing Senatorial campaign in 1974, and a landslide victory in 1976. Which, to paraphrase the Republican country chairman in this Roll Call piece, was the last time we saw Dick Lugar in Indiana. It is, without question, the last time he lived here. Or owned a home here. Or voted from a legitimate address. And, of course, that guy from Morgan county voted for him seven times after that 1970 rubber chicken deal. Lugar's absentee landlordism, his thirty years of self-aggrandizement, came as a result of his Republican sinecure, and came at the expense of Indiana issues. (Do we really need "statesmen" in the U.S. Senate?) What have Indiana Republicans said about this in the preceding thirty five years: a) Zip; b) Zilch; c) Nada ?

If he's gone he's got himself--and his staff--to blame; I found this impossible as little as six months ago, but Lugar used whatever masses of money he'd accumulated by not being challenged since Jimmy Carter was president to go negative early, loudly, and incessantly. The bright boys are talking about what a mistake that was--now they're talking about it--but none of 'em was asking why Lugar didn't come out and defend his vaunted "moderation" in the first place. Because, y'know, everybody knows screaming "Repeal Obamacare" is a certified winner. Unless you're talking to the general public.

No way I'd be sorry to see him go, just sad to have to hear about the "resurgence" of the Teabaggers for the next six months (and the magic of that Sarah Palin endorsement, made a week ago), in addition to watching the inevitable Democratic fumblefest in response. These guys can scream all they wanna; in the end they're going to replace Dan Burton with another nutjob, and Lugar--maybe--with another reliable vote for the ACU, while replacing Lugar's Washington insider with a Club for Growth automaton. As Doc Johnson once said the fellow seems to possess but one idea, and that a wrong one.

We can't let this go without mentioning minute Indiana governor Mitch "Friends Like These" Daniels, whose entire political career is Lugar's fault. Mitch turned up a couple weeks ago in ads shot on the Lugar farm, where he looked almost as out of place as Lugar would've. Daniels's spiel--it was bruited about that he'd written it himself--talked about backing Lugar "not for what he's done, but what he will do". Which I believe in known in literary circles as "damning with faint praise the geezer who refused to retire this year and let you ascend to his seat". Daniels--who really is P.T. Barnum without the showmanship--had this to say to Roll Call:
“Richard Mourdock is a credible guy,” Daniels told Roll Call. “He’s not somebody who appeared from nowhere on the fringe of politics. He’s a two-term official elected statewide.”
He's a slimy opportunist who somehow managed to turn a career as an also-ran into a nomination for State Treasurer. The last time the Indiana Treasurer wasn't selected by straight-ticket voting for the governor's party, Corydon was the state capital.

I sure won't be sorry to see Lugar go. Too bad he didn't leave eighteen years ago, when an assembly of Hoosier voters expressed their hatred of the sitting Democratic president by helping him crush the late Jim Jontz.