"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Why Even Pretend?”: There’s No Humane Way To Carry Out The Death Penalty

No one who supports the death penalty should have the slightest problem with the way Clayton Lockett died.

Lockett, a convicted murderer, spent 43 minutes in apparent agony Tuesday night as the state of Oklahoma tried to execute him by injecting an untested cocktail of drugs. Instead of quickly losing consciousness, he writhed in obvious distress and attempted to speak. Witnesses described what they saw as horrific.

Prison authorities halted the procedure — they were going to revive Lockett so they could kill him at a later date, presumably in a more aesthetically pleasing manner — but the condemned man suffered a heart attack and died.

The state postponed a second execution that had been scheduled for the same night, but I wonder why. We fool ourselves if we think there is a “humane” way to way to kill someone. Sure, the second inmate, Charles Warner, probably would have suffered an equally agonizing death. But isn’t this the whole point?

When I read about the crimes Lockett committed, I wish I could support capital punishment. When I read about what Warner did, I want to strangle him with my own hands. But revenge is not the same thing as justice, and karmic retribution is not a power I trust government to exercise. The death penalty has no place in a civilized society.

Lockett raped, brutalized and murdered a 19-year-old woman who had graduated from high school just two weeks earlier, shooting her and then burying her alive. Lockett and his accomplices also beat and robbed a 23-year-old man and raped an 18-year-old woman. The crimes took place in 1999; Lockett has been awaiting execution since 2000.

Warner, the other man who was to die in the Oklahoma execution chamber Tuesday, was convicted in 1999 of raping and murdering an 11-month-old child who was the daughter of his live-in girlfriend. The baby suffered unspeakable abuse.

The question is not whether Lockett and Warner deserve to die; clearly they do, as far as I’m concerned. The question is whether our society, acting through the instrument of government, should kill them. I believe there is no way to impose capital punishment without betraying the moral standards that our justice system is theoretically designed to uphold. Put simply, when we murder we become murderers.

Perhaps the most powerful argument against the death penalty is that it is irreversible. Sometimes, judges and juries make honest mistakes and innocent people may be condemned to death. Some studies have shown an apparent racial bias in the way capital punishment is meted out, with blacks who kill whites more likely than other defendants to end up on death row.

Put all this aside for the moment and assume that both Lockett and Warner committed those heinous crimes and that each was convicted in a scrupulously fair trial. The judgment of the state of Oklahoma is that both men must die. How, then, are they to be killed?

What about a public beheading, like in Saudi Arabia? No one would seriously suggest such a thing. Yet a razor-sharp sword surely would have been less agonizing — or at least much quicker — than the drugs injected into Lockett’s bloodstream.

The general idea of lethal injection is to give the condemned a powerful sedative followed by one or more lethal agents. But the sole manufacturer of one of the commonly used drugs stopped making it in 2011. Drug makers in Europe, where the death penalty is considered barbaric, refuse to export drugs to the United States for use in executions. As a result, there have been shortages. Oklahoma was using a new, unproven cocktail to kill Lockett.

Reportedly, Lockett’s vein “blew” shortly after the execution began, meaning that he was not getting the full doses. But his was hardly the first lethal injection execution in which the condemned showed visible signs of great pain.

I would argue that there’s no reason to believe lethal injection is a more humane way to end a life than electrocution, poison gas, hanging, firing squad or even guillotine. Of course, we’ll never know. We can tell ourselves any story we want about how quickly and painlessly death arrived, and the one person who could prove us wrong will never speak again.

But why even pretend? Clayton Lockett was a bad man. Those who believe it was right to kill him have no reason to be ashamed of the way he died — and no right to look away.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 1, 2014

May 2, 2014 Posted by | Capital Punishment, Death Penalty | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You Knew It Was True”: Conservatives, Evil And Psychopathy; Science Makes The Link!

It’s not the least bit surprising that Rush Limbaugh is still defending Donald Sterling, spinning an elaborate conspiracy theory about how Sterling was “set up,” as Elias Isquith described here at Salon: “Whoever set this up,” Limbaugh said with understated drama, “is really good.”

He continued: “They covered every base. They’ve got the media wrapped around their little finger. I mean, when you get rid of the anthem singer — I used to be in charge of anthem singers at the Kansas City Royals. When you can get rid of (the) anthem singer, you’ve got power.”

Sure, it’s so far gone it’s silly, but defending old white guys is Limbaugh’s thing. Especially rich old white guys. And when he does it, he’s simply being a good conservative. Defending wealth, power, privilege, hierarchy — it’s just what conservatives do. Now, however, some folks — including social scientists — are beginning to ask, in effect, if they’re not actually defending, even promoting, evil as well.

Sterling’s self-immolating drama vividly illustrates what the questions involve. It’s not just that Americans — unbeknownst to Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Limbaugh — have come to an overwhelming consensus that racism itself is evil, though that’s certainly enormously important in and of itself. But there’s also the additional factor of interpersonal depravity — psychopathy, if you will, which people are increasingly coming to see as significantly overrepresented in the 1 percent.

Let’s start with what I said about Limbaugh simply being a good conservative when he rushed to Sterling’s defense. That’s not just a liberal canard. It’s not just me trying to do to Limbaugh what Limbaugh does to liberals. It’s what conservatives themselves have said repeatedly over the years. The defense of hierarchy is what conservatism is all about, as Corey Robin reminded us all with his recent book, “The Reactionary Mind.”

What’s more, the differences between how liberals and conservatives think are reflected in a range of divergent cognitive processes, as summarized in a 2003 paper by John T. Jost and three co-authors, “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” a “meta-analysis” that brought together findings drawn from 88 study samples in 12 countries:

“The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality and is motivated by needs that vary situationally and dispositionally to manage uncertainty and threat,” Jost and his co-authors wrote in the abstract. These are not merely American phenomena, nor is there any reason to think they’re particularly modern.

While Jost’s paper revealed a complicated array of different factors involved, two in particular have been shown to explain the lion’s share of intergroup prejudice: right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO). John Dean’s book “Conservatives Without Conscience” focused on the combined workings of these two factors. While there is some overlap between the two, RWA is more predominant among followers, who would probably make up the main bulk of Limbaugh’s audience, while SDO is more prominent in folks like Sterling.

SDO represents a generalized tendency to support groups’ dominance, whether the groups are defined biologically (men over women, the old over the young) or culturally (race, ethnicity, religion, etc.).

There have been several successive versions of the scale used to measure SDO (SDO 6 can be found here), with slight changes in the statements used. Subjects are asked to rate their agreement or disagreement with the statements from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Statements from SDO-6 include:

  • Some groups of people are simply inferior to other groups.
  • In getting what you want, it is sometimes necessary to use force against other groups.
  • It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others.

These are balanced with statements supporting equality, such as:

  • It would be good if groups could be equal.
  • Group equality should be our ideal.
  • All groups should be given an equal chance in life.

It’s not hard to see why SDO relates to defense of hierarchy, and can serve to support the defense of just about any privileged group. It’s not one and the same thing as conservatism, but it’s an integral part of the mix, and conservatives as a group routinely score significantly higher on SDO than liberals as a group do.

But what about the connection to evil?

A few weeks ago, I came across a reference to an unpublished conference paper, with the intriguing title, “Does endorsement of hierarchy make you evil? SDO and psychopathy.”

So I contacted the lead author, Marc Wilson, a New Zealand psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington, to ask him about his research.

First, a bit of background. Psychopathy — once thought to be an all-or-nothing condition — is now understood in a dimensional fashion (more or less) and is measured by instruments such as The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. While our understanding of psychopathy first developed largely from studying criminal populations, Hare himself has said, “I always said that if I wasn’t studying psychopaths in prison, I’d do it at the stock exchange,” so it’s fairly straightforward to measure and compare psychopathic tendencies and SDO. And that’s just what Wilson has done.

“The research shows that SDO and psychopathy have a reciprocal causal relationship over time — as people become more social dominant, they become more psychopathic, and vice versa,” Wilson told me. “This is based on longitudinal research that shows that, for example, increased SDO (or psychopathy) at time 1 predicts greater psychopathy (or SDO) at time 2. I’ve done this for both convenience samples (university students) and thousands of general population.”

University students get tested a lot — as Wilson indicated, they’re quite convenient. But sooner or later it’s bound to raise questions of just how well the results hold up in a larger population. So it’s significant that he’s already taken that step, and found confirmation as well.

“When SDO was originally proposed, it was argued that group dominance (as measured by SDO) is not the same thing as individual level dominance, and indeed that’s what the original research appeared to show,” he explained. “More recently there have been a few studies that have suggested SDO and psychopathy are related, and I’ve collected a lot of data now that leads me to believe they’re flip sides of the same coin — interpersonal dominance (psychopathy) on one side and group dominance (SDO) on the other.”

This is just what one might informally conclude from listening to the Donald Sterling tape. His personal abusiveness and unwarranted accusations against V. Stiviano is on one side of the coin; flip it over, and his contempt for black people is on the other. Jerk on one side, racist on the other.

“Therefore, it makes sense that environments that promote social hierarchies will also be fertile breeding grounds for individual dominance, and vice versa,” he continued. Digging down a bit into specifics was quite illuminating.

“By ‘environments’ I can imagine a few that are good candidates — financial markets for example,” Wilson said. “Indeed, some of my other work shows that people who work in commerce focused on hierarchy-enhancing wealth consolidation also tend to be more social dominant (an old finding) but also more psychopathic — indeed, people who study commerce at university are not only more psychopathic than people in other fields of study but less psychopathic commerce students are more likely to switch majors to more hierarchy-attenuating disciplines, while more psychopathic arts students (for example) are more likely to switch to commerce degrees.”

Crazy artists? Try crazy businessmen. Crazy stock-traders. That’s what Wilson’s research shows you’re far more likely to find. Not the wild-eyed kind of crazy we’ve all been led to expect, but the button-down, conservative kind we heard in the Donald Sterling tape — or that we can hear on Limbaugh’s radio show, or see on Fox News any day of the week.


By: Paul Rosenberg, Editor for Random Lengths News, Columnist for Al Jazeera EnglishSalon; Salon,  May 1, 2014

May 2, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP’s Fuzzy Math On Obamacare Enrollments”: Creating A Bubble That Keeps Reality Out, Then Reinforcing The Bubble With Nonsense

If the point of a press stunt is to generate some attention for your cause, House Republicans are waking up this morning happy: stories like these were picked up by quite a few news outlets.

House Republicans on Wednesday said they have data from insurance companies that shows only 67 percent of people who selected a health plan under ObamaCare have paid their first month’s premium. […]

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subpanel on Oversight and Investigations said it contacted every insurance company involved in the federal marketplace, and based its data on people who had paid by April 15.

It’s the latest evolution in the GOP’s anti-healthcare line. What started with “no one will want to sign up” eventually became “no one should sign up,” which morphed into “not enough people are signing up,” and finally “those who did sign up don’t count.”

Notice, of course, that Republicans involved in this debate make no effort to hide the degree to which they’re rooting for failure.

In this case, though, the trouble with the new GOP argument is that’s painfully, demonstrably wrong. It’s so wrong, in fact, that I’m a little insulted – regular ol’ hackery is occasionally functional, but this latest scheme is just sad. It’s one thing for House Republicans to try to mislead the public, it’s something else for them to be lazy about it, treating voters and journalists as if we were all easily fooled children.

How deceptive is the report from the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s panel? Let us count the ways.

First, note that the Republican numbers are sharply at odds with the numbers from the insurance companies themselves, most of which put the total of enrolled customers who’ve paid their first premium at between 80% and 90%. Given this, either the insurers or GOP lawmakers are exaggerating, and since insurers have no incentive to lie about this, it would appear Republicans are trying to pull a fast one.

Second, GOP lawmakers picked an arbitrary and misleading cut-off date: they only count customers who paid premiums by April 15. But that’s ridiculous – as Charles Gaba explained, literally millions of Americans enrolled very close to the March 31 deadline and they were still receiving their first bill around April 15.

Third, as Jonathan Cohn reminds us, insurers specifically told these lawmakers that the data as of April 15 would be incomplete and paint a misleading picture. Republicans ignored this in order to launch a cheap attack intended to mislead.

And while these factual errors are obviously important, and were very likely deliberate, there’s also a thematic problem hanging over the effort itself: House Republicans, who can’t produce a health care plan of their own despite promises to the contrary, still believe ACA enrollment totals are both too high and too low at the same time.

Remember, if these conservative lawmakers had their way, the total number of consumers signing up for coverage through exchange marketplaces and paying premiums would be zero. For them to keep whining about the successful enrollment process, looking for new areas to complain about, is effectively an “Annie Hall” moment: “Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of them says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know, and such small portions.’”

Whether or not Republicans understand any of this is unclear. At a certain level, I suspect the substance doesn’t much matter to them either way – it’s about making an attack, hoping the media will repeat it, and counting on at least some of the public to buy it.

But in a case like this, even this is self-defeating, since the actual data will soon be published and we’ll have a new round of evidence that the Republican attacks were plainly untrue.

So why do they bother? To establish the basis for a bogus talking point: thanks to yesterday’s misleading committee “report,” conservative media will repeat as gospel that “only 67%” of consumers paid premiums, so the right no longer has to believe the evidence about the Affordable Care Act exceeding its enrollment projections.

It’s about creating a bubble that keeps reality out, then reinforcing the bubble with nonsense.

Update: The “report” itself is online here. Note how it fits comfortably on one page.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 1, 2014

May 2, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Obamacare | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hey Dems, Thinking About Not Voting In The Midterms?”: Here’s What Happens When The GOP Takes Over The Senate

Passing a federal law banning almost all abortions after 20 weeks. Defunding parts of Obamacare. Weakening the Environmental Protection Agency. Kneecapping the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Elizabeth Warren’s baby, the new agency within the Fed to police consumer fraud. And—maybe, just maybe—letting a Supreme Court seat sit vacant until after the next presidential election.

That’s just the start of what happens if the Republicans win back the Senate this November. Imagine, posits a top aide to Mitch McConnell, a steady stream of legislation, much of it conservative, that will force Barack Obama to start vetoing bills for essentially the first time in his presidency.

And imagine a Republican Congress, with an eye toward 2016, that could take a number of steps to make life harder for presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. First and foremost: continuing their investigations—indeed redoubling them—into the Benghazi tragedy.

Democrats have been feeling a wee bit better lately about this November. The Affordable Care Act is looking stronger. Southern incumbents like Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu have seen some friendlier poll numbers.

But the fact remains that the GOP has a decent to good shot at taking the Senate this fall. A brand new Washington Post/ABC poll splashed a little cold water across Democratic faces. It finds Obama’s approval at an all-time low in Post polls. More ominously, Republican respondents said they were planning on voting in far greater numbers than did Democrats. So this is a reality Democrats and liberals, like it or not, have to think about.

In recent weeks, I talked with a  broad range of Democratic senators and progressive insiders—and a few Republican and conservative ones—about this GOP future. Verdict: While most thought things would be worse, I was mildly surprised by the number who said that strangely enough, matters might actually improve a little. And I came away thinking that while Republicans in full control of Congress would obviously be well-positioned to tee things up for their presidential candidate, they’d more likely end up doing the opposite.

Yes, Things Can Get Worse

Let’s start with the bleak view. “If the Republicans win the Senate,” says Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, “the conclusion they’re going to draw is ‘obstruction works,’ and they’re going to double down on it. So they’ll be thinking, ‘Why go out of our way to do stuff and why compromise when in two years we can win it all?’”

Ornstein’s frequent collaborator, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, thinks that while it should make sense that Republicans eyeing a 2016 White House win would want to have some accomplishments to point to, we shouldn’t bet on it. “The interests of the party in ’16 are clear, but whether that proves sufficient to produce something positive out of the Republicans in Congress is a big reach,” says Mann. “They almost have an incentive to keep the economy going at a more tepid rate.”

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, agrees. “A GOP Senate takeover would be terrible for Obama’s presidency,” Tanden says. “It would spell the end of any progress on any legislative action and with GOP control of both houses of Congress, Republicans would set up debates to help their presidential candidates in 2016. And of course, investigations of the administration would double.”

What about the senators themselves? New York’s Chuck Schumer predicts: “It would let loose six years of right-wing frustration. The potential for gridlock is enormous.”

Two of his more liberal colleagues, Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, emphasized the huge change in priorities we’d see if Republicans were in control of the Senate calendar. That, after all, is one of the main things a Senate majority can do—decide what does and does not get to the floor for consideration. With Mitch McConnell or any other Republican in charge of that calendar instead of Harry Reid, the Senate becomes an entirely different body.

“Their whole effort is grounded in their contempt for government,” Brown says. “On Medicare, on Social Security, on consumer protection, on regulation of Wall Street… If you want to know what a wholly Republican Congress would do, the thing to do is to look at what they’ve done in state capitals where they can. In Ohio, they’ve gone after voters’ rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights. They’d bring that to Washington.”

Warren notes another aspect of majority control that doesn’t get as much attention as floor votes but is also important: what kind of work the committees do and don’t do. Committee hearings rarely have the drama of, say, Henry Waxman hauling those tobacco executives up to the Hill a few years ago. But they matter. Groundwork is laid for future legislation, and that happens because the majority gets to determine what the hearings are about as well as the bulk of the witness list.

Warren had a fresh example at the ready on the day I spoke to her. “Right now, I just came out of a hearing on payday lending,” Warren told me. The payday lenders, who charge usurious loan rates to people living paycheck to paycheck, are one of Warren’s top targets—but they have a powerful lobby, and Republicans generally do their bidding. “If Republicans get in charge of the Senate,” says Warren, “a hearing like that has no chance of happening. They’ll get to roll over the issues of importance to the American people.”

The Pressure to Govern

But here’s the counterintuitive view, expressed by several folks: If Republicans have full control of Congress, they won’t have Harry Reid to kick around anymore. In a divided Congress, each party can point its finger at the other and say: “Obstructionist!” But if one party is running the show, the responsibility for getting results falls entirely on that party’s shoulders.

“If I were a Republican looking forward to 2016, I would actually want to get a little something done,” says William Galston of Brookings. “And if the president has any desire for his last six years to be anything other than trench warfare over the ACA [Affordable Care Act, as the Obamacare law is officially known], then maybe he’ll want to do something, too.”

Several people I spoke with noted that we do have precedent for this, and it’s hardly ancient history. “The model is the late ’90s template,” says Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. “Maybe a little less cordial.”

Or a lot less. But he has a point. In the 1994 election, the GOP took over the House and the Senate. At first, Republicans under Bob Dole and especially Newt Gingrich threw everything they could at Bill Clinton. But after a short while, Gingrich softened, and he and Clinton did pass some things—a landmark budget, and welfare reform.

“When Newt took over, at first, they were awful revolutionaries,” says Jim Kessler of Third Way, the centrist Democratic group. “They passed things that went nowhere. It was a Bataan Death March to a dead end. Then with the shutdown [in early 1996] they went too far, and then they realized that to keep their majority they had to govern.”

Hence, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin’s advice to the president: “My recommendation immediately would be for President Obama to sit down with Clinton and ask him how he did it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.”

Having such a conversation couldn’t hurt. Bill Clinton is sitting on a library full of good political advice, and Obama should probably call him more often. But whether the Clinton-Gingrich model could be so easily transferred to Obama-Boehner—or, Lord help us, Obama-Cantor—is a wide open question. The parties are more dug in now than they were 15, 18 years ago, especially the Republicans. And they would probably think, as Norm Ornstein noted above, why should they play ball with 2016 coming? The best thing for them to do—in political terms, that is, albeit not for the country—is dig in, and drag down Obama’s poll numbers.

This would be the most effective way to harm Hillary Clinton, assuming she’s the Democratic choice in ’16. Says Bill Galston: “The most significant thing they can do to harm Hillary Clinton is to keep Obama’s approval numbers down. If you are running to succeed a two-term incumbent from your own party, you are in some sense running for his third term.”

There could be a few areas where agreement could be reached—for example, it might very well be in Republicans’ interest (with 2016 Latino voters in mind) to pass an immigration bill. On the other hand, they might not see it that way. They might see it as in their interest to try to paint Obama into a corner on immigration. And this raises the question of how the president would react to this new reality.

Can Obama Learn to Veto?

Here’s an undeniable truth that would flow from a fully Republican Congress. “Ironically,” says Don Stewart, a top aide to McConnell, “more legislation will actually pass, because we’ll just start passing things the House passed. Right now, Senator Reid’s main job is to be goaltender—to block President Obama from having to veto things.” To Stewart, Reid has prevented any number of bills that passed the House and could pass the Senate because “he wants the story to be ‘Republicans block.’ They’ve poison-pilled everything. We’ll take those out and pass things.” And then, what would Obama do?

This issue of the veto would surely be one of the main arenas of conflict if Republicans control both houses. Obama has vetoed less legislation than any president in modern history: just two bills, both in late 2010.  George W. Bush vetoed 12 (and he had a cooperative Congress for six of his eight years); Clinton issued 37; George H.W. Bush, 44 (in four years!); and Ronald Reagan, 78. To find a president who’s vetoed fewer bills than Obama, you have to go back to 1881 and James Garfield, who logged zero vetoes, in no small part because just 200 days into his presidency, he was assassinated.

Obama hasn’t broken out his veto pen, says Robert Borosage of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, because he hasn’t really wanted to be seen as confrontational. Let Reid and McConnell or Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner tear each others’ flesh; he’s wanted to float above that. With a wholly GOP Congress, says Borosage, that dynamic ends: “It dramatically forces the president to do something he’s never wanted to do, which is to define himself as a pole in the debate and be willing to stand up and veto things. That’s so against his character.”

But if this scenario comes to pass, he’ll have to veto. The Republicans will send him budgets and other bills with little—or big—poison pills. “With a Republican Senate, all kinds of things are going to reach his desk,” says Bill Samuel of the AFL-CIO. “There’ll be bills he needs to sign—funding the Defense Department, say—that they can add all kinds of malicious things to.”

To Grover Norquist, this is precisely the plan. Norquist doesn’t see major showdowns in the offing—just a series of minor ones that would nevertheless establish GOP priorities on the budget process, on the bet that the veto-shy Obama wouldn’t really change his stripes. “Lots of little things would slip in, and that’s the difference,” Norquist says. “Riders on appropriations. New EPA rules. Just make a list of everything he’s done by executive order and undo it by law in appropriations bills and make Obama sign or veto it.”

This circles us back to immigration. It seems far more likely that rather than pass a bill Obama could happily sign, Republicans would pass one he’d rather not sign—one without a path to citizenship, say—and box him in politically. “You could come up with an immigration reform that Obama would have a very hard time vetoing,” Norquist argues. “DREAMers, border security, STEM, and legal status. If you’re Obama, do you really want to say no to that?”

Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration reform America’s Voice, thinks that “the Republican dream of passing an immigration bill that puts Democrats in a pickle is a fantasy,” in large part because there are too many divisions within the GOP on the issue, divisions that will only be highlighted as their presidential contenders take center stage. Sharry might be right about that. But McConnell is nothing if not cagey. If he wins re-election and becomes majority leader, we can be sure he’ll think of plenty of ways to try to force Obama to accept GOP priorities, especially on budgetary matters, or issue a veto that would be difficult for some red-state Democrats to defend.

The GOP Policy Agenda: Look out ACA, CFPB, and Contraception

Political gamesmanship aside, there’s the question of what actual Republican policy priorities might be. Here’s where the liberal activists really get nervous.

Almost certainly, Republicans would pass bills with items similar to what’s been in the budgets written by Paul Ryan over the past few years: reducing Pell grants, food stamps, money for renewable energy. They’d target the EPA, as Norquist suggested, and they’d almost surely go after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency created by Dodd-Frank that reins in the bad practices of banks and other lenders. They’d try to change the oversight of the CFPB, giving business interests more control, or take it out from under the Federal Reserve Bank, where it’s now housed, which could reduce its authority.

This list could go on and on, but let’s look at just one issue area—contraception and reproductive rights. Right now, according to Donna Crane, the vice president for policy at NARAL-ProChoice America, the GOP House has passed or could quickly pass four bills that a Republican Senate would presumably endorse too:

*A law that would make it a federal crime for an adult to accompany a teen across state lines for an abortion and hold doctors liable for knowing that. “Think about that,” Crane says. “This would be the first time we’ve ever made a person carry their state with them, so to speak.”

*A law to ban abortion coverage in all state health-care insurance exchanges.

*A law to ban abortions after 20 weeks with an exception only for the life of the mother. This, Crane notes, has already passed the House.

*A law to end the contraception benefit in the ACA.

And speaking of Obamacare, what about that? It’s not clear Senate Republicans would even waste their time on repeal. That, they know Obama would veto in an instant. Don Stewart, of McConnell’s office, says they’ll go after specific items like doing away with the medical device tax, which appears to have 60 votes in the Senate right now.

AEI’s Nick Eberstadt muses: “The tactical opposition would be to starve the ACA by budgetary means. What happens if Congress doesn’t pass the health budget the president requests? That would be clarifying.”

It’s not clear just yet the extent to which that would be possible. The big-money portions of Obamacare—the Medicaid expansion, most notably—would have to be changed via legislation, which won’t happen as long as a Democrat is president. But smaller parts of the bill are subject to the appropriations process. “My gut sense is that the GOP won’t be able to truly destroy ACA,” says Harold Pollack, a health policy expert at the University of Chicago who had input into the law. “But they will have some success in cutting expenditures required to properly implement ACA and in generally making things nasty for the administration.”

And Finally, Looking Toward 2016

There’s more that I haven’t covered. Two big matters in particular: the filibuster, and presidential nominations. How would McConnell, if he’s majority leader, change the filibuster rules? Would he try to make it apply to fewer situations, so he could pass bills with 51 Republicans and just a few Democrats for cover? And what about nominations, especially judicial ones? Imagine, for example, that Ruth Bader Ginsburg were to retire in 2015. Would a GOP Senate even give her successor a hearing? And assuming it would, just how conservative a jurist would Obama have to nominate to get through a Senate that’s in Republican hands? I asked nearly everyone I interviewed this question, and while there wasn’t unanimity, there was a clear consensus that it wouldn’t be surprising to see the GOP give a nominee a hearing but sit on the vote, leaving the Supreme Court with only eight members until we see who wins the presidency.

And what of oversight and investigations? A Republican Senate could try to keep the Benghazi attack in the headlines until the day Hillary Clinton gives her acceptance speech, and beyond. This point underscores the extent to which 2016 hovers over everything discussed in this article. If the Republicans move into the Senate’s majority offices in the Capitol next January, they’ll be doing so at a time when the party’s 2016 nominee will start being more public in their intentions.

A Congress wholly controlled by the opposition party has plenty of ways it can help its presidential contenders. It can pass constructive legislation, it can pass “positioning” legislation that attempts to checkmate the other party; it also has the simple ability to help keep favorable issues in the news and unfavorable ones out.

But remember this: Legislators don’t take votes thinking about their presidential candidate’s career. They take votes thinking about their own careers, as Third Way’s Jim Kessler observes: “Congressional Republicans will do what they think is best for them to keep their majority in the House and the Senate. Legislative bodies are selfish, and they rarely sacrifice for others. They’d like a Republican president, but that’s a luxury.”

That’s exactly right. To return to Gingrich: He decided that passing welfare reform was in his caucus’ interest. Doing so took a big club out of Bob Dole’s hands. But that’s politics. Now, in the present day, passing immigration reform would probably help a GOP nominee. But legislators would have to decide: Would it help them? So far they haven’t thought so. Legislators will do what they think will help them. If it helps the nominee, great. If it doesn’t, too bad. And remember, many of these legislators represent deep-red districts and states, which probably don’t add up to more than 200 electoral votes—70 shy of what it takes to win.

And so, even if Republicans gain more power on the Hill, they may find that that power, and the imperative of keeping it, makes 2016 an even steeper climb than it already seems against Clinton. But that shouldn’t be much comfort for Democrats. A Republican Senate won’t be able to undo the president’s signature achievement, but it’ll take as many bites as it can out of what Obama has accomplished in the last six years. And trust me, those bite will hurt.

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 30, 2014


May 2, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Election 2014, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“White Racism Won’t Just Die Off”: No Utopia Awaits When Retrograde Attitudes Like Donald Sterling And Cliven Bundy’s Are Gone

Plantation metaphors are generally considered an inelegant way to speak about America’s ongoing problems with racial discrimination. Such metaphors seemingly gloss over the long civil rights movement, which provided the center upon which 20th-century politics pivoted. Talk of plantations make it seem as though nothing has changed.

What, then, should we do when it is revealed that the Nevada rancher encroaching on public lands, who has captured the hearts of the GOP, also not so surprisingly believes that cotton picking and the institution of slavery of which it was a central part served black people well — especially black women — by giving us “something to do”?  What should we do when the owner of the L.A. Clippers insists his mixed-race black and Mexican girlfriend not bring black people to his games, even though the majority of players on the team are black?

(After we scratch our heads at the idiocy that would cause the local chapter of the NAACP to give such a man a lifetime achievement award, after clear knowledge of multiple racist incidents in his past, then perhaps we put the choice words of Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg on repeat.)

What should we do when the Supreme Court chooses to enable and perpetuate our national campaign of dishonesty about the continued and pervasive challenge of racial discrimination by upholding Michigan’s ban on affirmative action?

What should we do when all that shit happens to black people in one damn week?

The staggering political and historical amnesia that allowed six justices to co-sign such a policy caused Justice Sonia Sotomayor to both write and read a 58-page dissent before the court. Sotomayor rightfully suggested that those, like Chief Justice John Roberts, who believe racial discrimination will end by restricting the right of race to be a consideration hold a “sentiment out of touch with reality.” Such a view reminds me of my academic colleagues who put the term “race” in scare quotations, and tell themselves that because race is a social construction – a biological fiction – that they no longer have to think about the real material impact that centuries of race-based discourse have had on constructing a racist world.

“Race matters,” Sotomayor wrote. And “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

The dangerous, backward and wrongheaded thinking of Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling represent just two of the most obvious iterations of these kinds of “unfortunate effects.” And we are powerless to advocate for ourselves against systemic expressions of such thinking because the Supreme Court has chosen a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to the problem.

Though the racial views of Bundy/Sterling on one hand and the Supreme Court on the other exist rhetorically at opposite ends of the spectrum, both point to an insidious and unchecked march of continued racism that disadvantages and harms black people, in particular. Bundy/Sterling vocally promote the kind of racial thinking that makes even the most conservative white person cringe, while Chief Justice John Roberts and five other justices promote the kind of colorblind view that seems to represent the highest expression of our national understandings of liberty and justice for all.

However, what Sterling’s and Bundy’s views demonstrate is the extent to which retrograde racial attitudes are alive and well among white men with money, power and control over the livelihoods of black people. And what the Supreme Court’s abdication of responsibility suggests is that the government has no responsibility to remedy the discrimination that clearly still exists in institutions that are run largely by white men who belong to the same generation and school of thought as Bundy and Sterling.

Bundy and Sterling represent a kind of past-in-present form of racism, one that contemporary generations of white youth have largely rejected in favor of a kind of multiracial, post-racial worldview. If we would only wait on time, this view goes, Bundy, Sterling and the likes of them will die off.

In its place, I want to forthrightly suggest, however, that we will not find a cosmopolitan racial future awaiting us; rather we (people of color) will be led to the slaughter by the likes of Paul Ryan, our August Ambassador for Austerity, and his suit-and-tie-wearing goons. At the fore of these colorblind approaches to social problems will be jovial, optimistic youth of all colors who balk at the notion that affirmative action or any affirmative remedies for ameliorating centuries of government-sanctioned inequality are either just or necessary for the functioning of the body politic.

Like Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling, the right has no problem extracting and exploiting the labor of black and brown people for the gain of white people. The right has become more sophisticated at enacting such policies without reference to race, a view that supposedly means these policies are devoid of ill racial intent. Yet to quote Proverbs, “two cannot walk together unless they agree.” And despite Jonathan Chait’s desire to insist that those of us on the left come to conclusions about the racial intentions of those on the right in bad faith far too often, we are left with last week’s right-wing sycophantic spectacle in support of Bundy.

As for Donald Sterling and the NBA, scholars of sport and race have long pointed out how professional sports are set up in a kind of plantation structure, in which mostly black players, are literally bought, sold and traded, and paid a paltry amount in comparison to the owners of the teams for which they work. If we bring NCAA basketball into this picture, the comparisons are even more compelling.

What is most interesting here is the way that black women are maligned in the racial analysis of both Bundy and Sterling. Bundy suggests that since the end of chattel slavery, black women have been left to their own devices where we now engage in a revolving door of pregnancy and abortion. Moreover, he says, “their older women and their children are sitting out on the cement porch without nothing to do. You know, I’m wondering are they happier now under this government subsidy system than they were when they were slaves and they was able to have their family structure together and the chickens and a garden and the people have something to do?”

I guess all those histories about how slavery tore black families apart are mere left-wing propaganda.

As if rooting alleged social pathologies like the non-nuclear family within the bodies, moral and sexual choices of black women weren’t enough, Donald Sterling takes up the flip side of Cliven Bundy’s prurient narrative of black women’s bodies in his demands that his girlfriend not associate with black people.

Sterling tells his mixed-race girlfriend that he has a problem with her associating with black people because she’s “supposed to be a delicate white or a delicate Latina girl.” Uhm, what? First, she is black and Mexican. Second, the way this conversation is constructed black women are intrinsically indelicate, which means in this context unfeminine and unworthy of protection.

And unfortunately even though she seems to understand the fault lines and faulty thinking in Sterling’s comments, his girlfriend V. Stiviano also says, “I wish I could change my skin.” White supremacy breeds just this kind of apologetic self-hatred, such that this woman apologizes for being born in the skin she’s in. I seriously hope that sister gets free. Surely she knows that we are off the plantation, and we can choose not to love racists.

Plantation scripts may be inelegant. But they continue to resonate because they allow us to tell indelicate truths about America’s continually reinscribed and remixed disdain for black life and possibility. They remind us that racism is constituted through a heady mix of individual offense and systemic abdication of responsibility by the powers that be.  They show us the extent to which America still has an illicit love affair with white supremacy. The plantations themselves may be gone, but plantation nostalgia and plantation politics still deeply inform American life.  Plantation politics are supplanted not by individual or collective acts of symbolic protest but by strong leadership that commits to ameliorating racial injustice. What we should do in the face of such staggering steps backward remains to be seen, but it is clear that we must do something, or else it is America’s race politics that will have the sole distinction of being off the chain.


By: Brittney Cooper, Salon, April 29, 2014

May 2, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Donald Sterling, Racism | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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