Joni Ernst

The Future, Revealed?

Jobs, jobs, jobs ... j'abortion!

We might for a moment pause to recall 2010. Republicans achieved a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, but the real story was in the state houses, where the GOP made astounding gains by hammering away at the economic instability their Congressional partners worked so hard to create.

And then they tacked away from jobs. As Rachel Maddow memorably put it, “Jobs, jobs jobs … j’abortion”. State-level Republicans passed record numbers of anti-abortion bills, knowing that most of them were unconstitutional. And it is certainly an old conservative scheme, to tilt windmills, lose, and then bawl that the sky is falling because the Constitution is Sauron and Democrats and liberals the armies of Mordor.

With many predicting a Republican blowout in the 2014 midterms, some are looking ahead to figure out just what that will means in terms of policy and governance. And some of those are Republicans.

Yet there is a week left; perhaps this isn’t the best time to be telegraphing the Hell they intend to call down upon the Earth.

Or, as Lauren French and Anna Palmer of Politico explain:

Conservatives in Congress are drawing up their wish list for a Republican Senate, including “pure” bills, like a full repeal of Obamacare, border security and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline — unlikely to win over many Democrats and sure to torment GOP leaders looking to prove they can govern.

Interviews with more than a dozen conservative lawmakers and senior aides found a consensus among the right wing of the Republican Party: If Republicans take the Senate, they want to push an agenda they believe was hamstrung by the Democratic-controlled chamber, even if their bills end up getting vetoed by President Barack Obama.

Their vision could create problems for congressional leaders who want to show they aren’t just the party of “hell no.” And while conservatives say they agree with that goal, their early priorities will test how well John Boehner and Mitch McConnell can keep the party united.

Two points: Swing voters can’t say they weren’t warned. And conservative voters complaining about gridlock should admit that’s what they’re after.

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More Iowa Insanity

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice

Credibility is one of those things like a coin, that has two sides. To the one, credibility earns extraordinary respect for one’s opinion. To the other, that credibility also accentuates occasions when one exploits, and thereby squanders it.

Steve Benen offers an impressive effort, hoping to explain the magnitude of former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s betrayal of her own prestige in backing the U.S. Senate campaign of Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R-12):

The notion that Joni Ernst has an admirable understanding of America’s role abroad is tough to take seriously.

It’s Ernst, after all, who recently argued that Saddam Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction – reality be damned – based on secret evidence that Ernst has “reason to believe,” but can’t explain.

I can see why such nonsense might endear the far-right candidate to a veteran of the Bush/Cheney team, but it doesn’t exactly reflect someone with sound judgment on international affairs.

For that matter, Ernst also argued in a recent debate that “there’s no sense” in having members of Congress meet their obligations under the Constitution when it comes to authorizing the use of military force abroad.

And, then, of course, there are Ernst fears about the Agenda 21 conspiracy.

Then again, maybe Dr. Rice hasn’t actually betrayed any credibility. It could be that she never really had any in the first place, while Beltway journalists pretended she did. It makes for a better story that way.

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Benen, Steve. “Condoleezza Rice praises Ernst’s foreign policy vision”. 29 October 2014.

A Question: Why Do We Need to Lower the Bar for Iowa?

Joni Ernst and Sarah Palin push misogyny as an Iowa value.

Because Joni Ernst and Sarah Palin say so.

Hey, Iowa, are you embarrassed yet?

Republican Joni Ernst defended Tuesday her decision to abruptly cancel a meeting with the Des Moines Register Editorial Board last week, telling CNN “it didn’t make sense” because she knew they would back her Democratic opponent.

(Bash)

How about now?

Meanwhile, this is a Republican wanting to change the rules.

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The Dignity of the Great State of Texas (and Other Notes)

Texas

See, the thing about Texas ....

It is, actually, a difficult proposition to pick on a whole state. After all, no population is monolithic. Still, though, there is a reason why one might note, as Tim Murphy of Mother Jones did last week, that—

As a Texas state senator, Dan Patrick has conducted himself in a manner consistent with the shock jock he once was. Patrick—who is now the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor—has railed against everything from separation of church and state to Mexican coyotes who supposedly speak Urdu. He’s even advised his followers that God is speaking to them through Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.

—and others will simply nod and mutter to themselves something about how that sounds right. Nor will those folks be surprised to find that the article only goes downhill from there.

And it is true that we see this over and over again, and while it is not some rarified view from an emerald tower to the far horizon, it is a difficult calculation to express just what it is they are doing wrong. Like art and obscenity, though, sometimes it is just plain apparent.

Whether it’s advocating violence against journalists, offering women money to abandon babies, tinkering with history in textbooks, trying to cram small government between women’s legs, showing his tolerance through intolerance, something about coyotes speaking Urdu, denigrating migrants, touting his own piety in order to be seen by other men, breaking Senate rules in order to try to force a bill through because, well, you know, God, mocking Asians, or arguing against the separation of church and state, there really isn’t anything about Murphy’s profile of the shoe-in to what is described as the most powerful office in Texas that doesn’t “sound Texas”.

One of the things about states’ rights is that in our democratic society, how our majority votes is one of the most apparent projections of what our society believes. It’s kind of like wondering what the Joni Ernst campaign means as an expression of Iowa values. Does any of this embarrass supporters?

And Texas? Come on, we saw Rick Perry in the 2012 primary. And it is still hard to explain the two presidential terms of George W. Bush. But for all the miserable disaster about Perry or Bush, or Ron “Legitimate Rape” Paul? Really? Does none of this embarrass the Texans who support these people?

Take Rep. Vance McAllister. The Republican from Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District is best known as the “kissing congressman”, and sure, it’s not the worst thing in the world for a member of Congress to be caught cheating on his wife. And some would make the point that, hey, it was just a kiss, you know? But what was really, really embarrassing about that episode, what seemed so unreal, was the back and forth about whether he would resign, or maybe simply not run for Congress again, and, well, now he actually trails the lone Democrat in a six-way race otherwise rated Safe Republican. Still, the only people annoyed by the controversy seem to be his opponents. And in truth, it is hard for outsiders to comprehend the context of Times-Picayune political reporter James Varney’s recent explanation of the race for LA5CD:

Is McAllister this bad? Does he actually have a chance of being re-elected?

Well, as for the first question, maybe not. He’s a veteran, for one thing. And he earned all that money through savvy personal business moves, for another. In addition, as his campaign stresses, he holds a bunch of excellent positions: he’s against amnesty; he thinks Obamacare is terrible.

So, taken all in all, McAllister is the sort of guy who could have kept his seat in Congress and a Robertson family duck blind forever if he could have simply resisted his married staffer.

Whether he has a chance or not is hard to determine. The Robertson clan, maintaining the Old Testament stance that jibes with their unshaven look, is backing and bankrolling a relative, Zach Dasher. Dasher, a political rookie, is also supported by outside groups like the Club for Growth.

It’s a crowded Republican field, too. The third candidate most people familiar with the field identify as a guy with a shot at the runoff is Ralph Abraham. Abraham holds both medical and veterinary degrees so he’s overqualified for the job. There isn’t a whole lot of daylight between the three men on the issues.

There’s also a Democrat in the race and, somewhat surprisingly, he’s reportedly got a shot at a spot in the runoff. There appears to be little reliable, objective polling data on the race. More than a month ago The News-Star in Monroe had McAllister leading the race with 27 percent followed by the Democrat, former Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo.

At some point, it seems as if we are reading a satire on Poe’s Law, which essentially asserts that at some point it becomes impossible to discern between satire or even parody to the one, and reality to the other. And when this sort of question was largely restricted to internet arguments about anything under the sun, it was whatever it was. As a particular notion was explained to me in 1995, “Remember, this is the internet. Any moron with a connection can have a soapbox.” To what degree the surfactant has permeated the social discourse is a complex question, of course, but there does come a point when it seems almost impossible to dismiss the simple fact of certain results. Dan Patrick and Rick Perry in Texas? Vance McAllister in Louisiana? “Fangate”, for heaven’s sake? Really, it sounds like a cruel joke, “America’s Wang”, except that, well, it’s Florida, so one nods and mutters, “Sounds about right.”

In the end, it’s not that we hate these people in these states, because we don’t. And we might hope that despite the general contempt they show the rest of American society they don’t actually hate us. But, damn it, what kind of friends, family, or neighbors would we be if we stood by, watching them denigrate and even hurt themselves, and simply say nothing?

Sometimes people embarrass themselves. And, yes, sometimes it’s really, really funny. But the point is to be able to look back on this, someday, and laugh. These aren’t storts of things we should be laughing at, though. The implications are serious. And when the history is written, and the damage is tallied, the indictments will be hideous. At this point, simply admitting there is a problem might be a generational process for some of these states.

And we can complain about the media all we want, but in the end, the only way to change it is to stop paying attention to what the stenographers journalists say. And in truth, not everybody is suited to read the news backwards, to start from the editorials and work back to the sources. Sometimes this proves fruitful, such as when one hears conservative commentators ranting about liberal judicial activism on the Supreme Court, and then finding the case they are talking about, and it turns out all the Court actually did was refuse to overturn the opinion of one of the most conservative state supreme courts in the nation.α To the one, however, it is a laborious process, and sometimes source documents can be hard to find. To the other, there are some people who simply do not seem to understand how government works. And those would be the sort who would complain about the Supreme Court imposing its will on the states, but then be unable to figure out that had Missouri not pushed its losing cause in front of the Supreme Court, it would have stayed in the states. In this case, though, Missouri really, wanted to execute someone, demanded the Supreme Court’s attention, got it, and then failed to make the case. And if you put the question to certain people—How did the Supreme Court impose its will by leaving a state supreme court decision to stand?—it seems somehow incompatible with whatever is going on in their minds to understand that had the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, the outcome would have been the same. Strangely, the dissonance of the complaint against liberal judicial activism creates an argument whereby the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting and overturning a state supreme court is the only outcome that would not constitute an imposition of will.

No, really, think about it. The three potential outcomes of Roper: (1) SCOTUS refuses to hear appeal, state supreme court decision stands; (2) SCOTUS hears appeal, upholds state supreme court decision; (3) SCOTUS hears appeal, overturns state supreme court decision. By the complaint of liberal judicial activism against the second possibility above—the one that came about—the first is similarly indicted for arriving at the same result; the third, technically, remains a mystery, but in this context of imposing against the states, the outcome that sees SCOTUS reject the state supreme court becomes the only one that does not impose the federal judiciary’s will on the states. The difference is in what part of a state one is looking at. It was the Missouri judiciary that imposed its judgment against the will of the state’s executive branch. And since the U.S. Supreme Court did not impose its will against the state judiciary, it imposed its will against the state executive branch. If it seems like a complicated accommodation for the executive branch of Missouri having asked the Supreme Court of the United States to impose its will? Well, right. That’s the problem with the rhetoric we hear from cable news commentary. And, really, considering what we know or believe about the “average voter”, who the hell has time to figure all that out? About everything?

And while all of this might seem a long and winding road from seeking divine inspiration in Duck Dynasty, we might hope to illustrate a larger issue. American society is lowering the proverbial bar for this crowd. And everybody selling something has a reason to play along. Simplistic sensationalism draws a news audience, which attends to the money biasβ. Simplified issue dynamics make for an appearance of greater efficiency and potency for campaign operations. And the candidates themselves have fewer details and quandaries to manage. In truth, the only losers in such a marketplace are the consumers, i.e., voters.

Stupidity is both simple and spectacular.

So, yes. We look to the low end of the data set, to what is dragging down the averages, and this is what we see? Yeah, the question persists: Aren’t they even a little bit embarrassed by all this?

It would be reassuring to believe they are.

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α That decision would be Roper v. Simmons (2005), in which the Supreme Court declined to overturn the Supreme Court of Missouri. In this case, reading backwards from the editorial complaint about liberal judicial activism, we find the underlying accusation to be that the Supreme Court of Missouri is apparently too liberal and activist. And, frankly, if the Supreme Court of Missouri is too liberal and activist, one wonders what the threshold actually is.

β You know that phantom liberal media conspiracy we hear about from time to time? It has always been about money, and part of the appearance of disparity in coverage is that while both sides indeed have their clowns, not all clowns are equal. What is the other side’s version of a Ted Haggard or George Rekers? Or Sarah Palin? Or Bryan Fischer? Or Ted Cruz? Really, if one asked about the other side’s John Boehner, it would be historically inaccurate to point to Nancy Pelosi. And there are reasons for this, and no, not all of them are moral or ethical indictments of conservative politics; much of it is just the fact of accelerating societal transformation and the resulting destabilization of prevailing cultural standards. That is to say, while conservatism itself is not inherently evil, there are reasons why it has come to this. That, in turn, is a larger discussion of its own.

Murphy, Tim. “Man Who Believes God Speaks to Us Through ‘Duck Dynasty’ Is About to Be Texas’ Second-in-Command”. Mother Jones. 21 October 2014.

Bowman, Bridget. “Poll Shows McAllister Race Is Wide Open”. Roll Call. 7 October 2014.

Everett, Burgess. “The passion of the ‘kissing congressman'”. Politico. 20 October 2014.

Varney, James. “Is Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., a big, fat slob or just a cheater?” The Times-Picayune. 21 October 2014.

Something About Chimpanzee Personhood

"This is not a welfare issue," argued Wise, who says existing animal welfare statutes permit Tommy to be kept alone in a cage. "The question is whether there is an unlawful detention here." To which Peters rejoined: What is unlawful about the detention?

So … right. Personhood for chimpanzees … and … go:

Can an animal who possesses the essential qualities of personhood ever be considered, in the eyes of the law, a person?

As of now, the answer is no. But a panel of New York state judges yesterday considered that question, which was posed by a group called the Nonhuman Rights Project on behalf of a 26-year-old chimpanzee named Tommy.

(Keim)

It is a compelling question, yet we should not feel silly for failing to grasp the implications; the range and magnitude are unknown, though we might simply say they are tremendous. Brandon Keim of Wired also offered some background when the case arose last year.

It is easy enough to agree with the proposition that species is irrelevant to personhood if one has cognitive capacity when we stare at walking, talking, and often shooting extraterrestrials on the silver screen, or reading adventures of human assassins who might otherwise fall in love with elves, but one might reasonably suggest we have problems dealing with questions of personhood in real life, insofar as they actually pertain to people we would otherwise already recognize as people. To the other, that does not mean the question of whether or not a chimpanzee counts as a person is without merit.

Still, though, given that all this occurs against a backdrop of an election season in which questions of personhood are emerging as a prominent, confusing, and, apparently, confused issue, the chimp factor is the something of a wildcard. That is to say, it seems rather difficult to suddenly screech up and shift contexts, especially because the implications of the new question could, under certain circumstances—e.g., personhood for chimpanzees—further complicate and confuse the ongoing political context that will, under certain circumstances—e.g., personhood for human zygotes—ultimately become a judicial context.

Yet it remains an interesting question.

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Keim, Brandon. “New York State Court Hears Landmark Chimp Personhood Case”. Wired. 9 October 2014.

—————. “A Chimp’s Day in Court: Inside the Historic Demand for Nonhuman Rights”. Wired. 6 December 2013.

Benen, Steve. “Erst stumbles on ‘personhood’ basics”. msnbc. 6 October 2014.

Why Chuck Todd Should Resign or Be Fired

Chuck Todd, host of NBC News' Meet the Press

“Chuck Todd does not get it. Once he becomes the news in this manner he has failed as a journalist.”

Egberto Willies

Maybe it is difficult for some to recall the days when journalism as an industry was raised on a pedestal as the Fourth Estate, the Guardians of the People against Tyranny.

Really. Was a time. Technically, it’s why we have a constitutional provision guaranteeing free press.

Journalism has, of course, changed. One would hope the industry has evolved, but the question remains whether the Fourth Estate has evolved with it, or “evolved to extinction”. While it is easy enough to pick on, say, FOX News in this manner, NBC’s Meet the Press has long been viewed as a fixture of the Fourth Estate.

And whatever we might think of David Gregory’s embarrassing watch, Chuck Todd seems determined to use the helm to run Meet the Press into the rocks. Or, as Egberto Willies explains for Daily Kos:

Daily KosChuck Todd does not get it. Once he becomes the news in this manner he has failed as a journalist. A few days ago Alison Lundergan Grimes was interviewed by the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board. They asked her whether she voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. She justifiably refused to answer.

The talking heads and pundits claimed she was not prepared for the question. The lack of sophistication of the traditional media is astounding. It was evident that she was prepared for the question and she intended not to answer it. It was evident that her team likely thought the downside was worse if she answered.

Chuck Todd in another case of irrational verbal diarrhea said that her answer “borders on disqualification.” One wonders how not answering an inconsequential and silly question borders on disqualification yet he never said such on the various substantive lies and misstatements by Mitch McConnell (e.g, implying that Kynect is not Obamacare, etc.).

It is a fair point, indeed even a necessary question. Observing that employers cannot ask job applicants who they voted for as a prerequisite of hiring, we can at least consider the principle in the question of politics. Willies notes that Grimes’ refusal to answer “denied Mitch McConnell’s team a sound bite that would have been replayed ad naseum in a state where President Obama is less popular than dog meat”. Tactically speaking, he has a point that, “In a low-information, sound-bite driven society, denying that sound bite was likely the better move”.

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Just Another Day in Iowa?

Iowa State Sen. Joni Ernst (R-12)

A persistent question in our electoral politics: Were you a business owner, would you really hire the candidate who says the job cannot and should not be done?

Really. Please. Just think about it for a moment.

In politics, we call this voting for Republicans. You know, the party that wants to drown government in the bathtub, because drowning someone you’ve beaten to such frailty that they cannot defend themselves is somehow a noble idyll?

And while Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R-12) is the sort of candidate for U.S. Senate that would ordinarily embarrass constituents, we must also remember that this is Iowa we’re talking about.

We already know about the example Speaker Boehner set, arguing that Congress can wait until next year to give any time to President Obama’s ongoing military action against Daa’ish. And Joni Ernst is taking that advice in earnest, making it a campaign argument. Steve Benen, who has spent some effort trying to follow the twists and turns of the Iowa Republican’s remarkably bizarre campaign, tried to unpack the latest truckload of premium-grade fertilizer:

At a Senate debate in Iowa over the weekend, Rep. Bruce Braley (D) argued, “I think Congress should go back into session and have a broader and longer conversation about the nature of our involvement” in the Middle East.

Joni Ernst’s (R) response was amazing, even by Joni Ernst standards:

“Yes, we knew this threat was there months and months and months ago and this decision could have been made earlier this year so there’s no sense in calling Congress back now when this decision could have been made several months ago.”

The quote comes by way of a Democratic group that recorded the debate.

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