Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Republican Chickens Come Home to Roost

Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Republican "Establishment"


George Wallace: Donald Trump's spiritual ancestor.

March 3, 2016

It’s time someone explained what commentators mean by the Republican “Establishment.” Here’s my answer.

Since the 1960s, the Republican party has had two very distinct constituencies:

1) The Ayn Rand Republicans. These are the red-baiting laissez-faire country-club capitalists: Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, the Koch brothers, Romney. They are mostly well-to-do—upper middle-class and richer. Many are professionals. Many own businesses. They love their money. They hate Commies. They are still fighting the Cold War. They see blue-collar workers as their water carriers, to be exploited. They have no respect for the very workers they are exploiting. (See how the Kochs use the Tea Party.) They embrace the status quo and fight like hell to combat change, especially if it threatens their bottom line.

2) The George Wallace Republicans. These are less-educated, white, working-class, racially embittered folks. Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Republicans have actively, and successfully, courted them, mosty, but not only, in the South. They believe “their” country is being taken over by people with whom they do not share skin color, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. They hate even the idea of foreigners entering the country. Many would prefer to see a return to an earlier era when blacks “knew their place,” when Jews and atheists were rarities, when “gay” meant “gleeful,” when women stayed at home to raise the kids, and when no one knew the difference between an Iraqi Sunni and an Oklahoma Sooner.

When people discuss the Republican “establishment,” they are talking, pure and simple, about the Ayn Rand Republicans. For years, this “establishment" has won elections by exploiting the fears of the George Wallace Republicans. Now the chickens have come home to roost: Donald Trump is leading the George Wallace Republicans against the Ayn Rand Republicans, and the latter ("The Establishment") are terrified that they are losing control of the ignorant masses whose votes they have bought so cheaply for years. You could see the fear in Mitt Romney's eyes this morning when he attacked Trump. What he was imagining was the Great Unwashed storming his limousine.

(Note: For those who are not familiar with Ayn Rand, you can read my take here.)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Court—and the Country—After Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016)

Antonin Scalia has died. I disagreed with almost every decision Justice Scalia ever made on the Supreme Court, I objected to the kinds of inflammatory language he used in his decisions, and I found his originalist Constitutional philosophy absurd. But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, other court members, and almost everyone else liked him a lot as a private person, and that’s good enough for me to feel bad that he has died and to admire his life. I am glad, however, that the Court has one less ultraconservative justice.

I have said all along that the most important issue for me in the coming Presidential campaign is who will replace the elderly and/or ailing Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kennedy on the Supreme Court in the next few years. Now we have four justices who will soon be replaced. That’s going to determine the direction of the country for the next 20 or more years.  

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Justice Stephen Breyer
The Republican Senate will do everything it can to prevent Obama’s nominating someone to replace Scalia. Such obstructionism is reprehensible, but inevitable. For precedent, the Republicans should look to February of 1988, also a presidential election year, when a Democrat-controlled Senate confirmed Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had been nominated by Ronald Reagan. Unlike those Democrats, the Republicans of today will, as usual, simply say no.

If a Republican becomes president next year, it is likely we will soon have seven strict conservatives on the Supreme Court. If a Democrat is elected, it is likely we will have six moderates/liberals on the court. 

Any Republican-nominated Supreme Court justices will oppose women's choice, affirmative action, worker protections, consumer protections, corporate regulation, financial regulation, election-spending limits, LGBT rights, defendant rights, immigrant rights, the teaching of evolution, climate-change laws, other environmental regulations, science-based policies, and even the mildest gun-control laws. They will support the death penalty, evangelism in government and the schools, the teaching of creationism, and NSA/CIA spying on citizens. In other words, Republican justices will help us become the nation that Ted Cruz craves—a nation I would leave.
For us liberals, that means it is more important than ever that Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders be elected. 

Judge Sri Srinivasan
It’s most likely that Obama, hoping against hope that the Republicans act ethically, will nominate Sri Srinivasan for the Supreme Court vacancy left by Scalia. Here’s Srinivasan’s bio: . Note, especially, that he has argued more than 25 cases before the Supreme Court and was clerk for a moderate Republican-appointed justice, Sandra Day O’Connor. The Senate unanimously approved his appointment to the D.C. court of appeals just three years ago. It would be difficult for the Republicans to say now that he is not qualified. He’s only 48 years old, so he could have 30 or more years on the court. The fact that he was born in India and is brown-skinned should make him even more attractive—except to the Tea Party.

Judge Richard Posner
If Obama wants to put even more pressure on the Republicans, he might want to nominate Richard Posner, a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Posner ( has a long history as a conservative, having always tended to emphasize the economic consequences of judicial positions, and is more or less pro-business. But he has also supported abortion rights and gay marriage. He is probably the most literate and scholarly of all the judges at any level in the U.S.; he has written scores of books, on a wide range of subjects. 

Posner may be the smartest and best-read judge in the world. I know him through the book Law and Literature, which I used in a "Literature and the Law" class I taught at Virginia Tech. It’s a fascinating book that taught me much about works I thought I knew well, like The Merchant of Venice, Camus' The Stranger, Kafka's The Trial, and Melville's Billy Budd. Posner's main appeal for Republicans, besides the fact that he is sort of conservative on economic issues, is that he is 77 years old, meaning that if he turns out to be too liberal for Republicans, at least they’ll know he won’t be around for long.

Will someone please send this suggestion on to President Obama?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


     Will Ted Cruz (above) go the way of Rick Santorum (near below) or George W. Bush (far below), who were also winners of the Iowa caucuses?                                           

For the record, I had predicted to my family last week that Ted Cruz would win 30% of the Iowa caucus vote, Donald Trump 20%, and Marco Rubio 15%. I wasn’t too far off with that prediction. I had also predicted that Jeb Bush would surprise everyone with 8-10% of the vote; I thought he had a decent ground game and would try harder there. I was way wrong about that. He never even put players in the field in Iowa.

I thought Bernie Sanders might edge out Hillary Clinton, but we all knew that would be close. (I thought it would depend on the weather: bad weather would be better for Hillary. It snowed.) Please note that as of today, Clinton has 384 delegates and Sanders only 29. That’s because Clinton has a large number of “super” delegates already committed to her.

The media is making far too much of Cruz’s win in Iowa. Remember that Mike Huckabee won Iowa in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012. Where did they go from there? Iowa Republicans love a Bible thumper—especially one whose father is a preacher willing to Bible-beat on the hustings, like Cruz's padre. That skews everything. But Cruz has a much better chance than Huckabee or Santorum. He's more Machiavellian and won’t fold as meekly as they did.

Last week, I was away from my computer, so I couldn’t get my Iowa predictions out here on my blog, but now that I’m home, I will hang my New Hampshire prognostications on the line for all to see:

Here’s my prediction for New Hampshire:

Trump 25%
Rubio 15%
Cruz 15%
Bush 12%
Kazich 12%
Christie 9%
The rest 12%

Sanders 58%
Clinton 42%


These results should bring Bush and the other governors—Kasich and Christie—back into the race, but they may not, because the media will make a big deal about Trump winning, Hillary losing, and Cruz doing not so well, which is all nonsense. Iowa and New Hampshire, like any other individual states, offer warped versions of the U.S. electorate and should not get so much attention.

Super Tuesday, March 1, should be good for Cruz, since Texas and many Bible-belt states are on the line that day. Cruz will have a good night, and many will crown him king, but March 15 may be the real Super Tuesday, with Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, and Ohio all holding delegate-rich primaries in more moderate-, less evangelical-Republican states. If one or more of the governors can hang on until then (which may be difficult, since the media will try to consign them to history after March 1), then one of them may rise toward the top. I would tell Jeb to hold on until March 16.

Hillary will win Super Tuesday and cruise from there.

Who knows, for the Republicans, the way things are going, even New York’s April 19 primary may be meaningful this year!

(Here’s a good link that shows how the primaries work: .)

Monday, December 7, 2015


The sky is not falling. The recent killings in San Bernardino are horrific, tragic, and evil, but they should not drive us to generalized worry, much less to gape-mouthed fear, gun-buying panic, or further government degradation of our civil liberties.

Here are the facts: Gun deaths and gun injuries in the U.S. are way, way down over the last 20 years, even taking mass killings into account. Gun deaths are down about 50%; gun injuries are down more than 75%. Liberals don’t like to cite these figures because it undermines their call for greater gun control. Conservatives don’t like to cite these figures because conservatives feed on fear; the more afraid they can make people, the more they can claim that only they can protect us.

All of that annoys me. What absolutely infuriates me is that in the 1990s, the Republican Congress, at the behest of the NRA, defunded any attempt by the federal government to gather and analyze data about gun deaths and injuries. The Centers for Disease Control once tried to look at gun deaths and injuries as a public-health issue. The Republicans wouldn't allow it. The data about gun deaths and injuries thus have to be collected by private organizations like the Pew Research Center.

In any case, there is no need to be too alarmed about what happened in San Bernardino. Viewed against the big picture, the supposed proliferation of so-called "mass" shootings is a relatively small problem. In fact, the definition of a "mass" shooting is so vague that, by one definition, there have been only five such events in the U.S. in the past year; by another definition, there have been at least 350. The fear-mongers, of course, prefer the latter definition. But compared, for example, to the day-to-day shooting deaths in Chicago, "mass" shootings are not the central problem.

Even the killings in Paris should be viewed in perspective. In fact, the world's rate of violence has dropped precipitously and consistently over the past few centuries, and has continued to drop in this century. One week's news does not change that.

When a tragic event like the killings in San Bernardino and Paris happen, yes, it's appropriate to shed tears and shake one's fist at the heavens (or at ISIS). But don't listen to the Chicken Littles. The sky is not falling. The terrorists are not winning. Both liberals and conservatives, encouraged by the bloodthirsty media, are simply overreacting.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Republican Debate, 10/28/15: Untuned Instruments


A metaphor for last night's Republican debate.

Our house smells of skunk this morning. Must be because I watched the whole Republican debate last night. 
      Watching the debate was (to mix my metaphors) like listening to an orchestra of out-of-tune instruments: Almost every note rang false. Occasionally, almost by accident, the hint of an honest melody could be heard (generally from Kasich, Christie, or Bush). 
      The conductors of this orchestra—the CNBC panel of questioners—were even worse. Instead of using a baton, they used a flamethrower. Their questions were biased, loaded, and ill-stated when they weren’t trivial, irrelevant, or goading. They even argued with the candidates—certainly not their role. These people were (to switch metaphors again) the journalistic equivalent of blunt instruments. 
      On to winners and losers: If I were a Republican (which I am decidedly not), I would be most impressed by the performances of Rubio, Cruz, and Christie—all passionate Obama-bashers who know how to abuse the truth with great glibness.* Trump, Carson, and Fiorina will see their stars burn out by March. Kasich and Bush are the only ones I can abide, but Kasich has an awkward speaking style (iguana movements with his mouth) and poor Jeb is leaking protoplasm so fast that I suspect he will soon become invisible.

Jeb Bush as he leaks protoplasm.

      *  Note: The Republicans especially like to fudge the truth without (they believe) quite leaving themselves open to a bald accusation that they lie. But lie they do. For example, Rubio's claim last night that during last week's Benghazi hearings Hillary Clinton was proved to be a liar is based on the Republicans' intentional misreading of a statement she made in the week after the Benghazi attack. In that statement, Hillary said that "some people claim" the attack was a consequence of an anti-Muslim video that had been aired the previous week. In her statement (and this is the part the Republicans intentionally ignore) Hillary then goes on to say that, even if the video were the cause, it did not excuse the attack. The Republicans, in other words, intentionally misconstrue the point of her statement, which never claims the attack was the direct result of the video. Rubio lied.
      Here's another example of Republicans' playing fast and loose with the truth: For years Republicans have claimed, as Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina did last night, that, by many measures, the economy has either deteriorated or stagnated since "the day Obama first took office." That last phrase represents a very clever fudging of facts. During Obama's first eight months in office, the economy was still plummeting because of the Great Recession. More than 4 million jobs, for example, were lost in the first six months Obama was in office. But this was before Obama's economy policies could even take effect! A better measure of Obama's success or failure is to compare today's economic numbers with those of, say, September, 2009, when Obama's stimulus package began to be implemented. Such a comparison shows that, by almost every measure, the American economy is far healthier today than it was then. Do Bush and Fiorina lie? Not exactly. They simply distort the facts.

How to dress like a Republican for Halloween.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Dems Debate: A Pro Among Amateurs

Bernie (above) reminds me of Doc Brown (below).

Good Dem debate last night. My impressions:

1) Chafee and Webb were not given their fair share of air time, and what little they were given, they wasted. Webb looked as if his head was about to explode because his collar was too tight. Chafee (as my lady noted) looked like Red Skelton in his later, skinny years. Webb blustered, Chaffee dithered. Webb tried to be tough on foreign affairs, but came across as muddled, whiny, and cold-war-ish. Chafee had little to say of substance.

2) O'Malley had some good progressive things to say, and said them well enough, but he harped on the year 2050 (his year for 100% clean energy) far too much. That's hardly a subject on which to ground one's campaign. His posture (staring hard at Hillary when she spoke) and persistent grin made him look like the cocky kid in high school who really doesn't have that much to be cocky about.

3) I share almost all of Bernie Sanders' ideas. He's almost as left-wing as I am. (Not quite.) I love his hair-on-fire passion and the way he articulates his outrage about economic inequality in a capitalist system that still has far too few checks on it. I like his respect for the northern European countries (Denmark, Norway) and their policies. He reminds me of the professor in Back to the Future: wild-eyed, wild-haired, and flaky, but ultimately correct. He wants to upset the apple cart and distribute the apples fairly. I like that. He is, however, unelectable except against a true wild-card of a wilderness Republican (read: Trump, Carson, Fiorina). It didn't help that Bernie ended his final statement with a pitch for money and the promoting of his website, making him sound like the Kickstarter candidate.

4) Hillary was very good: articulate, smart, informed, engaging. She explained her positions clearly and convincingly. She's too moderate and hawkish for my taste, but she came across as the one professional in a room full of amateurs.

Biden, seeing Hillary's fine performance, will probably stay out of the race now.

Martin O'Malley (above) reminds me of Eddie Haskell (below).

Friday, December 12, 2014


I know Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren's hair is on fire about the year-end spending bill passed yesterday (December 11, 2014) by the House of Representatives, and so is Nancy Pelosi's. A lot of other Democrats are also in flames. Many of my fellow liberals are directing their ire at President Obama because he pressured House Democrats to vote for the bill, which funds the government through September, 2015. (Fifty-seven Democrats did vote for the bill; without their votes, it would have failed.)

My liberal friends are most angry about the rider in the spending bill that weakens the Dodd-Frank legislation of 2010. Among other things, the Dodd-Frank law was designed to prevent banks from using depositors' federally insured savings to gamble on swaps and other derivatives; without Dodd-Frank, if those gambles go wrong, the taxpayers would have to bail out the banks . . . again. My fellow liberals, furious about the amount of money in politics already, are also burning hot about a provision that raises limits on what individuals can give to political parties.

Elizabeth Warren is mighty angry.
The rantings of Warren, Pelosi, and others aside, here are some facts to keep in mind about all this, so we at least know what we're outraged about:

1) Obama did not ask for the weakening of Dodd-Frank regulations to be put in the spending bill. By all accounts, he did not want that provision in the bill. His asking members of Congress to support the bill as a whole in no way represents his endorsement of that one provision.

2) In 2013 a bill came up calling for this exact change in Dodd-Frank regulations—a change allowing some bank credit swaps and other derivatives to be covered by federal insurance. When that bill came up in 2013, 70 Democrats voted for it. It had in fact been co-sponsored by a Democrat. In other words, when it comes to this provision in the spending bill, Obama's own party is split, despite the publicity being given to the disgust of Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren.

Obama and Pelosi in warmer times.
3) The insured-derivatives provision in the current spending bill affects less than 10% of the banks' swaps/derivatives transactions.

4) About 50% of the Dodd-Frank rules have not even been written out yet, even though the bill was passed four years ago. House Republicans have managed to de-fund, obfuscate, or delay the implementation of most of the law up to this point, anyway. There is some question about whether the change in the current spending bill makes any difference at all, given that the law is full of so many loopholes already and that none of its strongest and most important provisions are even being enforced four years later. (Note: This failure to enforce Dodd-Frank is not the executive branch's or Obama's fault. The Republicans in the House have refused to fund enforcement or clarify the rules, so they cannot yet be enforced.)

5) According to insider reports, the Dodd-Frank-weakening provision came as a compromise necessary to protect the Consumer Protection Bureau from further Republican depredations. The Dems were given a choice: a slight weakening of one aspect of Dodd-Frank (which is already a mess) or a frontal attack on the Consumer Protection Bureau (which is the one part of the Dodd-Frank legislation that is in fact doing good work).

6) If the spending bill had been voted down, the government almost certainly would have been shut down. This would have been very bad in every way for an economy that is otherwise doing quite well these days, and the shutdown would almost certainly have been blamed on the Democrats and Obama (had he threatened a veto).

Will the current spending bill really change campaign financing?

7) The provision in the bill that allows individuals to give "10 times the current amount" (as most news reports put it) to political parties has not been clearly explained in most media. The provision allows individuals to give that extra money only to committees of the political parties that 1) put on conventions, 2) deal with recounts, and 3) control building expenses. The money would not go to those committees that distribute money to candidates. The new provision would in no way increase the amount of money given directly to candidates by any individual, which is still limited to $2,600 per election. Several nonpartisan campaign-finance experts have suggested that raising the amount given to political parties is in fact necessary so that the political parties themselves can counter, at least to some extent, the influence of political PACs. As a recent article in The Daily Kos about the Koch brothers having their own "political party" suggests, if PACs get any stronger, the political parties themselves will grow relatively weaker, and perhaps irrelevant, by comparison. That would not necessarily be a good thing, for reasons I'm sure that anyone reading this understands.

These facts in no way lessen my outrage about the riders added to the spending bill. I too am furious at any attempt to weaken Dodd-Frank, even if Dodd-Frank's enforcement is several years down the road (if it will ever be enforced). I am also furious that the bill cuts $345 million from the Internal Revenue Service's budget, making it more difficult to go after rich tax cheats, and that it cuts $60 million from the Environmental Protection Agency's budget, making it more difficult to combat poisoned air and the overheating of the planet. To be honest, I'm not too concerned about people being allowed to help the political parties pay for their conventions and rest rooms.

If one looks at all the facts, one can see why Obama agreed to a bill that keeps the government running for another year rather than see the government shut down: such a shutdown would have damaged his party and, more importantly, the country.

I am glad all this gives the Elizabeth Warrens of the Democratic Party a chance to have their ideas heard (I like her ideas), but Elizabeth Warren and President Obama have very different responsibilities just now, a fact that some of my fellow liberals don't seem to take into account.

Has Obama really betrayed Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, as some liberals claim?