Sunday, May 03, 2015

Mad About the "Clinton Cash" Non-Scandal? Well Here's Your Alternative.

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

So, apparently, an upcoming book, the ponderously titled “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” seems poised to set a record for the shortest time between a Clinton “scandal” breaking into national news and its complete collapse into a big ol’ pile of nothing.
Considering the resume of the author, a longtime professional Republican operative named Peter Schweizer, this book is clearly one of those right-wing tomes designed not to put forth any actual agenda or philosophy of governance, but to tear down the Democratic front-runner with an eye toward giving whichever piece of damaged goods is the last Republican standing a shot at the White House.
A pretty dismal strategy, to be sure. But fear not, good friends, I offer you a way out of the gloom. Bear with me for just a bit and I’ll show you.
First, let’s have a look at the allegations. They consist of the usual ginned-up “OK for me but not for thee” scandal-mongering guaranteed to make the hearts of the editors of Clinton-hating mainstream media outlets like The New York Times go pitter-pat.
The former “newspaper of record” breathlessly reported on allegations in the book that donations by officers of a Canadian company to the charitable Clinton Foundation led to the takeover of some American uranium mines by the Russian company that eventually acquired the Canadian company. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton got a big speaking fee of $500,000 from, not the Russian company or the Canadian one, but from “a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.” (I know, it’s convoluted, but most right-wing conspiracy theories are.)
Sounds pretty ominous, right? Sure, until you actually start thinking.
Before the book was even released, Schweizer was forced to admit, on talk show after talk show, that there was absolutely no evidence that there was criminal wrongdoing or any “direct action” by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to influence decisions on behalf of foreign companies that donated to the Clinton Foundation.
Even Fox News’ Chris Wallace had to point out that the decision on the uranium mines was approved by no fewer than nine federal agencies, not just the Clinton State Department. (No, Hillary Clinton did not control all nine of them.)
Pressed to provide evidence, any evidence, of the actual criminality he alleged, Schweizer was forced to fall back on the old right-wing dodge, “Well, I got nothin’. I’m just raising questions.”
Maybe, he suggested hopefully, some good old-fashioned congressional investigations with the customary Blizzard O’Subpoenas will turn something up to discredit Clinton. You know, like they did with Benghazi. Except wait they didn’t.
Big Money is, without a doubt, a pernicious influence in American politics. But if you can say with a straight face that donations to the Clinton Foundation or big speaking fees paid to the Clintons are worthy of congressional investigation while turning a blind eye to Republican pols pandering to billionaires like Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers, then, let me put this as politely as I can: You’re full of it.
But, as promised, I offer you a way out of hypocrisy. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Oh, I know, I’ve pooh-poohed the idea of the junior senator from Vermont going for the Democratic nomination. Largely because he wasn’t, you know, a Democrat. But it seems as though that rumpled, lovable old coot is about to throw his hat into the ring with a “D” on it. And boy, does he hate the big money style of politics.
He’s called for a constitutional amendment “making it clear that the right to vote and the ability to make campaign contributions and expenditures belong only to real people, not corporations.”
And he’s “continuously supported the DISCLOSE Act, which would lower the veil of secrecy over campaign finance and prevent foreign corporations, individuals and governments from interfering in our political system.” In Bernie Sanders’ America, political marriage, so to speak, would be between one American man (or woman) and one candidate. Per election, at least.
So, Republicans and Democrats, wingnuts and manic progressives: If you’re disgusted with the Clintons for associating with big donors and getting big contributions, then won’t you join me in supporting the only candidate who actually has a plan to get that kind of big money out of politics?
I mean, surely, you don’t think big speaking fees or contributions to private foundations are only bad or suspicious when Bill or Hillary Clinton are involved, right? If that kind of perceived influence-peddling makes you mad, then Bernie’s the only logical choice, right?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

In Which I (Briefly) Say Something Nice About Lindsey Graham

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Is Lindsey Graham one of that rare breed for which I hunt so diligently: the Sane Republican? If this was “Jeopardy,” the response would be, “What is, ‘Things You Never Thought You’d Hear Dusty Say,’ Alex.” Nevertheless, as we wait for the bachelor (not that there’s anything wrong with that) senator from South Carolina to make up his mind about whether he’s going to be the next one out of the Republican Clown Car, I find myself hearing some things from him that make me go, “Wait a minute, Lindsey Graham said THAT?”
For example, Graham apparently does not believe in your God-given right to use your firearm to revolt against the government. This sets him apart from, for example, Graham’s fellow senator, Ted Cruz.
In a fundraising email, Cruz asserts that “The Second Amendment to the Constitution isn’t for just protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It is a constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny — for the protection of liberty.”
If you think about this for a second, this basically means the Second Amendment gives you the right not only to shoot robbers and rapists; it also justifies killing cops, soldiers and especially politicians who you feel are “threatening to your liberty.” Or, as prominent Republican fundraiser Ted Nugent put it: “Obama can suck on my machine gun.”
Asked about Cruz’s statement, an expression of what some law professors have dubbed the “insurrectionist” theory of the Second Amendment, Graham disagreed.
“Well, we tried that once in South Carolina. I wouldn’t go down that road again,” he said in an interview with Talking Points Memo. “I think an informed electorate is probably a better check than guns in the streets. I’m not looking for an insurrection.”
No “guns in the streets”? No “if ballots don’t work, bullets will”? What kind of mealy-mouthed, squishy Republicanism is this when threatening a second Civil War is off the table?
Then there are statements Graham made regarding immigration on a trip to New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago, as reported by Yahoo! News senior correspondent Jon Ward.
When engaging with a crowd at a Republican Committee meeting, Graham was confronted by a local politician who asserted that illegal aliens were receiving government benefits. This is an article of faith with the perpetually outraged, xenophobic Teahadist wing of the GOP, if you use the definition of “faith” that means “something someone has an unshakeable belief in despite the evidence.”
Sen. Graham immediately risked being burned at the stake for heresy: “You can say that, but you cannot get food stamps, you can’t get Medicare, you can’t get Social Security if you’re illegal.”
For over half an hour, according to the article, Graham tried to cajole and persuade his audience on immigration reform, asking questions like, “How many of you believe they should get paid over the table, not under the table? How many believe they should pay taxes?” He apparently forgot the basic principle that you can’t use reason to persuade people away from a position that reason never led them to in the first place. But even I have to give him credit for trying.
He’s also a believer in climate change, saying he’d like to “clean up the air and create a lower carbon economy over time.” He’s characterized that position as “commonsensical.” (See “using reason,” above.)
I’m not worried, though. I know that this tentative warmth I’m feeling toward Sen. Graham will only last until the next international crisis, when he goes on TV and starts foaming at the mouth and stomping his little feet about how we need to bomb, bomb, bomb and oh yes, “show leadership,” before whoever the boogeyman of the moment is “opens the gates of hell,” thus releasing a plague of locusts, demons and Sharia lawyers and leading to a thousand years of darkness and despair.
Oh, and Graham apparently still thinks we can intervene successfully in Syria by arming anti-Assad rebels, so long as we only arm the “right ones.” Because that’s worked so well in the past. And at some point, he’ll no doubt threaten to filibuster some unrelated nomination if he can’t open up yet another Benghazi witch hunt.
Lindsey Graham says, with rather odd precision, that he’s “91 percent sure” he’ll raise enough money to announce that he’s running in May. And I’m 100 percent sure that, if he does, he’ll tank after South Carolina, if he even makes it that far. He just doesn’t have the ideological purity primary voters demand.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ready For Hillary, I Guess

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

So we finally get a moderate Republican in the presidential race. Too bad she’s running as a Democrat.
A week ago today, former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton surprised absolutely no one when she declared that she was seeking the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. As usual, the press and the Republicans immediately ignored the actual problems with Mrs. Clinton as a candidate and a possible president, such as her cozying up with corporate interests and her hawkish and interventionist foreign policy.
No, in deference to the “base,” they went right to the usual trivia, previously refuted tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories (Benghazi, Benghazi, BENGHAZI!!!) and of course, thinly veiled sexism.
Take, for example, the often-voiced criticism that Clinton is “arrogant” or “entitled.” Look, people, it’s a supreme act of arrogance for anyone to put themselves forward as qualified to lead the Free World. As far as I’m concerned, this “arrogance” claim is just a euphemism for the word those on the right really want to use (and occasionally have): “uppity.” They said it about President Obama, they’ll say it about Hillary Clinton, they’ll basically say it about anyone they regard as one of their inferiors who has the effrontery to aspire to political power.
On the “trivia” front, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman took an entire column to break the story of Mrs. Clinton and her assistant dining at a Chipotle restaurant in Maumee, Ohio. Mrs. Clinton, we are told, was “in a bright pink shirt, ordering a chicken burrito bowl — and carrying her own tray.” This, it should be noted, came from a review by Ms. Haberman of the restaurant’s security video after receiving an “anonymous tip.”
But they didn’t stop there. Ms. Haberman delved deeper to bring us the news that “their order also included a Blackberry Izze drink, a soda and a chicken salad, and was filled just after 1 p.m.”
This led to a “what does it all mean?” analysis on, which asked, with no visible trace of irony: “One of the biggest obstacles Hillary has to overcome is the perception that she represents the past. What better way to shed that outdated 1990s stigma than appearing at a hip restaurant of today?”
The real issue, of course, it the cover-up as to whether or not Clinton left a tip or whether she got more guacamole than she deserved. I think a House committee needs to be convened on this, and God help Hillary if she can’t produce the receipt.
I’ve detailed several times in these pages why I’m not naturally a fan of Clinton’s brand of Republican Lite. She seems to have come late to the realization that income inequality exists in this country and that it’s a serious problem. And, lest we forget, she voted for the Iraq War.
I’d much rather see, for example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the race. Problem is, Warren’s adamant that she’s not running. The people pushing Sen. Bernie Sanders to declare for the Democratic nomination seem to have forgotten one basic problem: Sanders isn’t a member of the Democratic Party.
As for the other potential Democratic candidates, I like former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb’s positions on criminal justice reform, and he was talking about income inequality before it was cool. But he’s very much a long shot at this point. And who the heck is Martin O’Malley?
All that said, when you look at the current actual and potential GOP slate of candidates, the choice is pretty clear. For example, the day after Hillary announced, Marco Rubio jumped into the race and reminded us of the weakness of the forces against her. Sen. Thirsty, apparently not aware of Mrs. Clinton’s “hip” lunch habits, derided Hillary as “the candidate of the past” before promising to roll back everything that’s happened in the last six years.
You may think it somewhat odd to hear a member of the party that idolizes Ronald Reagan and would like to see us return to the “family values” of the 1950s talking about “the politics of the past,” but as I’ve noted before, no one should expect consistency from these people.
The next president may get to appoint as many as four Supreme Court justices. I want someone in that position who’s pro-choice, pro-science, pro-LGBT rights, and pro-health care reform. And you know what? So do the majority of American people. Even on health care reform, when you ask them about the specifics of the Affordable Care Act and don’t call it “Obamacare,” people are overwhelmingly for it.
So voting for Hillary Clinton is going to be like getting old: annoying and occasionally painful, but not so bad when you consider the alternative.

Monday, April 13, 2015

My Pledge to the 2016 Bouchercon Attendees

Dear Bouchercon attendees: if my book DEVILS AND DUST is not nominated for an Anthony for this year: 

I promise that I will not pitch a self-pitying hissy fit like those right wing mooks trying to game the Hugo awards.

 I will not stamp my little feet and claim that I am the victim of discrimination and PC oppression because I am a straight white cisgendered male.

 I will not put together a slate of similarly disappointed writers and call it "Mournful Mongrels" or "Despondent Doggies" or any such silliness as that.

 I will certainly not try to ally myself with those ‪#‎gamergate‬ assholes or Adam Baldwin. 

'Cause Dusty don't roll like that. 

But, you know, a nomination would be pretty cool. Just sayin'.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Rand Paul Is His Own Worst Enemy

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

So, it looks like another clown has exited the Republican circus car.
This week’s entry is the junior senator from Kentucky, Dr. Rand Paul, son of Ron, who threw his hat into the ring in a rally in Louisville. There he promised, as every presidential candidate who ever took the podium has promised, to “take the country back.”
The campaign then showed its modern-day tech savvy by going live on the day of the announcement with a spiffy new campaign website, where you can peruse the candidate’s views on subjects like “Eductation” (that’s how they spelled it).
You can also buy that all-important Rand Paul merchandise, such as a Rand Paul cornhole game, a campaign poster in the form of an eye chart (Dr. Paul’s an ophthalmologist) for only $20.16 (get it?); a blanket with a picture of the Constitution on it (only $75!); and if you’re still craving some of that Constitution-y goodness after a night’s slumber underneath a representation of our nation’s founding document, you can get the senator’s signature on a copy of the Constitution for only a thousand bucks.
So much for the sizzle. How about the steak? Well, if Sen. Paul hews as a presidential candidate to the same positions he’s espoused in the past, he may end up in a spot of trouble with primary voters.
Oh, sure, he hits some of the talking points beloved of the far right, such as a constitutional amendment to balance the budget and a flat tax. He never, of course, fully explains how both of those things can exist at the same time. But then, the libertarian right is known for its embrace of “magical thinking”: If we just believe hard enough, we can make two plus two equal five.
Paul also likes cutting spending, particularly spending on Those People. You know, the poor (working and otherwise), the sick, and of course, children whose parents can’t afford to send them to private schools. He’s proposed budgets that, among other things, eliminate most of the Earned Income Tax Credit; eliminate Section 8 housing vouchers and K-12 education funding; and slash the budgets of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
But certain other positions of Dr. Paul are going to be, shall we say, problematic with the GOP base. For one thing, those budget proposals we just talked about would eliminate or drastically reduce all foreign aid — including aid to Israel. “I just don’t think you can give other people’s money away when we can’t rebuild bridges in our country,” he said in 2011.
While the right is all for cutting money for starving black or brown people in furrin lands, they’d cut out one of their own kidneys before they’d deprive Bibi Netanyahu of a single F16 or Iron Dome missile.
Which leads us to Sen. Paul’s defense and foreign policies. His proposed budgets included cuts in defense spending of as much as 30 percent, saying he wants “to reduce the size and scope of the military complex … to one that is more in line with a policy of containment.”
This is going to be anathema to neoconservative hawks who never saw a world problem they weren’t chomping at the bit to “bomb back to the Stone Age” before throwing someone else’s children at it, and for whom the word “containment” is the same as “appeasement.”
(Other words they equate with “appeasement” are “treaty,” “agreement,” “dialogue” and “negotiation” — pretty much any word other than “air strike,” “invasion” or “war.”) His perceived dovishness has led some on the right to begin mobilizing against Dr. Paul. “A group calling for a more hawkish U.S. policy on Iran is prepared to launch a $1 million ad campaign casting him as weak on the issue,” says an article in Politico.
On the campaign trail and in the debates, the Honorable Gentleman from Kentucky is going to find that the GOP may flirt with the type of small-government, low-spending libertarianism he claims to embrace.
But when the last dance is called, they’re going to be in the arms of the defense and Israel lobbyists. And, if by some miracle, Paul survives the primaries and gets the nomination, his budget radicalism will doom him in the general election.
Rand Paul is going to be another candidate who flares brightly and makes it to front-runner status for a week or two, then sputters out when people start using that status to actually take a look at him.
Poor sad clown.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Big Business vs. Religious Bigotry in Indiana: Guess Who Wins

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

You know, I’m hard on the Republicans sometimes. But it can’t be easy for them. It seems that Republican politicians keep getting caught in the middle between having to placate the almighty “job creators” whose money they can’t live without and the Religious Right, whose members provide them with those all-important primary votes.
Just recently, it happened again in Indiana.
The subject this time was the Hoosier State’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Law. RFRA, as it’s also called, is one of those laws passed to pander to the persecution complex of the most privileged religious people in the most privileged nation on Earth, who nevertheless are not happy unless they can equate themselves with Holocaust victims, antebellum slaves, or at the very least, black people in the pre-Civil Rights Act South, all because they have to deal with people who don’t think or pray the way they do.
RFRA on its face seems pretty innocuous. It basically says that the government can’t “burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it’s for a “compelling governmental interest” and the means used is “the least restrictive means” to accomplish that goal. It’s the same sort of measure that allows the Amish, for example, to use reflective tape and kerosene lanterns on their buggies rather than electric safety lights.
Some people, however, fear (not without reason, as we’ll see below) that the law could be used to exempt businesses from local and state anti-discrimination laws and allow them to discriminate against people in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
The law’s passage led to an immediate backlash from the aforementioned “job creators.” The $4 billion tech company Salesforce announced it was “dramatically reducing” its investment in Indiana, including canceling all programs that required its people to travel there. Tech giant Yelp followed suit.
San Francisco’s mayor and Connecticut’s governor banned city- or state-funded travel to Indiana. The NCAA, which is holding this weekend’s Final Four basketball championship in Indianapolis, said it intends “to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our work force.”
Even NASCAR, for crying out loud, spoke out against it. “We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance,” it said in a formal statement.
As the pressure mounted, Gov. Mike Pence immediately took to the airwaves to claim he was shocked — shocked, I tell you — that anyone could think that such a nice, sweet law as RFRA could in any way countenance discrimination against anyone. He blamed the media for “sloppy reporting.” He tried to blame Obamacare, because, well, it’s Obamacare. At some point, he probably tried to blame Benghazi, too.
The governor’s protests might have been more convincing if so many of the law’s supporters weren’t insisting that the law DID give them the right to refuse service to LGBT people.
Micah Clark of the Indiana chapter of the American Family Association, for example, said as much in an interview with The Indianapolis Star. In an interview with Donald Wildmon of the AFA, Clark also urged Gov. Pence not to support efforts to “clarify” the bill to provide that it doesn’t allow discrimination, saying that that would “totally destroy” the law.
Eric Miller, of the right-wing organization Advance America, used the group’s website to crow “Victory at the Statehouse!” when the bill passed, because, he said, “Christian bakers, florists and photographers should not be punished for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage!” ( I’m pretty sure he meant the wedding, not the marriage, but whatever).
It should be noted that Miller and Clark were among the few guests invited to the “private” signing of the bill. It’s more than a little disingenuous to claim that a bill isn’t meant to legalize discrimination when the people who’ll tell you that’s exactly what it was meant to do are standing behind you and smiling as you signed it.

As of this writing (Wednesday evening), Indiana legislators were feverishly trying to come up with a “fix” so the law won’t mean what its supporters say it means. We wish them much luck.
By the way, this won’t be the last time this battle gets fought. Walmart, for example, has asked that the governor of Arkansas veto a similar RFRA measure there. (Funny, I always thought Walmart WAS the government of Arkansas).
We don’t know what will come out of this so called “fix,” but we do know one thing for certain: Hatin’ on the gay folks is bad for business these days. And that’s going to be a problem for the GOP.