Second Filibuster Letter to Boxer

Barbara BoxerDear Senator Boxer:

Thank you for your automated response. I know that the Senate made changes that now allow the majority to bring bills to the floor faster where the Republicans will filibuster them. (Admittedly, not always successfully.)

My letter regarded the rumored July “nuclear option.” I guess it is the nature of politics that I cannot even get a straight answer on this issue from my one good Senator even when she is more than 5 years away from re-election. But I think I deserve at least the courtesy of registering that I want you to support Harry Reid and the “nuclear option” to allow Obama nominees to get a vote in the Senate.

Once again: I want you to support Harry Reid and the “nuclear option” to allow Obama nominees to get a vote in the Senate.

Also: I want you to support Harry Reid and the “nuclear option” to allow Obama nominees to get a vote in the Senate.

And finally: I want you to support Harry Reid and the “nuclear option” to allow Obama nominees to get a vote in the Senate.

This is not just about filibuster reform. Yes, I would have liked it if more were done. But this is a big deal. I really want you to know that I want you to support Harry Reid and the “nuclear option” to allow Obama nominees to get a vote in the Senate.

-Frank

PS: I want you to support Harry Reid and the “nuclear option” to allow Obama nominees to get a vote in the Senate.

Politics of Bulworth

BulworthLast week, the New York Times published a story in which they said that Obama fantasizes about “going Bulworth.” By this, the writer means to just say what he feels rather than being political. I saw Bulworth in the theater back in 1998. I thought it was okay but it didn’t particularly stick with me. But 1998 was probably the worst year of my life, so I figured it would be worth revisiting the film. And tonight I watched it again.

As a film, it works beautifully. The script is great and Warren Beatty really is an excellent director. The music is perfect and the film is funny as hell. If Frank Capra were making movies today, Bulworth is the kind of film he would make. It is full of wry and sentimental observations. In the end, everyone is good and all would be fine if it weren’t for the larger social forces that tear us apart.

And that is the problem with the film from a political standpoint. It plays very much like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In fact, at one point, Bulworth even says that the Democrats and the Republicans are the same. But the fact is that that is just not true. I would have no problem with him saying that the Democrats and Republicans are both terrible. That is in fact true. But the false equivalence is perhaps the worst sin that can be made in the form of political commentary.

The worst part of the “both side do it” and “there is no difference” arguments is that they create apathy. In fact, they create apathy in those who are most ignored by the political system: the poor and weak. In the film, Bulworth wins in a landslide. But in reality, he would not win because loads of conservatives voted for him; he would win because loads of poor people who vote in low numbers would have voted in high numbers. So there’s some cognitive dissonance in Bulworth.

The other problem with false equivalence is that it just isn’t true. I like this short Michelle Goldberg video because of the line, “In 2000, lefty leaders, who really should have known better, claimed that Al Gore was no better than George W. Bush—that they were Tweedledee and Tweedledum”:

That is something that I think is very important to remember: Clinton, Gore, Obama? They are all extremely disappointing. But they are infinitely better than what the Republicans have on offer. What’s more, by working with the Democratic Party, we can make the politicians better. Ignoring politics or waiting for a Bulworth-like savior is just living in denial.

But such fine political distinctions are impossible to get across in a movie. In fact, they are often difficult to get across in a movement. You may remember when the Tea Party first started, they talked in ways that were similar to Bulworth. They weren’t Republican or Democrat. And they sounded downright populist. This is always the way it is. Until people start talking policy, it’s all: corporate and government corruption. But as the Tea Party began to give details we learned that it was really the government that was corrupt by its very nature. Corporations weren’t so much corrupt as stifled by a corrupt government. In other words, the “Tea” and “Republican” were interchangeable.

Compare this to the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s interesting that even though the group continues to do a lot of very important work, we hardly hear a peep from them in the mainstream press. That movement turned out to be on the political left, of course. But it was not at all the case that the group was synonymous with the Democratic Party.

It seems that the only fiery rhetoric that the TV is interested in is the kind that degenerates into conservative policy. And that, above all, is why Bulworth has to die at the end of the film. As long as he’s talking in the abstract, everyone can enjoy it. But going forward and trying to run the country? That would make half the people angry. And I don’t say that because I think half of America is conservative; it’s not. But half of America is glued directly or indirectly to conservative media. And in a short time, they would only hear Bulworth through the lens of the insurance industry.

Of course, we are not going to hear any Bulworth in President Obama. But I do think that by working to improve the Democratic Party, we can get politicians with a little more Bulworth in them. And that would be enough. At least for a while.

Afterword

I remember when I was maybe 17 years old. I came home and my father was watching some PBS talk show. And on the talk show was Noam Chomsky. Now, my father is extremely conservative. So I was shocked to see that my father completely agreed with Chomsky about whatever he was talking about. Since that time, I’ve become very familiar with this. For example, I have my father convinced that what this country really needs is a single-payer healthcare system. I can convince my father of just about anything that isn’t currently being pushed on Fox News. But I know that if the country started discussing replacing Obamacare with a single-payer system, everything would change. Suddenly, Fox News would be doing a full-court press against single-payer. And all the arguments that my father can right now give you for why we need single-payer would vanish and he would explain to me that “we have the best healthcare system in the world!” And that “single-payer is socialized medicine!” Note: the very things he would say then are things that he scoffs at now, quite unprompted from me. That is the power of “trusted” media.

Peggy Noonan Rides the Crazy Train

Peggy NoonanOn Thursday, Peggy Noonan wrote a column where she said that the IRS was going after individuals because they were conservatives. Her evidence? She’s heard of four different conservatives who were audited last year. I’m serious! That’s her claim. But it is even sillier than that. Take for example, this gem of deep thinking, “The Journal’s Kim Strassel reported an Idaho businessman named Frank VanderSloot, who’d donated more than a million dollars to groups supporting Mitt Romney. He found himself last June, for the first time in 30 years, the target of IRS auditors.” Wow. The election was last year. The donation would have had to have been in late 2011 or early 2012. I doubt very seriously that the IRS would even have noticed his campaign contribution by last June.

Need more evidence? Franklin Graham “believes” his father Billy was targeted. I guess it’s a faith thing. And a conservative freelance writer who earns a “meager” living got audited. With the almost 1.5 million IRS audits last year, what are the odds that these three random people would be audited? I can tell you one thing, Noonan knows this isn’t just chance! “It is not even remotely possible that all this was an accident, a mistake.” Oh boy! I think Noonan has been riding the Crazy Train for too long and her brain has started to rattle apart.

Nate Silver has an excellent statistical analysis that shows just how insane Noonan is being. In fact, it even comes with a wonderfully understated sarcastic title, New Audit Allegations Show Flawed Statistical Thinking. For example, 12% of all people who made more than a million dollars last year were audited. So if Idaho businessman Frank Vandersloot has gone without an audit for 30 years, he’s damned lucky. The same undoubtedly applies to Billy Graham. He has a net worth of about $25 million. Son Franklin makes over a million per year. Rich people get audited, especially because they employ a large army of lawyers and accountants to avoid paying their taxes.

As for that poor freelance writer, well, the IRS is much more likely to audit people who make a lot less than normal. Regardless, people get audited. And Nate Silver provided this nice little chart to show who is really getting audited:

2012 Audits - Nate Silver

The main point of this is that Obama voters were audited at a rate 12 percentage points higher than Romney voters. Noonan’s column is entirely typical of this weird, and totally unjustified, belief among conservatives that they are some kind of persecuted minority. Just look at the voting habits of Romney and Obama voters: the more money they have, the more likely they are to vote conservative. This also means that the more conservative you are, on average, the richer you are. I know on the Crazy Train, everyone thinks that “elite” means college professors who make $50,000 per year. But in the real world, it’s the rich who actually have power. Not only is Obama not oppressing these people; no one is oppressing them.

Please Peggy Noonan! Please disembark the Crazy Train!

Tom Clancy Combat Concepts

Malcolm NanceNo one amongst those people had served in combat, but Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson and his staff were all the combat personnel. And it’s funny, they were shuffled over at the State Department and the civilian ideologues were put over into the Pentagon and they were the people who came up with what we call TCCC, “Tom Clancy Combat Concepts.” They came out and just started reading these books and magazines and start thinking, “We’re going to be hard, we’re going to do these things, we’re going to go out and start popping people on the streets and we’re going to start renditioning people.” The decision makers were almost childlike in wanting to do high, Dungeons and Dragons, you know, dagger and intrigue all the time.

—Malcolm Nance
Quoted in Dirty Wars

We Make Too Big a Deal of Terrorism

Neighborhood Watch ProgramAccording to the Washington Post, the administration thinks that the “war on terror” will go on and on. “Given the way al-Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight.” And on Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on whether we should continue the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force. Spencer Ackerman reported, “Asked at a Senate hearing today how long the war on terrorism will last, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, answered, ‘At least 10 to 20 years.'” As Glenn Greenwald noted yesterday, “That the Obama administration is now repeatedly declaring that the ‘war on terror’ will last at least another decade (or two) is vastly more significant than all three of this week’s big media controversies (Benghazi, IRS, and AP/DOJ) combined.”

I don’t get any of this. Since we started the “war on terror” there have been almost no terror attacks on the United States. The vast majority of the deaths from what can credibly be call “terrorism” have been US armed forces in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, in the decade since 2001, 392,000 Americans were killed in auto accidents. There were very roughly 300,000 Americans killed with guns. Hell, roughly 400 Americans have been killed by lightning strikes and that’s more than the number of civilian terrorist casualties in the same period of time. So why exactly do we have to let the president have unlimited war powers in the name of this relatively minor threat to Americans?

It’s worse than that. The Florida Times-Union reported Tuesday, Tipping Law Enforcement to Possible Terrorist Activity Is Purpose of 13-County Program. It is very much like those old Neighborhood Crime Watch signs that read, “We immediately report all SUSPICIOUS PERSONS and activities to our Police Dept.” Note that clearly suspicious persons are much more important than suspicious actions. Translation: “Darkies stay away!”

The article refers to the iWATCH program that has a curious list of things to report. Much of it is silly. We are supposed to report “chemical smells or fumes.” I think that’s probably a good idea, but mostly because you don’t want your house to burn down or to die from poisoning. The idea that this is something we ought to look out for because of “terrorism” is ridiculous. There is also a certain obsession with “important buildings.” Report a car illegal parked in from of important buildings but not, apparently, in front of non-important buildings. I’m not sure what qualifies as an important building in Jacksonville, and the site doesn’t say. They also want people to look out for the nefarious model builder and uniform purchaser. It sounds very much like the people who made the list had watched Die Hard one too many times.

The main thing is the way that the government (and much of the media) want people to be frightened of terrorism all out of proportion to the actual threat. After all, this year, far more Americans have died because of workplace accidents—much of it criminally negligent. Far more Americans have died in shooting sprees. I don’t have the data, but it is certainly the case that more Americans have died this year because of lightning strikes than terror attacks. But we are doing nothing about workplace safety, guns, or the shocking lack of lightning rods in rural America. We are, however, turning the whole country into one big spying organization and allowing our government to practice endless war.

But at least Jacksonville, Florida will be terrorism free. Well, against white people anyway.

Loan Harry Reid Your Testicles

FilibusterAt the Washington Post, two writers I admire, Greg Sargent and Jonathan Bernstein, are excited about the prospect of filibuster reform. First, Sargent broke the news that Harry Reid plans to go for the “nuclear option” in July if the Republicans filibuster three upcoming nominees: “Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Thomas Perez as secretary of labor; and Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency.” And then Bernstein argued that Reid was playing this just right by giving the Republicans a warning and an opportunity to reform themselves.

The problem, of course, is: really?! Are we really supposed to believe that (1) Republicans will respond to what they should rightly assume is an empty threat? And is it at all credible that (2) Reid will in fact do anything this time other than shake hands with Mitch McConnell? However, it is possible that I’m being unfair to the Majority Leader. According to Bernstein, Reid is constrained because (he doesn’t put it this way) he is the leader of a bunch of wimps who wouldn’t go to the bathroom without asking permission from the Republicans. And there is likely something to that. But if it is the case that Reid doesn’t have the support of his caucus, then why is he saying anything at all?

Another problem is that we really don’t know what Reid means by his test case of three nominations. The truth is that the Republicans filibuster every nominee. I know that some nominees do get through, but that is only because some Republicans vote for cloture. Let’s be really clear here: Senate Republicans require 60 votes for every nominee. Requiring 60 senators before a vote can be cast is a filibuster. If they get the 60 senators, it was an unsuccessful filibuster; but it was still a filibuster.

So the question is, will Harry Reid launch the “nuclear option” if Republicans unsuccessfully filibuster these three nominees? Because they will filibuster them. And even worse, what if only one or two of the nominees are successfully filibustered? We don’t know. But I have a hunch: Reid will declare victory and slink away. I would love to be proven wrong.

Our only hope is to put pressure on our senators. I did so myself last night, writing to both Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. I’m not sure about Boxer, but Feinstein has often been mentioned as someone who didn’t want filibuster reform. Remember: writing to your senator is really easy. Just use the Senate’s Contacting the Senate form. Or just enter your senator’s name and “contact” into Google. If not for yourself or your country, do it for me! This stuff is really important. All you need to do is to say that you would like to see a stop to Republican abuse of the filibuster regarding nominations and that the senator should support Harry Reid’s filibuster reform using the “nuclear option.” It’s easy! And most of all: it’s effective.

One thing is for sure. If Harry Reid is ever going to do something about the filibuster, he’s going to need all of our help.

It’s a Wonderful Capra

Frank CapraBirthdays are not created equal. Yesterday, I almost gave up having a winner. Today, I have four easy winners who did not win. On this day in 1048, the great Persian mathematician Omar Khayyam was born. He’s winner number one. Another great mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell was born in 1872. Unlike his colleague Wittgenstein, Russell was a decent human being. And he’s winner number two. Bauhaus founder and architect who I really don’t much like, Walter Gropius was born in 1883. Flutist, Music Man composer, and so much more, Meredith Willson was born in 1902. He’s winner number three. Singer Perry Como who underwhelms me, and director Richard Brooks who whelms me, were both born in 1912. The last dead pope, John Paul II was born in 1920. And insane cartoonist Don Martin was born in 1931. He’s winner number four.

Keyboardist Rick Wakeman is 64 today.

But let me tell you about one of my very favorite movies. It Happened One Night is the perfect Depression era film. It has a working class hero who teaches a silly rich girl important life lessons. It has good rich people (father) and bad rich people (King Westley). And it is funny as hell. This is my favorite scene, “Do you love my daughter?”

“Yes! But don’t hold that against me, I’m a little screwy myself!” I just love that.

The film was written by Robert Riskin, who I really like, and somehow missed on his birthday back on 30 March. But that was also van Gogh and Goya’s birthdays, so I think I can be forgiven. Today is the birthday of longtime Riskin collaborator, director Frank Capra who was born in 1897. And he wins the day. It is not without some reserve that I do this. Although Capra made It Happened One Night, his excesses caused him to make other films that although I don’t hate, bug me: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life. But one thing is for sure, Capra had a good heart. The less said about his parochial views of sex and religion, the better. He was still a liberal by any definition. And by today’s standards a communist.

Happy birthday Frank Capra!