Big Brother’s Hair Is on Fire

In Trump-fawning’s latest iteration, he is All Things Historic. Having perceived the essence of the zeitgeist and defied punditry’s collective wisdom he’s captured, against all odds, the Republican nomination for president. Nothing like him has ever happened, ever, in American history. How did he do it? The talking heads are mystified.

Unmentioned are two lurking allies, super-powers you might say—Citizen’s United and its sidekick Ego.

Fact is, more voters voted against Trump than for him in most of the primaries but the crowded field of candidates did not winnow out as normally happened in the past when money ran out. Fueled by massive untraceable cash enabled by Citizen’s United and comparable amounts of ego, candidates with little support stayed in the race long past their expiration date.

This car brimming with clowns insured that Trump could continue to ‘win’ with only a sliver of the total votes cast, creating the illusion that he was viable—until, thanks to relentless Trump-fawning by the media, he was.

What’s historic is that these two factors—the gasoline of Citizen’s United and the spark of Ego—have never before been players in the electoral process.

I’m feeling the burn, but it ain’t from a progressive revolution.

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Help Wanted: Lion for the Senate

How Sanders could land the plane

I saw a path forward for Bernie Sanders this morning if he does not get the nomination that not only excited me, but that made sense. Hear me out:

As many have already suggested, Sanders should stay in the campaign until all states have voted, and go to the convention with plenty of political currency to make a deal that will advance his progressive agenda and his political revolution if he does not earn the nomination.

Now let’s shift gears and think long term about how to advance said revolution. I am not so interested in the Democratic platform, or featured speaking slots at the convention. I am interested in power.

Sanders would return to the Senate with two years left in his current term. He has earned substantial seniority and has already chaired several powerful committees, but a lot has changed: He has shifted his party affiliation to the Democrats, he has an enormous national following of ardent supporters and contributors, and he put his progressive agenda in the national spotlight.

If the Democrats reclaim the Senate in November—but even more importantly if he helps them do this—he exponentially strengthens his influence for the revolutionary change he seeks. He builds relationships and earns support from Senate candidates, he demonstrates his commitment to his new party and his understanding of how the game he has devoted his life to is played. (It’s called “governing.”) The mutual self-interest is robust.

What if Sanders pivots now and begins to gently and gracefully, wisely and deftly, recalibrate his flock to invest their considerable energy down ticket to the Golden Chalice of the Senate, not just in their own states but nationally? Their primary loyalty remains with him, they use their current energy and organization to advance his/their agenda, they would likely see immediate pay-off for their efforts (reclaiming the Senate with a newly-empowered Sanders) and they continue supporting their champion who now becomes …

…the new Lion of the Senate, a role painfully vacant since the death of Ted Kennedy. He transformed his own failure to become the Democratic presidential nominee into a career of advancing the progressive agenda with substantial and transformative legislation.

Is this what Destiny had in mind for Sanders all along?


Turn the Senate into an engine for the political revolution, now.

Adopting this strategy will require a couple of critical and paradigmatic shifts, not least of which is Sanders and his campaign staff being able to conduct a massive civics lesson for the youngest of his supporters, now suffering from crushed hopes and wounded idealism (something the Clinton camp knows more than a little about).

Can Sanders teach them what he has learned from a lifetime of hope and idealism, often crushed, about avoiding the temptations of cynicism and bitterness that serve only the oppressive system? Can he educate and train them as community organizers and critical thinkers who know that incremental reform is always worth achieving if it is in service of revolutionary goals?

Sanders has never had a comparable opportunity for visionary leadership on this scale, to bring about the political revolution he seeks/sells.

Don’t throw away your shot, Senator. We need you.

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Zero Dark Thirty: What was the question?

The film Zero Dark Thirty, a docu-drama about the search for and killing of Osama bin Ladin, has been met with a maelstrom of controversy. Hovering primarily around charges that the film promotes the use of torture, many critics feel Zero Dark Thirty shows that information gained from people Americans tortured contributed to identifying the location of Osama bin Ladin. These critics—ranging from senators and activists to journalists and movie stars—seem incensed by this possibility, insisting that torture has been proven ineffective, particularly in the bin Ladin case, and that by suggesting it was the filmmakers are “apologists for evil.” But doesn’t such criticism imply that if torture works, it is acceptable?

A more pointed question may have been lost among the pitchforks.

Is torture a crime?

Maybe information from America’s torture victims did help find bin Ladin. Perhaps torture is the most effective interrogation technique ever. Or maybe it’s not only ineffective, but counterproductive. Who cares? Debating the efficacy of torture is a red herring—something that draws attention away from the central issue: Torture is an unconscionable crime, and the United States should not do it. But we did.

I watched Zero Dark Thirty before reading any criticism. Here’s what I saw: a compelling reminder that after the World Trade Center attacks, our government instituted and engaged in unconstitutional activities and international war crimes. The main characters —the fictional ones and those representing real people such as then-CIA director Leon Panetta—are depicted as ordinary human beings doing their jobs day after day, which meant in some cases carrying out unconstitutional activities and international war crimes. At times, simultaneously, that meant staying focused on the mission when the official parameters of allowable action constantly shifted, along with the level of public concern about these actions and, indeed, about the mission itself.

This is an ugly and shameful time in the culture of our country’s approach to national security. Many critics assert that this film glorifies the improprieties, not just rationalizing and excusing them but promoting them. Is Zero Dark Thirty, then, a mirror or an advertisement? To me, the film reflects the shameful acts, forcing the audience to face some of what happened during this period (whether remembering or learning for the first time). As Caroline Frost put it, “Torture happened, she shows it. It no longer happens, and she showed that too.”

“…I do wonder if some of the sentiments alternately expressed about the film might be more appropriately directed at those who instituted and ordered these U.S. policies, as opposed to a motion picture that brings the story to the screen,” director Kathryn Bigelow said. Confronted by our disturbing history in Zero Dark Thirty, people of conscience are called to consider what to do when our government commits atrocities in our name.

Drones, anyone?


For a sample of opinions and analyses of Zero Dark Thirty, here are several that represent points along the range:

Glenn Greenwald (The Guardian), Michael Moore, Jane Mayer (The New Yorker), Steve Coll (The New York Review of Books), Caroline Frost (Huffington Post/UK), Ramzi Kassem (Al Jazeera), Roger Ebert, John Mulderig (Catholic News Service), Peter Bergen (CNN), Rich Lowry (National Review), Mark Hughes (Forbes).

For the most intelligent critique that I found putting Zero Dark Thirty in the context of cinematic history, see Niles Schwartz.

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Here Comes the Sun: Field Notes from Election 2012

The meme_ster apologizes for going MIA over the past 48 hours since Barack Obama won the 2012 presidential election. I succumbed to an overwhelming desire to avoid  (and, to be honest, complete inability to assimilate) verbal information in any form but especially tweets, stats, and opinions. I’ve read and heard nearly nothing during this brief period and while I look forward to reading the stack of newspapers in the living room and catching up with Tivoed broadcasts, before I do I’d like to send out a few notes from the field of Election 2012.

  • Hate is not a strategy. Romney enjoyed skewering the Obama ’08 slogan of “hope and change” by saying “hope is not a strategy.” True enough, but the Republican Party might observe that hate is not a strategy either, at least not one that wins elections. They’ve tried it twice and are 0-for-2.
  • Neither is disappointment. Already I’ve glimpsed the tribe of disaffected progressives resume their griping about how they’re quite sure President Obama will continue to fail to buy them a pony—even though they voted for him again! Suggestion: Use this Democratic administration to actually work toward your goal of a world without drones, or pipelines, or climate change or banksters or plutocracy or income inequality. I know you think you do, and some of you really do, but take a moment to quantify how much time you spend dwelling on your personal disappointment compared to hard-core persistent organizing to make change. Don’t agonize. Organize.
  • Bill Clinton is not a hero. He owes us.
  • James Carter IV is a hero. Period.
  • Billionaires are low-information voters. Who knew? The handful of one per-centers who threw their money down a rat hole believed what the Republican operatives told them, and apparently didn’t do a background check or educate themselves. Now they feel had. Suggestion: Bookmark 538. (That’ll be $34M, please.)
  • Note to Karl Rove: You’re laughing all the way to the bank, I know, but don’t count on unlimited cash in the next cycle. You jumped the shark in full view.
  • If it helps, think of math as a philosophy, not a science. Or an art form. Whatever the case, remember that 2 + 2 = victory, and accept the excruciating calculation that there will never again be enough angry white men for a party built on white supremacy and race hate to prevail in the US. Ease into it by practicing with this math problem: If there are more poor people than rich people, and the poor people vote, who wins the election? By responding to this calculus with wide-spread voter suppression efforts, the Republicans have demonstrated such contempt for the electorate and for the democratic system, their rehabilitation will be challenging. But America loves a comeback story, so go forth and suck up to the “minorities” that control the future. Start here: “I once was lost but now I’m found,” etc. etc., you know, the amazing grace angle.
  • There is no Republican Party. I’ve heard the term “conservative movement” picking up steam already, as if there is a Republican Party with more than conservatives in it. Not true. There is only the Conservative Party. Claim it, flaunt it, and do what you can with it, but don’t perpetrate the fraud of a party with a range of views. The progressive, liberal, and moderate Republicans have all been purged from the party. They’re all Democrats now, and believe me, we know we’re stuck with them. The Conservative Party ranges from Joe Scarborough on the left to Todd Akin on the right. (You know when Joe Scarborough is considered Republican-in-name-only [RINO], there is no “left” left in the party.) If someone thinks differently, start the reel of the Republican primary debates. Evolution, anyone?
  • Your conservative cred depends on how much you hate Obama. Don’t look at me, that’s what Joe Scarborough said “the morning after.” (See above: Hate is not a strategy.)
  • Note to Tom Udall: Filibuster reform was a brilliant idea.
  • Note to Harry Reid: Do what Tom Udall says.
  • Community organizing rocks the vote. Resistance to turnout is futile.

Time for my nap now.

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How Do I Suppress Thy Vote? Let Me Count the Ways

Mid-way through Election Day 2012, my thoughts turn to voter suppression. The obvious ways the democracy-haters employ have been on public display for several years, as Republican-controlled state legislatures rubber-stamped ALEC-conceived voting restriction laws (such as needing to present identification) and Republican secretaries of state delicately crafted voting schedules to provide likely Republican voters with disproportionate access—reducing early vote, reducing hours, reducing polling locations for voters likely to vote Democratic. Some of these overt methods have been successfully challenged in the courts, but on election day, voter suppression takes to the shadows and skulks around trying to avoid detection.

Here are some examples of the sneaky version of voter suppression:

  • polling places with an inadequate number voting machines to accommodate the turn-out
  • presiding judges and/or poll workers who misinform and/or mislead voters about requirements (asking for identification or specific forms of identification)
  • poll watchers working for biased organizations whose intention is to dissuade or intimidate voters
  • billboards announcing “Voter Fraud is a Felony” erected in likely-Democratic precincts
  • electronic voting machines with uncertified patches rigged to misrecord or miscount the votes
  • mobile “convenience” vans claiming to be collecting absentee ballots and delivering to the proper authorities (and trashing them instead)
  • distributing misinformation about the voters’ polling location
  • making it so time-consuming to vote, that people give up (they have jobs, or kids, or physical issues that make standing in line for 2 or more hours impossible)

And I could go on, but these are the first that come to mind, and incidents of all have crossed my desktop screen in the first six hours of voting today.

Which is not to bum anyone out (“Keep Calm and Trust Nate Silver,” dontcha know?) but rather to say stay alert and notice that virtually none of these efforts are being perpetrated by Democrats.

Remember what conservative ideologue Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation said in 1980:

“Now many of our Christians have what I call the ‘goo-goo syndrome.’ Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

What we are seeing with widespread voter suppression across the nation is the implementation of a long-range strategy: Republicans know they cannot win an election by legitimate means on the merits of their policies. They can only buy  it or steal it.

Who would have thought we’d be facing a time in this country that makes the Jim Crow years seem quaint?

But this is also a fact: Resistance to turnout is futile.

Stay in line, for democracy’s sake.

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Our Not-Quite-White-Enough President

On Election Eve 2008, the world held its collective breath wondering how people in the United States would react to a black president. Riots? Burning crosses? Mass exodus? Assassination? Four years later, we know the answer. For the most part, the white supremacy undergirding the classic American identity seemed to sit in stunned silence for a few days, then settled into a simmering anger marked by frequent outbursts of frustration and fear. But in those first quiet days, we also know now, Republicans decided on a strategy to reclaim the presidency by sabotaging the new administration (and sacrificing the common good). On Election Eve 2012, it seems likely they will fail.

The Sunday news shows gave us a glimpse into the Republican Party’s state of mind. Confronted with what appears likely to be a decisive win in the electoral college by President Obama, various pundits, strategists, and analysts put forward an amazing perspective: that because such a victory was dependent upon “non-whites and women” it would be, apparently, somehow lacking.

From the website Politico came this astonishing statement: “If President Barack Obama wins, he will be the popular choice of Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites. That’s what the polling has consistently shown in the final days of the campaign. It looks more likely than not that he will lose independents, and it’s possible he will get a lower percentage of white voters than George W. Bush got of Hispanic voters in 2000. A broad mandate this is not.” (Pondering the meaning of “broad” and “mandate,” one wonders how Politico will characterize Mitt Romney’s portion of the electorate, if he prevails. “Broad whitemandate,” perhaps?) Yes, at least for Politico, apparently only white people put the “broad” in “mandate.” Republican Senator from South Carolina Lindsay Graham put it this way, however: “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long haul.”

Since Barack Obama was elected, it has been my contention that his meteoric rise took the White Party—oh, sorry, I mean the Republican Party—by surprise. The Republicans were totally prepared to run against Hillary Clinton (not so much a woman as a Clinton) and they were ready to disguise their misogyny with a campaign that vowed to protect us from the evils of a balanced budget, scary surpluses, and a booming economy—otherwise known as the first woman president. When candidate Obama defeated the Clinton machine and inspired enthusiasm unseen in presidential politics in generations, however, the Republicans didn’t know quite what to do with their racism.

They figured it out, of course, and we’ve been treated in the past four years to many splendidly creative expressions of white supremacy. More graceful perpetrators developed a sudden urgent obsessive concern with the deficit! the deficit! after eight years of running that same deficit up, for instance, without a peep of dismay. At the other end of the racist extreme were those who developed a sudden urgent obsessive concern with whether Obama was born in the United States, an issue that to my knowledge has never before come up in presidential elections. And then there was the smorgasbord of supposed anxieties about liberalism, socialism, communism, Europe, Muslims, Kenya, immigrants, community organizing, voting, and many more anything-but-black reasons. At times, I’ve felt some would be permanently consigned to the chiropractor’s office for twisting themselves into pretzels again and again to find any objection to Obama, save the fact that he’s black.

Or at least, half-black.

Yes, now, this is something to ponder, isn’t it?  Because in fact, Barack Obama is half white, and half black. One white parent, one black parent, even-steven. But as with the “one-drop rule” that in years past legally defined Americans as black if they had a single drop of “black blood,” our president is not quite white enough for today’s Republican Party. And this fact exposes their pathetic and obvious white supremacy, a term far more accurate than racism.

At a time of great peril, the Republican Party, including their supporters and corporate backers, have sacrificed the common good of our country on the altar of their white skin privilege. They have refused to legislate, to problem-solve, to do the job they were elected to do. They have deflected, projected, and obfuscated. They will say it is anything but race, but history and arithmetic blow their cover. No matter what they say, there is no logical reason for their obstructionism, save protecting institutionalized white supremacy.

Is the ruse wearing thin? Ask Chris Christie.

[Extra credit: The Moral High Ground.]

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Appeaser-in-Chief: Mr. Fix-It Goes to Washington

A new survey released today that’s getting a lot of play posed this question: “Regardless of whom you may support, who do you trust to do a better job of breaking the gridlock in Washington?” The result was that likely voters split 47% Romney to 37% Obama. So likely voters feel more confident that Mr. Fix-It can “break the gridlock.” Why do you suppose that is? Morning Tweets commenting on the survey admonished us to “Defeat Obama. End Gridlock,”  and “A vote for Obama is a vote for more gridlock.” Why is getting rid of Obama the solution for gridlock in Congress? Let’s ponder.

Imagine for a moment that Mitt Romney is elected next week, along with a Republican House of Representatives and a Democratic Senate as seems likely. With Obama out of the equation, this is still “divided government.” The Senate, controlled by Democrats, would continue to have the power to block whatever legislation the House, controlled by Republicans, passes. So why would a goodly majority of likely voters apparently view Romney as more likely to “do a better job of breaking the gridlock in Washington”?

The meme_ster has found one path to that conclusion, and it goes like this:

  • Republicans in the House and Senate have pursued a desperate and party-centric strategy over the past 4 years: If no problems get solved during the Obama administration, then voters will perceive Obama as a failure, and this will make voters more likely to prefer Republicans and thus return them to power in the White House and Senate.
  • To implement this strategy, Republicans in the House and Senate felt it more important to make sure no problems were solved during the Obama administration than to pass legislation to solve those problems (even, ironically, if Republicans were perceived as having solved the problems).
  • However if Mitt Romney is elected, the Republicans in the House and Senate will become interested in solving problems again, or so one hopes.
  • And (this is key) Democrats in the House and Senate will believe it is more important to solve problems than to sabotage a Romney administration.
  • Therefore, it is logical to assume that Romney would “do a better job of breaking the gridlock.” However, rational people can see the locus of power is with the perpetrators of the “gridlock” [a.k.a. obstruction], not with the president, whoever he might be. A more accurate slogan would be: “Defeat Republicans. End Gridlock.”

[Paul Krugman has a fascinating take on this question in his take-no-prisoners 11/2/12 column “The Blackmail Caucus,” in which he says, “The argument is phrased in terms of ‘partisan gridlock,’ as if both parties were equally extreme. But they aren’t. This is, in reality, all about appeasing the hard men of the Republican Party.” I updated the title of this post in Krugman’s honor.]

We might test this theory against Mr. Fix-it’s record as governor of Massachusetts, where he likes to remind us he worked in a bipartisan way with legislators who were “89 percent Democrats.” I’ve always thought that was amusing, because in general Democrats are willing to compromise in order to advance the common good. No proof of bipartisan prowess on behalf of the governor there, just legislators who are willing to do their job.

We can only imagine in our wildest dreams what problems might have been solved during the first Obama administration if the Republicans had been willing to do their job.

Did I mention Mitt Romney is white?

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