Monday, January 31, 2011

A Grave Mistake

The Utah state house has approved a bill designating the M1911 sidearm as Utah's official gun. Utah would be the first state in the union to select a state firearm. The M1911 would join the California gull (state bird), Sego Lily (tate flower), and the Blue Spruce (state tree) in Utah's symbolism pantheon. This isn't particularly objectionable. I think that Utahans would prefer if their state legislature focused on restoring the economy, but that's really their responsibility for electing the clowns.

What I do have a problem with is this statement, made by a state legislator in support of the state gun proposal:
“It’s an implement of freedom that has defended America for 100 years. … This firearm is Utah.”
A gun is not an instrument of freedom. It is an instrument of violence. Violence is antithetical to any civil society, much less one based on the free exchange of ideas. Weapons are coercive instruments which force citizens to fear the police and government. The Egyptian protestors remarkably are not wielding guns in their struggle for freedom from oppression; it is the police and army who have the firearms. The courage of the protestors is in overcoming the threat of force. This courage is the center of democratic society.

More Domestic Terrorism

The Detroit Free Press is reporting that a California man was arrested in an attempt to detonate a car bomb outside of a Dearborn, MI mosque on Monday, January 24. The former army veteran was discovered in the parking lot of one the largest mosques in America with a car loaded with fireworks. A funeral service was underway in the mosque when he was arrested. It appears the the man had planned the blast for the evening.

The man has had quite the history of violence according to MSNBC. He was arrested in an attempt to bomb a veterans' clinic in 2002 and jailed for threatening the life of George W. Bush. Last week's attack was foiled by a bar owner who alerted the police.

The suspect, a 63 year old Mr. Stockham, has pled insanity in previous court cases and has been diagnosed with PTSD, a personality disorder, and bipolar disorder. He has nursed a long simmering resentment of government, but his decision to target a mosque in America's largest Islamic community seems even more senseless. It makes you wonder whether the attempted attack was fueled by the rampant Islamophobia that particular media outlets trumpet.

How's that Revolution Going?

World news coverage has shifted sharply to the mass demonstrations in Egypt, but let's not forget that Tunisia's new government is just weeks old. The departure of Ben Ali from power and into exile has empowered Tunisia's protestors. To recap, the Tunisian protests sparked after the self-immolation of a college-educated young street vendor who was frustrated by police harassment which stifled his economic prospects.

The young Bouazizi became a symbol of frustration with the political and economic stagnation that had set in during the reign of Ben Ali. The protest coalition quickly attracted middle class support and simultaneous demonstrations across the country from the coast to the South. After nights of street protests, rioting, and unrest, Ben Ali fled the country, handing power off to a transitional government, a collaboration between the opposition and Ben Ali's allies. The revolution emboldened protestors across the Middle East, most remarkably in Egypt. So how is the revolution going in Tunisia?
Protests continue, displaying increasing fragmentation along secular/Islamist lines. The army has come off the sidelines in favor of protecting the transitional government. The January's revolution was successful in deposing Ben Ali largely because the military remained neutral. Police violence continues despite top-down orders to liberalize treatment of protestors.
Protests of the unity government continues, though it is unclear that the opposition maintains widespread support. The reported purging of Ben Ali's party from political, journalistic, and business institutions suggests that opposition is organizing capability to exercise power beyond mass mobilization. The linked article attempts to place the revolution in a revolutionary tradition extending from the 1917 Russian revolution, however the parallels are fairly thin. First of all, the tripartite Russian demands of "Peace, land, bread" are more far reaching, demanding a much more active role of government. The Romanov regime largely neglected the development of the country, including the urban economy. The Tsar had thrust Russia into the First World War, while European affairs were a concern unique to the highest echelons of Russian society, deepening a sense that the Russian government was not acting in the citizens' interests. Indeed, the conscript army provided much of the organization through which anti-Tsarist energy was funneled.

By contrast, the Tunisian revolution is much more focused on purging Ben Ali's party from political life. The party's lack of interest in developing the Tunisian economy certainly fueled discontent, but the catalytic event and symbol of the revolution was the suicide of Bouazizi. He particularly represented active repression and harassment by police. His economic desperation was identified with active coercion from the state apparatus. The political liberalization of the country is one demand of the mainstream protestors, but religious oppression is a parallel grievance advanced by the Islamist protestors. The "deepening of the Revolution" to borrow the Russian phrase is a result of escalating substantive economic and pacifist demands which the 1917 provisional government was not able to meet. The explicit demands of the Tunisian revolutionaries have thus far remained political. The frantic, accelerating revolution which created the Soviet state are not likely to be reproduced. Most importantly, the soviets were organized around radical participatory democracy. Tunisian revolutionary organizers do not appear to be intent on creating grassroots democratic institutions that created the Russian run-away radicalization. Islamists oppose democratic forms and will not persuade secular Tunisians to join them. The Islamist party might gain control of an existing government via the ballot box, but the Islamists do not have the interest in creating the types of organizations that create escalating substantive demands and lead to a deepening revolution. If the revolution deepens, it will not do so in an Islamist direction.

Perhaps I've been overselling the moderation of the revolution. After all, the 1917 Russian Revolution also produced a moderate provisional government, which merged a traditional parliament with the soviet structure. The soviets progressively radicalized and the Bolsheviks seized power, preempting the election of a legitimate democratic national government. However, the tone of the revolutionaries seems largely moderate, willing to trust democratically elected elites so long as they serve the interests of the people of Tunisia.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Problem with Electing Judges

The case of Rahm Emmanuel's campaign to become the next Mayor of Chicago illustrates the more classic objection to electing judges. An appeals court ruled that because Emmanuel had been serving the President in the District of Columbia for the previous year, he had forfeited his residency status and was thus ineligible to run for mayor. The Illinois Supreme Court overturned that decision today, declaring that Emmanuel would remain on the ballot for the February election.

Illinois elects their judges, so it is perhaps no surprise to find this paragraph at the top of the New York Times story on the case:
When Thomas L. Kilbride, the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, studied the legal briefs in the case over Rahm Emanuel’s eligibility to run for mayor, the name of one lawyer involved in the residency dispute should have been familiar to Mr. Kilbride: Michael J. Kasper.

Mr. Kasper, the election-law specialist for Mr. Emanuel and for the state Democratic Party, offered his free expertise to Mr. Kilbride’s successful Democratic campaign last year to remain on the state’s high court, Mr. Kilbride’s campaign manager said.
Because judges must retain the services of campaign operatives, lawyers, and political partisans to become elected, the impartiality of the state bench is corruptible. I personally think that the Emmanuel residency claim was finally settled correctly, but that doesn't detract from the deep unease that I feel when an elected judge makes that decision, even in consultation with 6 others.

Senate Votes to End Secret Holds

The Senate has overwhelmingly rejected the practice of allowing individual senators to apply secret holds on legislation and presidential appointees. Secret holds prevented the appointment of dozens of federal judges over the last decade, not to mention stalled the legislative process without accountability.

For senators voted to keep the easily-abused power: Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jim DeMint (R- S.C.), and John Ensign (R-Nev.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

There Are No Words

This is why abortion is legal- to prevent this horror story from being the norm.
Davida Johnson is also speaking out about the abortion Gosnell did and she said the abortion facility he ran was filthy — with women sitting on blood-stained recliners. She told the Associated press she had a change of heart about the abortion but was forced to continue the abortion.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ and he smacked me. They tied my hands and arms down and gave me more medication,” she told AP.

Johnson was 21-years-old and had a 3-year-old daughter at the time of the forced abortion. She had originally gone to a Planned Parenthood abortion center but chose Gosnell for the abortion after seeing pro-life advocates at the center.

Break's Over

New York Magazine has an in-depth look at the White House's course correction which began last September. I'm particularly happy to see this critique from former interim Chief of Staff Pete Rouse:
In the third of Rouse’s baskets was the failure to use Obama’s gifts as a communicator to full effect. He was overexposed. He was in the weeds. The thread got lost. “With these big legislative fights, he was almost like a prime minister or negotiator-in-chief,” says the same official. “The price for that was, we lost the vision, the inspiration.”
This is a theme that the commentariat of the left has been treading on recently, including theSillySeason. It feels nice to share the same perceptual world as some very smart people.

That said, the West Wing reference titling this post is not just targeted towards Democratic strategists at the highest levels. Now is an ideal time to get off the sidelines for 2012 and policy struggles that will lead up to it (implementing the Affordable Care Act, preserving Social Security, and preventing the Republicans from punishing the poor to balance out their $700 billion in welfare for the wealthy). Attend an Organizing for America State of the Union Address watch party tomorrow, and you can lead your community to a brighter future.

Friday, January 21, 2011

GOP starting to look more like Democrats

At least in the traditional sense that Democrats can't keep a consistent message to save their lives win an election, the Republican party is starting to adopt their maladaptive tendencies. Tea Party action figure Michelle Bachmann will deliver a rogue response to the President's State of the Union address next Tuesday in addition to the actual Republican leader that the party has asked to deliver a response. The Republican response to the State of the Union Address will be Paul Ryan, the House Republican budget czar.

The Tea Party Express, a national umbrella group funded by Koch Bros Inc., will be live streaming her response. It is unclear whether her response will directly conflict with Representative Ryan's response.

Either way, there is no way this can be good for the Republican party.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

But the Symbolism!

House Speaker John Boehner just announced via twitter that the Republicans have introduced a bill to eliminate federal funding for abortions, calling the push one of their "highest priorities". So far, google news counts 141 related stories on this story. Speaker Boehner and fellow Republicans might want to brush up on their US Code however; the regulation they are attempting to pass is already enshrined in federal law. The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of any federal money disbursed as part of the Health and Human services budget from paying for elective abortions.

Perhaps the forthcoming legislation will not be redundant, but will provide restrictions that go beyond the Hyde Amendment. One place where Republicans might attempt to prevent pregnancy terminations is in military hospital facilities. The current controlling US Code on the subject reads:
[1] U.S. Code Title 10 USC Sec 1093
(a) Restriction on Use of Funds – funds available to the Department of Defense may not be used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.

(b) Restriction on Use of Facilities – No medical treatment facility or other facility of the Department of Defense may be used to perform an abortion except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest
If the Republicans are serious about preventing any federally-funded abortions, they are putting the health women in the military at risk, who may not have access to civilian facilities. They will also endanger the lives of civilians that military doctors may treat in the field, prohibiting the US military from performing life-saving operations that build good will with the local population.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

About Violent Rhetoric and Violent Acts

Can we start that discussion about acts of domestic terrorism again? A bomb was discovered along the planned route for the Martin Luther King Day march in Spokane on Monday morning. The parade route was rerouted, and the FBI neutralized the threat after evacuating nearby businesses.

This might have something to do with "taking back our country" or whatever the Beck-ism is for a war against modern American society that is embodied in the Civil Rights movement's demand of equal justice for all Americans. But I suppose it is too early to jump to conclusions. Probably just another totally crazy person who doesn't have any contact with the real world.

Just like Jared Loughner, who referenced the anti-semitic conspiracy theories that Beck supports or Byron Williams, the shut-in who decided to drive to a philanthropic group with several guns after Beck spent a week attempting to connect it to several conspiracy fantasies.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Look ahead: Obama in 2011

Today's Executive Order and op-ed in the Wall Street Journal suggest the direction of the Obama administration over the next few years. While the first two years of Obama's Presidency focused on producing legislative accomplishments (Affordable Care Act, Wall Street regulation overhaul, the Fair Pay Act, DADT repeal, etc...), the administration is preparing to go it alone in reforming the executive branch's rules and regulations. The enormous body of agency-made rules and regulations rival the Congressionally made United States Code in terms of complexity and length, but are distinguished because there has never been an attempt to unify the rules between agencies. As President Obama points out, the FDA declared saccharine safe while the EPA treated it as toxic waste. The EPA revised its opinion this month.

There is little political gain to reforming the regulatory codes of the various agencies. Political opponents, lobbyists, and special interest groups will certainly cherry pick examples to trip up the reform, keeping bad regulations on the books. There is little political benefit to streamlining business's interactions with government. Most of these regulations are small-bore, almost invisible rules that effect handfuls of companies. Yet conflicting rules extract a heavy toll on government, individuals, and companies. Interacting with government can require hordes of specially trained lawyers, a subfield of the economy that is definitionally wasteful. Courts are often dragged into the breach, required to modify the rules in order to make them more coherent and rational, placing an immense burden on the federal courts.

The Obama administration is signaling that it is determined to make government less onerous and more efficient, even if the task is thankless. The op-ed hints that there will be an unprecedented outreach to stakeholders, citizens, and business in crafting a more rational regulatory landscape. This will provide both democratic input into the Administrative State and will bolster the White House's gambit by politicizing the rule changes. Potentially this political effort could take some oxygen away from the Republican-led House and Republican-captive Senate. In regulatory decisions, there are political value choices at stake. I sincerely hope that these will become more thoroughly debated and democratized as the Administrative State moves into the current century.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Meritocracy and the Super Elite

I just wanted to pass this Atlantic article on the super-elite of the global economy. I found it fascinating, and think that you will too.

There are a few main points:
  1. Many of the super elite already recognize that the economy which created their wealthy is dependent on a functioning, open society. This recognition creates incentives (including social incentives within the global elite community) to engage in large-scale philanthropy.
  2. Ayn Rand's utopian withdrawal of the superman from society is a fiction. The global elite is a product of the market; even the gifted cannot transcend their origins entirely, especially when the mechanism of their elevation (wealth) is a social fiction.
  3. Transnational elite are looking beyond the borders of their home nations for problems to solve. America is not the primary beneficiary of American business success, though it certainly enjoys ancillary benefits. The resource allocation decisions especially among metrics-oriented philanthropy will tend to cluster around the low hanging fruit: drinking water, immunizations, and other public health concerns where infrastructure can be built from the ground up. Reform is a tougher nut, so don't expect many philanthropists to follow the Gates' Foundation attempts to tinker with American schools.
The competitive nature of philanthropy from the global capitalist set will be targeted into the same regions that make business investments attractive. They keyword is "emerging markets." Societies that require the least investment for the largest, most visible, and best measured returns are the most attractive.

Previously privileged groups (e.g. the American middle class) are not going to like this shift, but from a utilitarian standpoint, it seems like a necessary one. Charity dollars will be evaporating from American shores in order to assuage the guilty consciences of the global elite, funding more exotic projects abroad. Maybe American governments (local, state, and federal) will step into the breach and demand the resources to provide a higher standard of living to their constituents from the super wealthy.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Redux Redux Redux

We've seen this movie before. Sarah Palin is boldly going to a gun show in Arizona to play up her (purely political) love of guns, gun fans, and the gun money they bring. For the short-of-memory, she's reading from the Charlton Heston script from after the Columbine High School Massacre. Charlton Heston appeared at a gun show and gave an impassioned speech in defense of unfettered access to guns. We can certainly expect a speech from Palin using the phrase, "From my cold dead hands."

This reminds me of two other stories recently. Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh accused everyone in attendance at the Tucson massacre memorial service of engaging in a "Pep Rally." This slur was used first to describe the memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002. His campaign jet crashed days before the election, killing him, his wife, and his daughter. Republicans attacked his memorial service as a political pep rally because a couple speakers touched on Senator Wellstone's passion for grassroots organizing and people-powered politics, urging people to commit themselves to participate in the upcoming election. Limbaugh recycled the slur against President Obama yesterday, ostensibly because he too called mourners to rise above their grief to build a better world for their children.

The other story that this reminds me of is the Cordoba House debate. Conservative bloggers attacked the project as some sort of triumphalist jewel in the caliphate's crown for its location in lower Manhattan. Of course, Imam Rauf is a steadfast supporter of more humane and modern Islam than the Wahabism which underlies global jihad's rhetorical basis, and commonly criticized the radical anti-Western strains. In any event, I recall the argument that because the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center had something to do with Islam and that the Cordoba House project had something to do with Islam, that it was simply too soon, too close, or otherwise too--something.

One of the more apt metaphors commonly referenced was, 'this is like putting a gun store near Columbine High School.' The project was stalled amid vocal opposition from morally outraged bloggers, who were ostensibly outraged by the insult to the families of the victims. These bloggers displayed a terrific sympathy with the victims of tragedy. So where are Pamela Geller and her ilk now? Sarah Palin is essentially cutting the ribbon on a gun store down the street from a national gun violence tragedy. Isn't this kind of like exactly what conservative bloggers detest?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Loughner-Palin connection

The media is missing the larger Loughner-Palin connection, which has very little to do with the eliminationist rhetoric that Palin uses about her political opponents. We are certain that Loughner was interested in the question "What is government if words have no meaning?" the dissolution of society via the reinvention of grammar. Loughner reported to his friends in 2007 that he had asked Gabrielle Giffords this question and was disappointed by her answer. However, in Palin, we find a champion for his cause.

Sarah Palin's debut (and last) interview consisted of unintelligible ramblings. The responses that made literally no sense to simple questions (e.g. "What newspapers do you read?" "All of them.") are a clear attack on the ability of the populace to create and enact consensus policies. It has long been noted that Republican bills tend to say the exact opposite of what they do. George W Bush's Clean Skies Act made the air dirtier than the status quo. The Leave No Child Behind act forced the closing of thousands of programs that interested children in school. This year's "Repeal the Job-Killing Health Care Law" bill would kill between 250,000 and 400,000 jobs each year over the next ten years and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

Where Palin sets herself apart in the destroy-English-grammar-and-meaning agenda is that she appears to do it for fun. Today she is misusing the term "Blood Libel," which is terribly insulting to Jews. She's adopting a heinous justification for persecution to dismiss serious complaints about her attitude towards politics.

The Palin attack on meaning is quite involved with the Blood Libel instance. Palin has been caught defending against the possibility that her (and other eliminationist) rhetoric contributed to a climate in which Loughner more easily conceptualized and rationalized his assassination attempt and act of mass murder. Blood Libel is the rhetoric of accusing Jews of using the blood of Christian children to bake their bread. the Blood Libel is heinous not just because it is untrue; it is particularly heinous because its rhetoric created a climate which fostered anti-Semitic attacks. Sarah Palin is, in an attempt to unlink her rhetoric from others' violent acts, dredging up the the history of rhetorically-caused attacks.

If you believe Sarah Palin's ultimate defense, her acknowledgement of the history of Blood Libel robs that history of its meaning. Palin's use of the Blood Libel in the same utterance as the argument that rhetoric cannot cause violence destroys the cautionary tale of the Blood Libel. Jews remind their children about the Blood Libel not because it was a weird and archaic rumor about their ancestors, but because it is a story with an important moral to a minority group: beware hate speech. The rhetorical attacks on a group may be nonsensical, they might be elliptical, but they contain real danger. Palin is attempting to undermine that lesson and the meaning of the Blood Libel.

Even if Jared Loughner hadn't been influenced by Palin before, his hat is probably off to her attack on meaning now. Or maybe Palin is taking the post-modernist page out of Loughner's book.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Meaning of Jared Loughner

The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ 08) has prompted a lot of commentary across the media landscape ranging from the thoughtful and sincere to the predictably partisan. Because of the history of attacks against Democrats over the last two years, and the specific history of intimidation against Gabrielle Giffords, many commentators fit the assassination attempt into the long-developing narrative of escalating Republican rhetoric. A window in Gabrielle Gifford's campaign office was shot out this summer. There has been, among the right-wing a concerted effort to push back against the theory that extreme violent rhetoric has anything to do with extreme violent actions.

Too much of the criticism of this narrative is defensive and self-serving. These (uniformly self-identified Right wing) articles rush to announce that because Loughner is insane, "mentally disturbed," or possibly suffered from schizophrenia that his actions are a result of a mental disorder and have nothing to do with the political world surrounding him. This line of attack is deeply wrong. People suffering from schizophrenia are not more violent than the normal population. Insanity does not simply produce violence, despite the pseudoscience beliefs in biological criminality. Mental illness does not mean that a person is operating in a reality that is totally their own; it means that the persons interprets reality in aberrant ways. Sometimes these paranoid interpretations can have violent outcomes, but mental illness hardly causes violence per se. Other triggers are usually present which push the paranoid schizophrenic into planning violent acts.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ben Smith on Jared Lee Loughner

Ben Smith manages to put his fingers on three interesting topics in two sentences, and spin them all the wrong way:
Jared Lee Loughner's YouTube and MySpace pages don't offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.
Diagnosing the psychological, political, and personal (like their separable anyway) states of someone from their social media footprint is like trying to diagnose the health of a coma patient via video. (Not that it stops even The Silly Season from trying.) Attempts to explain a distant patient are more likely to reveal truths about the speaker than the subject.

Ben Smith's basic point is quite right: partisans are likely to see their opponents in the motivations and actions of the deranged. That's why partisans fight against the opposition; the enemy is deranged and is likely to hurt the American public. Any serious threat is categorized alongside the imagined or hyped threat in order to justify the partisan rancor. More importantly, the left-right divide as the media likes to analyze politics does not explain the motivations of normal voters, much less mass murderers. Aberrant violence definitionally does not fit into established narratives about mainstream political thought.

In clumsily getting to that point, Ben Smith offers us a fascinating picture of either his world view or how he believes a journalist must behave. These are the three interesting points that he touches on:

1) The Left hate America. When someone advocates burning or defacing American symbols, they can be categorized as being on the Left. In fact, only someone with Leftist political ties would ever think to burn American flags. Want to burn American flags? You're a liberal, now go sit on that side of the spectrum.

Besides that (and the word of an estranged classmate who hasn't spoken to Loughner in 3 years), there is so far little to tie Loughner to the Left unless you count Brave New World or the Phantom Tollbooth or whatever his list of books includes. But then again, he's also Ben Smith, serious journalist, probably only includes that weak connection in order please the Journalistic gods.

2) Seek balance at all costs. People have drawn the connection between the gold standard stuff and right-wing thought because unlike flag burning, the gold standard is a live issue with a defined group of politicians and their supporters. There are no liberals who want to return to the gold standard. There are conservatives who want to return to the gold standard. There is a visible group of people who supported Ron Paul and run a lot of the internet infrastructure for the tea party who support the return of the gold standard. It would appear very odd to me for a person to independently develop an interest in the gold standard without contact with right-wing thought. A huge chunk of Glenn Beck television and a broader range of talk radio programming is also dedicated to a return to the gold standard. The individualist creation of your own currency, as Loughner's video suggests, is in response to the government making "a secret currency" to undermine the normal economy. The paranoia over the gold standard is ripped from the pages of Glenn Beck's book. But of course, he also wants to burn American flags, so it's probably equal money that he's a pro-health care liberal.

3) Ignore all evidence and context. "... But the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics." I agree with Mr. Smith here. Those are outlandish claims that sound like the ravings of a lunatic. But they also sound exactly like Conservative rhetoric over the last three years. Remember when President Obama gave a televised address to school children urging them to focus on their studies and do well in school? And do you remember when conservatives claimed it was indoctrination, brainwashing, and fascist? FOX News advised parents to keep their kids out of school that day. No sane person could believe that American schools are brainwashing children, so Ben Smith's point is well taken. The Right has been espousing sentiments "more like mental illness than politics." The Right has been engaging in high-visibility, publicized mental illness, becoming indistinguishable from Loughner. For what it's worth, the opening paragraph of Glenn Beck's book:
“They're changing the books so that in a generation from now almost nobody will remember what this country used to be. They've got the economy set up to fall like a house of cards whenever they're ready to tap the first one at the foundation. They've got the controlled media all lined up and ready to carry out their PR campaign. And they've got people so indebted and mind-controlled and unprepared, they'll turn to anybody who says he's got the answer…They're going to stage something soon to get it all started.”
Ben Smith is right. That does "sound more like mental illness than politics."

The paranoia and anti-centralization sentiments that are evident in Loughner's writing are, however, not unique to the modern Conservative tea party crowd. Hysteric paranoia is as American as apple pie. The original silver-standard populist, William Jennings Bryan, almost rode a wave of anti-banker-Washington paranoia into the White House in 1896. That's what makes the American Political Tradition such a great read. The explicit calls to arms from all corners of the political spectrum (though, honestly, have you heard any calls to arms from the Left in the past thirty years?) are unacceptable. They normalize violence, inviting a gunman to bring a pistol and two loaded extended clips with him to a political gathering, indiscriminately firing into a crowd of fellow citizens. By the way, news reports now suggest that as heroic men tackled Loughner to the ground, he wasn't retreating; he was reloading.

Jared Lee Loughner- What Kind of Man?

In the wake of the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ 08), the question "what kind of man would do this?" must be answered. The man not only put a gun into the face of a woman and fired, but then injured 18 additional people, killing a reported 6. Police, the media, and political establishment are all having their say.

The most basic evaluation is: a mentally disturbed man. Internet sleuths have uncovered his facebook page which simultaneously lists Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto as favorite books without apparent irony. Mr. Loughner, while attending his local community college last year was often a disruption in class and in the library, coming to police attention as a nuisance in the school. His rambling youtube manifestos do not suggest coherence or an ability to present a cogent worldview.

At the same time, his writings certainly seem to be informed by a particular anti-government conspiracy theory revolving around a secret currency. A little internet digging reveals that this 'secret currency' stuff is stock and trade for anti-semitic fringe 'experts' who suggest investing in gold coins. You know, that old goldline scam that Glenn Beck has been milking via sponsorship money. It seems that Jared Lee Loughner, while mentally unstable, was dipping his intellectual quill near Glenn Beck waters, which may be purely coincidental. In any event, his time spent on the internet (and possibly in front of the tv) seems to have been spent absorbing conspiracy theories relating to the big bad federal government.

Jared Lee Loughner also seems to be quite the student of philosophy. His belief that the government practices "mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar," seems odd, certainly, but not outside the (loosely defined) bounds of critical postmodernism. His videos are obsessed with control over language, economy, and social interaction. He expreses a desire to splinter away from the English speaking community, the dollar, and reality. This certainly fits into the "mentally disturbed" storyline, though as was the lesson from the Terry Shiavo case, it's probably a bad idea to diagnose patients via youtube videos.

The videos' tropes of superiority compared to the rest of the American population (e.g. "The majority of the American population has never read the American population... You're literate, listener?") certainly hit the same scale as Glenn Beck's rants (e.g. "You can live the E4 system... or you can live in ignorance and anger" Glenn Beck Program 1/07/2011 3:09:00), and the repetition of rhetorical questions ending in "... listener," implies a familiarity with talk radio, though I don't know of any particular radio host who insists on being quite that annoying. We're left with the impression of a socially isolated man who received most of his information from talk radio and the internet. One thing we do know about Loughner's frame of mind: he was focused particularly on his Congressional district, mentioning the "illiteracy" of citizens of the 8th District in one of his videos. This certainly suggests that he processed the world around him through a political lens, lining up with the circumstantial links between his videos and right-wing rhetoric. His unstable mind acted like a prism, refracting and focusing conspiracy theories into an assassination plot on his Congresswoman.

Except that turns out not be entirely right. Police are searching for a second suspect, a middle age male who transported Jared Lee Loughner to the Safeway parking lot to assassinate the Honorable Gabrielle Giffords. The nature of the man's relationship to the shooter is still murky, as is whether the driver knew of Loughner's plot beforehand.

What we do know is that Loughner has been keeping silent while in custody, steadfastly claiming Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. This is not the trademark of the mentally disturbed post-rampage suspect, who often is either prepared to face the consequences or is not inhibited from forfeiting testimony. Perhaps the silence is designed to protect his accomplice and is part and parcel of a larger conspiracy. The New York Times briefly reported that a suspicious package was found in Gifford's Tucson office today, though the scene was eventually cleared after the bomb squad detonated the package in a controlled blast. Either Loughner was connected to the bomb and possibly a larger conspiracy, used as a pawn by an ideologically driven cell, or he was simply one part of a continuing violent milieu supported and egged-on by internet groups, radio talk show hosts, and Fox News. I hope the answer is the conspiracy explanation because honestly, that's a lot less troubling.

Just as a note, as I was tagging this blog post, I was shocked by how many tags are applicable from previous blog posts. This incident has been long in the making with years of inciting, enabling speech coming from a multitude of sources. This attack is certainly an outcome of the violence-tinged political culture that Fox News, talk radio, and the far right have fostered. Sheriff Dupnik said it best:
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government," he said. "The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

Mr. Dupnik said it is time for the country to "do a little soul searching."

He added: "The vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business ... This has not become the nice United States that most of us grew up in."

Later, he said: "It's not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. That's the sad thing about what's going on in America: pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Jared Loughner

Midday on Saturday, gun shots interrupted a public meeting between a Congresswoman and her constituents in Arizona. The suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, shot 18 and killed at least 6 outside a supermarket in Tucson. Among the dead are a 9 year old child and a federal judge, John Roll.
Ms. Giffords was speaking to constituents in a supermarket alcove under a large white banner bearing her name when a man ran up and began firing. He then tried to escape on foot but was tackled by a bystander and taken into custody by the police. The Saturday event was outside a Safeway supermarket and was the first opportunity for constituents to meet with Ms. Giffords since she was sworn in for a third term on Wednesday.
FBI chief Robert Mueller is en route to Tucson to lead the official investigation. There may be accomplices to the assassination. Pima County Sheriff Dupnik has confirmed that investigators are searching for a second suspect, roughly 50 years in age who transported Loughner to the "Congress on your Corner" event. A check of Jared Loughner's online presence suggest a deeply disturbed man (what a cliche) caught up in anti-government propaganda and anti-immigrant sentiment. His main focus seems to be the Ron Paul-like fascination with gold-backed currency. His final video ends with the statement, "In conclusion, my ambition - is for informing literate dramers about new currency; in a few days, you know I'm conscience dreaming! Thank you!" The video was posted three weeks ago.

The media is treating the shooting as an assassination attempt against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-08), who is currently in critical condition. As a congresswoman, Ms. Giffords is a much more public figure than Judge Roll, though stories note that both have received death threats recently. It is unclear whether these threats are connected to Saturday's attack. Giffords was famously included on Sarah Palin's infamous "Don't Retreat-RELOAD" map which used gunsights to designate Democrats targeted during the election. Perhaps this is why I feel so uneasy reading the NYTimes sentence, "Ms. Giffords was part of the Democratic class of 2006 that swept Democrats into the majority and that just turned over this past Tuesday to the Republicans. She narrowly survived a re-election bid in November."

Friday, January 7, 2011

Any Takers?

All of the histrionics regarding the expanding power of Congress and the out-of-control (read: democratically enacted) regulations for the public good really makes you wonder: what do the people who think that the Commerce Clause has been misinterpreted propose is the right interpretation of the Commerce Clause? So you don't have to go running for Article I §8, here it is:
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
What is your interpretation of that clause that prevents the government from regulating interstate corporations? What regulations are acceptable? What Supreme Court doctrine departs from the original meaning of the clause? Was Gibbons v. Ogden 22 U.S. 1 (1824) wrongly decided because it expanded the scope of Congressional authority to regulating intercourse among the several states as opposed only to trade?

I am genuinely curious.

This might be of interest to you: a brief overview of Commerce Clause doctrine.

Budgeting for Obamacare Repeal

The 112th Congress is off to a roaring start, now that the remaining two Republicans have finally been sworn in (or something like it). So how should we evaluate the work that the new Congress is doing? Megan McArdle's budget advice to legislators provides a nice standard for judging whether the new Congress is doing its job:
We need politicians who think about these things the way a financially sound family thinks about their budget. First, [sic] they prioritize the absolute essentials: food, shelter, transportation, utilities. Then they think about everything else in the context of building a sustainable overall budget--where the first priority is making sure that the whole budget balances, and works together. No matter how nice things like music lessons or restaurant meals may be, they are subordinate to the need to keep spending sustainable.
Is the 112th Congress approaching their budget in a way commensurate with the principles of a financially strapped family? A family looks at their estimated income and recorded expenses in an attempt to project a reasonable fiscal path into the future. This is actually pretty easy for legislators to do because they have an agency which does this for them. Non-political professionals at the Congressional Budget Office provide this analysis to politicians whenever a bill is proposed.

Instead of acting like our model family, Congressional Republicans are simply ignoring the CBO report, attacking the office for doing its job. In John Boehner's words, "I simply do not believe that [repeal]... will add to the deficit." If he were to read the report, however, he might come to a different conclusion. The GOP doesn't want to acknowledge that the first substantive bill they will introduce in the House would raise the federal deficit by $770 billion so they are attempting to kill the messenger. Republicans have routinely attacked "the reality based community" over the past decade when Republican ideology is contradicted by evidence. And I'm sure that they will continue to do so. Don't expect much respect for the analysis that the Obamacare repeal would kill millions of jobs.

Taking in evidence and trusting expert analysis is a prerequisite of creating a budet for a family or the country. That is what parents do when they make and follow family budgets. The Republicans are acting instead like teenagers. If they're not going to take their responsibilities seriously, it may be time to ground them.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Life In a Republican Led Congress

Republicans demanded that the full (amended) version of the Constitution be read on the House floor on the first day of the 112th Congress. That was pretty silly. Sillier is that Republican lawmakers then violated the Constitution by conducting official business without being sworn in. The other silly news item of the day is more sad than anything: a woman had to be removed from the House gallery during the reading of the Constitution because she interrupted the proceedings as the Natural Born Citizen clause was read. She screamed that the clause did not apply to President Obama. Either she knows something we don't (such as Barack Obama was born by cesarean section operation a la MacDuff) or this is the fruits of letting conservative ideology commingle with absurd conspiracy theories.

Say what you will about liberal 9/11 Truthers- at least they kept their crazy on the internet. The Republicans have invited the crazy into the Capitol.

Democrats cut budget, Republicans increase deficit

Two stories today tell the unfolding narrative of the 112th Congress and the Obama administration. Despite Republican promises to cut government spending, and deal with the deficit in a serious way, it is the Obama administration who is putting savings for American taxpayers on the table. Meanwhile, the first substantive act of the Republican-led house will be to add to the deficit and increase the national debt.

Much of the increase in the federal budget over the last decade has been in defense and security spending, though the exact budgetary demands of these semi-secret agencies are classified. Taking on the secret security apparatus will be an interesting challenge, but I doubt that President Obama wants to engage in that fight. After all, Republicans love nothing more than bashing Democrats for cutting wasteful weapons systems that will never be used.

Bombings of MD state buildings

Two packages have exploded in buildings owned by the State of Maryland. Initial reports are that two employees suffered minor injuries.

Who knows what will shake out of the investigation, but I'm going to make a few assumptions. First of all, that there are no more bombs. The simultaneous explosion of the bombs suggests that if there were additional packages, detonation on the additional ones would have already been attempted. Secondly, that the target was specific agencies of the State of Maryland. Federal government, police forces, and other states are not involved in this terrorist attack.

This suggests that this is an instance of rightist domestic terrorism. As far as I know, no international terrorists have a grudge with the state of Maryland. One target was Maryland governor Martin O'Malley (D). The bomb which detonated in the Annapolis building was addressed to him. The other package exploded in the mailroom of the Department of Transportation. My guess is that someone really doesn't like the Maryland DMV.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Balanced Budget Amendment

Mike Lee, the newly minted Senator from Utah, is willing to work with Democrats to get the peoples' business done this year on one condition: passage of an amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced budget. The right-tilted blogosphere has picked up on the idea, and he just announced his position on NPR. Rightists also advocated this amendment back in 1994, so this is hardly new.

This would essentially be a Constitutional provision which would be enforced only in the House of Representatives, which is the house of Congress which originates all appropriations, spending, and revenue measures. Unlike most provisions in the Constitution, it does not speak to the interplay between branches. There is a textual check with no enforcement mechanisms. Courts are unable to force Congress to stay within a balanced budget because such a lawsuit would ask federal courts to revise every act of Congress over a budget cycle, asking them to legislate from the bench. There is also no instruction to state budgeting processes, which are paramount to state sovereignty.

Essentially, the rightists backing this amendment would like the U.S. Constitution to tell the House more explicitly how to do its job. I don't think this is necessary. I think that the voters should be on top of telling their legislators to come up with realistic budgets which ensure the general welfare of the American public. There is simply no reason that this should be in the Constitution. After all, if the House doesn't want to produce a balanced budget, a Constitutional amendment can't force them to produce one. The voters, on the other hand, have that power. Demanding that the Constitution include such a provision gives short shrift to the necessity that the citizenry drive responsible budgeting in Congress.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

GOP to attempt Affordable Care Act Repeal

The headline says it all, at least as far as the political elite and policy wonks are concerned. But what exactly does the GOP plan to overturn the 2008 electoral mandate for health reform mean?

Off the top of my head: the people who vote for this bill want to take away vouchers from millions of Americans to make health insurance affordable. They want to let health insurance companies refuse to insure Americans with preexisting conditions, many of whom would be healthy and productive members of society if they had access to health insurance. Republicans want to force people to have only one health insurance option in their market, granting monopolies to HMOs. Those are things that everyone should care about (and be against, those who own enough HMO stocks to balance out insurance premium increases excepted). Oh- I forgot, and defunding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will make it less likely that insurance companies will stop raising their premiums to enlarge already sky-high profits.

For social Republican voters, there's the fact that Republicans will be voting to allow federal funding for abortions by repealing the Stupak amendment. Forcing more employees onto employer-provided plans will also inhibit hiring and slow job growth.

So if you were a Democratic strategist, which message would you stick to in order to ensure that it survived a few news cycles? I would pick the "Takes millions of dollars out of the pockets of American families that would pay for health insurance" angle. It matches the recent GOP tax cuts for millionaires in showing that Republicans want to tax the poor in order to pay for the wealthy's excesses. Oh- and while we're at it, bring on financial reform repeal, where the GOP will be voting for more bonuses for Wall Street.