Thursday, February 24, 2011

Crackpots and the Berlin Wall

I still haven't heard the prank call a fake Koch brother had with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, but from what I've read of it, I think this might be the saddest part:

Walker compared his stand to that taken by President Ronald Reagan when he fired the nation's air-traffic controllers during a labor dispute in 1981.

"That was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and led to the fall of the Soviets," Walker said on the recording.
Because I'm sure in his silly fanboy mind, he believes this crap. He honestly thinks that firing controllers somehow led to the fall of the Soviet Union.  As if unions and communism really are united somehow, and if you hurt unions in America, you're striking a blow against totalitarianism somewhere else.

Besides, the only other thing Reagan directly did to defeat the Soviets was to read someone else's speech that was mostly ignored at the time.  So it's understandable why they'd want to latch on to something a little more tangible.

Jesus christ, whatever happened to the Republicans who knew they were playing a con?  I'm sure Nixon is staring up at them from Hades, weeping.

Only slightly less upsetting is his insistence that his anti-union moves are "all about getting our freedoms back."  Yes, because public employees shouldn't have the freedom to group together and negotiate on an equal footing with their employer, the government. 

And when you think about it, isn't that a weird situation, too?  That anti-government Republicans want to make it so governments have more power over the individuals who work for them?  But of course, I seriously doubt they've thought this through that far.  All they know is that this is bad for Democrats, and that's good enough for them. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

People Aren't Cows

One of the key beliefs of those on both ends of the political spectrum is that politics aren't real.  You don't really need to worry about what other people think about your policies, and the rewards only go to those bold enough to take them.  Somehow, it never occurs to them that most long-time politicians seem to be of the wishy-washy middle-of-the-road types they deplore, while the few hardcore ideologues who last beyond two terms can only succeed in like-minded pockets and never in the Senate.

Because, as it turns out, politics are real.  It really does matter what voters think about you, and you can be punished for being bold, whether or not you're right.  And this isn't just the case in government, but throughout life.  No matter where you go or what you do or who you hang with, it's always a good idea to consider the feelings of others and try not to get on their bad side.  Do that, and you'll succeed.

And the thing is, yes, it's good to be bold.  It's good to have vision.  It's good to take a stand for what you believe in, still need to be able to sell your bold visionary beliefs, and if people aren't buying, you have to accept the consequences.  And the only way to sell your boldness is by embracing politics and learning how it works. 

Because in the long run, it's not about a good marketing campaign or strong propaganda channels.  It's about understanding human nature and getting people to understand why they should support what you're doing.  Democracy isn't a term-limited dictatorship.  It's a system where we all agree to play by the rules and understand that everyone else has as much of a right to their vision as we do. 

And one of the dumbest things a politican can do is to ignore the wishes of the people and imagine that they have the power to cram down their beliefs on to others.  For as much as ideologues insist that boldness is rewarded, the reality is that bold leaders who ignore the will of the people will find they've lost ground in the long run, and the surest way to push the country in one direction is to force them to the other direction for a short time.

Down with Unions

And I'm thinking the dumbo governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, is beginning to realize that.  Not that he knows why he's facing so much opposition, as he probably believes his own spin that it's outside agitators causing the problem.  But it's obvious that he knew enough about politics to understand that he needed to ignore them and cram his vision down Wisconsin's throat as quickly as possible, because it wouldn't work if people were able to form an opposition.

But, well, duh.  Guess what, genius.  You just pissed off some of the most educated people in the state and they do know how to organize.  I mean, come on.  Teachers.  Like teachers don't know how to organize unruly groups of people with military precision.  I've been around enough kindergarten classrooms to know that these people are like magicians.  Seriously.  I've been put in charge of a few classrooms on a very temporary basis and saw how quickly it devolved into lord of the flies without a proper teacher in the room.

And taking on the rest of the union people is equally stupid.  Cut welfare benefits and you'll get a bunch of poorly organized poor people shouting, which only encourages the Republican base.  Crackdown on immigration and you'll see a bunch of poor Hispanics shouting, which only encourages the Republican base.  Crackdown on unions and you get a bunch of middle-class white people shouting.  And that doesn't help Republicans at all.  And no, this isn't fair.  But that's how it is.  You can hurt a lot of people, just as long as they're not non-poor white people.

Equal and Opposite Reactions

And Walker made the same mistake they all make.  Because yeah, sure, you can cram your vision down.  And according to the extremist belief system, that's always the thin end of the wedge which only makes future victories easier. 

But the truth is exactly the opposite: Every victory you get makes future victories more difficult.  Every mark you get on your side is another strike against you by the opposition, and you're just adding fuel to your enemy's fire.  As much as Republicans were always going to hate Obama, they hate him so much more because of what he accomplished; which is what motivates them so much.

And really, the ideologues who insist upon boldness aren't citing some well-known strategy for winning political battles.  They've got their goal in mind and they don't want anything to get in their way.  So they push the "bold strategy," not because it's a proven winner, but because they don't know what else to do.  In fact, they don't even understand how politics works otherwise and they end up like Donald Rumsfeld and his "coercive diplomacy," in which the word "diplomacy" has no meaning and they just mean coercion.

And in the end, it's all about the vote.  If you don't have the votes, you're not going to win.  And that's how it's supposed to work.  And yeah, that's understanding that corporate interests can buy the ads that woo the votes, but that's the whole point.  You can convince people to support you, even if it's against their best interests.  But conversely, you can get people against you, even if you're cramming the best of policies down their throats. 

That's just human nature and I like that about people.  We shouldn't treat people like cows.  They might all moo if the right commercial tells them to do so, but they have to want to do so.  And if your plans don't involve getting people to want what you've got to sell, then I don't want a part of your plans.  One man's utopia is everyone else's hell.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When Liberalism Isn't Enough

As I keep saying, the people who attack Obama on the left aren't upset because he's an ideological traitor, as they claim, but because he doesn't attack Republicans enough.  Yet another case in point, when asked about the Republican governor of Wisconsin's plan to remove collective bargaining for public employees, Obama said:
On the other other hand, some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin -- where you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, generally -- seems like more of an assault on unions.

And I think it's very important for us to understand that public employees, they're our neighbors, they're our friends. These are folks who are teachers, and they're firefighters, and they're social workers, and they're police officers. You know, they make a lot of sacrifices, and make a big contribution, and I think it's important not to vilify them, or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.

So, I think everybody's gotta make some adjustments, but I think it's also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to the well being of our states and our cities.
And that's a good, liberal response.  Without a doubt, he offered firm support for unions as well as government employees, and clearly thinks it's wrong to hurt them in the name of fixing deficits. 

Attacks for Attack's Sake

But to those on the left who hate Obama, that wasn't enough.  Why?  Because he used the words "seems" and didn't attack Republicans. Here are some examples from the story I saw on this:
"Seems? Thanks, Captain Understatement."

"'seems like'? can we please have some more milque toast language Mr. President? Obama will never put these thugs in their proper place, too bad, such a missed opportunity in a long line of them."

"Thanks Mr. President for your support. Obama never misses an opportunity to ride the fence "

"Thanks for the smallest thing you could do President DINO Obama.  Why not call them out for what it is? Oh right, you want bipartisanship. You want to get along. How about getting some glasses and seeing what's really going on?"
But...what exactly would Obama achieve if he called out the governor and put him in his proper place?  Seriously, are we to imagine there's a large group of moronic but powerful Democrats who would do something to fix this, if only they had heard Obama insult the governor?  Really??  Obama's not even a Democrat because he used the word "seems"?

Because if Obama had put the governor and Wisconsin Republicans in their place, it would have made the story about Obama.  No longer would the story be Evil GOP v. Government Employees.  It would be Wisconsin Governor v. Obama, catapulting this jerk onto the national stage.  And for as much as Tea Partiers will already support the union busting, it would suddenly become their number one priority and would be cast as "Obama's takeover of state's rights," and how he's butting into issues he shouldn't be involved in.

Not that we should be basing political decisions upon what these bozos think, but the point is that it wouldn't help the unions for Obama to put Republicans in their place, and would only make the story about him.  So there's absolutely no reason for Obama to do that.  He gave a firm liberal response that supported the unions and called out what Republicans are trying to do, but without being controversial and stepping into the story.

But for some on the left, that's just not good enough.  They don't want a liberal president who speaks diplomatically and avoids political battles that have no upside. They want blood, and if Obama won't get it for them, it's his they want.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Theater of the Insane

Symbolism can be a powerful thing and it's naive to believe that things only have literal meanings.  Thus said, it's much too easy to take this sort of thing too far, and when we get to the point at which events primarily have symbolic meaning, we delve into the realm of insanity.  No longer is anything as it seems,  Rather, it's all part of a vast morality play that mere mortals can never comprehend.

And so it is with conservatives.  Nothing is as it seems and everything has some deeper meaning to what is intended.  And that's the only possible way they can view Obama as an anti-American socialist, as they have no evidence whatsoever that this is the case.  But they "know" that he's a socialist out to destroy America, so it's safe to interpret every move and utterance he makes as having a deeper significance than it appears.

They've now gotten to the point where Senator Boehner is a RINO who's sold out the party merely for suggesting that Obama is a US citizen.  I can find quotes for that, if you like, but feel too lazy to do so.

Anti-Racism Racism

And so it is with Andrew Breitbart, who is now being sued by the woman he ruined with an edited video that showed the opposite of what Breitbart claimed it showed.  And hell, I'm willing to see him as a victim in that episode.  He was fed a video that he "knew" was accurate because it finally confirmed his suspicions that black people hate whites as much as he hates black people.  And he believed this so much that he failed to request the full video before using it to smear someone he knew nothing about.  I can believe that.  The man's a self-deluded moron so this could make sense.  I'm not sure how that works in his favor, but I can see him as a victim here.

But the funniest part is his explanation of the whole thing.  As he explained at the time, he wasn't trying to destroy Shirley Sherrod by casting her as an anti-white bigot.  Far from it.  He wasn't even thinking about her as a person and what it might mean to her life for him to show this video.  He was just trying to disgrace the NAACP.  Why?  Because they had pretended to be outraged by false claims of racist Tea Partiers as a way of getting them to shut up, and so he released the video as a way of showing that they were the real racists.  Oddly, that he was using her as a meaningless pawn in his war against the NAACP was his defense.  And again, I can believe that.

And now that Sherrod is suing him, this isn't about her being injured by his actions.  No, she's suing him as part of a grand conspiracy because he was about to expose something regarding the Pigford settlement; which Sherrod was a part of.  Once again, blacks bad people are trying to stifle Breitbart by pretending he had done something wrong; when they're the ones who were wrong all along.  Is it any wonder he hates blacks so much?

The Dude's Not Alright

And sure, it's possible he's just playing a game with this, but if it's a game, it's a really really dumb one.  Because arguing that this lawsuit is part of a black conspiracy involving the Pigford settlement isn't going to help Breitbart in court.  If anything, it'll make him look like a kook, and possibly get the judge to hate him.  So if this is a ruse, it can only backfire.

More likely, Breitbart is just insane.  Seriously.  Because he really did see a conspiracy of the NAACP trying to stifle Tea Partiers by invoking racism that didn't exist.  And he really does think they were just sitting on this lawsuit, waiting until he did something, and now blam!, they throw it at him just in time for Pigford.  Nothing is as it seems and everything is part of some giant plan that he's in the middle of.  And that is, of course, utterly crazy.

And that's who we're dealing with on the right.  These people aren't sane.  Seriously, that's not an insult.  They're crazy.  They see hidden meanings that don't exist and imagine conspiracies that don't make any sense.  After all, if they wanted Sherrod to sue as a way of stifling Breitbart, they'd have done it immediately; to tie him up before he could dig deeper into whatever he imagines he's uncovered regarding Pigford.

And you're not going to like this, but these guys are to be pitied.  They're crazy.  They can't help it.  We can have some fun at their expense, but at the end of the day, it's no different than mocking the homeless guy on the street or your crazy uncle who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt.  They live boring pointless lives that weren't at all what they were told to expect, and now they've placed themselves on the cusp of a giant movement on the precipice of history. 

And so, yeah, sure, there certainly are racists within the Tea Party movement.  And what Breitbart did by posting that edited video which he misled people about really could be libel.  But that's not what's happening at all.  This is all part of the cuspy precipice that's swelling around him and he couldn't be any happier about it.  Some people have to save lives to be someone important.  Breitbart just has to be crazy.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Why Prosecuting Bush Was a Bad Idea

I had a comment from a new reader regarding my previous post suggesting that it was the right decision for Obama to not prosecute Bush, Cheney, and Co. after they left office. And basically, the commenter was speculating that had we prosecuted them, Republicans would have had a shitfit and behaved exactly as they have for the past two years, regular people would have behaved as they did while understanding that America prosecutes crimes against important people, and Obama still could have done what Obama did because we can do more than one thing at a time.

And first off, I’m going to dispute the “more than one thing at a time” argument, as I think the Obama Admin did a terrible job at selling their healthcare ideas while writing the bill; which technically is only one thing at one time. Yet they kind of bungled it. Admittedly, it was a very hard thing they were trying to do at one time, but that’s the whole point. In fact, they did a lousy job at selling any of their agenda at the same time as passing that agenda; and again, that counts as not being able to do one thing at one time.

But of course, that’s a lie, as Obama wasn't doing just one thing at that time. Because he’s got a fricking executive branch to run, which is a hugely complicated thing that should be more than enough for anyone to handle. So him writing legislation is just icing on the cake, while selling the legislation is the work-out you have to do after having eaten cake. And all this is fucking tough.

Yet all the same, Obama did an awesome job in the grand scheme of things, and got us lots of good legislation that made America better.  Could he have done more?  Maybe.  But the standard isn't perfection, but rather, what we would have gotten without him.  And comparing Obama's first two years with eight years of Bush, or even eight years of Clinton; Obama looks like a total badass.

Some Serious Shit

Now imagine, if you will, Bush and Cheney being arrested. Yes, a fun scene, to be sure. But honestly, we’re talking pandemonium. Seriously. Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Condie and all the rest of those jerk-offs being taken away by the FBI and put in jail. This would be some serious shit.

To suggest that the media would be covering this 25 hours a day, eight days a week is an understatement. It’s all the media would be talking about for months and months. And if the Bushies got out on bail, they’d be on the news constantly talking about how this is a miscarriage of justice and how Obama had shat on the Constitution and how this was all a political farce and whatever. And the media would eat every fucking word of this. Every fucking word.

And as I said before, the Washington Post and NY Times editors would be shaking their heads in disgust at the horrible injustice of it all, and how Obama had betrayed his post-partisan rhetoric by doing this; and exposed him as being the next Pol Pot. And as much as these lightweights can mean anything, they’d mean it. They’d think they had some real point to make, when in fact, they themselves helped aid and abet these criminals in their actions. 

And the liberal blogosphere would be in ectasty as we pointed out how the media is wrong, while attacking conservatives for lying about it all.  And every discussion would be about whether Bush and Cheney deserved the Gitmo treatment; with progressives insisting upon an eye for an eye, while moderate-liberals like myself would say that Gitmo was too much and everyone deserves fairness.  And every news story and pseudo-news story that came out would be used to add more fuel to this fire and we'd all be having a great time discussing it.

Sucking the Oxygen from Washington

And in all this, where’s healthcare reform? Where’s the stimulus? Where are the jobs bills and Wall Street reform and all this? The media had a hard enough time covering these issues when Bush and Cheney weren't in shackles and jumpsuits. All the air and energy in Washington would have been solely focused on these trials, and nothing else would seem important by comparison. Sure, we could have gotten things done, but the focus would remain on the Bush trials.

How do I know?  I remember the Clinton impeachment.  For a whole fucking year, the only thing that mattered were the stains on Monica's dress and whether BJ's were sex.  And the same thing happened during the Watergate hearings.  Most people would much rather discuss rumors and political wars than they do policy issues, and that includes myself.  Policy is boring.  Everyone loves politics.

And then we'd have the rest of the country.  They don't know that Bush and Cheney broke the law.  They're not going to see this as the rule of law. They're going to see this as "What the fuck?  Can you believe this is happening?"  And they're just not going to do the research required for them to understand that Obama was doing the right thing.  They'd hear Obama's side and they'd hear Republicans and the media shouting about it, and they'd be like "What the fuck?  Where's my fucking job?"


And the thing is, what difference would it make?  I don't believe in punishment for punishment's sake.  If a murderer is never going to murder again, and we can somehow know that he'll never murder again, I might be cool with that murderer getting off.  For me, justice is about rehabilitation and prevention; not vengeance, and the only thing vengeance makes better are the feelings of the person who's giving it.  But it doesn't fix anything.

And without a doubt, Bush and Cheney will never do these things again.  Not ever.  When they're lucky, they can get invited on to TV or have someone buy them lunch.  But besides that, they're toast.  Nothing important will ever come out of either of these incompetents, because they've burned their bridges with their horrible behavior.  So this isn't about preventing future crimes.  If you want to see Cheney do a perp walk, it's only for your personal enjoyment; not the rule of law. 

And maybe I'm wrong and none of this would have happened. and we could have gotten Bush in prison while also passing healthcare reform.  But why take the risk?  Why roll the dice when it's easy to conceive of lots of lousy outcomes, with very little pay-off?  And that's a cornerstone of Obama's success is that he doesn't take unnecessary risks or wage battles he doesn't already believe he can win.  And that's a super-smart policy.  Because every battle isn't an isolated event, and losing one battle can lead to many more losses in the future.

And of course, the biggest point: It's over.  It's done with.  We won the election, Bush and his cronies are utterly powerless, and Obama let them off the hook.  It's time to move on.  And if anyone's still angry at Obama because he didn't disgrace Bush even more than he already disgraced himself, then it's strong evidence that the person cares much more about hurting Republicans than they do about getting shit done. And that's someone we probably shouldn't be listening to; assuming we actually care about getting shit done.

While it can be important to look back and see what we did wrong, it shouldn't be at the expense of looking forward and seeing what we need to do right.  Anyone who suggests otherwise is probably not doing things right.  The past is only as good as it helps us in the future.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Pitfalls Everywhere

I’m honestly not sure which type of liberal scares me more: The ones who see traps in everything we do, or the ones who get angry because we don’t fall into the traps sitting right in front of our faces.

Exhibit A comes from a post at Bad Astronomy, which highlighted an utterly moronic YouTube video of Bill O’Reilly, in which Falafel defends his claim that ocean tides are proof of God’s existence by pointing out that things exist.  And well, yeah Bill.  Genius.  How did we get here?  Because nobody's ever asked that question before. 

And if that's a valid question, then a better one is "Where did God come from?"  And while we've got some good answers to Bill's question, nobody's got a good one for the god question.  It doesn't even make sense.  He's insisting that everything needs a creator, except for the creator.  But if God didn't need a creator, then maybe the universe didn't either.  This isn't rocket science.

And unless I'm mistaken, Bill seemed to even suggest that Mars doesn't have a moon, when it, in fact, has two.  And without a doubt, O'Reilly is so entirely clueless about science that he doesn't even understand the most basic questions we've already answered.  And if you want your brain to be put into a mind-blown stupor, I recommend clicking through and watching the video.  You'll certainly be dumber for it.

Bill Knows All the Arguments

But to some liberals, this video is proof of how dangerously brilliant O'Reilly is.  Seriously.  I found this in the comments there:
The secondary clip makes it even more obvious that “Tide goes in, Tide goes out” was a trap for Silverman. Bill knows all the arguments. He wants to trap someone in a battle over the intricacies of how the universe works, all of which take longer to explain and result in less snappy soundbytes than the religious view. His viewers want to see the guy that claims to be religious defeating waffling scientists with snappy soundbytes.
See?  Bill O'Reilly isn't a pinhead twit.  He's a super-genius who knows all the arguments and how to make smart people look stupid.

And for as much as that can be a trick, it only works if you're making arguments that aren't so easily proven false.  Because this is stuff they teach to elementary school children, and so it only makes O'Reilly look like a moron to say it.  Making a claim that taxcuts increase tax revenues is wrong, but difficult to explain in a short period.  The moon?  Not so much.

And of course, I fail to see how anyone watching the clip could possibly imagine that Bill didn't really believe he had solved the Does God Exist question.  He's not some super-crafty master-debater.  He's a bully blowhard who gets high off his own supply.


And then on the other end of the spectrum, we have the people who get angry when Democrats don't walk into political minefields, under this delusional idea that politics aren't real and you can grab everything you want, if only you're bold enough to do so.  And for as much as you can point out all the blunders Republicans repeatedly committed by believing in this theory, some liberals continually point to the Bushies with admiration and insist that Bush's boldness somehow paid off for him.

And I was thinking about this because I saw that there are still liberals who are extremely angry that Obama didn't prosecute Bush, Cheney, and the rest of those scumbags for their crimes.  And it's as if it was some slamdunk that we'd be able to prove that crimes were committed and the country would rejoice that we brought them to justice; entirely unaware of the political firestorm Obama would have been walking into had he chosen this dangerous path.

And while I can understand how people could be angry at the time, it's quite apparent that anger still hasn't gone away.  I'm now too tired to finish this post, so I'm just going to go ahead and reprint what I wrote somewhere else to someone who had said that we needed to prosecute them because appearances matter:

But you've got the appearances entirely backwards. The appearance would have been that we are a banana republic that prosecutes political enemies for partisan reasons. That wouldn't have been the reality, but that's what Republicans were already saying at the time and the media would have done their best to repeat it. And we'd have gotten years worth of hand-wringing by WaPo and NY Times editors insisting that Obama's political witchhunt was bad for America and exposed him as not being the post-partisan president he promised he'd be.

THAT would be the appearance. And the only folks who would know otherwise would be us liberals, who already know what crooks these guys are. Everyone else wouldn't have cared or would side with the crooks; just as they did already. They'd be looking at rising unemployment and wondering why we're sifting through Dick Cheney's emails instead of fixing the economy. And frankly, I think I'd have to agree with that, as I'm quite convinced that a Cheney trial would have sucked all the air out of the Obama Admin.

And how exactly does it discourage repeat behavior when the offenders are hailed as heroes, and given talk shows, book deals, and cush jobs for life? No, it's much better for these jerks to slink off into obsurity rather than give them the Ollie North, Gordon Liddy treatment. Prosecuting them would have made them made men in Republican circles. The only way a Republican can be hurt is if they betray the party. Republicans don't eat their own.

As a post-script, I just went back and read a few of the comments replying to my comment, and see that I got totally slammed for what I wrote.  These people don't care about appearances or getting things done, or even justice.  They wanted blood.

One person patiently lectured me that this wouldn't be a banana republic, because we were prosecuting crimes, as if that's the way everyone would see it.  Another commenter actually implied as if everyone already knew Bush/Cheney was guilty, and it therefore undermined our confidence to not see them prosecuted.  And this is the reality too many liberals live in: Where the truth would be understood by everyone, if only someone had the balls to say it on TV; as if no one's ever tried that one before.  And they'd know better if they ever got their heads out of their asses and actually listened to what people say. 

Like it or not, most people don't even follow the news, let alone liberal blogs.  They don't know what we know and going on TV and saying truth won't change a god damn thing.  And as I said, if we had spent our time prosecuting Cheney for waterboarding terrorists, even if we got a conviction, the average person would be wondering why we were wasting all our time doing that when we had an economy to fix. 

After all, that's what people say even when we weren't spending all our time reading Cheney's email.  But of course, these people really don't care much about fixing problems and improving lives.  They want to see Republicans eat shit and they'll yell at anyone who doesn't give it to them.