One More Filibuster and Harry Reid Will Take Republicans to the Cleaners!

FilibusterYou can tell if a dog has been castrated, because it has no testicles. You can’t tell this with humans because they wear pants. So I’m just guessing, but I think Harry Reid has been castrated. It may just have been done for the public good. The last thing we need are a whole lot more unwanted Harry Reids roaming the streets of Washington. Of course, I’m guessing that Reid was castrated based upon how he’s dealt with the filibuster problem in the Senate and how it shows that he has no balls.

Last night, The Hill published yet another one of those “if the Republicans don’t cut it out, the Democrats are gonna do something” article, Senate Democrats: Nuclear Option for Filibuster Is Back on the Table. It reported that now organized labor is upset about the situation, especially as it applies to the National Labor Relations Board and Thomas Perez’s nomination as Secretary of Labor. I’m glad to hear that labor is pushing the Democrats, but if recent history is any guide, the Democrats will just ignore them.

The good guys in the Senate are, as usual, making sense. Bernie Sanders seems very angry and would like to see something done. And of course one of Harry Reid’s two young, fine senators, Jeff Merkley is none too happy. But the article would have us believe that Harry Reid too is mad. But the article only went as far as to say he was “seriously mulling another attempt at filibuster reform.” Well! He’s “seriously” thinking about an “attempt” at, what? Another pathetic filibuster reform idea that won’t solve the problem? Another limit on how long the minority can delay a vote before they filibuster it? And how long is Reid going to mull it over? Until 2016 when he retires?

The frustrating thing about all of this is that I don’t go a week without reading an article about how the Democrats are really unhappy about how the Republicans are abusing the filibuster. If I were a Republican, I wouldn’t give it another thought. And the sad thing is that I don’t think Harry Reid and company put out these signals for the Republicans. I think they are put out for people like me who are beyond angry at the Democrats’ inability to do anything about this.

Of course, such articles are never complete without a quote from Mitch McConnell, and this one was no different. The Minority Leader said, “We are fundamentally turning the Senate into the House. The minority’s out of business.” To which I say: who cares? Of course Mitch McConnell will complain about reducing minority rights in the Senate; he’s in the minority! But I guarantee you this: the moment he is in the majority, he will change his tune. And that is now and always will be the main issue. The Republicans have destroyed the filibuster system. And their response to that once it is used against them will be to abolish it. As it is, they almost did so in 2005 when the Democrats were actually filibustering less than the Republicans had in the previous years and half as much as the Republicans have been since.

I am fully prepared to forgive Harry Reid everything if the article is correct and he does something substantial in July. But there are two core problems. First: he probably won’t do squat. Second, if he does do something, it will be pathetically minor. It may even turn out to be another handshake agreement with Mitch McConnell. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice, shame on me…

Afterword

The title of this article is in reference to The Life of Brian. “Big Nose” is “Harry Reid”:

Shock and Awe at The Onion

The OnionI read two excellent articles on The Onion today. One shocked me and the awed me. Hence the title.

The first was Adidas Unveils New Running Shoe For Fleeing From Mass Shootings. It is a pretty standard Onion story. At least, it is until the last sentence:

NEW YORK—With the launch Tuesday of a massive nationwide ad campaign, athletic footwear manufacturer Adidas has officially unveiled the Adidas Bystander, the first shoe designed for running away from a mass public shooting. “From its reinforced tread engineered specifically for running in a zigzag pattern to its whisper-quiet, low-squeak rubber, the Bystander combines speed and stealth to create the perfect shoe for escaping or hiding from an armed murderer,” Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer said at a press conference. “And its brand-new Firmo-Grip sole minimizes slippage, even when you’re panicked and need to move quickly through puddles of freshly spilled blood. No shoe has ever been better suited for today’s running, crouching, and cowering needs.” The shoes, which go on sale at the end of the month, will be available for wearers as young as 5.

Wow. All I could think was that The Onion really is America’s Finest News Source. With that one sentence, they put America’s gun problem into perspective. Of course, I would note that 5 years of age is probably a little old.

The second story is from last month and it has me in awe of The Onion writers. It is perhaps the best social satire since A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick. (I love 18th century titles!) The Onion reported, Romney Drops By To See How Down-And-Out Family He Met On Campaign Trail Doing. That’s a pretty good title, but the article itself is pitch perfect. You should go over and read the whole thing, but here’s an abridged version:

CANTON, OH—According to reports, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney stopped by Wednesday morning to check up on Allen and Brenda Spearing, a financially strapped mother and father of three with whom he met briefly and had his photo taken while campaigning last year.

Family members said Romney, who arrived at their home unaccompanied and unannounced, warmly greeted them when they opened the door and, after he was invited inside, spent more than three hours catching up with them.

“It’s been a few months since I’ve seen you guys, so I thought I’d pop by and see how everyone is holding up,” Romney said after hugging the Spearings, who confirmed the 2012 GOP nominee has phoned or emailed regularly since the October campaign stop during which he shook their hands for five seconds and assured them he would work hard for their family if elected president…

After several minutes of small talk with the Spearings, Romney reportedly steered the discussion to their financial situation, first suggesting ways the family could refinance their costly mortgage and then going over some job leads he had researched for Allen, who was laid off from his position at an automotive plant last August.

“The job market is tough right now, and trust me, you’re not the only one going through this,” said Romney, putting his arm around the 46-year-old father. “But listen, I know a few people in the manufacturing sector, and I’ve been putting in some calls for you. I’m sure one of these prospects will work out sooner or later.”

“In the meantime, take the wife and kids out for a nice meal on me,” added Romney, discreetly handing Spearing several $20 bills from his wallet….

The visit to the Spearings’ home was immediately followed by a trip to the nearby Deer Creek Retirement Center, where sources said Romney spent one-on-one time with all 200 residents, each of whom he appeared to know by name. He then met with a cash-strapped small business owner in danger of losing her family-run restaurant, personally combing through the woman’s entire 2012 IRS filing in search of any additional tax credits she might be able to take advantage of next year.

As with every voter Romney has visited—from Virginia to Wisconsin to Colorado—the Spearings expressed their gratitude for the former Massachusetts governor’s heartfelt concern.

“I’m ashamed to admit it now, but when we first met him during the campaign, I thought maybe he was just saying all that stuff because he was running for president, you know?” Allen Spearing told reporters. “It turns out that’s just the kind of guy Mitt is.”

“He told my family he cared about us, and he really does,” Spearing added.

At press time, Romney had reportedly left Ohio just in time to make it to his weekly five-hour volunteer shift at a soup kitchen in New Hampshire.

Not to make too big a deal about it, but this highlights how we all play a role in these ridiculous social rituals. All the people who met with Romney and Obama know that it isn’t real. The candidate pretends that he cares and the people pretend that they believe him. But what if Romney really did care about these people? It would be a full time job. And that’s why people like him only pretend to care: to get a powerful job like the President of the United States. Otherwise, fuck the people.

Afterword

Romney giving the family $100 for dinner would be like me giving them less than a penny. (I calculated it!)

Blue for Thomas Gainsborough

Thomas GainsboroughPhotorealist Robert Bechtle is 81 today. Bass player and lead singer of Cream Jack Bruce is 70. Ridiculously overrated director George Lucas is 69. Another blockbuster director, Robert Zemeckis is 62. Pain in the ass and narcissistic Talking Heads front man, David Byrne is 61. Actor Tim Roth is 52. Cate Blanchett is 44. Director Sofia Coppola is 42. And evil businessman Mark Zuckerberg is 29.

The day belongs to the great painter Thomas Gainsborough was born on this day in 1727. Most people know him from The Blue Boy, which captivated me when I was a kid. There is something especially compelling about how he painted faces. Interestingly, he much preferred to paint landscapes. I don’t find them as compelling, even if they are very important.

Happy birthday Thomas Gainsborough!

GOP Latino Outreach Director Turns Democratic

Pablo PantojaI laugh pretty easily, but I very rarely guffaw. But I did today when I read the following, “In Florida, the GOP’s state director of Hispanic outreach, Pablo Pantoja, has resigned his position, left the Republican Party, and changed his party identification to ‘Democrat.'” I’m not quite sure why I found it so funny. I guess it is the extreme nature of changing party affiliation. It is not surprising that someone working for GOP outreach to Latinos would quit in disgust. But to be so disgusted he changes party? That’s funny!

It also goes along with what I’ve been saying for months: immigration reform is necessary but not sufficient for the Republicans. Passing an immigration law (that is primarily a giveaway to large corporations anyway) is not going to do much to repair relations when the Republican Party is not prepared to do anything else.

The Florida Nation has published a letter from Pantoja in which he explains why he has decided to change parties. Basically, it all comes down to his feeling that the party is based upon racial intolerance. In particular, the Jason Richwine controversy, where it turned out that the researcher at the Heritage Foundation had some The Bell Curve like ideas of Latino intelligence. Pantoja noted that Heritage distanced itself from Richwine, but that in general, the conservative reaction has been a collective yawn. “Other immigration-related research is still padded with the same racist and eugenics-based innuendo.”

I’m glad that Pantoja has realized what the party he worked for was all about. However, I can’t but wonder how it took him this long. This is, after all, the party of the Southern Strategy. The party of Willie Horton. The party of “reverse” racism, self-deportation, and Macaca. It is also the party of The Bell Curve and the argument that minorities are poor not because of sociohistorical reasons but because they are stupid. But Pantoja is young, and I’m afraid that inside the conservative bubble, much of this information about the true nature of the Republican Party is filtered out.

What I find strange about all of this is why more Republicans don’t move over to the Democratic Party. As it is, the Democratic Party is no less conservative than the Republicans were in, say, 1970. In fact, it might be more conservative. So what is it that stops conservatives from embracing the Democrats? I think there is a clue from Pablo Pantoja: he was in the military. And despite Democrats being excessively pro-military and highly belligerent in foreign policy, people still think the Republicans are the pro-military party. (How they can think that when the Republicans so casually march them into war, I’m not clear.) I think there is a strong tendency to believe that “real” men vote Republican. But hopefully Pantoja’s realization is a sign that even these fundamental forces are giving way to all the bad things that the Republican Party does and stands for.

Cold War Politics in Hogan’s Heroes

Nita TalbotWhen I was a kid, I loved the show Hogan’s Heroes. What’s not to love? In the middle of an unpopular war, we got comedy about the most noble war in our history. Plus: zany Nazis! What I didn’t understand at the time were all the politics. Some of this was quite good. The lovable Sergeant Schultz, for example, was said to be a Social Democrat. He was an example of the good German stuck living under the rule of the Nazis. But not all the politics in the show were so benign.

In particular, Hogan’s Heroes is very much part of American Cold War propaganda. The most obvious example of this is the fact there there is no soviet POW. This wasn’t true of the pilot episode, but even still, the character was old and primarily a tailor, a role that was easily integrated into Newkirk. So the final cast is three American, and one each of French and British who were both of lower rank than all the Americans. And the only two who are taken seriously are the Americans Hogan and Kinch. This is all perfect, because Americans at the time and even today think that World War II is a story of how America came in to help their foolish but good friends. USSR? Did they send any troops?

The best example of our attitudes toward the Soviet Union was the character of Russian spy Marya, played by my generation’s Rosalind Russell, Nita Talbot. Don’t know who that is? Let me refresh your memory:


When I was a kid, I hated her character. Now she is by far my favorite character. Of course, even she is referred to a “White Russian,” which pretty much means a Russian who ain’t too keen on all this communism. But even still, she is a morally ambiguous character. The viewer never knows whose side she’s on. Of course, in every case she turns out to be on the side of the Allies.

I couldn’t believe that Hogan’s gang trusted her, when I watched the show as a child. At 5, I was immune to her sexy charms. Watching it now, I don’t know why Hogan is so skeptical about her. She always turned out to be a loyal ally. Of course, the real reason he was skeptical, was that that was central to the comic gold that Marya was. Each episode was the same: Marya shows up, appears to rat out Hogan, and it all ends well.

But look what it told the American public: even in World War II, the Russians couldn’t be trusted; sure, they were on our side, but only because our interests intersected (as if that wasn’t true of all of the Allies). What’s more, Russians as a people were not really like us.

There is so much wrong with Hogan’s Heroes. I’ve met people whose parents would not allow them to watch the show, with very good reason. It is hard to make fun of Nazis as stupid and impotent when they were anything but. And the show pushes American superiority over even our closest allies in a way that I’m very uncomfortable with. Yet it is a whole lot of fun and I never tire of watching Nita Talbot.

Afterword

There is, of course, another take on Marya: a Freudian take. She symbolizes ephemeral commitments: the desire for uncomplicated sex. And this is why the sex crazed LeBeau always trusts her. Hogan, the American hero, does not admit to believing in such casual sex. It is perfectly all right for him to have dozens of casual affairs with mousy, nonthreatening women. But the American male ego is fearful of a woman who interacts with him as an equal—one who is clear that she wants what he wants.

Benghazi, IRS, and the Associated Press

Department of JusticeI tend to think that the new IRS scandal is much less than it appears to be. The more facts that come in, the most reasonable the actions of the IRS seem to be. But most reporting on it is shockingly superficial: the government targeted conservative groups! Yes, the allegation is of concern and I’d like to know more about it. I don’t see how this is that big an issue with what we know, especially considering that it appears that the IRS noticed the problem years ago and fixed it.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy said, “I am very troubled by these allegations and want to hear the government’s explanation.” But he wasn’t talking about the IRS. He was talking about the far more troubling news that the Justice Department secretly obtained the records of over 20 Associated Press telephone lines for a two month period. This is a direct assault not just on the First Amendment but on the very reason we have a First Amendment.

Compare this to the IRS scandal: a bunch of questionable political groups had to prove that they really did deserve the non-profit status they were claiming. This is not the government spying on these groups. This isn’t Watergate. This is part of a government bureaucracy making a bad decision in the face of limited resources. At least, that is as much as can be said at this point. It certainly isn’t an Obama administration conspiracy, “Let’s try to shut down those conservative groups!”

Right now, there are three scandals or supposed scandals. And they are getting attention in reverse order of their importance:

  1. Benghazi: fake scandal
  2. IRS: real but ultimately unimportant scandal
  3. DOJ telephone records: important scandal

My guess is that the AP story won’t get that much traction. For one thing, this is the kind of thing that conservatives have long been pushing the Justice Department to do more of. Meanwhile, Democrats mostly line up to protect the president, regardless of the hellish policies of the administration. So it won’t do much good for either side to make a big deal about this.

Normally, I would think that the Benghazi story would fade out to be replaced by the IRS story. I’m not sure that’s going to happen. The reason is that there is not much for the Republicans in the IRS scandal. It doesn’t touch Obama or Clinton. It’s just about good governance, and Republicans don’t really care about that. The mainstream news may pick up on the IRS scandal, because it has a factual basis. But there won’t be a lot to say until there is an actual investigation. The Justice Department’s actions probably won’t even get an investigation. We’ll see if AP and other print news sources push on the story. Regardless, I would expect to hear a lot more about Benghazi, which I didn’t think only yesterday morning.