Sunday, September 28, 2014

Whatever It Is, Blame Obama

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

The recent spate of stories coming out of the NFL regarding domestic violence, child abuse and other nastiness on the home front has led to a great deal of soul-searching and debate across this country.

What is the cause of all of this? Does our culture’s adoration of professional athletes lead them to believe they can get away with anything? Is it a symptom of some deeper societal problem?
To the right wing, however, the answer is clear, as it always is when the question “Who or what should we be angry at for this?” is raised. That answer is: President Barack Obama.
Fox News-harpy Andrea Tantaros, for example, leapt right to the attack after the now-infamous tape surfaced showing Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee’s lights out.
“I wanna know, where is the president on this one?” fumed Tantaros from inside the cloud of peevishness that enshrouds her at all times. “My question is, and not to bring it back to politics, but this is a White House that seems to bring up a ‘war on women’ every other week.”
Yeah, Andrea. We certainly wouldn’t want to bring it back to politics.
Meanwhile, washed-up actor Kevin Sorbo (of “Hercules” and “Andromeda” fame) tried to kick-start his new career as a right-wing wacko celeb (a la Ted Nugent, Adam Baldwin and Kirk Cameron) by going on Fox and parroting the same line.
“There’s no accountability in the White House with Benghazi, the IRS and all that kind of stuff,” he explained. “How do we expect to have accountability with something like a professional football team?”
The National Review’s Jim Geraghty went even further. He blamed not only the NFL’s failure to act promptly on the Rice scandal, but a laundry list of other bad things, on “The Obama Era of American Leadership.”
Those bad things ranged from GM’s recall of 2.6 million cars with defective ignition switches, to the chemical spill in West Virginia that poisoned the drinking water of 300,000 people, to NBC’s decision to hire Chelsea Clinton for “$600,000 a year for three years.” (I’m still scratching my head over why he’s so cheesed off about that last one.)
As I’ve pointed out before in this column, the right has even found ways to blame Barack Obama for the failed response to Hurricane Katrina (which occurred three years before Obama’s first election win); the recession that began the year before he took office; and high oil prices before the 2008 election.
Back in March of this year, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (who used to seem like a pretty smart lady) blamed Obama for “dictators like Bashar al-Assad in Syria (who came to power in 2000) and Vladimir Putin in Russia (who first became president of that country in 1999).”
It’s a time-honored technique. Make your gripes about “leadership” or “tone-setting” broad enough, and you can blame the president for just about everything:
“I’m sorry, ma’am, we know you came in for a tonsillectomy, but we, um, amputated your left leg. We blame Obama’s lack of leadership. Gee, thanks, Obama!”
“Yeah, Your Honor, I beat up an elderly African-American storekeeper and robbed his cash register. If Obama hadn’t inflamed racial tensions by commenting on the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown cases, I wouldn’t have been so angry. Gee, thanks, Obama!”
“Yeah, I showed up three hours late for work, I smell like a distillery, and there’s an unconscious stripper in the back seat of my car in the parking lot. I’ve just been really depressed lately over Obama’s lack of accountability. Oh, I’m fired? Gee, thanks, Obama!”
And so on.
Sadly, it’s not just the right-wingers who blame Obama for everything. Far too many on the left are prone to what blogger Oliver Willis has dubbed “Green Lantern Liberalism”: the idea that, like the nearly omnipotent comic book character, the president could create all the things they want — single-payer health care, banking reform, minimum wage increases — through the sheer force of his will if he just wanted it enough.
Thankfully, the president isn’t omnipotent. He can’t travel through time. He’s not responsible for domestic violence, chemical spills, the fact that Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin are brutal thugs, or the fact that the Middle East is the same tangled mess it’s been for more than 2,000 years.
He’s not responsible for Republican obstructionism or the weak-kneed Democrats who fear it. That’s just the hand he was dealt, and he’s playing it pretty well, despite the silliness of the far right and their lapdog news network.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

OMG OMG OMG WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE AAAAAAAAAH!

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Anyone who says that President Barack Obama is not doing enough about ISIS, ISIL, whatever they call themselves, should be required to answer one simple question or forever hold their peace:
Do you or do you not advocate sending American ground combat troops into Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS? Yes or no?
Let’s make no mistake: These ISIS people are bad news. They’re so vicious and crazy even al-Qaida disowned them. They've committed horrific atrocities against American and British citizens, not to mention against thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of their fellow Muslims.
They do not, however, pose a significant threat at this time to the U.S. homeland. Don’t just take my word for it. This is the assessment of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Pentagon, even though Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel did allow as how they may threaten our interests abroad.
That doesn’t stop the usual hysterical ranting from the usual gang of warmongers. Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, looked as if he was about to bust a blood vessel on Fox News Sunday as he demanded ground troops, ground troops and more ground troops, while railing that President Obama “needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.”
Really? They’re going to kill all 314 million of us? No, Graham insists, it’s actually worse. According to him, ISIL, left unchecked, will “open the gates of hell to spill out on the world. … This is ISIL versus mankind.”
Meanwhile, you can always count on our old pal John McCain, a guy who never saw a crisis he didn’t want to carpet-bomb.
“We are now facing an existential threat to the security of the United States of America,” McCain said, possibly because he doesn’t understand what the words “existential threat” actually mean. Either that or he doesn’t care about anything other than the fact that the words sound scary.
It’s all poppycock. Also, codswallop and balderdash.
ISIS/ISIL doesn’t threaten the existence of the United States, which is what the words “existential threat” mean. They don’t hold the keys to “the gates of hell” like the Big Bad in a second-rate horror flick.
Yes, they need to be dealt with, before they get big enough to actually do some real damage to us. That’s going to take exactly the sort of broad-based plan we’re engaged in now: diplomacy with our allies who actually are on the front lines, combined with training and support for the people who rightly should be fighting the war for Iraq and Syria, namely Iraqis and Syrians.
It’s fear-mongering, pure and simple, from the party that realizes every issue it has counted on up to now to bring down the president and defeat his party has fizzled.
Obamacare is working as more and more people get access to health care. A Republican-led committee finally had to admit that its investigation of the Benghazi murders revealed no wrongdoing on the part of the administration. The economy continues to improve as the Dow rises and the jobless rate falls. And so on.
So they fall back on their tried and true tactic: scaring people into believing that Daddy McCain and Momma Lindsey and all their Republican pals will take care of us against the Scary Brown Supervillains Who Will Kill Us All. Pay no attention to how many of our own sons and daughters will be killed, maimed or broken to pay the cost of another war. After all, it won’t be their kids or grandkids bleeding and dying.
The kind of sustained freak-out the right is engaging in right now over an exaggerated threat is exactly the same sort of madness that led to this mess in the first place. Letting terrorists — well, terrorize us into committing troops to another quagmire in the Middle East is playing right into their hands.
They’d like nothing better than to have American troops in Iraq and Syria so they could go back to slowly bleeding us with IEDs and suicide bombers, while our inevitable reaction creates more and more resentment among the locals and more and more of them join the ranks of the terrorists.
Have we learned nothing?
But, hey, if the current group of Republican pols want to send division after division of Americans back into Iraq, make them say it. Don’t allow them to get away with their usual “we don’t want war, but we’ll call anything else failure” nonsense. Make them own up to it. See how the American people like them then.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

An Open Letter to Mr. Obama

 Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Dear Mr. President:

I heard recently that you plan to delay any executive action on immigration, such as delaying deportation of child refugees, until after the November elections — this in spite of your stated intention earlier to do something by the “end of the summer.”
I’m sure your advisers told you that this would be a smart political move. You may even believe it yourself. Well, they’re wrong, and so are you if you buy into that.
Oh, sure, it’s true that some of the more hotly contested races that could determine control of the Senate are in so-called “red” states. I know it looks like a bad idea to rile up the Republican “base” of xenophobes, bigots, Fox News-addicted outrage junkies, and various other angry, frightened old white dudes. My stars, taking executive action might even upset them enough to get to the polls to vote against Democrats.
But here’s the thing, Mr. President: They’re going to get riled up no matter what you do or don’t do. Riled up is their default state. They’ve been in a state of apoplectic rage since Nov. 4, 2008, when you sent the poster child for angry old white dudes and his empty-headed snowbilly running mate packing.
It only got worse four years later, when their supposed savior, Lord Mitt Romney, couldn’t get out of the way of his own feet and stumbled to a humiliating loss that everyone except them could see coming. All you have to do to upset the Republican base and get them to the polls is be a black Democrat in the White House.
You don’t believe me when I say that trying not to upset the Raging Right is a sucker’s game? Check out Newt Gingrich, who went on CNN’s “State of the Union” to call you “cowardly” and “indecisive” for delaying taking action on immigration.
Of course, no one on the program bothered to point out that on Aug. 3, Newt called such action “unconstitutional” and an example of “the Venezuelan-style, anything-I-want-is-legal presidency.
Look at the House, where the speaker, John Boehner, urged you to act on immigration “without the need for congressional action,” the day after his caucus voted to sue you for acting without congressional action — to delay implementation of a law that they repeatedly voted to repeal.
You cannot placate these people. You cannot calm them down, especially since there’s a billion-dollar industry dedicated to keeping them angry and so afraid of everything that they’re convinced that they’ll be robbed, raped or killed if they don’t have a gun on them every time they leave the house.
Instead of trying to soothe the Republican base, why don’t you pay some attention to your own? You seem so worried at the prospect of right-wingers going to the polls that you’re forgetting the people you need to go there.
Latinos, of course, are the fastest growing demographic in the nation. You also need to get young people fired up. But what I’m hearing from them is a growing sense of frustration, complaints that “politicians are all the same,” and a general apathy about voting.
Dems will probably still get a goodly portion of the female vote, but that’s mainly because several Republicans will inevitably say something incredibly stupid, misogynistic, or patronizing toward women before it’s over. But we need the rest of the constituency, too. So now is not the time for half-measures.
I know, Mr. President, that you’re called “No Drama Obama.” But maybe it’s time for something dramatic. For starters, use the power you have as the executive to delay or defer the deportation of refugee children.
For all the caterwauling about “tyranny” (which, remember, they’re going to do anyway), that power falls squarely within the scope of what’s called “prosecutorial discretion”: the recognition that you simply don’t have unlimited resources to prosecute every law, all the time, so the executive branch can allocate those resources as it sees fit. Prosecutorial discretion has long been recognized by the courts as a legitimate use of executive power.
The Teahadists have threatened impeachment if you try that? Let ’em bring it. Lawsuits? Bring those on, too.
Iowa Rep. Steve King has raised the idea of another government shutdown in protest if you take executive action. Tell him, “Please proceed, Congressman.” Because if there’s one thing that will get wavering Democrats and independents off the couch and into the voting booths, it’ll be the spectacle of the wingnuts once again waving their torches and pitchforks and threatening to destroy the country in order to save it.
So do the right thing, Mr. President, and dare the Republicans to do something about it. Thank you, and God bless.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Less to the Perry Indictment Than Meets the Eye

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

There was certainly a lot of liberal schadenfreude at the news that Texas Gov. Rick (“Oops”) Perry had been indicted by a grand jury in Austin on two felony counts.
Schadenfreude, as you may remember, is a German word meaning “pleasure at another’s misfortune.” (I love how those Germans have a word for every emotion.) But, as so often happens when it comes to legal matters in the news, there may be less to this supposed “crime” than meets the eye.
I’ll admit, there was a certain amusement value to seeing Perry’s mug shot plastered all over the news and to learn that he’d lost his concealed carry permit while the charges are pending. Heavens! How will he fight off the coyotes on his morning jog, the way he once bragged of doing to The Associated Press? It was even more amusing to watch Perry defenders twist and turn trying to spin this charge.
For example, The Wall Street Journal’s Wingnut Laureate Peggy Noonan appeared on ABC’s “This Week” (or as I like to call it, “David Brinkley Spins in His Grave”) and blasted the indictment as “local Democratic overreach.” When host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that the prosecutor who brought the case was a Republican, Noonan simply handwaved that away: “That may be. But when you look at this case, it just looks crazy.”
In fact, Michael McCrum, the prosecutor in question, worked in the Bush/Quayle White House and was appointed by a Republican judge. Democratic officials in Travis County recused themselves from the case. But Peggy Noonan, like any good conduit for right-wing persecution fantasy, isn’t going to let something like facts turn her aside.
All that said, Rick Perry deserves the same presumption of innocence as anyone else, and he shouldn’t be convicted of a crime unless a crime was actually committed. So let’s look at the case.
It seems there’s this district attorney, a Democrat as it turns out, named Rosemary Lehmberg. Lehmberg was the head of what was called the Public Integrity Unit (PIU), which investigates wrongdoing by public officials.
One fine night in April 2013, Madame DA not only got arrested for drunk driving, but also made a grade-A, world-class ass of herself while doing it. On video. Lehmberg pleaded guilty to the charges, which is about all one can do when the cops find a bottle of vodka in your passenger seat and have video of you raving like lunatic down at the station.
Perry demanded that Lehmberg resign her position. Lehmberg refused, claiming that just because she was convicted of breaking the law, it didn’t mean she couldn’t go on being a DA. (Say what you like about Texans, you have to admire ’em for pure chutzpah.)
Perry threatened to veto the funding for the PIU, then did so when Lehmberg remained defiant. So Special Prosecutor McCrum got a grand jury to indict Perry for “abuse of official capacity” (on the theory that vetoing funding to compel or punish behavior was using said public funds for an improper purpose) and “coercion of a public servant.”
It probably didn’t help that the Public Integrity Unit was, at the time, investigating misuse of public funds in a grant to a major Perry donor. It also didn’t help that Perry didn’t demand the resignations of two other Texas DAs, both Republicans, who’d also been involved in drunk driving arrests.
And let’s be honest: Had Barack Obama pulled a stunt like this, Republicans would be screaming about “tyranny” and “Chicago Thug Politics” and adding it to their long list of impeachable offenses (right after "mentioning that he has things in common with other black people” and right before “inappropriate golfing.”)
However, “failure to do right,” as an old DA in this district once used to put it, isn’t a crime. You have to have violated some actual law, and several legal scholars have pointed out that interpreting the law the way McCrum wants to might very well be unconstitutional.
The Executive Branch, state and federal, uses the veto and/or the threat of the veto all the time to bargain or to get its way. It’s the way checks and balances and separation of powers work. There’s also what’s called the “political question” doctrine, which states that if the question is “fundamentally political and not legal,” the courts should stay out of it.
In other words, hardball politics may be distasteful, even unfair, but they’re not necessarily criminal. If you don’t like the way an executive uses executive power, don’t vote for him. Which is exactly what I suggest when it comes to Rick Perry.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Message From Ferguson

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

I’ve been hearing it all week: “You’re going to write about Ferguson, aren’t you?” … “What are you going to write about Ferguson?”
To be honest, I’ve hesitated. The unrest following the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., raises a lot of highly charged issues, issues guaranteed to provoke an outpouring of vitriol, whatever you say.
It’s also one in which new “information” comes out every day from a variety of outlets, only to be contradicted the next day. There are a few things, however, that come loud and clear through the noise:
Dear Ferguson Police: Using a loudspeaker to order reporters to “turn off your cameras” just looks bad, especially when you do it on camera. It looks even worse when one of your officers tells reporters, again on camera, that “I’ll bust your head” and that he’ll get away with it because he’ll “confiscate the tape as evidence.”
When a police officer doesn’t want a record of what goes on in a public place, that officer is not to be trusted. And when an entire department, armed to the teeth, doesn’t want a record of what its members do in a public place with unarmed protestors, then that is exactly the kind of department you’ve got to watch. ‬‬‬
If you want to talk about racial disparity in this country, look at the difference in the way the authorities handled the unarmed Ferguson protesters and the way the nut cases at the Cliven Bundy ranch were treated.
Bundy and his militia supporters got off scot-free after pointing rifles at federal agents and claiming they would kill any federal agent who tried to arrest Bundy for flouting multiple court orders and grazing his cattle on public land without paying for it. 


Those people didn’t so much as smell a whiff of tear gas.
If the Bundy ranch crazies pointing their guns at the feds had been African-American, they’d have been tear-gassed at least, and the right would be calling Obama racist because the feds weren’t using napalm.
But wait! Isn’t this disparity the perfect argument for those “Second Amendment remedies”? After all, aren’t our guns our last line of defense against overbearing and tyrannical authority? Well, maybe, but only for white people. Don’t believe me? Every right-wing nightmare of oppression is coming true right now in Ferguson, and we don’t hear a word from the NRA.
While we’re at it, how many African-American faces do you see in the Open Carry movement? A white man walking into Chipotle with an assault rifle can claim he’s exercising his Second Amendment rights. Let a black man do it, and he’ll be lucky not to get his head blown off by a SWAT sniper before he gets to the hostess stand.
Heck, black people don’t even have to be armed. Apparently, the justification Officer Darren Wilson used for shooting Michael Brown (who, let us not forget, was completely unarmed) is that Brown attacked Wilson.
It should be noted that: This version of events is denied by every eyewitness to the event; no ambulance was called for Officer Wilson; no first aid was administered; and video taken immediately after the shooting shows Wilson walking around calmly with no apparent injury.
Even if true, this “defense” raises the question of how the Ferguson Police Department can afford all those fancy military-style vehicles and sniper rifles we saw pointed at protesters on TV, but can’t seem to provide them with Tasers, which is the usual police weapon deployed against a rowdy subject.
Even though Michael Brown supposedly stole some cigars from a store not long before being killed, the Ferguson PD has admitted that Officer Wilson had no knowledge of the alleged robbery. No witness (and there were several) supports the story that Brown was struggling with the officer for his gun.
Which means the revelation of an alleged robbery is offered more as a smear of the deceased than a justification for the shooting. Officer Darren Wilson wasn’t scared of a strong-arm bandit; he was just scared.
Which brings us to our last point. The latest report from the Ferguson PD is that Wilson isn’t really a bad guy. He’s not a “cold-blooded killer,” as some have described him. And you know what? He may not be. The evidence we’ve heard could also support a theory that he’s a young, frightened, poorly trained officer in a police department ruled by arrogance, mistrust, and outright fear of a large part of the community they’re supposed to be protecting.

It’s the same fear that’s corroding American society from the inside. Ferguson is just the latest symptom.