Month: December 2014

A Political Win for the Very Idea of Justice

Contemplation of Justice

The question of Michael Boggs’ nomination to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Virginia has been something of a curious political football for President Obama; while Republicans have fought tooth and nail to oppose judicial nominees, it was Democrats and liberals who opposed Boggs’ nomination. With a nominee facing criticism of being overly political from his bench and supporting bigoted causes (e.g., racism, misogyny, homophobia), one might wonder why this president would even bother with such a nomination in the first place. And the answer, of course, is the arcane “blue slip” process, by which a president does not nominate a federal judge without the agreement of U.S. Senators from the state where that judge will preside.

Michael Boggs became the nominee because that is who Georgia Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chamblis wanted on the bench.

Democrats have succeeded in blocking the nomination. Jennifer Bendery brings the update for Huffington Post:

Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson (R) and Saxby Chambliss (R) said late Tuesday night that President Barack Obama won’t renominate Boggs next year for a lifetime post on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The news is a major victory for progressives who have fought Boggs’ nomination all year.

“It is with regret that we announce that the President will not re-nominate Judge Michael Boggs to the United States District Court for a third time. We were informed of the President’s decision by Denis McDonough, the President’s chief of staff, prior to Thanksgiving. We regret the President’s decision, as we have supported Judge Boggs throughout this process and remain steadfast in our support,” the senators said in a statement.

They continued, “Throughout the process, Judge Boggs has exhibited enormous restraint and the temperament expected of a jurist. These traits will serve him well for the opportunities we are confident the future holds for Judge Boggs. We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the people of Georgia.”

A White House spokesman confirmed that Obama won’t renominate Boggs, but offered no additional comment.

Those who follow American politics closely already know why progressive and liberal groups are celebrating. For everyone else, it is simply enough to bear in mind that the President Obama held to the tradition and nominated the judge recommended by the senators, and that there is a difference between the Senate not being able to scrape up enough votes to confirm a nominee with a record of bigotry, to the one, and a U.S. Senator deciding to pull his blue slip because a judge happens to be gay. In the history of advice and consent, the loss of Boggs’ nomination is much more according to what we expect of the process. Which, in turn, is much different from whatever it is Republicans think they are doing.

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Bendery, Jennifer. “It’s Official: Obama Won’t Renominate Michael Boggs”. The Huffington Post. 31 December 2014.

Alvarez, Lizette. “Rubio Withdraws Support for Gay Black Judge’s Nomination to the Federal Bench”. The New York Times. 23 September 2013.

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Pass/Fail

"TRUE OR FALSE: Objecting to certain police tactics is the same as hating all police officers."  (Jen Sorensen, 30 December 2014, via Daily Kos Comics)Remember how the cycle works.

It is a really simple idea: We would like to be able to support our law enforcement institutions and personnel.

This argument has been going on for a while; cartoonist Jen Sorensen asks an obvious question. Indeed, it is so obvious a question one need not wonder why the public discourse flees it in screaming terror.

So here’s the thing: When an ugly episode arises involving law enforcement, we are reminded that these episodes come about because of a proverbial few bad seeds. Yet these few seem rather quite protected by other police traditions that require the participation of the rest of those allegedly good officers. Didn’t see a thing, or the guy was definitely reaching for a gun, or what, do you want a guilty person to go free just because of a technicality?

But that is just a fallacy, a fundamentally dishonest reaction. It always seems to come down to an all-or-nothing proposition put before us by police supporters.

(more…)

Not a Burning Question, But Still

Detail of 'xkcd' #1464, by Randall Munroe, 26 December 2014.Sometimes we might hesitate to ask the question because we do not really wish to know the answer.

And sometimes someone asks the question, anyway.

And I have a punch line, certes, ne’er to be spoken. Written. Whatever. You’re welcome.

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Munroe, Randall. xkcd #1464. 26 December 2014.

The Headline

The weird thing about feelgood headlines is that they often require us to feel good about someone else’s suffering. To wit, Washington Post wants us to know that “The Islamic State is failing at being a state”.

It used to be that when we taught young Americans to read, the critical thinking skills required to distill such information for oneself was intended to be part of the instruction. Perhaps it is arguable that people need the news so distilled these days, but nothing about such a notion should be comforting.

Still, though, it is a grim picture Liz Sly paints for WaPo:

Map showing approximate extent of Daa'ish authority in Iraq and Syria; via Washington Post, 25 December 2014.The Islamic State’s vaunted exercise in state-building appears to be crumbling as living conditions deteriorate across the territories under its control, exposing the shortcomings of a group that devotes most of its energies to fighting battles and enforcing strict rules.

Services are collapsing, prices are soaring, and medicines are scarce in towns and cities across the “caliphate” proclaimed in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State, residents say, belying the group’s boasts that it is delivering a model form of governance for Muslims.

Slick Islamic State videos depicting functioning government offices and the distribution of aid do not match the reality of growing deprivation and disorganized, erratic leadership, the residents say. A trumpeted Islamic State currency has not materialized, nor have the passports the group promised. Schools barely function, doctors are few, and disease is on the rise.

In the Iraqi city of Mosul, the water has become undrinkable because supplies of chlorine have dried up, said a journalist living there, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his safety. Hepatitis is spreading, and flour is becoming scarce, he said. “Life in the city is nearly dead, and it is as though we are living in a giant prison,” he said.

Basic Freudianism prescribes the idea that many enter certain professions, or undertake particular endeavors, as a way of sublimating otherwise unacceptable influences. Some doctors, by that outlook, become surgeons simply because they like to cut; and while this seems an utterly simplistic notion we might also try it as a springboard, because it is also clear that there exists a societal question about doctors who “play god”, which would probably be a more common sublimation than the need to slice and dice one’s fellow human being. The boxer? That part is obvious; by basic Freudianism many pugilists just like being in fights, and this is one acceptable way to spend one’s life doing just that. The police officer? Indeed, Americans are grappling with related questions in recent months, but comparatively what is happening in the Middle East is a naked, exponential caricature of any question we might ask about our own governance.

(more…)

Eighteen Thousand

President Barack Obama, delivers his State of the Union speech at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

“Add it all up, and Obama’s radicalism has killed the Dow to the tune of a 171 percent return since Boskin’s op-ed.”

Matt O’Brien

It seems something of a petty reward, occasionally witnessing the press undergoing a market value correction. Matt O’Brien recalls a 2009 op-ed, and those who recall the narrative of our American economy over the coure of the last several years might find some sort of comfort in knowing that, having passed Obama’s final electoral test, we can all admit that the tales we spun over the course of his presidency have been so much excrement.

Oh, come on. How many people are willing to admit it, now that we’re through the year-six midterm? All of that equivocation in order to pretend there really was some sort of debate to be had about not so much whether or not the wild-eyed tales of Republican horror were true or false, but just how true we were supposed to believe they were.

Admit it. Even when you were trying to be “fair”, nodding and winking at the talk over the corner table at the tavern, you knew it was all a fertilizer manufactory.

We have tried, over recent years, to redefine everything in order to keep up the appearance of a fair fight.

Ask yourself this: What do you want a President to do? And if he really does it, will you turn around and complain?

The economy is doing fine, and has been for a while. What isn’t doing fine is our business sector; was a time when civic and business leaders were often one and the same. These days, business leaders are the antithesis of anything civic save for dissolution.

It’s okay to admit you were wrong. It’s even okay to wonder why you were so determined to be wrong.

But let us face the real fact: This president was never the problem.

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O’Brien, Matt. “Now that the Dow has hit 18,000, let us remember the worst op-ed in history”. The Washington Post. 23 December 2014.

The Best Blurb Ever

Detail of cartoon by Brian McFadden, 24 December 2014, via Daily Kos Comics.Okay, not really, but, you know, we needed an excuse.

The image is a detail from Brian McFadden’s look at holiday cinema, via Daily Kos Comics.

One of the Few Times We Get to Say ‘Zombie Jesus’

Jesus CHUD?

Each year we hear all manner of stupid blithering about how there is some sort of “War on Christmas”, which as we all know simply translates to a rejection of religious supremacism, but the conservatives can’t acknowledge that because, well, they’re the religious supremacists. Whatever. But, you know, what about when Christmas declares war on America?

A suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio has ordered one resident to remove a
zombie-themed nativity scene from his property, local TV station WLWT reported Tuesday night.

Jasen Dixon, a Sycamore Township man who manages a haunted house in Indiana, built the manger scene with zombie-like figures standing in for Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus and the three wise men.

But town officials following up on two anonymous complaints found that Dixon’s handmade nativity scene violated zoning codes.

(Thompson)

It’s actually almost funny, because it is an expected coincidence of political assertions and outcomes. That is to say, it’s kind of like TRAP laws, only presumably by accident. You know, a small-government conservatism coinciding with an intrustive governmental action using bureaucratic regulations to stop something Christians might object to.

No, seriously, this allegedly isn’t censorship of content, but, rather, a square-footage issue. As well as a procedural irony we can certainly enjoy that virtually renders the issue moot.

Welcome to Middle America.

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Thompson, Catherine. “Ohio Town Orders Man To Take Down Zombie Nativity Scene”. Talking Points Memo Livewire. 24 December 2014.

One of Those Things That Shouldn’t Be Said Explicitly

“Sadly, the bloodshed will most likely continue until those in positions of power realize that the unequivocal support of law enforcement is required to preserve our nation.”

Fraternal Order of Police in Baltimore

Alright, then. From their pen to your eyes: Unequivocal support of law enforcement is required to preserve our nation.

Carte blanche. That’s all they’re demanding. If you don’t back the police hell or high water, regardless of what they do or fail to do, it’s all over, people. So say the Baltimore cops.

(more…)

That Republican Unity You’ve Been Hearing About

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)

Speaking of unity and the Republican Party ....

Tea party favorite Mike Lee roiled the GOP establishment four years ago when he knocked off a sitting senator on his way to the Republican Senate nomination in Utah.

Now, the establishment might strike back.

As the 43-year-old Lee plots his 2016 reelection bid, he is courting business leaders under the radar, hoping to head off a primary challenge backed by business leaders and other establishment figures in his home state, like billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr., an influential bank CEO and a former Utah GOP party chairman.

Some powerful establishment Republicans in Utah are tired of Lee’s hard-line positions. He stood with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas last year when the federal government closed and again this month when they tried to take on President Barack Obama on immigration but ended up giving Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada leverage to confirm controversial nominations.

So as Lee fights to make sure he doesn’t become the first tea party senator ousted by the party establishment, he’s effectively turned the Republican intraparty war that has defined Senate primary politics for the past four years on its head.

(Raju)

Is there a way we can blame this on Ben Carson?

It’s hard to say what voters will do if given the choice again, but we must also recall that between whatever passed for the Republican version of sanity and responsible decency and, well, Sen. Mike Lee, voters in Utah went with the latter. Well, okay, let us be clear: His predecessor, Sen. Bob Bennett, was a conservative stalwart who just wasn’t conservative enough to not be drummed out by his own state’s Republican Party.

We’ll have to see what comes of any attempt to inject sanity in to Utah politics; all previous efforts seem to have failed, so it is fair if one holds low expectations.

Still, though, we can pretend it’s unity if we want to blame Ben Carson for wrecking it, right?

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Raju, Manu. “Tea partier braces for primary challenge from the establishment”. Politico. 22 December 2014.

Almost Exactly on Cue

In March, Ben Carson spoke at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference. (Credit Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

There are any number of undignified things we might suggest about the GOP and Ben Carson, as Republicans have played happy at his presence in the discourse. Perhaps the least nasty way of saying it is that Republicans never had any intention of following him to the White House, but, rather, just needed a body that met certain superficial criteria to send out to the line. Or perhaps we could simply say that a brief paragraph in Trip Gabriel’s article for the New York Times stands out both as extraordinary and hardly a surprise:

Though few Republican strategists expect Mr. Carson, 63, to be the nominee, they acknowledge his potential to throw a wrench into the establishment’s desire to unify early, and the danger of turning off moderates if his divisive views continue to gain traction.

The party has sent him out to bait and court extremists, and recently he placed second in a CNN/ORC poll considering 2016 presidential candidates; Carson placed second, with the poll winner being a non-candidate named Mitt Romney.

We ought not wonder that the prospect of Ben Carson rising to legitimate presidential aspiration and possibility unsettles Republican Party institutions. It is one thing for conservatives to send a black man out to race-bait the White House, but another entirely to actually put him up for the presidency.

Furthermore, it is almost as if NYT is happy to play along: “G.O.P. Hopes for Unity”, reads the headline, “May Be Upset by Ben Carson”.

As a thesis, everything about the statement is wrong.

It’s almost funny. But consider that at this time last year the presumed front-runners for 2016 had all flamed out in one way or another. Marco Rubio was drowning in his own clownish incompetence, Chris Christe was busy trying to tread water amid the tumbling wreckage of the Bridge Scandal, and Rand Paul revealed to Americans that he doesn’t know what plagiarism is. And again, through the electoral season, Republicans tore themselves up with vicious primary fights, including a debacle in Middle America that racked up a death toll. And the Speaker of the House can’t pass his own bills because he can’t whip his own caucus into line.

Seriously, then: Ben Carson is the thorn in the side of GOP unity?

Really?

There is a way in which that makes sense, but such discussions are not intended for polite society.

Neither should one be surprised that the Republican discourse prefers such a setting.

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Gabriel, Trip. “G.O.P. Hopes for Unity May Be Upset by Ben Carson”. The New York Times. 21 December 2014.

CNN/ORC. “Interviews
with 1,045 adult Americans conducted by telephone by ORC International on November 21-23, 2014”. 2 December 2014.