Saturday, April 25, 2009

Maybe that would be "Green" Nuclear Power

Today on the GOP radio broadcast, Republican senator from Tennessee LAMAR!! Alexander proposed building 100 nuclear power plants as an answer to the energy crisis.

But, given the degrading of the regulatory apparatus over the last 30 years, it's hard to believe that the federal government can adequately regulate the nuclear power plants we already have.

Let alone a hundred more!

How Far Are Conservatives from Being Terrorists?

My good friends at the right-wing magazine Human Events sent me an e-mail with the title "FIRE JANET NAPOLITANO: CONSERVATIVES NOT TERRORISTS."

Of course, this refers to the recent report on right-wing threats by the Department of Homeland Security. As vague and allusive as the report was, it stuck to known extremist configurations like the Klan, Nazis, skinheads, anti-abortion assassins, and the like and made nothing that could be reasonably construed as a reference to everyday conservatives.

Not that this stopped the right-wing media from accusing them of doing so.

But all's fair.

Now, the question is how close the various grades of conservatism actually are to right-wing extremism.

And the answer is that they've gotten closer.

Political conservatism is best thought of as a spectrum that is defined on its left by John McCain and on its right by Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck. McCain is the Republican version of a neo-liberal Democrat. Neo-liberals like Joe Lieberman may be Democratic loyalists, but they view liberal Democrats as their main opponents and are open to Republican ideas. Conversely, John McCain is a Republican loyalist who has pushed Democratic good-government ideas like regulating tobacco and has often viewed the conservative Republican establishment as his main political opponent.

The right edge of conservativism used to be occupied by Tom DeLay, James Dobson, and Rush Limbaugh--conservatives who defined themselves in terms of relentlessly attacking liberalism and promoting an aggressive foreign policy, cutting domestic programs, and the goals of the religious right. The Bush administration adhered to this kind of hard conservative agenda to the extent that they thought politically feasible and this is one of the reasons why Dick Cheney was a popular guest on the Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity programs.

But political conservatism has shifted farther to the right since the election of Barack Obama as president. What Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck have done is to integrate themes like the "one world currency," "re-education camps," and social breakdown into their everyday political discourse. These are militia, survivalist, and neo-Nazi ideas that are the province of figures like Alex Jones (a talk radio host who has raised money to rebuild David Koresh's Branch Davidian compound outside Waco).

To my knowledge, Alex Jones isn't involved in any "right-wing extremist" activities. But the fact that he uses and promotes right-wing extremist ideas means that he is only one degree of separation away from the kind of right-winger who could be a terrorist threat.

The fact that Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Newsmax, Human Events, and other outlets are using the same ideas within the dominant political/media apparatus gives them a second degree of separation from right-wing terrorism.

Despite his racism, homophobia, and general repulsiveness, Rush Limbaugh has been so far from the discourse of the "really extreme right" that one could reasonably speak of a "wall of separation" between political conservatism and right-wing extremism.

But no more.

With the new prominence of the "extreme right" within the Republican Party and its media apparatus, the separation between political conservatism and domestic terrorism is not nearly as solid as it used to be.

The separation is still there, but one wonders for how long.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

GOP Plot to Promote Hugo Chavez Scores Early Success

Yesterday, Red State Impressions revealed the Republican plan to nominate Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez as their presidential candidate in 2012. Having noticed the enhanced popularity of socialism after the GOP criticized Barack Obama as a socialist, the Republicans now seek to make Hugo Chavez more popular by condemning Obama for shaking his hand. If they condemn Chavez often enough, the Republicans believe they can make him a viable presidential candidate. That way, the GOP won't have to suffer the humiliating defeat that would occur if they nominated Romney, Gingrich, or Sarah Palin.

Today, Republicans saw the first signs of progress with their plan.

According to Chris Bowers of Open Left, Hugh Chavez' nation of Venezuela is now more popular than the Republican Party, with Venezuela being rated positively by 42% and the Republicans by 39% (actually a high rating for the Republicans).

This is where the brilliance of Republican planners and consultants can be seen. With admirable objectivity, top Republicans now recognize that the Republican Party is repugnant to most of the American public and that actual Republican leaders like Sarah Palin are unlikely to become popular even if they don't have all the personal problems plaguing Palin.

So they've decided that the only way to be competitive is to nominate someone who has absolutely no connection with the Republican Party.

And who has less connection with the Republicans than a Latin American Marxist like Chavez.

But making Chavez more popular than the Republican Party is only the first step in the plan to nominate Chavez. Now the Republicans need to work on making Chavez as popular as Barack Obama himself.

No doubt, we'll very soon see Republican spokesmen comparing Chavez to Adolf Hitler.

If being criticized by the Republicans is the key to political popularity, this kind of scorching Republican criticism should boost Chavez' ratings even further.

I just hope it doesn't boost Hitler's ratings in the process.

Sympathy for Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter has a column out today on the death of her mother, Nell Husbands Martin Coulter. My sympathies to Ms. Coulter on the occasion.

Apart from recognizing the obvious fact that she's a gifted writer, I don't have a ton of positive things to say about Ann Coulter.

That's the price of being on the other side of the political fence.

But I'm glad Coulter remembers her mother for continually telling her "what a wonderful, precious daughter I was."

Everyone should have these kinds of memories.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Republican Plan to Nominate Hugo Chavez for President

For those readers who thought the Republicans were clueless, you're about to see the error of your ways.

They have a plan for winning the 2012 presidential election.

They're going to nominate Hugo Chavez!!

The first step in the insidious plot unfolded today when Iowa Republican Steve King went on C-Span to claim that Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez had similar economic policies.
"But something that comes to mind when I see this image, too, is here are two world leaders that have both, within the last month, nationalized huge private-sector companies," said King. "In the case of President Obama, General Motors and Chrysler, at least in effect if not in actuality, and moved it down that path, when he fired the CEO of General Motors, and when he ordered that Chrysler merge with Fiat."

One might think that King's purpose was to make President Obama less popular by claiming that he was like the demonized Venezuelan leader.

But NO! Actually, the idea is to make Chavez more popular.

Aware that socialism became much more popular after the Republicans spent six months calling Obama a socialist, the GOP leadership has secretly decided to pump up approval ratings for Hugo Chavez by claiming that Obama is "just another Chavez."

Top Republicans consultants know that the American public has developed a strong conviction that anything the Republicans criticize must be good. As a result, they calculate that a year of Republican attacks will boost Chavez' approval ratings up to 50% and give the Venezuelan president a better chance of beating Obama than any of the leading Republican contenders. Republican planners don't worry about the constitutional requirement that presidents be natural-born citizens of the United States. Given that their conviction that Obama became president despite being a citizen of Kenya, Republicans believe that Hugo Chavez certainly would be eligible to run.

And that Chavez could win.

So, the next time you see a Republican criticize Chavez, just remember that they want him to be your next president.

If Destroying the Republican Party Makes You a Great President . . .

I was surprised to see an item on the Morehead State University web page on some recent writing by IRAPP professor and future colleague Mike Hail:
“Overall, President Bush was a very good president. He demonstrated the vision and character that define executive leadership,” said Dr. Hail. “Bush had both success and failure with his policy agenda. However, history will record George W. Bush as one of our greatest presidents and, in time, there will be a collective acknowledgement of his superb leadership in a time of war, international pressure, and economic challenge.”
Of course, all of this is nonsense. At best, George W. Bush will be rated in the second-lowest tier of presidents and his historical BFF's (best friends forever) will be Martin Van Buren, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Franklin Pierce, and Richard Nixon. However, the current deep recession could turn into a depression and Iraq could still end up looking a lot more like Somalia and Pakistan than a stable democracy. If these things happen, Bush will be closely associated with helpless figures like Warren Harding, James Buchanan, and Herbert Hoover at the bottom of presidential rankings.

There's also a wild card that needs to be played out. The main thrust of my blogging over the last several weeks is that George Bush could be the last Republican president this country ever sees. In that case, future historians will be evaluating the role of the Bush administration in destroying a major political party and permanently marginalizing a political conservatism that was ascendant before he took office. It could very well be that killing the Republican Party will force historians and political scientists to view George Bush as a uniquely failed president.

Of course, it really is hard to beat Buchanan for ineptitude. So Bush probably won't be seen as the worst president in American history--just the biggest failure.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not So Much Fun for Sir Allen

Jon Stewart made soon-to-be-indicted financier Allen Stanford famous for saying that he had "fun" being a billionaire.

But it's not so much fun anymore now that his main reputation is for running a multi-billion dollar ponzi scheme.

Here's Sir Allen fantasizing about throttling a New York Times reporter.

Tears welling in his eyes, Mr. Stanford came out swinging in an interview Monday in his lawyer's office. He accused the Securities and Exchange Commission of squandering the assets of his financial companies and engaging in "Gestapo tactics", [TPMmuckraker ed note: that echoes a line DeGuerin first tried out on us] asserted the court-appointed receiver was "not up to the job" and accused the media of making him into a "caricature" of a maverick, unruly Texan who threw money around the Caribbean.

"It's devastated me to the core of my soul," Mr. Stanford said, "to see over 25 years of blood, sweat and tears -- my life's work -- to be taken from me."

He said the credit cards in his wallet were worthless and he did not even have money to pay his lawyer.

"It's debilitating, devastating, horrific," he said, wearing a double-breasted blue suit and conservative tie, his legs moving constantly. "But I am going to fight for my name and I am going to win."

The anger of the man came close to boiling over when he told a photographer taking his picture that the clicks of the camera shutter made his respond like "Pavlov's dog." He added, "I start to get an itch to grab somebody by the throat." Later in the interview, he asked the photographer if he wanted to take a picture of him strangling the reporter doing the interview.

It just broke my heart to read that.

Jesus Weighs In on Hugo Chavez Controversy

The United States is one of the few advanced countries where Jesus means something. Few people stop and consider the importance of Jesus in American life because we're saturated with things Jesus. There's a massive and diverse set of organizations that promote Christianity ranging from national church bureaucracies, television networks, big voluntary organizations like the Salvation Army, and local churches in your home town and mine. Christian social and political views are such a powerful force in American life that secular organizations routinely give into various kinds of pressure to promote Christianity. The fact that the specific influence of religious conservatives has dipped recently doesn't mean that Christianity is going away. If anything the election of Barack Obama as president means that African-American Christianity might become more nationally prominent and influential than it used to be.

Of course, Jesus doesn't have much to say about many of the controversies surrounding the functioning of government. Even though Jesus condemned wealthy people ("But woe to you who are rich/for you have received your consolation"--Luke 6:24), it's tough to figure out what Jesus would have to say about the bank bailout, the federal deficit, or other financial issues. Jesus liked weddings and alcohol, but it would be hard to apply his various sayings to issues like marijuana legalization, pornography, abortion rights, or gay rights.

But there are some issues where Jesus speaks clearly, authoritatively, and with some depth.

And one of those issues is how to treat one's enemies.

The question of how to treat your enemies has come up in relation to President Obama's conversation with Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the America's last weekend. Despite the fact that Chavez is a well-known opponent of American interests, Obama shook hands with the Venezuelan president, smiled while conversing briefly, and accepted a book from him. It was all very polite, cordial, even friendly in an official kind of way. Obama had let it be known during his campaign that he would treat American opponents very differently from George Bush and his attitude toward Hugo Chavez seemed to fulfill that relatively minor campaign promise.

Nevertheless, President Obama caught a lot of criticism from the Republicans concerning his general friendliness to the Venezuelan leader. Newt Gingrich was especially harsh in his criticism.

Gingrich argued, for example, that President Obama's decision to shake hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americans will be seen as proof that Chavez "is legitimate . . . ."

Meredith Vieira followed by asking about the value in mending U.S. relationships with other world leaders. Gingrich responded, "How do you mend relationships with somebody who hates your country? Who actively calls for the destruction of your country? And who wants to undermine you?" When Vieira noted U.S. talks in the past with Russia and China, Gingrich said, "We didn't rush over, smile, and greet Russian dictators."

Newt Gingrich has been heavily criticized by the Daily Kos and other sources for ignoring the fact that American presidents did "rush over, smile, and greet Russian dictators."

And, of course, the critics are right.

But I want to focus on the fact that Gingrich is a recent convert to Catholicism and could thus be expected to be particularly mindful as what Jesus has to say about how to treat your enemies.

According to Matthew 5:43-48 (New Oxford Annotated Bible):
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you great only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
But what if your enemies are really bad? Jesus actually gets more insistent about a person's obligations to those who are genuinely evil. He says in Matthew 5:38 "Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."

The King James version is even more plain about the matter: "Resist not evil."

From the perspective of Jesus then, Barack Obama probably did not do enough to make Hugo Chavez his friend. Smiling, shaking hands, and accepting a gift from Chavez are all well and good, but Jesus demands that people are to "love" their enemies. As a result, following Jesus' prescription here would mean that Obama should have performed acts that would show a spirit of love toward the Venezuelan president. If Obama had Jesus in mind, he might have inquired after Chavez' family, asked about conditions in Venezuela, and perhaps inquired about how the United States could help Chavez in improving the conditions of the poor in Venezuela.

Newt Gingrich seems to think that showing consideration for one's enemies is a sign of weakness. To the contrary, Jesus viewed love for one's enemies as a sign of spiritual strength (the only strength that mattered). He emphasized that anyone could love their brothers, sisters, and friends. Even the lowest of the low--the tax collectors and publicans--could do that. Those who could be viewed as "children of heaven" needed to answer to a higher standard of loving their enemies.

And of course, for Jesus the highest form of love was the willingness to sacrifice one's life. But that's not a standard that poor humans like us (especially myself, being an atheist) should be expected to meet.

However, it's pretty clear from the biblical text that Jesus would have expected Obama to show more love toward Hugo Chavez not less.

Perhaps Newt Gingrich should be mindful of that.

Not Much Fire On Jane Harman Front

Last night, a lot of smoke emerged in the vicinity of California Democrat Jane Harman. A member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Harman was caught making promises to "suspected Israeli agents" on an authorized wiretap to help get charges reduced in the case of AIPAC officials (AIPAC is a pro-Israeli lobby) accused of spying.

Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think
it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.

In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.

Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

But there's less here than meets the eye. Harman is making promises but she doesn't appear to be making those promises in return for anything. Harman just says she'll try "if it will make a difference." Harman can be criticized here for being so gung ho for the Israelis. What have the Israelis ever done to justify that kind of knee-jerk support in a case where pro-Israeli officials were spying on the United States? Harman can also be fairly criticized for her support of warrantless wiretapping and other Bush administration causes when she was a high-ranking Democrat. However, it doesn't appear from this transcript that Harman is exchanging her support in any kind of corrupt way. As the CQ article claims, Harman doesn't appear to like the idea of "the suspected Israeli agent" trying to help her in return and cuts off the conversation.

If Jane Harman's going to be hung out to dry, there needs to be a lot more evidence that she did something unethical, corrupt, or criminal besides being overly supportive of Israel.

I don't see it here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sarah Palin: Staying Home for the 2012 Campaign

The Moderate Voice has an interesting little note on Sarah Palin's moment of indecision about whether to continue with her most recent pregnancy because of the baby's Down syndrome.

In relation to this, I want to mention that I don't think Sarah Palin is going to run for the presidency in 2012. It's always struck me that Palin never moved to Juneau to take up the governor's position. Her Indiana speech was also her first trip outside Alaska since the election. That doesn't make any sense to me and I've come to the conviction that Palin has a hard time leaving Wasilla for some reason and will give up on presidential campaigning because she wouldn't want to move to the White House.

Call it a gut feeling, but I'd still be surprised if she ran.

Megan McCain Moves Toward New Party

One of the most surprising developments of the early Obama era is that Meghan McCain has become a compelling political personality.

Who could have predicted that?

Most commentators probably see Meghan McCain's appearance at the meeting of the Log Cabin Republicans as part of the Republican Party civil war between "staunch conservatives" and those who want the Republican Party to appeal to moderates, independents, African-Americans, Hispanics, gays and other constituencies.

Certainly that's what Meghan McCain sees:

"feel too many Republicans want to cling to past successes. There are those who think we can win the White House and Congress back by being “more” conservative. Worse, there are those who think we can win by changing nothing at all about what our party has become. They just want to wait for the other side to be perceived as worse than us. I think we’re seeing a war brewing in the Republican party, but it is not between us and Democrats. It is not between us and liberals. It is between the future and the past. I believe most people are ready to move on to that future."
But I don't see it that way.

If there's a war between the "future and the past" in the Republican Party, the past has already won. Most of the Republican Party core wants to move backwards--backwards to the traditional male-dominated family, backwards to Calvin Coolidge economic policies, backwards to Ronald Reagan military triumphalism, and backwards to school prayer, religious tests for office-holding, whites-only immigration, and nice warm closets for gays. It's fair to say that conservatives don't want to roll back civil rights for African-Americans but they'd certainly demand that African-Americans be "grateful" for everything they've been "given." Witness the criticism of Michelle Obama for not being grateful during the presidential campaign.

So what does it mean for Meghan McCain to be a "new progressive Republican."
"What I am talking about tonight is what it means to be a new, progressive Republican. Now some will say I can’t do that. If you aren’t this and that, then you’re clearly a “Republican in Name Only,” also affectionately known as a RINO.
Suggesting the notion that one can be faithful to the original core values of the GOP while open to the realities of our changing world has really hit a chord with people. And it seems to be the next, natural stage of the journey I’ve been traveling."
In my opinion, what Meghan McCain is doing is groping her way toward a new political party that's more conservative than the Democrats but abandons the rejection of the post-60's world. Given that the Republican Party has renewed its pointless rejection of the New Deal, the only way forward for a moderate conservative like Meghan McCain is to get involved with a more moderate political party.

David Axelrod--Wrong on Tea Parties, OK Otherwise

Former Obama campaign manager and now "Senior White House adviser" David Axelrod really blew it when he referred to the right-wing tea party protests as "unhealthy."

Axelrod was asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" about the "spreading and very public disaffection" with the president's fiscal policies seen at the "Tea Party" rallies around the country last week.

"I think any time you have severe economic conditions there is always an element of disaffection that can mutate into something that's unhealthy," Axelrod said.

Axelrod appeared to backtrack when pressed on whether the movement is unhealthy. "Well, this is a country where we value our liberties and our ability to express ourselves, and so far these are expressions," he said.

Backtrack indeed! Unfortunately, David Axelrod doesn't really get a chance to backtrack from this kind of statement. President Obama's political opposition is eager to portray him as a closet authoritarian and Axelrod just gave them a couple days worth of headlines that can't be taken back.

David Axelrod is also wrong on the merits. People have a constitutional right to assemble to express their opinions and doing so is also very good for the political health of the country and the Obama administration as well.

One of the underappreciated facts of American political life is the way in which the weakness of the Republican Party is functioning to bring the farther edges of the American right into the political arena. Suddenly liberated from Karl Rove's suffocating embrace, a wide variety of survivalists, secessionists, Ayn Randians, one world conspiracy theorists, and small government purists have been pushing forward into the public light.

And why shouldn't these folks get their moment in the sun?

What the tea parties accomplished was to give a cohesive political focus to a lot of people who would otherwise be very marginalized from American politics.

That's healthy.

I also think the Republican Party leadership is working to see if it can come to an accommodation with these kinds of constituencies. The Republican Party and its Fox News, talk radio, and right blogosphere affiliates seem to be feeling their way toward a political identity that's even more right-wing and less welcoming to independents and moderates than it was during the Bush years. Promoting the tea parties and bringing in all the marginal constituencies was their first big thrust in that direction and it did make at least somewhat of a splash.

Ultimately, that's healthy too. One could argue that it's not a good thing for the Republican Party to move farther to the margins of the right-wing? But the Republican Party wants to become more of a purist party and if they and their affiliates want to mobilize constituencies from the farther right to accomplish that goal, that's their decision. Perhaps Republicans are seeing that moderates and independents just aren't going to accept right-wing points of view anymore and are moving farther right in an effort to regain some kind of momentum.

The political landscape has changed significantly over the last eight years and the Republican Party needs to make a serious adjustment. If their first instinct is to lurch further to the right, I have no problem with them finding out if that works or not.

Given that nothing lasts forever, it's a healthy thing for the Republicans and the various constituencies of the right to be able to experiment with new ideas (or at least new versions of old ideas) and political line-ups.