Wednesday, February 29

Look, Dave, I Know Things Are Desperate Over There, But If You've Decided To Tell The Truth At Least Ease Into It, Huh?

David Brooks, "The Possum Republicans". February 27

AFTER all, sudden exercise kills more sluggards and lay-a-beds than not-exercising does:
Politicians do what they must to get re-elected. So it’s not unexpected that Republican senators like Richard Lugar and Orrin Hatch would swing sharply to the right to fend off primary challengers.

As Jonathan Weisman reported in The Times on Sunday, Hatch has a lifetime rating of 78 percent from the ultra-free market Club for Growth, but, in the past two years, he has miraculously jumped to 100 percent and 99 percent, respectively. Lugar has earned widespread respect for his thoughtful manner and independent ways. Now he’s more of a reliable Republican foot soldier.

Thanks for the excuse to bring up Lugar, who's now just about caught up with Mitch Daniels' ad expenditures during the 2008 primary season. Of course Mitch didn't have a primary challenger. He didn't have Citizens United, either, and the ability to fob off expenses on the fucking National Chamber of Commerce. Officially, I mean.

Fifty-some years in politics and Lugar absolutely freaked to be opposed by some nobody Teabagger. This tells you all you need to know. It certainly tells you more than Brooks' column, excepting the unintentional revelations.

So that we in Indiana are now entering our third? seventeenth? month of Dick Lugar campaign ads which run something like this: I'm Dick Lugar, and I hate that black guy in the White House as much as you do! And I've been as dilatory and obstructionist about it as anyone! Pipeline!

This is Dick Lugar, The Oldest Surviving Scam in the US Senate. And what's more, it's the real Dick Lugar, Dave. The "respected and thoughtful" Lugar is a canard, and the "independent" Lugar is a Fucking Lie. He moved to the Senate from being Nixon's Favorite Mayor. That only qualifies one as a "moderate" by today's whacked-out standards. He's voted the party line for forty years. Absolutely reliably. One of his Obama-bashing ads--which is, come to think of it, the only kind he has, other than the one that bashes his Teabagger opponent for daring to question him--says he "Sponsored a Balanced Budget Amendment Seventeen Times." Yeah, and voted for deficit spending thirty-five times.

Dave, if it gives you a sad to see Dick Lugar, Octogenarian Wingnut Fellator, you either haven't been paying attention, or you've lost whatever ability to tell reality from fantasy you began with.
Still, it is worth pointing out that this behavior is not entirely honorable.

Not entirely honorable? Saying things to get elected may--may--be thought necessary, but nothing about it is honorable.
But, of course, this is exactly what has been happening in the Republican Party for the past half century. Over these decades, one pattern has been constant: Wingers fight to take over the party, mainstream Republicans bob and weave to keep their seats.

Republicans on the extreme ferociously attack their fellow party members. Those in the middle backpedal to avoid conflict. Republicans on the extreme are willing to lose elections in order to promote their principles. Those in the mainstream are quick to fudge their principles if it will help them get a short-term win.

'Scuse me, but would you be the same David Brooks who "suddenly" began looking for astroturfed common ground with the Teabaggers the minute their shit began to stick?
In the 1960s and ’70s, the fight was between conservatives and moderates. Conservatives trounced the moderates and have driven them from the party. These days the fight is between the protesters and the professionals. The grass-roots protesters in the Tea Party and elsewhere have certain policy ideas, but they are not that different from the Republicans in the “establishment.”

This recap of Republicans tossing out moderates in the 60s and 70s brought to you by David Brooks, Moderate Republican since 1980.

And this umpteenth attempt to portray the Teabaggers as some sui-generis "grass-roots" "protest" movement, and not the province of the Dick Armey/ Koch Brothers "wing" of Mr. Brooks' party, is as fulla shit as the last three years of attempts have been (see Weigel, David, career of).
The big difference is that the protesters don’t believe in governance. They have zero tolerance for the compromises needed to get legislation passed. They don’t believe in trimming and coalition building. For them, politics is more about earning respect and making a statement than it is about enacting legislation. It’s grievance politics, identity politics.

Of course, the professional politicians don’t want to get in the way of this torrent of passion and resentment. In private, they bemoan where the party is headed; in public they do nothing.

As opposed to the "moderate" "conservative" voices at the New York Times, who snipe about it just enough to keep what they imagine as their credibility intact.
All across the nation, there are mainstream Republicans lamenting how the party has grown more and more insular, more and more rigid. This year, they have an excellent chance to defeat President Obama, yet the wingers have trashed the party’s reputation by swinging from one embarrassing and unelectable option to the next: Bachmann, Trump, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum.

You'll forgive me; I try to get through every David Brooks column, but my memory ain't what it was. When did Brooks complain about this before it all but capsized his party's planned Victory Parade 2012? Where'd he say it plainly? Where'd he call Sarah Palin an unqualified buffoon? Snarking about Arizona while being a reliable dispenser of Republican talking points for the PBS audience doesn't qualify, any more than being against everybody else's nuclear arsenal makes Dick Lugar a humanitarian. This shit comes up because you're losing. The Republican party has been making you look like an idiot ever since St. Ron said trees cause pollution. You cannot possibly have missed it, unless maybe Mark Shields really is the only "opposition" voice you ever hear. Oh, his and Joe Lieberman's.

Really, all this time as a "principled" "conservative" who winked at the rabid racists of the base at election time, secure in the knowledge that you weren't actually one of them, all those Burke weekends dreaming up snappier slogans to get the rabble to Vote Aristo, and now you're beginning to realize that actions have consequences? And now you wanna know why your brand of well-born party official didn't take on Rush Limbaugh earlier? The way you did: the measured snark that none of his listeners would ever hear, or get if they did? They at least have jobs to lose; you've got a sinecure. When did you speak honestly and openly about the culture wars (oh, you're sort of for gay marriage and reproductive rights, provided the wind blows your cloudy pronouncements just right), let alone speak sense about global climate change, energy policy, banking reform, campaign reform, or any of the other crackpot schemes you "reasonable Republicans" need to keep the spigot turned on? Fer chrissakes, you don't like the Rabid Right, now that it may cost you an election? You gotta set the Wayback Machine for a lot earlier than five years ago to kill it in its cradle.

Monday, February 27

Charm School

The Great and Small White Hope.

Dan Balz, "Governors see risks from tone, length of GOP nomination fight". February 26

Philip Rucker, "Mitt Romney at Daytona 500: 'I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners' ". February 26

Nia-Malika Henderson, "Santorum presses culture wars attack". February 26

SOMEONE at Wonkette, and I apologize for not writing it down immediately, asked recently if anyone else had been struck by the notion that Rick Santorum, faced with the prospect of actually being at the top of national Republican polls, had decided to do his damnedest to lose the thing.

Seems as good an explanation as any.

To me the twin mysteries of the 2012 Republican sweepstakes are these: 1) when did Republicans become so anti-Republican? and 2) why do people keep going to Mitch Daniels for quotes?
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said the president remains highly vulnerable because of the economy, despite some recent improvements. Once the GOP contest is over, he said, the Republican nominee will have plenty of opportunities to make his case.

“I think a lot of the miniature issues and squabbles and supposed stumbles of today will be long forgotten,” he said.

This, take it from me, is what you always get from Daniels in public: a brimming bowlful of mush, thoughtfully predigested for you.

I know, they're all trying to say "Barack Obama" as many times as they can now, because their own choices suck. Just like in 2008, 2004, and 2000. But when did "We're not Barack Obama!" become the Republican brand? (I know, "We're not Black" has been for ages, but that's another story.)

Why do they hate their candidates? Mitt Romney has demonstrated over and over again that he's the pure essence of Reaganism: self-satisfied, wealthy bubble boy, devoid of fellow feeling, and willing to say anything the Yahoos wanna hear in order to grab the reins of power. Sure, sure, "I may not rank among the most ardent of NASCAR aficionados" might seem a trifle stiff, but what possible objection is there to "some of my best friends own racing teams"? Unless friends is too much of a stretch.

Santorum? He's the most risibly "honest" candidate since Goldwater. Sure, we've got to put "honest" in quotes, because, like any public religious loudmouth he's a liar and a sexual psychopath, but still, didn't the Republican party worship the fact that George W. Bush "never read the polls [sic]"? Santorum has zeroed in on the real core of the Republican party, and told everyone else to go to Hell, literally. What's the problem? Sure, it exposes that whole "Teabaggers are fiscal conservatives, and not interested in the old-fashioned Culture War thing" routine, but who besides Dave Weigel believed that?
Daniels and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, often cited as possible late entrants, said Sunday that they have no interest in the role.

Christie, appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” twice said he does not want to enter the contest. “I’m with Governor Romney,” he said. “And one of the things people know about me is that when I make up my mind, it pretty much stays made.”
Daniels reiterated his long-standing position that he will not run. “I haven’t played any games with anybody,” he said in an interview. “Nothing has changed.”
Still, he acknowledged that the nomination battle has kept the possibility of a late entrant alive.

“The fact that no one has sewn it up like previous cycles means it’s a relevant question,” said Daniels, who is neutral about the race. “It wouldn’t have been a relevant question in previous cycles. This one’s different in so many ways.”

Yeah. Because your party's had it in so many ways. Just not in any ways which causes any of you shills, mouthpieces, and privateers to admit that something's seriously wrong. And not in ways that prevent you from having a 50% chance of getting power, and a 100% chance that whoever does get power will help you stay in the game. By god, I hate to admit it, but it was the people suckered by your "grassroots" Teabagger routine who came closer to changing our politics than anyone since the '68 Democratic convention. Found a shallow grave, didn't they?

Cast that Giant Brain around for a minute, Mitchkin. Climb down from the Ego Train (wait till the Redcap shows up with the kiddie steps) and look. They're talking about you and Chris Christie as the party's saviors. And you presume to lecture the rest of us with apocalyptic nightmares?

Saturday, February 25

The Difference Between God And Democrats Is That God Makes Use Of Historians

Laura Vozzella and Anita Kumar, "Nitty-gritty knocked Va. abortion bill off the fast track". February 23

OKAY, so, far be it from me to fart in the crowded elevator of delirious triumphalism rising amidst a temporary 5% reduction in the level of anti-abortion insanity in this country, but someone really should point out how defenders of reproductive freedom lost this battle four decades ago, how they continue to lose it today, and that celebrating small victories only makes sense if you're a ragtag band of insurgents or a hapless sports franchise.
So when the measure came up for a vote in the Senate on Jan. 31, Barker and Northam raised the issue during the floor debate — but delicately. They used the words “transvaginal” and “internal.” But they didn’t use startling terms such as “vaginal penetration” and “state-sponsored rape,” which eventually came to dominate the debate.

Mindful of the teenage Senate pages sitting in the chamber, Barker said, they wanted to be sensitive with their language….

On the Senate floor, Howell had not been explicit about the intrusive nature of the ultrasound. “I thought I was being brave by saying ‘digital rectal,’ ” she said.

But Howell came to understand that some of her Senate colleagues failed to grasp how much the type of ultrasound in question was like the probing she’d proposed for men.

“I don’t think they understood what kind of ultrasound they were talking about,” she said. “I think they thought it was a mini-massage and not something approaching rape. People are squeamish about using words like ‘vagina,’ but in this case, it was necessary for people to understand how invasive this bill is.”

What's the forced medical-fetishist invasion of thousands of Virgina vaginas when the delicate ears of some teenaged pages are at stake?

Th' fuck? How many times did wingnut Congressmen read "What Homosexuals Do" into the public record? (I grant you that many of them were a lot better informed about the average teenaged page's sexual sensitivities than you folks seem to be.)

When have the anti-rights crusaders shown the slightest inclination to reticence? When has a concern for tender young feelings stopped them?

This began forty years ago; it began when the same side which had fought for the only reasonable solution to the question--that reproductive health is a matter for the individual to decide, not for the Law--became deferential to the "ethical" concerns of others, shrank from criticizing the Catholic hierarchy, and allowed monstrous assaults on the English language such as "Right to Life" and "unborn child" to be perpetrated without push-back. ("Choice", children, entered the game quite late.) We are suffering Fools these days because the line was not drawn clearly then, because the extremism of self-appointed spokesmen--emphasis on the "men"--for dead Bronze Age carpenters was never pointed out, because there was a complacency about Constitutional law trumping the screaming mania of licensed beggars and tax-free pederasts everywhere.

It didn't work, it doesn't work today, yet the side with right on its side remains defensive. Chaste depictions of a device the size of a souvenir ball bat about to be shoved into some terrified rape victim is, somehow, all it takes to get people to notice what's what? Horseshit. That proposed Virginia law was hardly the first of its kind. I hope it's more a (puzzling) medical unfamiliarity than a lexical squeamishness that's kept this objection out of the public eye before now. "Partial Birth Abortion" laws rape women as surely as some electric womb bat. Running every clinic out of the Dakotas is just another version of forced penetration. Foxing the Catholic Church on contraceptive health care is a lot less impressive to me than telling the Catholic Church to tend to its own flock and leave governance to the government would be. I'm less concerned about Komen being forced to apologize than I am about why it felt booting Planned Parenthood was a good PR move in the first place. There is no goddam sense for this argument to have devolved to Cute Baby Ducks and Adorable Puppies vs. Evil Moneymaking Abortionplexes and Commielesbian Planned Parenthood. There's no reason on earth why it took until 2012 for people to realize that that real anti-abortion agenda is the anti-sex, anti-contraceptive, anti-human stance of Rick Santorum, not the faux-reasonableness of Bill Saletan.

But what should be understood, now, is that the years when the defenders of reproductive rights felt inclined to do so with a face of public reluctance have given its opponents free rein. And that that needs to be corrected, not outmaneuvered, if they're ever to go back to lecturing the like-minded, not shoving things into every woman from menarche to menopause.

Thursday, February 23

Wednesday, February 22

They Saved Kathryn Kuhlman's Brain

Ross Douthat "Can Santorum Win in November?" February 21

SHORTER Ross Douthat: Rick Santorum is the perfect Republican Presidential candidate, if only he weren't Rick Santorum.

Y'know, the only reason I can figure why Ross Douthat is writing about the 2012 campaign for the Times--let alone in a column labeled "Strong Opinions"--is that somebody on the Op-Ed board noticed they still had some nails lying around after they used Maureen Dowd to make sure American Letters wasn't getting out of its coffin.

"Rick Santorum is a humorless, joyless, scold, a petty, small-town, small-time bigot few people will vote for and no one likes". This is supposed to be deep analysis? (Well, no. What it is is a continuation of Douthat's entire, and already (at 30) superannuated career: "Here's what open-minded intellectual investigation would look like if the world were made up of nothing but snake-handlers and glossolaliaics.")

How much longer does he get away with this charade? Here's Douthat on the Republican "Dream" candidate"
He would hail from the Midwest – a region filled with recession-battered swing states where the president’s support is weaker than in the country as a whole. He would be a Catholic rather than an Evangelical or a Mormon, because the Catholic vote swings back and forth between the two parties in ways that other religious demographics don’t. He would have a strong personal and biographical connection to blue-collar whites, a bloc of voters whose support President Obama has always had difficulty winning. His record would be conservative enough to excite the Republican Party’s base, but leavened with enough moderation and even populism on economic issues to reassure anxious middle-income voters that the Republican Party doesn’t just exist to serve Wall Street and the rich.

In other words he'd be…Ross Douthat, if we could make New Haven part of the Middle West by fiat, just like we did Pennsylvania, and make "pretends he understands 'Reagan Democrats'" qualify as a connection to blue-collar whites, same as "pretends he grew up digging coal".
But no presidential candidate can succeed without a modicum of favorable media coverage, and so a successful populist needs to be able to disarm elite journalists (as Huckabee so expertly did, schmoozing on The Daily Show and elsewhere) as often as he alienates them. And nobody has ever used the word “disarming” to describe Rick Santorum’s approach to politics.

Okay, so explain to me how Huckabee ran third, and how after establishing himself by winning that ridiculous church-basement raffle-off in Iowa the only thing he managed to do was split Dixie with John McCain. Huckabee's Protestant fascism, which was on display later in the campaign, when he tried it as a longshot, is yet more acceptable to Middle America than Santorum's Catholic fascism, because it's less fanatical. It's got very little to do with Santorum being so unlikeable, though he certainly is that. You guys have papered over the difference for so long in your anti-abortion efforts that you've come to believe they don't exist. This is a profound misreading. You can get Baptists to sign up for your Temperance march. You're not going to get many to help when it's time to close the last liquor store in the county.

Santorum was one of four religious nutjobs in the race. He's the only one who managed to wait until primary season to blow his own foot off, mostly because no one took him seriously until the others dropped out. Why are the others gone? Why didn't Huckabee win? Religion-on-your-sleeve, social "conservatism" is supposed to be the lifeblood of Heartland. Why don't these guys win?
That’s because the former senator has the instincts of an activist, rather than of a president or statesman. Whether the topic is social issues or foreign policy, his zeal exceeds his prudence, and as a result his career is littered with debating society provocations (referencing “man-on-dog” sex in an argument about gay marriage, using his doomed 2006 Senate bid to educate Pennsylvanians on the evils of Hugo Chavez, etc.) that have won him far more enemies than friends. His passion for ideas and argument often does him credit, but in a national campaign it would probably do him in.

Yeah. The key to winning is to find a Republican who doesn't sound like one, but appeals to the base, who never makes crackpot statements, but believes Jebus counts every sperm, and who convinces working people in this country that he's one of them, except with a $12 million war chest. I don't know why you guys have so much trouble finding one, Ross. What I do know is it's not for lack of error.

Tuesday, February 21

Dear Lord, It's Worse Than I Ever Imagined, Vol. CDLXXXII

Manohla Dargis:

But come on — Billy Crystal!? The Academy would have done a lot better to go with someone like Madonna for host or producer, someone, you know, who at least knows how to put on a big show, retains some cultural currency and can bring the polymorphously perverse to the Super Bowl.

PLEASE…what th' fuck has happened?

(By the way, Ms Dargis: I know a thing or two about polymorphous perversity. That, if anything, was monomorphic perversity.)

Monday, February 20

Why Everything Sucks, Vol. CDXXI

John Dickerson, "The Deepest Darkest Fantasies of Democrats and Republicans: Both parties are using the contraception debate to paint the other side as scary radicals. In others words, politics as usual." February 17

David Weigel, "A Kinder, Gentler Rick Santorum: Now that the man in the vest is surging in the polls, he’s toning down his talk on homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion. Meet Santorum 2.0. " February 17

LEAVE us return, at least momentarily, to a recurring theme: Suckiness is a product of the 70s, a fact which is evidently lost on the 1.75 generations of adult Americans who didn't really live through them, or who only recall them through the unquenchable thirst for Oompa Loompa references.

Look, I'd never be so cavalier as to blame 70s Suck on people who had nothing to do with it. It's what we might call the Sha Na Na Effect, which every generation must confront anew: what seems like a hoot when you're a Columbia undergrad will pall long before it finds itself seated between the Landers sisters and Lee Horsley on The New Hollywood Squares. The march is inevitable, and the modern era has only made it worse. Still, the Reader is reminded--or perhaps informed for the first time--that the fact that he can automatically perform the break when he reads the words "Bohemian Rhapsody" is entirely due to some fucker who thought it would be funny to bring it back.

As I've mentioned here before, it took just two men to wreck the German Mark in the 1920s, and it took just two men--Gene Roddenberry and Roone Arledge--to sink American postwar culture. (Yes, Star Trek was a product of the Sixties--where it fucking bombed--but its popularity as a cultural touchstone for people who missed the televised morality lessons of the half-hour "Western", and wished they could somehow be updated for the Punch-Card Age, dates to its revival on the rerun circuit in, yes, the Decade of Disco.

The Seventies--the decade when America ran screaming from the previous fifteen years of social progress and personal freedom--were the breeding ground for the self-absorbed, libertarian-valueless, facile anti-intellectualism we're mired in today. The 70s gave us the Instantaneous Rewrite of Vietnam to Assuage Our Hurt Self-Image, introducing us, in the process, to the Spat-upon Returning War Veteran and Old Glory as a simplistic political press-on statement, to Reverse Discrimination, Allan Bakke, and the But We Solved Racism in the Sixties argument, and the Tax Revolt, that spiffy updating of anti-fluoridationism. The 70s replaced the gentle, agrarian and communal joys of marihuana with the secretive, exclusive, and criminal joys of cocaine. The 70s gave us Yuppies, gave American Food pretensions it never earned, and granted Camille Paglia a Ph.D.

If Ronald Reagan was the horrible, untested, human-paraquat enema America tried as a cure for its Sixties hangover, the 70s were the unspeakable rash that drove it to quack medicine in the first place.

Oh, and, a generation-and-a-half which imagines that this is how Journalism sounds:
We know that this election will be about taxes, the size of government, and America's place in the world. We know there will be energy, education, and defense policy speeches. We see all of that coming in slow steady steps. But what quickens the pace of presidential campaigns and sends it into crazy corners is the secret reveal: the moment where one candidate or party slips and gives us a window into their entire world-view. With the contraception debate, both parties are exposed.

Yeah, Heaven forfend that arguments about taxes, or America's place in the world tell us anything about a party's worldview. Since that might require our army of faux-balancers to comment on something serious, and dull.

I'm sorry, did I say serious? I retract. Contraception and reproductive rights are as serious as anything; the fight over the Republican desire that the wealthy pay no taxes is temporary mud-slinging by comparison. The reason the punditocracy can treat it as small potatoes is the reason behind so much "news" coverage: it doesn't matter to the average reporter, who is in no danger of becoming a single mother, and who believes the Republican party is really only there to cut his personal taxes. (Compare the price of gasoline; a significant rise--the result of typical market forces the "news" celebrates as a perfect system run by perfect men--is treated as a personal affront to all Americans. My goddam local news treats air travel inconveniences more seriously than contraception. And gives it more airtime. )

That's before we get to the faux-balance shit:
For Republicans, the original Obama contraception policy—which required Catholic hospitals to cover their employees who used it—is an example of what they've been complaining about all along. The White House will pass policies in the dead of night that infringe on your most sacred beliefs. They were caught this time, but there are hundreds of other secret offenses in the works, plots yet to hatch that will trample on our rights as citizens. You don't need to think that Barack Obama is evil to worry about these plots. He thinks he's actually trying to "help." As Sen. Scott Brown put it, "Basically the government is saying, 'Just do what you're told, and leave the moral questions to us.' "

is equated to:
The Democratic mind has even more kindling to fire the imagination. This week House Republicans held a hearing on contraception but invited no women to testify. Foster Freiss, Rick Santorum's key financial backer, joked that women used to prevent pregnancy by putting an aspirin between their knees. Santorum has promised that as president he will use the bully pulpit to speak out against sex for purposes other than procreation. "One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is … the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea ...[Contraception’s] not OK, because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." In response, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray wrote in a fundraising appeal: "I feel like I woke up this morning on the set of Mad Men. ... Republicans have set their time machine for the 1950s."

So, in whose world is the opposition claim of a Republican War on Contraception equal to the opposition claim that Democrats are trying to outlaw religion in the dead of night?

I dunno. Faux-contrarian-libertarian-leaning reporters who Got Theirs, Jack? "Moderate" faux-contrarian-libertarian-leaning Republicans who really wish the Base would turn out to vote, then shut up for 700 days or so and quit embarrassing them? It's okay, so long as we can claim that people are only saying shit to get elected?
Whoever paints the darker fantasy has the political advantage.

I'm sorry, Mr. Dickerson, but you were alive and sentient through the last decade, right?
The wax gets softer the hotter the politics. An independent voter—who wants to see progress and not ideological fights—can easily imagine that a future President Romney would compromise at the first sign of controversy.

As opposed to "cave to the extreme Right, which he's been doing since 2007"?

Tell me, John: what does "compromise" on contraception look like?
That is not true of Rick Santorum. He is far more likely to stick to policies that match his socially conservative views. That is the liberal caricature—but also the fervent belief of Santorum’s own supporters.

Wait, Rick Santorum's social conservatism is a liberal caricature?
Santorum's views on social issues are not the sum total of the Santorum campaign. As Dave Weigel points out, Santorum is working hard to show he has appeal beyond the social issues.

Well, loc. cit., as we say in the footnote game:
The Rick Santorum who’s soaring in primary polls looks a lot like the Santorum who lost his 2006 re-election bid by 18 points. Here is a difference: His culture war talk is softer, more implied. He talks up his welfare reform role and his doom-saying about Iran far more than he talks up his stances on homosexuality or Prop 8. He doesn’t need to emphasize it, because the people who acid-test Republicans on social issues know they can trust him. He rallied for Terri Schiavo once; he doesn’t have much else to prove.

So the Rick Santorum who finds himself, by default, the standard-bearer for Really Lunatic Religious Republicanism--simply because the Possibly Even Bigger Lunatics got run out of town--the Rick Santorum who couldn't get any traction with Republican lunatic voters so long as there was a Rick Perry or Herman Cain in the race, that Rick Santorum is now trying to de-emphasize his religious lunacy? Trying to change the subject when Mr. Foster Freeze makes a bad joke, where the old Rick Santorum would have read it into the Congressional Record?

So President Santorum wouldn't just be the Anti-Contraception President? He'd also bomb Iran and require people on welfare to abstain from sex? He's got serious policy proposals, in other words? Well, let's see the liberals try to caricature that.

Saturday, February 18

Saturday Olio: Shoot The Middleman Edition

Matt Sedensky, "Laptop-shooting dad's rant draws raves, reprimands". February 17

So evidently half the nation finds nothing hinky about disciplining a fifteen-year-old (for griping!) with a handgun ("This here's my .45") and a YouTube video? On the grounds that parenting can be frustrating?

Th' fuck are you a parent in the first place? Th' fuck stupid were you sixteen years ago that you didn't realize you'd have a teenager on your hands before you knew it?

But thanks for having the good sense to move the lit Marlboro out of your shootin' hand. That woulda set a bad example for the kids.

(UPDATE: Extra credit for complaining to the Media--after telling the Media you would not be talking to the Media--about the effect "this kind of publicity" can have on a family. Wurzelbacher/Jordan 2016!)

• Mr. Foster Freeze apologizes:
"My aspirin joke bombed as many didn’t recognize it as a joke but thought it was my prescription for today’s birth control practices," he wrote on "Foster's Campfire Blog," where he posts along with other contributors. "In fact, the only positive comments I got were from folks who remembered it from 50 years back. Birth control pills weren’t yet available, so everyone laughed at the silliness on how an aspirin could become a birth control pill."

Listen, don't get me wrong; one solution to our current morass would be to require anyone who gives more money to a Super PAC than the average American earns in a year to be miked 24/7. Mr. Foster Freeze should be encouraged to shoot off his mouth as often as possible.

But a birth-control pill joke premised on the fact that birth-control pills didn't exist? (Which they did, of course; the point should also be made that the Pill was being marketed in 1962; if it "wasn't yet available" that was because Evil Statists prevented women from getting it.) Another bottomless pit of disinformation. There's a surprise.

David Brooks, "The Jeremy Lin Problem". February 16
Jeremy Lin is anomalous in all sorts of ways. He’s a Harvard grad in the N.B.A., an Asian-American man in professional sports. But we shouldn’t neglect the biggest anomaly. He’s a religious person in professional sports.

We’ve become accustomed to the faith-driven athlete and coach, from Billy Sunday to Tim Tebow. But we shouldn’t forget how problematic this is. The moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.

I believe it is safe to say that there is no All-Knowing, Omnipotent God of the Universe. Else He'd never let David Brooks write about Him. Or sports.

Friday, February 17

Oh, Do Shut Up

Bush the Dumber's Council on Bioethics recommended he approve Federal funding of stem-cell research, over the religious objections of some Christian denomination or other whose name escapes me at the moment.

Charles Merkwürdigeliebe Krauthammer, "Overreach--Obamacare vs. the Constitution". February 16

REALLY, I was just trying to find someone, anyone, objecting to the contraception mandate on grounds it violates the Free Exercise clause who would either 1) acknowledge, clearly, that the law exempted the Catholic Church and/or 2) that similar restrictions on religious liberty are numerous, even commonplace.

Well, Merkwürdigeliebe went the other direction.

Sensing, perhaps--but not admitting, oh no--that the religious objection ship had sailed, and without anything in the manifest the majority of Americans are interested in buying, Krauthammer decides on that favorite of prosecutors everywhere: if you can't make the case, charge 'em with conspiracy:
This constitutional trifecta — the state invading the autonomy of religious institutions, private companies and the individual citizen — should not surprise. It is what happens when the state takes over one-sixth of the economy.

Okay, so 1) nope; that isn't a) what's happening, b) un-Constitutional, nor unprecedented, even if it were; or c) even a particularly imaginative updating of anti-fluoridationism; 2) nope; try the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986, fer instance; it ought to be familiar to anyone pontificating about health care in this country; and 3) I'm guessing that
because never before has the already hypertrophied Commerce Clause been used to compel a citizen to enter into a private contract with a private company by mere fact of his existence.

[emphasis mine] was added to make it sound like you have an argument, and not as a leg-pull, "existence" being the prior condition which predisposes one to require health care. I'm not sure where the Constitutional guarantee of "reasonably-termed mandates" resides. I doubt many Court observers would be astonished if the Roberts Court finds one anyway, but that's another matter.
Every presidential challenger says that he will repeal Obamacare on Day One. Well, yes. But is any of them making the case for why?

You mean as opposed to hurling handfuls of shit at a wall to see what sticks?

Look, Chuckles: it's your end of the spectrum loves it some Imperial Presidency, so long as it's Republican; I don't recall any concern from y'all when George W. Bush asserted his right to go to war based on his facile reading of a post-expiration UN resolution. I didn't hear you screaming when Dick Cheney invented himself a Fourth Branch of government, though it would have been hard to hear over the sniggering. But, really, now, if you wanna lecture us on the Constitution, demonstrate a little competence. Don't trot out "hypertrophied Commerce clause" in defense of a religious exemption that doesn't exist.

Thursday, February 16

Need We Say More? Vol. LXXXVI

Times Teaser:

Aggressive Acts by Iran Signal Pressure on Its Leadership

A flurry of actions and statements by Iran this week suggest its leaders are responding frantically, and more unpredictably, to the tightening of sanctions.

LOOK: it is now the 13th month of a Republican presidential campaign--as in President of the United States, the Leader of the Free World, a man who commands an actual nuclear arsenal, not just some aluminum tubes--so freighted with idiocy, illiteracy, hysteria, backwoods religious mania, Xenophobia, howlers, whoppers, bad sci-fi plots, galloping juvenilia, sexual phobias, spittle-flecked nationalism, off-hand wagers larger than most people's life savings, and, of course, the mandatory hushed reverence at the mention of "Ronald Reagan" that we ought to at least think twice before we start calling other people's leaders "frantic and unpredictable".

Wednesday, February 15

Wednesday Olio: Don't Forget Yer Helmet Edition

That's not grooming, it's a martial art.

• Maybe If We Tried Explaining The Problem Accurately, Pt. 1 (via Weigel):
SCHEIFFER: And Senator Blunt from Missouri, one of your Republican colleagues, he wants an amendment now that would allow any group that had a moral objection to this, to not have to pay for birth control pills. Are you willing to go as far as Senator Blunt wants to go on this?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah, it's not a moral objection. This is about the free exercise of religion. And under our constitution, you don't take a poll to find out how people feel about a constitutional freedom...

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, I-- I guess what I'm asking you though is-- is are you willing to go as far as Senator Blunt now wants to go and just write in legislation that would ban any group that had just a, quote, "moral objection," not just a religious group but just any group that had a moral objection to that? Would-- would you be willing to push that in the Senate?

"As far as Blunt wants to go…" is inside baseball. "Moral, not just religious objections" is an attempt to shame a Republican with evidence of Constitutional misfeasance and religious pandering, and whaddya you think the reaction's gonna be, Bob? Access to abortion, let alone contraception, is a Constitutionally-protected right, same as free exercise. Why do these guys always get a free pass? (Because you're too cowardly to ask the question, that's why.)

• Maybe If We Tried Explaining The Problem Accurately, Pt. 2. I appreciate, really, the fact that Fred Kaplan even raises the issue. But “addressing the problem” and “tiptoeing around anything that might ruffle the script” are mutually exclusive:
Today the attention is leaning more heavily on the rest of the budget, which is where the fate of the economy—and the election—is more likely to be decided. But after the economy gets better and we’re out of Afghanistan and it’s a little bit politically safe to talk about these things, a serious discussion needs to be had on what the military should be doing, what kinds of weapons it really needs, and how much it needs to spend for them.

Th' fuck? “Once the economy gets better?” One way to improve the economy is to spend our money on anything but the military, which has the worst return record in the entire budget. “Once we're not at war”? The United States has been involved in a major conflict 30 of the past 60 years, and we've got one foot in Iran at present. Those wars--Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, and Afghanistan--meant a combined total of nothing to US security. “When it's politically safe to raise the issue”? Heaven help us all.

The point isn't "we're spending too much on carrier groups". The point is we've got no mission for carriers at all, save intimidating tenth-rate powers, and we would be a lot better off if we were required to do that, if at all, by using smarts first. A five-carrier navy is probably sufficient, given a sane, rational, and an honest admission of what our role is. That would be--lemme do the math real quick--approximately five more carriers than anyone else in the world has, excluding Britain, and theirs are docked somewhere with For Sale signs hanging to leeward. Yeah, I said "given a sane, rational, and an honest admission of what our role is." You wanna cut the military budget, just a little, in some safe and friendly rhetorical environment easily obtainable by anyone who cares to pull one out of his ass? Then start overcoming the sixty years of Defense budgets so irrational they'd be involuntarily committed, if corporations were people. We've spent that money--the Atomic Powered Bomber! the B1! the B2! the twelve carrier navy!--just to placate the screaming irrational militarists on the Right, and so that everyone involved in Defense procurement could get well. A rational reduction in the US Defense spending? Right. Wake me when the conversation starts, Fred.

And by the way, “why are there as many as 552,100 troops?” is a peculiar question coming as it does from one of Slate's many Iraq war floggers. Investment in troops is practically the only military expenditure that pays off to the general economy.

• So last Sunday, afternoon or after dark, depending on which story you get, IMPD arrested Timothy Wolf, the 65-year-old who's coached basketball at Martinsville (IN) High School for 64 years. Wolf was arrested in Eagle Creek Park; he was charged with indecent exposure.

That's what we know. What we don't know is the identity of the 17-year-old girl (not charged) who was in the car/ out of the car/ somewhere in the park at the same time, and whether she was a Martinsville student.

Here's another thing we don't know: whether any of the locals reporting on the story bothered to ask.

Now, this is their favorite sort of story, for the opportunity it gives them and the audience to be prurient and moral scolds at the same time. (Okay, so it's their third favorite sort of story, after: “Would you like to know what's happened in the Super Bowl Village in the five minutes since we last reported on it?” and “Here's what somebody twitted about a dead celebrity.” )

Okay, so, confusion reigns a lot of the time, at first, with police reports, but it's not as if Sexual Perversion, Especially Involving Someone Student-Aged coupled with Perp Could Be Described As a Teacher/ School Staffer hasn't been automatic box office for decades now. The guy's a 65-year-old schlub employed on the taxpayer dime (before he suddenly retired), and in loco parentis. Where, besides his school, is he meeting 17 year olds? If you're protecting her identity so be it, but the question is a real one. No one even acted as if it had occurred to 'em.

Channel 8 originally reported that he'd been discovered in his car "with his pants unzipped". Which was either a euphemism, or else half the 65-year-old men in Marion county should be locked up.

• That'd be the same Channel 8--listen, I think the "news" is biased, but generally towards the status quo, and to the extent that the status quo resonates with people in the news producer-on-air-talent tax bracket. But 8's political reporting has been hinky for years now, and Jim Shella, the David Broder of Local Political Pundits, ought to be made to wear a CO detector if he's gonna stovepipe so many Republican talking points.

Yesterday around 5:30 I happened to walk through the room as one of their anchors said this about the House Republican cave on the Payroll Tax Cut extension (mind you, now, the debate has been news all year): "The House is set to vote on the Republican bill to extend payroll tax cuts. Some Democrats may object…" I don't know how you out-FAUX FOX any plainer than that.

Tuesday, February 14

All In Favor Of Chaotic Markets And Ordered Lives...?

David Brooks, “The Materialist Fallacy”. February 13

SO it turns out that Charles Murray is to the “conservatives” at the Times what Halley's Comet is to a superstitious medieval peasantry.

This is Brooks' second Murray column in two weeks, meaning this one is designed to make it appear that his earlier teenaged crush has been accompanied by the appropriate somber adult reflection on the issues. In other words, it's even worse.

It is, in fact, a near-textbook example of what makes Brooks truly awful: the “I'm a stern-task-master instructor at an exclusive high-school for overachievers” tone, the “comparison” of competing conservative and liberal “philosophies” made up on the spot for the sake of the piece, the ensuing demolition of the liberal philosophy by application of Brooks' iron Fiat, the wholesale larding of a piece--already sporting a fat-to-muscle ratio so high it would cause people in Muncie, Indiana, to goggle in disbelief as it waddled by--with various pop-sociology and -psychology treatises, roughly 90% of which, should the reader go to the trouble of tracking them down, turn out to have been written by economists or political scientists, the backhand assertion that these findings Brooks is sharing with us are universally acknowledged in their fields, or whatever fields they were aimed at, leading us--by process of scientific ratiocination and proper living--to the Economic Republican position. The only thing missing is the “I'm a moderate, and boy do the ‘conservatives’ beat me up over it” simpering (see PBS News Hour, The), absent because he can't pull off that one and the “Newt and Callista Gingrich Endowed Chair of Applied Psychobabble at Southland Mall Community College” tone simultaneously.

To be fair, Brooks does mix it up this time. For reasons of his own the "conservative" philosophy has become twain: a “neocon” philosophy (we abandoned bourgeois social norms) and a “libertarian” philosophy (social programs encourage indolence and baby-poppin'). There must be a distinction here, and a good reason why we're ascribing “major” philosophical lines to groups which did not exist in the 1970s except in some Sociology lab. The 70s! When neocons and libertarians could have “congregated” jointly at a refrigerator box and not been able to link hands around. A congregation of libertarians in the 1970s consisted of two people buying Atlas Shrugged bumping into each other in the college bookstore check-out line and discovering they're in the same Freshman Comp section.

Now, your guess is as good as mine. Is this the typical lazy Reagantot history from someone who came of age in the 1980s, and assumed the past was just like the present, only longer? Was Brooks throwing a bone to Charles Murray, after throwing him a boner two weeks ago? Are we trying to hide what the New Nixon Republican Coalition was actually saying about race and class in those days? Or is Brooks just rewriting a current flap as though it represented Eternal Verities, the better to rhetorically humiliate vast stretches of one's imaginary opponents?

Of course the “libertarian” and “neocon” “philosophies”of “the 70s” immediately disappear from the piece, having co-performed their function as The Only Theory Standing Now That David Brooks Has Razed The Liberal Village. This is part of the Brooks MO: announce the “real belief” behind competing Left/Right opinions (maybe “Center/Right” is more accurate, not that we want to introduce “accuracy” at this late date); spend the next 300 words disputing the liberal philosophy, buttressed by quotes and scientificalism; then declare the liberal philosophy dead by “possibly several” paper cuts. Which makes “conservatism” the winner. And still undefeated heavyweight champ. This is generally stated with a soupçon of ambiguity as to Brooks' personal support, the better to continue peacefully grazing on the prairie margins of PBS and NYT liberalism, which is where congenital simpering and the increasing lunacy of his party have forced him to ruminate.

Here it is in action:
As early as the 1970s, three large theories had emerged to explain the weakening of the social fabric. Liberals congregated around an economically determinist theory. The loss of good working-class jobs undermined communities and led to the social deterioration.

Do we have to go on? I'm sure liberals were in favor of jobs in the 1970s. I trust that they were. Used to be both parties did. I just can't say I remember running into the argument, at the tail-end of the post-war US economic hegemony, that the manufacturing jobs still humming across the Rust Belt were the cause of social disintegration. I remember a lot of liberals talking about the alienation of the working man, or the privileged idiocy behind the anti-environment, anti-safety, anti-regulation, You'll Buy Gas Guzzling Behemoths And Like It attitude of the Big Three, which was just then beginning to bleed market share to smaller, better-built vehicles, and would have finished ceding the future to Japan by the end of the decade. That's the way liberals actually talked in those days, as I recall it.

So the alternative explanation, Mr. Brooks, is that you're somehow trying to fob off some contemporary Democratic argument as the guiding star of the "liberal" point of view, rather than a specific response to the clear, dismal, and beyond-the-help-of-pop-sociology Reagan record. Which, unsurprisingly, owes its popularity among liberals not to the 1970s, but to the latter days of the Clinton administration, when their man's economic record so eclipsed that of St. Ronnie of the Miracles.

Which means there's no value to examining this cornerstone of American liberal thought; but supposing it were actually of vital importance. So what? If you're hungry, do you weigh the competing culinary philosophies of Northern China and Northern Italy, or do you decide what you'd like to eat?

And if there was some value in demolishing a single-clause definition of Liberalism, wouldn't you still be required to, you know, do so? Maybe I'm way off base, Dave; not only do I not take your point on this, I'm not sure you have one. It seems to run:

1) Neo-conservatives (in the 70s!) argued that "the abandonment of traditional bourgeois norms led to social disruption."

2) It's still a good idea to finish high school, even if there aren't any jobs.


3) "[E]conomic determinism would be bad enough if it was just making public debate dumber. But the amputation of sociologic, psychological and cognitive considerations makes good policy impossible."

Q.E.D. If I missed some subtlety in the middle there that explains all this, kindly let me know, ℅ this blog.

JUST another word about Murray Worship at the Times Op-Ed Carnival. It reminds me of nothing so much as some winking conjugal scene in Hayes Code Hollywood, where one foot is kept firmly planted on the floor, and the real action is off-screen. Neither Brooks nor Douthat wants to shower in Murray's antebellumisms, but will take just a splash behind the ears; neither wants anything to do with his conclusions, which apparently admit the ungodly hybridization of libertoonianism and religious mania has no more prescription for the doom and Negroes it sees everywhere than do either of those programs alone. This is unacceptable to either man, as they prefer to believe, at least in public, that a good talking to by Pope or Sociology prof might still turn this thing around. Murray seems to exist as way for Brooks and Douthat to demonstrate how quickly they'd point to evidence if by chance they had any.

Monday, February 13

Anyway, Aren't Subtitles French?

Ross Douthat, "Can the Working Class Be Saved?" February 12

MR. Douthat, Mr. Brooks? For the record, the title of Charles Murray's new opus is Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 [emphasis mine, and Murray's, too]. I guess the advance copies they delivered to the Times left that last part out.

Now then, before we go any further: Charles Murray is not a thinker, or a scientist. If we'd like to be kind we can call him a paid political blatherer, like the two of you; it's nicer than "shitstain". We might also mention a Ph.D from M.I.T. in what is grandiosely known as Political Science, because, frankly, we're no longer concerned about the reputations of elite Eastern academies getting any worse.

Here's the deal: if you want to tout Murray's ideas, come back in 50-100 years and try to resurrect him in a world where he's justifiably forgotten, and where you might be able to apologize for his racist idiocies without anyone understanding what th' fuck you're talking about. Until then, no.
CHARLES MURRAY’S “Coming Apart,” the book that’s launched a thousand arguments this winter, is a brilliant work with an exasperating conclusion. What’s brilliant is Murray’s portrait, rich in data and anecdote, of the steady breakdown of what he calls America’s “founding virtues” — thrift and industriousness, fidelity and parental responsibility, piety and civic engagement — within America’s working class, and the personal and communal wreckage that’s ensued.

What’s exasperating is what the author suggests policy makers can do about the social crisis: in essence, nothing.

Murray has now perpetrated any number of books which could be refuted on their back covers. The late great Stephen Jay Gould on The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life in the year of its publication:
The general claim is neither uninteresting nor illogical, but it does require the validity of four shaky premises, all asserted (but hardly discussed or defended) by Herrnstein and Murray. Intelligence, in their formulation, must be depictable as a single number, capable of ranking people in linear order, genetically based, and effectively immutable. If any of these premises are false, their entire argument collapses. For example, if all are true except immutability, then programs for early intervention in education might work to boost IQ permanently, just as a pair of eyeglasses may correct a genetic defect in vision. The central argument of The Bell Curve fails because most of the premises are false.

Similarly, Murray's premise here--if, indeed, Murray's real premise is not "write an apologia for my employers at the American Enterprise Institute"--that the conveniently white underclass is suffering, not from thirty years of Republican (and Centrist Democrat) economic malignity, but from a kind of systemic cultural Dirty Hippiehood, is as easily tossed on its absurd clown face. Hell, let's just start with that "1960-2010" schtick Ross had to leave out of the title for spatial concerns. Let's make it "1950" instead. We still see a decline in marriage, and the explosive rise in divorce rates. The decline in church attendance begins here.

Yet the employment picture is almost continually rosy, a big mystery unless you happen to be in on the fact that the US was the world's only post-war global economy.
If Murray’s prescription for the social crisis is an exercise in libertarian wishful thinking, this liberal alternative is a mix of partisan demonization and budgetary fantasy. It was globalization, not Republicans, that killed the private-sector union and reduced the returns to blue-collar work. It’s arithmetic, not plutocracy, that’s standing between the left and its dream of a much more activist government. Even if liberals get the higher tax rates on the rich they so ardently desire, the money won’t be adequate to finance our existing entitlements, let alone a New Deal 2.0.

The Crux of the Issue and How to Miss It! The fact that complex considerations surround every object of human ratiocination does not moot everything, nor exclude the possibility of the adequacy of simple explanations adequately considered. If it did, Ross, your Church would be out of business, just to name one notable example.

The question (for "liberals") isn't who can cough up what explanation for the decline of everyone outside the upper upper class in the past three decades; it's "when are we going to acknowledge the disconnect between the claims that Reagan tax-cutting would Save the Day, or at least the Morning, and what actually fucking happened?" Higher tax rates, and the closing of the more egregious tax loopholes the rich and their enablers have written into the tax code, is a question of fair domestic policy, not magical solutions to the decades-deep hole we've dug while Republican/libertarian fiscal policies held sway.

By the way, where was this trenchant analysis while this was actually going on? Where were you? Where was Murray? Busy blaming the underclass for not being more like yourselves: married (Murray's such a believer he's done it twice), religious and libertarian, hard-working on a deadline, white, Hahvahd educated, and willing to understand the distinction between work and theft, and excuse the latter when it's on a large enough scale.

Where's that analysis, by the way? Whatever happened to that America that jailed financial swindlers and war profiteers, which was outraged by the big and powerful screwing the poor and defenseless? That strove to increase equality, care for the needy, reward loyalty, and shun rapacious self-love? Do you imagine you're the only ones who can play this game? The late 70s and early 80s were the busted sluice gate of greed, self-absorption, libertarian self-regard, and the re-writing of inconvenient recent histories of our international adventurism and domestic abuses; it's also the time when an entrenched ruling class (of both parties) chose unlimited campaign spigots and property rights over basic fairness and reasonable, responsible growth. But that sort of thing gets a pass, since the very wealthy aren't constrained by those universal laws you just made up. Thank goodness they still have some advantages left.

Sunday, February 12

Pawn Takes Bishop

Amanda Marcotte, "Obama Punks the GOP on Contraception". February 10

James Vicini, "U.S. Catholic bishops oppose Obama birth-control plan". February 11

DEAR Amanda: I can't say I wish I shared your sunny outlook, because I don't; this President fighting his way out of a corner he painted himself into would be news, but only because he's rarely, if ever done so. Maybe if I had some rooting interest. Maybe if he'd given me much reason to root for him.

Rather than, of course, against his abhorrent opponents.
The fun part of this is that Obama just pulled a fast one on Republicans. He drew this out for two weeks, letting Republicans work themselves into a frenzy of anti-contraception rhetoric, all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty, and then created a compromise that addressed their purported concerns but without actually reducing women's access to contraception, which is what this has always been about. (As Dana Goldstein reported in 2010, before the religious liberty gambit was brought up, the Catholic bishops were just demanding that women be denied access and told to abstain from sex instead.) With the fig leaf of religious liberty removed, Republicans are in a bad situation. They can either drop this and slink away knowing they've been punked, or they can double down. But in order to do so, they'll have to be more blatantly anti-contraception, a politically toxic move in a country where 99% of women have used contraception.

If rationality trumped irrationality in this country, Liberia and Burma would be the only two countries on earth that haven't adopted the metric system.

When this stops going double for people who insist they talk to dead carpenters, lemme know. Meanwhile, here's what the U.S. Conference of Bishops had to say:
…Obama's proposal "continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions."…

The bishops said the compromise failed to provide "clear protection" for many employers who might oppose birth control personally but not be classified as a religious institution, and thus ineligible to seek exemption from the federal mandate to provide free contraception as part of every insurance package.

So, forgive me if I'm not overwhelmed if all the intellectual and political willpower of the Obama administration/campaign managed to come up with a Plan B.

Because I've been hearing this since I had the audacity to vote for George McGovern in 1972, sending the Democratic party into a tailspin it's still apologizing for. That was less than a month after Roe was argued for the second time. In the intervening forty years public opinion has been significantly swayed by squishy, religious-based, religious-inspired, and religion-funded arguments, such that today we are at loggerheads, where then it was a matter of a mouthy minority pushing to enshrine its Bronze Age beliefs. One big reason for that drift is that the attitude was allowed to develop in a vacuum, because the Democratic party has run screaming from defending it ever since. (Ditto Acid and Amnesty.)

So, forgive me, but Scoring Rhetorical Points on the Republican Party may be great for Obama's reelection campaign, which may or may not be good news for the battle over the composition of the Court. Otherwise, maybe it's time to look at what defending the fucking Constitution might do for Democratic chances, not just in 2012, but into the future. The President of the United States finessed the showboating Bishops and the corrupt intellectual sluggards of the opposition party? Now they have to make a different defense of what is actually the indefensible? Whoopee.

Friday, February 10

Friday Olio: Shorter Than Mitch Daniels' Tube Socks Edition

• Shorter David Brooks:

"Yes, the David Brooks Republican candidate for President is a complete stiff, but here's some 50s pop sociology which would explain why he's an inept panderer as well, assuming we were all as intellectually rigorous as tweeners at a slumber party".

Look, Romney is your problem. So, too, is finding excuses for the impotence of Republican "moderates" in the face of the mass lunacy of 98% of the party. I leave you to it, Dave, with my best wishes; but you've had six years now to come up with something on Romney, and all you've got is a wish sandwich and some sidewalk psychoanalysis of the Post War Suburban Boom?

Enough, really. You and all the other public thinkers of the Republican party have tried to portray this field as insufficiently electable as though that was just a projection of their Q ratings. Even the recent admissions of the obvious--that Herman Cain is a buffoon, Michele Bachmann a religious maniac, Rick Perry a vapid aging pretty boy--have had to pretend that Sarah Palin isn't a Republican icon, that George W. Bush and Ronald W. Reagan weren't celebrated for their doltish anti-intellectualism, that the modern Republican party isn't, in fact, a coalition of the wealthy, their paid spokesmen, and whatever Lowest Common Denomivoter they've caught in their nets over the past sixty years. For fear, of course, that speaking sense would cost you elections.

And what's it gotten you? You think Rick Perry's a bumbler, Newt Gingrich (another one-time Hero) has "baggage", and that Mitt needs a personality transplant. Your opponents think it's what you've been running, and nominating, and fucking defending since Nelson Rockefeller died of hummer-induced thrombosis. Who's right?

• Shorter Kevin M. Ryan, Indianapolis Star, Super Bowl Sunday:

"Now that the opportunity for sensationalistic headlines has passed, and prior to the actual arrest records becoming public record, I think we can all agree that the scare stories about International Child-Sex Slavery, Inc., and its annual descent upon the Super Bowl host city are wildly exaggerated, while noting that the effort may very well have prevented as many as two or three underage prostitutes from working the crowd."

Shorter Kevin M. Ryan, one week before last year's Super Bowl:

"Look out, Dallas! Thousands of enslaved underaged prostitutes are headed your way, just like they did in Miami last year!"

Evidently Mr. Big got away again this time. Quit tippin' him off, for fuck's sake.

• Shorter Charles Merkwürdigeliebe Krauthammer:

"I'm willing to be as disingenuous about theology as I am about politics. Surprised? Plus, Catholic hospitals, which no one with a smattering of familiarity about current events could ever imagine the Obama administration was going to cave on."

Thursday, February 9

Quick Question

LET'S say that, because you were Pol Pot, Joe Stalin, or Mariah Carey in a previous lifetime, you're reincarnated as a Slate writer. And not just that, but one assigned to the "Explainer" column.

Now, in view of what you stand to lose if you fuck up this time--life as, say, Mitt Romney's dog, or Bill Frist's cat, or Mitch Daniels' barber--would you not take care to note--to explain, even--that your claim that "millions, probably" of children are sexually abused by their teachers is based on what children themselves told pollsters? And maybe avoid calling it "the best available study" instead of, oh, "made-up shit of no probative value"?

Hey, I don't mean to belittle the fight against child exploitation, but if you wanna put an end to it maybe "agribusiness" and "the Roman Catholic Church" could find their way onto the list. How many children get fucked in school every day by the Texas and Louisiana State Boards of Education?

Wednesday, February 8

Pigeons From Hell

I LET Douthat in here, not to run up the rhetorical score, nor even to goad the ungoadable Grey Lady for the worst choice in Opinion columnists since the guy Douthat replaced, but because he represents the cutting edge of the Religio-Cultural argument in this country: thirty years out of date, friendless even in its own party, and theologically, uh, facile.

The Culture War is Back! pants young Ross, apparently forgetting that he's been covering the Republican Presidential race in his voluminous spare time.

Okay, so there was one other reason I brought him up:
Before he disappointed his many admirers by declining to seek the Republican nomination, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana told the Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson that the gravity of the economic and fiscal challenges facing America’s next president might require calling a temporary “truce on the so-called social issues.” On culture war controversies like abortion and same-sex marriage, he suggested, “we’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while.”

The comments earned Daniels a round of criticism from social conservatives, and they probably would have haunted him on the primary trail. But in a sense his point was understandable — and given his own firm anti-abortion record, he probably thought he had the credibility to deliver it. To everything there is a political season, and in an era of high unemployment and record deficits a president who picked too many fights on non-economic issues would find himself an ex-president soon enough.
Isn't is abso-fucking-lutely remarkable how such a simple little gag as Daniels' flew over so many heads? Especially in our nation's typing class?

I mean, it's bad enough that this got treated at face value, coming as it did from one of the most disingenuous PR concoctions in all of American politics. Why is it treated as though President Daniels could have, or would have, called such a truce? It was patent nonsense then, and it was patent nonsense again when he used it in that State of the Union response. He used it at the Weekly Standard, in 2010, as a declaration that the Money Boys who run that national pea-shake game known as the Grand Old Party weren't going to follow Sarah Palin down the drain pipe, and he used it again two weeks ago in a risible attempt to assure rational Americans that the Republican party isn't held hostage by religious fanatics. It meant about as much, each time, as any other advertising slogan. Or as anything else Mitch "Indiana Doesn't Need A Right To Work Law" Daniels says when there's money on the line.

(Daniels own "firm" anti-abortion record consists, like most things about the man, of hot air and spittle. He kept the cranks in the Indiana Republican party from pulling any funny stuff until he'd been reelected--every Life Begins At Conception Act or Act of Conception Act, died in the organizational period before the General Assembly met. Then, having been convinced by his own Presidential bull of the need to get with the Republican times, namely the 1870s, he defunded Planned Parenthood last year, before his wife, the Lovely Cheri-with-an-I, told him he couldn't run.)

Let's get to some award-winning journalism:
Most Americans can hardly believe we’re having a national debate about birth control in the 21st century — more than 50 years after the Pill became available and decades after condoms became as commonplace as, well, balloons.
The reason for the incredulity is because we’re actually not having a debate about birth control. To repeat: The debate is about freedom of conscience. It ain’t about the Pill.
Does this mean most Americans have slept through the intervening forty years of conscience clauses, including the radical agitation of the Bush Comedy Administration, and are just now waking up?
This particular episode is significant because the Obama administration has provided the narrowest conscience protection in our nation’s history, according to legal experts who are challenging the administration’s rule.
Well, if legal experts who are challenging the administration agree…
We have a long tradition in this country of working around religious differences so that people are not forced to violate their faith to satisfy a secular mandate. This is the essence of the debate.
Sure, sure. Tell it to the Mormons. Tell it to people who think they should vaccinate their children with Jebus. Tell it to Catholic young men who might object to serving in the military in an unjust war. Set it to music and whistle it while you go try to join the Native American Church.

Tell a Quaker employer he doesn't have to withhold taxes that go to military spending. Tell a Christian Scientist employer he doesn't have to without Medicare contributions. Tell Bob Jones University it can still accept Federal monies but go back to hatin' the coloreds.
When the state insists that one’s religious beliefs be supplanted by another’s, in this case by secularism, then might one argue that the state is establishing a religion in contravention of the Constitution’s intent?
Sure one might. Just as one might tap dance with no legs, provided words were all that was needed.

Come to think of it, they're exactly the same.

And "secular religion", Kathy? Secular religion.? The Roman Catholic Church, with nearly two millennia of intellectual history behind it, is going to borrow arguments from backwoods Baptists?
The new health-care reform act’s mandate that Catholic institutions pay for insurance to cover birth control and even abortifacient drugs (a.k.a. “morning-after” pills) runs deeply contrary to fundamental Catholic teaching.
Yeah, fundamental for a hundred fifty of the last two thousand years. And it's "Catholic institutions" being mandated to pay only if you ignore the fact that Catholic religious institutions are exempt.

And, okay, look: some of y'all get a little emotional about this; lots of your fellow Catholics do not. I realize it can trigger the occasional exaggeration. The Catholic Church is not being "forced" to "pay for abortions"; the Catholic Church as any other employer in the US will be mandated to provide comprehensive medical insurance to the people it employs while seeking to make a profit. I'm sure you all are actually willing to be reasonable about this, and as respectful of other people's beliefs as you demand they be of your own.
These are tough, emotional issues, to be sure. But consider that we allow even Nazis to march because we believe so fervently in freedom of expression.
All righty, then.

Tuesday, February 7

Quick Question

LET'S say you're the sort of person who was tempted to write, "Why's that old lady Madonna the Halftime show?" I think you should first be required to answer the question "Th' fuck are you watching the Super Bowl Halftime Show for in the first place?"

Don't get me wrong; I think the world would be a better place today if Madonna had married Courtney Love. But why does anyone care? Would y'all be happier if it had been Katy Perry up there lip-syncing and sucking?

Sunday, February 5

Weekend Leftovers

OUR story so far: at the end of the 1970s, with the inherent contradictions, internal infirmities, and lunatic and nuclear-fueled grandiosity of its post-war self-congratulation period in tatters, after Vietnam and the unconscionably tardy recognition of Civil Rights, the predictable ebb of the economic hegemony we had enjoyed since the rest of the developed world had been reduced to rubble in the 40s, with gas lines reminding a small percentage of the populace that there really were repercussions for stopping the Marshall Plan West of Suez, and for finagling the creation of the State of Israel for a temporal domestic political advantage, without regard for the rights of anyone who happened to have lived in the region for the previous millennia or the history of the Great Game; with those same gas lines convincing the majority of auto-Americans that brown people needed to be taken down a peg by one of those irresistible military interventions, like the one that had worked so well for us in Indochina; with a Republican President having disgraced himself, his collection of stooges, flunkies, and brownshirts, his party, and his country by, well, being a Republican and acting on it, Good Old American Know-Who stepped to the fore, and a coalition of corporatepeople whose privilege depended on the US taxpayer paying to defend it, the few paranoid Nixonites who'd escaped prison, and disgruntled Americans who wholeheartedly supported civil rights for all Americans, but didn't want their children showering with Negroes in public school, found in Ronald Reagan the man who would restore to America its glorious fictional Morning, and to the wealthiest among us their Gilt-given right to exploit people, provided they didn't reference skin color while doing so. Any more. Or not obviously.

Strange as it may seem, thirty years of insisting that our problems weren't real has somehow have failed to solve them. So that in the first and possibly only quarter of the 21st century, USAmerica has a wrecked economy, a much bigger oil habit, the finest, most competent, and best equipped military machine ever to be thwarted by a nation of goatherders, and has pretty much finished shipping all its manufacturing jobs to Asia while putting everyone who used to fill those jobs in prison. And we achieved all this by the simple expedient of believing that the more you cut taxes the more revenue you raised, and that anything Liberals believed was designed to cut America to Her knees.

I'm not telling you anything you don't know. Nor is it a revelation that the one group which has actually benefitted from all this is the one which started out with all the money and power in the first place.

And one of the things they've done is see to it that their idiot progeny became Important Social Observers, the way their role models in the vibrant British aristocracy used to send their own mental defectives into the Church.

Which brings us to Megan-Jane McArdle-Galt, notable non-genius, Senior Fucking Editor at a once respectable publication, and former possessor of the world's least-imaginative nom de plume since the invention of cuneiform.

I don't read her, if that's what one calls it. I saw her once or twice in her guise as Ayn Rand's adoring and maybe-a-little-too-interested-in-the-terms-of-the-Will granddaughter, which left me astonished to find she'd gotten a real job writing, if that's what one calls it. And which led, eventually, to my shocked discovery--I've been blasted twice by household current and once by a faulty lawn mower sparkplug wire, and shocked is an accurate description--that she was, in fact, in early middle age, and not a fourteen-year-old whose wealthy and connected parents thought she was precocious.

So I was waiting for a couple days for the inevitable Susan G. Komen Says It's Sorry That You All Misunderstood, and…

And, wait, was this not the four thousandth recapitulation of Iraq War II? Did not everyone with any sense and a minimum of healthy skepticism know exactly what was going to happen here? And that the credulous majority, including Senior Fucking Editors at a once respectable publication, would immediately take the thing at face value? All that anyone needed to know was Komen's size, administrative pay structure, and its history of derisible litigiousness to know that a) the original story was the sort of diaphanous hubristic bullshit unique to Our American Colossi, b) it would be contradicted, and probably twice, within eighteen hours, before c) likely being denied altogether, with standard non-apology apology and standard non-active course of action. Knowing that Nancy Brinker once held the Shirley Temple Chair of Applied Protocolistics in the Bush II administration was just a little paint on the lily.

…and somehow I wound up clicking on Megan-Jane. This, specifically, which led me to go back--of my own volition!--for That and The Other.

All of which confirmed the age-old journalistic wisdom of not letting anyone with no writing talent exercise it more than twice a week.

Anyway, somehow I ran into the erstwhile Ms Galt's first mental pretzel, which requires exactly 60 words, not counting the long quote from the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, before we got:
Though I'm pro-choice, I...

Which of course meant that Megan-Jane was about to thoughtfully disprove her own claim so the rest of us didn't have to bother.
Though I'm pro-choice, I don't share the outrage that was roiling my Twitter feed this morning.

Okay. So I realize that catching Megan-Jane in a contradiction or a rhetorical inadequacy is like collecting Bushisms for Slate. And this would be a perfectly consistent position, provided that anyone out there had been arguing anything like the opposite.

But, one: as with the Republican party, absolving yourself from the requirement of knowing what you're talking about, rather than trying to sound how you feel, doesn't make you exempt. And, two: no one said you had to be roiled because you support, or "support", reproductive freedom. Just as no one said Komen had to support Planned Parenthood. Besides, Komen is wealthy, and poor women are poor, so we all knew which side your natural sympathies fell on.

What upset people--people who constitute a considerable portion of Komen's donor Rolodex--was the transparent excuse that Komen had changed its bylaws to exclude any organization under investigation, which a) meant Planned Parenthood, exclusively, and b) meant "any two-bit cracker Congressional headline seeker, or state or local Christofascist. could sever that link at any time." This was a political act by an arrogant behemoth designed to placate people who are actively trying to supress a Constitutional right. One which, by the way, you claim to support. It didn't have to roil you. But if that claim means anything at all it should have at least made you understand where people who objected loudly to the decision were coming from.

Let's say this again: whether you think it's justified or no, Komen has a board which gets wealthy from its donors; and if you do think that's none of the donors' business you might at least expect that it do something like this with a reasonable amount of intelligence. The fact that Komen has a "right" to do something doesn't make it above criticism; the fact that the people making that decision earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year yet are completely tone deaf being a prime example.

Planned Parenthood has been a brave, and often lonely, defender of legal rights, often for the most under-defended of our fellow citizens. Someone who is Pro-Choice But..., and has missed that fact, hasn't paid enough attention to the issue, or the politics of the issue, to have an opinion worth noting.

We later got this:
I'm tempted to credit shifting public opinion, but polling about abortion has been pretty stable over the last 15 years. It could be a shift in the donor base, or the board itself. Or perhaps it's a more subtle shift in opinion. While most people think that abortion should be legal, most people don't support the current state of abortion law; polling seems to suggest that the majority either wants abortion to be illegal in all cases, or legal only in the first trimester--and even then, possibly only in the case of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. A majority of people polled say that abortion is morally wrong. And pro-life identification runs neck-in-neck with pro choice.

which would sew the package up tidly; one cannot be "pro-choice" in this environment and simultaneously report that "the majority" wants abortion restricted to the first trimester without pointing out the absurdity of the idea, legally, ethically, and rhetorically. Else one is not pro-choice, merely unwilling publicly to oppose abortion in all cases. It's like being a Vegan for the duration of your stay at some hipster bar.)

And the thing was capped, less than two hours later, when her Randian sense that somewhere someone of Wealth was being dissed was fully awakened by the sun moving to the other side of the solarium. Megan noted:
But more broadly, the worry about charity overhead has gotten completely out of hand. I've heard from more than one frantic foundation fundraiser who can't raise a dime for overhead--everyone wants their money earmarked for programs.

Maybe someone should alert Komen. They could earmark the money they send to Planned Parenthood. Oh, sorry. That money's fungible.
To start with, Planned Parenthood spends about 16% of its annual budget on . . . overhead and fundraising. Now that they know, how many of the people who were angry about Komen's overhead are going to also withdraw their support from Planned Parenthood? I suspect the number is zero, but I could be wrong.

I'm guessing that the number of people Megan expected to click that link was also zero, since it took you not to the proof of her claim but the cover sheet for the report.

But seven or eight pages of diligence later one discovers what one already knew suspected all along: that the addition of "overhead" to fundraising costs was designed to get Planned Parenthood closer to Komen's numbers. And that Megan McArdle talks shit.

Komen's fundraising expenses are 7.5% of revenue. This is apparently considered acceptable by the sorts of persons who rate such things. Planned Parenthood's is 4%.

What Komen has been questioned about are its Administrative Expenses (especially the amount paid to its upper echelon), which run 11.8%. Planned Parenthood's "Management and General Support"--your guess is as good as Megan's as to whether the two are congruent--is 12%. But Planned Parenthood operates health care clinics across the country. Komen raises money.

Should a reasonable person expect their operating expenses to be so similar?

For that matter, should Megan?