Republican Minority Blocks Bill To Curtail NSA; Democrats To Take Over Role Of Blocking What They Oppose

Not very long ago it was common for bipartisan coalitions to accomplish things in Congress. That was largely before the current realignment in which Democratic southern conservatives have either joined the Republicans or been voted out of office, and Republican moderates and liberals have been driven away. Theoretically even a totally conservative Republican Party might have members finding common ground with some Democrats at times.  Traditionally there have been some conservative Republicans who have been strong advocates of civil liberties.

Curtailing NSA surveillance would seem to be an area where liberal Democrats and some conservative Republicans might work together. In our bizarre system where a majority does not rule and sixty votes are needed in the Senate,Patrick Leahy’s bill to end the NSA’s bulk data collection died due to only receiving a 58 to 42 majority. This died due to solid Republican opposition, led by Mitch McConnell who felt the bill went to far, and Rand Paul who rationalized voting with the rest of the Republicans by saying the bill did not go far enough.

Libertarians at Reason’s Hit & Run blog were disappointed in Paul, writing that, “Paul and the rest of his fellow citizens may well come to rue the day that he allowed the perfect to get in the way of the merely better.” Regardless of his justifications, Rand Paul has shown that he cannot be counted upon in promoting civil liberties issues. I fear that as Rand Paul tries to position himself as a serious contender for the presidential nomination, he will increasingly align himself with McConnell and become indistinguishable from other Republicans from the authoritarian right. I have often pointed out how his father, Ron Paul, was also hardly the defender of liberty which his fans made him out to be.

There is some small consolation that the Republican minority which has concentrated on blocking Democratic legislation will now replaced by a Democratic minority which can also act to block the disastrous Republican agenda. In describing the Democrats who blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, Politco reported on what they are calling the “hell no” caucus:

..red-state Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska are on their way out, and liberals like Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse — with Elizabeth Warren leading the way on messaging — may cause as many headaches for Senate Republicans as tea partyers caused Democrats in the past four years…

Asked if he could ever envision himself performing a Rand Paul-style talking filibuster in the Republican Senate, Whitehouse of Rhode Island replied: “Oh, of course. We will have more tools in the minority than we had in the majority.”

Progressives are girding for battle with Republicans over campaign finance law, consumer protections and women’s health care. But the early battle lines appear increasingly drawn around environmental policy, where Democratic centrists may defect from leadership in next year’s Senate and help Republicans pass legislation strongly opposed by liberal senators…

Even as they vow to fight Republicans at every turn on issues that fundamentally divide liberals and conservatives, left-leaning Democrats insist that they will not do so seeking retaliation against a Republican minority that stymied their economic, environmental and social priorities for so long with filibusters and delay. Those days, they insist, are gone — leaving liberals to somehow find a balance between fighting for their convictions and not drawing the same charges of obstruction that have dominated Democratic messaging for years.

“The best news about a Republican majority in the Senate is that the Republican minority is now gone,” Whitehouse said. “They were just a god-awful minority.”

Maybe this will free up liberal Democrats to more strongly articulate their views on the issues, while allowing more people to see what the Republican agenda really is.

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Bill Maher Says He Is No Fan Of Hillary, Might Vote For Rand Paul

Bill Maher provides an example of why I think it would be a mistake for Democrats to nominate Hillary Clinton. The Hill reports:

“Rand Paul is an interesting candidate to me. Rand Paul could possibly get my vote,” the 58-year-old comedy veteran said of the Kentucky senator.

Maher commented on the son of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas): “As I always used to say about his father, I love half of him. I love the half of him that has the guts to say we should end the American empire, pull the troops home, stop getting involved in every foreign entanglement… He’s way less of a hawk than Hillary, and that appeals to me a lot because I’m not crazy about how warlike she is.”When ITK asked if Maher, who donated $1 million to an Obama super PAC in 2012, would be doing the same for a Hillary Clinton PAC, he quickly answered, “No, I don’t think so. First of all, I’m not as big a fan of Hillary as I am of Obama. So we’ll see who’s running. I’m not even committing to being for Hillary.”

When pressed on whether he was leaning towards the Republican lawmaker in a potential Clinton/Paul matchup (neither has announced any 2016 plans), Maher said, “I wouldn’t say leaning, but I would say for the first time in a long time I’d be considering the Republican product. I might choose their toothpaste when I’m in the aisle.”

Supporting the Pauls on libertarian grounds is a mistake. I’ve looked at Ron Paul’s positions which would lead to less freedom in greater length in the past. However the question is not whether voting for Rand Paul makes sense but whether people will. It is not that I really think that Rand Paul could win a general election, and even his chances at the Republican nomination are questionable. It is also easy to dismiss Bill Maher here because he is often more libertarian than traditional progressive Democrat. This would be a mistake.

What must be considered is the future of Democratic voters. The old New Deal coalition is dead. Today’s Democratic voters include many who primarily support the Democratic Party because of objections to Republican big government–from the Iraq War to intrusions on the private lives of individuals. Millennial voters quite commonly fall into this group. They certainly are not as easy targets for a Rand Paul as some believe, opposing his views on the destruction of the safety net. When Democrats nominate a candidate such as Barack Obama, both Bill Maher and millennials are on board.

Hillary Clinton changes the calculus. Regardless of whether she runs against Paul, a conservative Democratic nominee like Clinton, who is weak on both foreign policy and civil liberties issues, gives little reason for either Bill Maher or millennials to get excited. She will probably still win (although that is far from guaranteed) but many voters will see far less reason to stick with the Democrats long term if they see it as the party of Hillary Clinton. The next presidential election could give Democrats the voters to solidify the support of young voters for years to come, but not under Clinton’s leadership.

The Hill also reports that Clinton supporters are trying to differentiate Clinton from Obama by stressing her decisiveness. It looks like an attempt to turn one of Clinton’s greatest weaknesses into a strength, but it won’t convince those who are already concerned about Clinton’s record. As I’ve discussed before, Hillary Clinton has frequently been wrong on the big questions. She was decisive, but wrong. She would ultimately realize the errors she was making, but not until years later. This included the manner in which she botched health care reform, making it impossible for another generation, and her backing military intervention in Iraq based upon her mistaken belief of a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda. Promoting Hillary Clinton as the decisive candidate certainly does not give me reason to be happy about her likely candidacy.

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SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; Interstellar; Star Trek 3; Star Wars VII; Sex in Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Batman; Robin Williams; 24; Cristin Milioti; The Amy Pond Show; Community; James Corden; Craig Ferguson

Doctor Who returns next week. Here is the official trailer for the first episode, Deep Breath, the first episode staring Peter Capaldi. A spoiler-free review can be read here (but avoid if you want to be totally surprised while viewing).

There is also an official synopsis for the second episode, Kill List:

A Dalek fleet surrounds a lone rebel ship, and only the Doctor can help them now… with the Doctor facing his greatest enemy, he needs Clara by his side.

Confronted with a decision that could change the Daleks forever, he is forced to examine his conscience. Will he find the answer to the question, am I a good man?

Interstellar

Entertainment Weekly has their movie preview issue out, including pictures from Christopher Nolan’s upcoming movie, Interstellar. From Indie Wire:

And that’s about the only new bit of info, with Nolan and co. continuing to stay silent about the plot, only confirming what we know: the Earth is running out of food, forcing everyman Matthew McConaughey to go to outer space to save mankind, read poetry and cry a lot. But John Lithgow (bet you forgot he was in the movie), offers up a pretty interesting quote about the thematic texture we can expect. “It’s a thrilling interaction between grand spectacle and intimate, intense relationships,” he said. “More so than many films of this genre, Chris found a way to make fantastic drama out of cosmic ideas and current human anxieties.”

Robert Orci will be directing Star Trek 3 with J.J. Abrams busy with Star Wars (a franchise which I think is a better fit for Abrams). It sounds like Star Trek fans might be happier with the next movie from this description from Screen Rant:

Star Trek 3 will take place during the Enterprise’s five-year mission (first depicted in the original Star Trek TV series), according to Orci. As a result, the film is expected to offer more of the philosophical elements (see: sci-fi allegories) that were lacking in the Abrams movies. Those films certainly offer their fair share of entertaining sci-fi action and adventure, but there’s not a whole lot of Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew “trekking” across the galaxy – something that seems to have more to do with Abrams’ directing approach than Orci’s contributions, mind you.

The traditional Star Trek optimism and spirit of exploration is something Orci intends to resurrect with the next film installment, by the sound of it. For such reasons and those highlight by Pegg, Orci is arguably a fine choice to serve as the helmsman on Star Trek 3. Furthermore, Orci in part learned his directing trade on the Abrams Trek films, which means this could be the first Trek movie to have a modern blockbuster visual template and the traditional Star Trek thoughtful mindset.

And speaking of J.J. Abrams and Star Wars, here’s some of the rumors abut Star Wars VII.

Batman Harley Quinn

Sex sells, even in animated Batman movies:

Harley Quinn doesn’t get naked and have sex in any of the Batman video games that she’s appeared in. But the Joker’s psycho girlfriend does exactly that in the new animated movie tied to Arkham Asylum and Arkham Origins. It’s not the only surprise in there either..

Yet, because it’s villain-centric, this one goes saltier than most DC animated fare. Characters getting punched in the balls, cussing (the s-word) and two very gruesome deaths are some of the surprising events that happen. It’s much more fun in tone than the games it’s connected to. The grim emotional reticience that’s become part and parcel of today’s Batman execution gets loosened up. Batman even makes a joke in here. The film does noticeably stumble with its portrayal of its female characters. They’re props for the men to play off of, primarily. In particular, Assault on Arkham feels like a missed opportunity to add a few layers of complexity to Harley Quinn’s character. Instead, she remains the wacky moll to the Joker and attaches herself to another man without exhibiting any independence of her own.

George R.R. Martin says that women write him requesting more explicit sex scenes in Game of Thrones, including gay sex. He also says that some fans have guessed how his series ends.

Outlander

Oh No They Didn’t looked at a sex scene in Outlander:

The scene opens in 1945, just after World War II has ended. Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) and her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) are busy trying to put their marriage back together. They both have scholarly backgrounds—she’s a botanist, he’s a historian and a former intelligence officer—and they’ve just endured a long wartime separation. They attempt to rekindle their romance by researching Frank’s ancestry together, visiting historical grounds in the Scottish highlands that might tell them more about his family. While exploring an abandoned castle, Claire jokes that “a troll or two” might’ve lived there, though Frank argues that trolls don’t live in pairs, because they’re solitary creatures. “Pity,” says Claire, smiling flirtatiously. “All this, and no one to share it with.” He looks at her, catching on. “You’re a bit dirty,” he says, in the most blatant double entendre ever. “You can give me a bath,” she replies.

What happens next? Frank hikes up Claire’s skirt, teasing, “Why, Mrs. Randall, I do believe you’ve left your undergarments at home.” And then, let’s just say that, as the New York Times so tactfully put it, they engage in a sex act that’s “not necessarily the one you’d expect in a scene set just after World War II.” (You can watch it here, by fast-forwarding to somewhere around 18:33.) According to the Times, the women are loving it: At a preview screening in New York, Mike Hale writes, “the women in the audience loudly expressed their approval.”

Outlander‘s writer and producer, Ron D. Moore, knew what he was doing with the scene. “I’m guessing that I wanted to show Claire as empowered sexually as a person and having her own appetites and desires,” he told Zap2It. Which makes sense: she’s the one who makes the first move, telling Frank what she wants (even removing her own underwear ahead of time!) so she’s also the one we get to see enjoying it.

Obviously, sex scenes that focus on women getting off are still generally seen as taboo. In the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, Kimberly Pierce, who directed Boys Don’t Cry, reveals that the MPAA pressured her to cut a similar sex act from her film to prevent it from earning an NC-17 rating, even though the brutal murder at the film’s end was acceptable under an “R” rating. Pierce believes the MPAA was particularly uncomfortable with a shot that featured no nudity at all—it was a close-up that lingered on Brandon Teena’s ecstatic expression—because it was such a clear departure from more traditional sex scenes, which have a clear endpoint as their goal, and tend to finish whenever the guys involved do. Maybe that’s why it feels somewhat radical that the camera pans upward during the Outlander sex scene so that we can see Claire’s face.

Consideration of this sex scene leads to the even more extreme question asked by Damon Linker, What if your daughter was a porn star?

We’re living through a libertarian moment.

No, libertarianism hasn’t consistently changed how Americans think about taxation, government regulation, or foreign policy. But it is transforming how we think about morality. We can see it in rapidly changing views about gay marriage, in the growing acceptance of recreational marijuana usage, and in the rise of a non-judgmental outlook on sex and pleasure more generally…

This moral libertarianism even extends to pornography — not just watching it, but “acting” in it, too. That’s the subtext of discussions surrounding Miriam Weeks (stage name: Belle Knox), the Duke University undergraduate who has chosen to pay her way through college by performing in porn videos. At first she was subjected to harsh attacks on campus, but since her story went national, she’s become a breakout celebrity and folk hero to some libertarians and feminists who see her choice as an act of empowerment for women and sex workers.

There’s just one complication to this happy story: no one, or almost no one, actually believes it. People may say they see nothing wrong with or even admire Weeks’ decision to become a porn actress, but it isn’t unambiguously true. And our ease of self-deception on the matter tells us something important about the superficiality of the moral libertarianism sweeping the nation.

How do I know that nearly everyone who claims moral indifference or admiration for Weeks is engaging in self-deception? Because I conducted a little thought experiment. I urge you to try it. Ask yourself how you would feel if Weeks — porn star Belle Knox — was your daughter.

I submit that virtually every honest person — those with children of their own, as well as those who merely possess a functional moral imagination — will admit to being appalled at the thought.

I don’t really see this concept of the libertarian moment and being appalled by this situation to be contradictory. There are a lot of things which I believe should be legal which I wouldn’t want my daughter doing.

Getting back on topic, Starz has already  decided to renew Outlander for a second season. It took a while, but HBO has decided to have us go through a second season of The Leftovers with no explanation as to what happened.

Giant Freakin Robot has a tribute to Robin Williams’ contributions to science fiction. Fourth-day Universe has a listing of his best science fiction roles.

It is hard to believe 24 won’t be back now that they are no longer confined to the series per year schedule. Kiefer Sutherland is keeping talk of this alive:

Despite prominent rumours that the most recent season of ‘24’ would be the huge show’s last, star Kiefer Sutherland is now hinting that there could very well be another series to come.

In a recent interview with the Daily Star, Sutherland, who plays Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer on the hit, said “I’m missing Jack already, I love playing him. I can never say never, the role is in my blood.”

A_to_Z_a_l

We lost Cristin Milioti too soon on How I Met Your Mother, but she will be back this fall in an new romantic comedy sit-com, A to Z. It isn’t necessary to wait until October to see her again. The pilot is widely available on line and on demand. Please tell us the series doesn’t end with her dying.

TV Line has a their first impressions of The Amy Pond Show (or, as it is officially called, Selfie).


Yahoo! has release a teaser trailer for season six of Community.

If we had to lose Craig Feguson, I was at least happy when I heard that James Corden was replacing him. Besides his work on Gavin and Stacey, Corden will preserve the show’s interest in Doctor Who after Ferguson leaves. Corden appeared twice in Doctor Who, playing Craig Owens on The Lodger and Closing Time. Now it turns out that television doesn’t have to lose Craig Ferguson as he is close to a deal for a syndicated talk show.

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Left and Right Join Together To Oppose Militarization Of Police

Police Missouri

The militarization of the police force seen with the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri has led to another case of portions of the left and right joining together. This includes a push for legislation in Congress with the backing of both the American Civil Liberties Union and Gun Owners of America.:

Groups on the left and right are uniting behind calls to end what they say is the rise of a “militarized” police force in the United States.

They say the controversial police tactics seen this week in Ferguson, Mo., are not isolated to the St. Louis County Police Department and warn the rise of heavily armed law enforcement agencies has become an imminent threat to civil liberties.

“What we’re seeing today in Ferguson is a reflection of the excessive militarization of police that has been happening in towns across America for decades,” said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU is aligned with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and groups on the right who are calling for an end to a controversial Defense Department program that supplies local police departments with surplus military equipment, such as armored tanks, machine guns and tear gas.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency, more than $4 billion in discounted military equipment has been sold to local police departments since the 1990s.

“Why are those guns available to the police?” asked Erich Pratt, spokesman for the conservative Gun Owners of America. “We don’t technically have the military operating within our borders, but they’re being given the gear to basically operate in that capacity.”

Gun Owners of America and the ACLU are both backing a forthcoming bill from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) that would curtail the sale of DOD weapons to local police departments.

More libertarian factions of the Republican Party are speaking out on this issue:

The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., has produced a rare and surprisingly unified response across the ideological spectrum, with Republicans and Democrats joining to decry the tactics of the city’s police force in the face of escalating protests.

Most notably, the reactions reflect a shift away from the usual support and sympathy conservatives typically show for law enforcement in such situations. Although possibly unique to the circumstances of the events in Missouri this week, the changing reaction on the right is clear evidence of a rising and more vocal libertarian wing within the Republican Party.

No better sign of that came Thursday than in an article by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) published on Time’s Web site.

“If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off,” he wrote. “But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.”

In his piece, Paul criticized what he called the growing militarization of local police forces. “There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace,” he wrote, “but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.”

This comes as a change from what we generally expect from Republicans:

Since Richard M. Nixon made cracking down on crime a central issue of his 1968 presidential campaign, Republicans have held themselves up as the alternative to a Democratic Party they have derided as soft on issues of law and order. But an appetite for changes in the criminal justice system has been building among Republicans, many of whom believe the tough-justice approach has run its course.

Mr. Paul, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin are among those who say that the federal and state governments need to rethink the way convicts are sentenced and imprisoned, arguing that the current system is inhumane and too costly.

Mr. Paul’s remarks on Thursday were similar to those of other leading conservatives who have weighed in on the events in Ferguson.

“Reporters should never be detained — a free press is too important — simply for doing their jobs,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday, reacting to news that journalists from The Washington Post and The Huffington Post had been held by the police. “Civil liberties must be protected, but violence is not the answer.”

Erick Erickson, a conservative writer, took to Twitter to question why the police needed to display so much firepower. “It is pretty damn insane that people who spend all day writing speeding tickets,” he wrote, “hop in tanks with AR-15s at night.”

But not all conservatives are as concerned about the civil liberties aspects:

Other conservatives have focused on instances in which chaos has broken out in the streets. Images and headlines on The Drudge Report and Breitbart.com have singled out acts of violence among demonstrators and shown looters breaking store windows…

In much of the conservative news media, the protesters in Ferguson are being portrayed as “outside agitators,” in the words of Sean Hannity, the Fox News host.

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This Is Not The Libertarian Moment, But Also Not The Right Moment For Democrats To Follow Hillary Clinton’s Views

Robert Draper asks, Has the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Finally Arrived? in The New York Times Magazine.

Libertarians, who long have relished their role as acerbic sideline critics of American political theater, now find themselves and their movement thrust into the middle of it. For decades their ideas have had serious backing financially (most prominently by the Koch brothers, one of whom, David H., ran as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian Party ticket), intellectually (by way of policy shops like the Cato Institute and C.E.I.) and in the media (through platforms like Reason and, as of last year, “The Independents”). But today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side. An estimated 54 percent of Americans now favor extending marriage rights to gay couples. Decriminalizing marijuana has become a mainstream position, while the drive to reduce sentences for minor drug offenders has led to the wondrous spectacle of Rick Perry — the governor of Texas, where more inmates are executed than in any other state — telling a Washington audience: “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money.” The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget. And deep concern over government surveillance looms as one of the few bipartisan sentiments in Washington, which is somewhat unanticipated given that the surveiller in chief, the former constitutional-law professor Barack Obama, had been described in a 2008 Times Op-Ed by the legal commentator Jeffrey Rosen as potentially “our first president who is a civil libertarian.”

Meanwhile, the age group most responsible for delivering Obama his two terms may well become a political wild card over time, in large part because of its libertarian leanings. Raised on the ad hoc communalism of the Internet, disenchanted by the Iraq War, reflexively tolerant of other lifestyles, appalled by government intrusion into their private affairs and increasingly convinced that the Obama economy is rigged against them, the millennials can no longer be regarded as faithful Democrats — and a recent poll confirmed that fully half of voters between ages 18 and 29 are unwedded to either party. Obama has profoundly disappointed many of these voters by shying away from marijuana decriminalization, by leading from behind on same-sex marriage, by trumping the Bush administration on illegal-immigrant deportations and by expanding Bush’s N.S.A. surveillance program. As one 30-year-old libertarian senior staff member on the Hill told me: “I think we expected this sort of thing from Bush. But Obama seemed to be hip and in touch with my generation, and then he goes and reads our emails.”

To say that the libertarian moment has arrived based upon the views of millennials is to look at only part of the picture. Polling has showed millennials to typically be liberal on social issues, non-interventionist on foreign, policy, but far from conservative or libertarian on issues such as preserving the safety-net and providing universal health care. They are hardly likely to be attracted by either the Republican or Libertarian Party. Unfortunately the Democrats also are risking turning off such voters with the choice of Hillary Clinton:

Early polls show young voters favoring Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016, but their support could erode as they refamiliarize themselves with her, just as it did in 2008. Clinton has been even slower than Obama to embrace progressive social causes, while in foreign policy, she associates herself more with her former Senate colleague John McCain than with noninterventionists. Nor is Clinton likely to quell millennial fears about government surveillance. Welch says: “Hillary isn’t going to be any good on these issues. She has an authoritative mind-set and has no interest in Edward Snowden, who’s a hero to a lot of these people.”

Comparing Clinton to John McCain, who seems to have never seen a possibility for going to war which didn’t excite him, might be a little extreme, but she has firmly placed herself in the Joe Lieberman camp. She is a rare Democrat who rooted for going to war with Iraq based upon false claims tying Saddam to al Qaeda. She now repudiates her past support for the war however the story of Hillary Clinton’s career has been to get the big issues wrong at the time and possibly later realize that she was wrong. As I’ve also pointed out before, in the remote chance that the Republicans do nominate Rand Paul, or anyone else with similar non-interventionist views, this could really shake up the race, putting Democrats in the position of running from the right on foreign policy. Clinton’s weakness and cowardice on social issues wouldn’t help matters.

So, no, the Libertarian Moment has not arrived. The future looks more friendly towards politicians who are socially liberal, anti-interventionism, but far from libertarian across the board. Most likely the Republicans will run a candidate who is even further to the right of Hillary Clinton on foreign policy and social issues, and as Andrew Sullivan recently argued, Clinton will try to run on vacuous statements (along with inevitability), and avoid taking controversial positions on the issues.  She will continue to try to stick with what she sees as safe answers, such as saying that the Bible is the book which she found most influential. Maybe she will get away with it, but if the Republicans shake things up and question her on more libertarian grounds on social issues and foreign policy, there is the real danger of the Democrats losing the millennials.

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Liberal Democrats and Libertarian Republicans Working On Common Goals

Republicans have always had a libertarian wing but their influence and willingness to fight for true freedom has varied over time. Far too often Republican talk of freedom turns into the freedom of businesses to ignore necessary regulations or the freedom to impose their social and religious values upon others. Limited government also far too often turns out to mean reducing the authority of the federal government in order to allow state governments to infringe upon the rights of minorities. With true defense of freedom being rare among Republicans in recent years, it was good to see a report from The New York Times that Liberals and Libertarians Find Common Ground in House.

The article lists several areas where some Republicans have crossed the aisle to work with liberal Democrats:

From abortion to electronic privacy to background checks for gun purchases, a strange thing has been happening on the floor of the House as it debates its spending bills for the coming fiscal year: the stirrings of liberalism.

The House on Thursday voted 221 to 200 to approve an amendment by one of its most vocal liberal members, Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, to ban federal contracts for companies that set up sham headquarters in offshore tax havens like Bermuda. Thirty-four Republicans bucked their party to push it to passage.

That was only the most recent stirring of life on the House’s left flank. Democrats have long hoped they could find common cause on at least some issues with the Republican conference’s libertarian wing. That is starting to happen, fueled by rising distrust of government on the right, a willingness of Democrats to defy the Obama administration in some instances and a freewheeling amendment process on appropriations bills.

The article cites examples of liberals and libertarians working together on legislation to increase individual liberty, from medical marijuana to privacy protections:

The tally of left-libertarian legislation is growing, with the House at least on record voting to limit federal law enforcement actions, intelligence efforts and social policy reach. On May 30, 49 Republicans crossed the aisle to approve language barring the federal government from raiding medical marijuana dispensaries.

“Some people are suffering, and if a doctor feels that he needs to prescribe something to alleviate that suffering, it is immoral for this government to get in the way,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, once one of the chamber’s most ardent conservatives, now a co-sponsor of the marijuana measure.

The day before, 76 Republicans joined Democrats to add $19.5 million to the federal instant background check system for gun purchases. The House Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to allow Peace Corps volunteers who become pregnant by rape to have a federally funded abortion and another measure limiting the federal government’s access to private email communications.

“By passing this amendment, the Appropriations Committee is taking a critical step towards ensuring all Americans are protected by the Fourth Amendment — their mail, documents on their desks at home, and now their private emails,” said Representative Kevin Yoder, Republican of Kansas and one of the measure’s authors.

On June 19, the House voted 293 to 123 to prohibit the National Security Agency and C.I.A. from placing “backdoor” surveillance technologies on commercial technology products and to end warrantless collection of Americans’ online activities. That amendment, passed over the White House’s objections with a veto-proof margin, was written by Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky and one of the House’s most outspoken libertarians, with the Democratic Representatives Zoe Lofgren, who represents Silicon Valley, and Rush D. Holt of New Jersey, a physicist.

An amendment by Representative Dave Reichert, Republican of Washington, reversed cuts to a Bill Clinton-era program that funds local police forces, a program long on the Republican target list. The liberal Democrat that Republicans love to hate, Representative Alan Grayson of Florida, convinced just enough Republicans to pass an amendment blocking the Justice Department from compelling journalists to divulge confidential sources. Another Democratic amendment clears a legal path for states to cultivate industrial hemp.

To be sure, Republicans note, plenty of amendments have driven spending bills to the right. Just last week, the House voted to block the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change on multiple fronts, including one amendment that prohibits any funding for any aspect of the administration’s “climate change agenda.”

Amendments also have passed to end the deferring of deportations of immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, to fund a Justice Department investigation of the Department of Homeland Security’s release of illegal immigrants and to block high-speed rail in California.

But, Mr. Massie said, the libertarian-liberal alliance is real and growing. He said he has been working with Ms. Lofgren on legislation that would repeal a federal law that makes it a felony to unlock a cellphone tied to a particular carrier, even after a contract is expired. Libertarians are also teaming with Democrats to change laws on federal mandatory minimum sentencing.

It would be helpful if left-libertarian goals were a higher priority from the executive branch. Obama had initially raised hopes that he would have governed as more of a left-libertarian, and Obama did receive some libertarian support when initially running for president. While he has been far preferable to George Bush on civil liberties, he has disappointed civil libertarians in areas ranging from continuing many of the Bush surveillance plans (even if seeking reform in some areas) to failing to keep his campaign promises regarding ending federal raids related to medical marijuana. While nothing is a certainty in politics, it looks most likely that Hillary Clinton, who has been to the right of Obama, is likely to win the 2016 nomination. This could leave it up to such a liberal and libertarian coalition in Congress to pursue liberal goals. There is hope for greater emphasis by the Democrats (and possibly some Republicans) on matters of personal freedom in the future as polls show that younger voters are more “determined to protect personal liberties from conservative moral constraint.”

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David Brat’s Views On Economics And Religion

brat_cantor

The surprising defeat of Eric Cantor last night appears to be largely due to the personal faults on Cantor’s part along with possible preference for the more extremist views of David Brat, despite Cantor’s dishonest ads calling him a liberal college professor. It does not appear that cross over Democratic voters had a meaningful impact on the results. Cantor’s problems appear more cultural than strict ideology as pointed out at The New York Times.

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

“Part of this plays into his religion,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

The New York Times does go overboard in calling Cantor’s loss a bad omen for moderates. While Brat is more extreme in opposing immigration reform and raising the debt ceiling to meet our financial obligations, Cantor is hardly a moderate. As Steve Benen pointed out, “He has a 95% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, for goodness’ sake.”

Brat has been called a follower of Ayn Rand, and his victory could be seen as a loss for crony capitalism. Whenever I hear that a Republican is a follower of Ayn Rand I wonder if they are aware of or acknowledge Rand’s atheism and strong hostility towards religion. Brat’s economic writings have shown a view of religion which Ayn Rand would never accept. The Wall Street Journal writes:

In the paper, titled “Is Growth Exogenous? Taking Bernanke Seriously (But How Can a Fed Guy Forget the Institutions)”, Mr. Brat waded into a debate among economists over the determinants of long-term growth with this conclusion: Mr. Bernanke’s work on economic growth overlooked the role that religious institutions–particularly Protestant ones–play in driving a country’s growth rates.

In his argument against Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Brat draws on previous research titled “Economic Growth and Institutions: The Rise and Fall of the Protestant Ethic?” a 2004 paper in which he wrote that Protestantism “provides an efficient set of property rights and encourages a modern set of economic incentives” so “one might anticipate positive economic performance.”

“Give me a country in 1600 that had a Protestant led contest for religious and political power and I will show you a country that is rich today,” he wrote.

On the other hand, another article in The Wall Street Journal suggests he does not accept the agenda of the religious right:

Can Christians force others to follow their ethical teachings on social issues? Note that consistency is lacking on all sides of this issue. The political Right likes to champion individual rights and individual liberty, but it has also worked to enforce morality in relation to abortion, gambling, and homosexuality. The Left likes to think of itself as the bulwark of progressive liberal individualism, and yet it seeks to progressively coerce others to fund every social program under the sun via majority rule. Houston, we have a problem. Coercion is on the rise. What is the root word for liberalism? (Answer: Liberty)

It is of course a straw man argument to claim that the left seeks to fund every social program under the sun. Unless he means the cost of established and highly successful programs such as Medicare and Social Security, the spending advocated by most liberals on social programs is far less than Republicans have coerced others to pay, such as on the Iraq War. Bush’s policies, including both his spending and tax cuts for the wealthy have had far more impact on the deficit that liberal social programs. Despite his acceptance of these rather naive right wing talking points, it is encouraging that Brat has opposed the Republican use of government to enforce the social views of the religious right. It remains to be seen if he will buck the Republicans on such issues when voting in Congress.

Update: Mother Jones takes a look at Brat’s libertarian views, including slashing spending on Medicare,  Social Security, and education. What happens when you cut funding on education? A lack of understanding of science, leading to people falling for denial of climate change.

Update II: There has been considerable speculation that Brat won due to Cantor’s views on immigration. It is not clear that this was the reason for Brat’s victory. A survey from Public Policy Polling showed that there was not widespread opposition to Cantor’s views on immigration in his district but it is possible that those turning out in a Republican primary held stronger anti-immigration views than the general population. Both blogs on the left (such as Mother Jones) and right (such as Hot Air) have questioned if immigration was the reason Cantor lost.

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Koch Brothers Donate $25 Million To The United Negro College Fund

David Koch

I think it was a smart move by the Koch Brothers to give a $25 million grant to the United Negro College Fund. If their goal is to improve their public reputation in response to the campaign by the Democratic Party to vilify them, such a move is likely to be far more effective than Charles Koch’s whiny and misleading op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Maybe they hope that this will help counter some of the harm done by their financing of the Tea Party which, while containing a variety of views, far too often looks like the KKK without the white sheets. The willingness and ability of the Koch Brothers to receive this form of favorable publicity also gives an example of why it is foolish for the Democrats to spend so much effort in their campaign against the Koch Brothers personally as opposed to actually learning how to promote a coherent message.

There are many reasons to vote for the Democrats over the Republicans with the Republicans adopting an extremist agenda, acting to undermine the foundations of our Democratic system, and failing to engage in any rational thought as they pursue policies in contradiction of economics, science, and the very principles of individual liberty which this nation was founded upon. There are so many issues for the Democrats to concentrate on, yet Harry Reid wants to concentrate on a pair of brothers who most people have never heard about. Sure attacking the Koch Brothers might be good for fund raising emails, but this is no substitute for coming up with a real message.

The fact of the matter is that the Koch Brothers are not the worst enemy faced by the Democrats and supporters of liberty (true liberty, not the plutocracy and religious authoritarianism promoted by the right wing under this label). There is certainly quite a bit of hypocrisy  in the economic views of the Koch Brothers, who made their fortune taking advantage of government programs while selectively arguing for economic libertarianism as a means to escape regulation. However in some ways the Koch Brothers are preferable to the standard Republican line, from opposing the Iraq War to being more libertarian on social issues. David Koch also has a long history of philanthropy. They could even be a force for moderation of some of the extreme views of the Republican Party.

Of course this is not meant to excuse all their behavior, including suspected illegal activity and funding of efforts to deny climate change (which on at least one occasion has blown up in their faces). The most reprehensible has been the funding of dishonest advertisements against the Affordable Care Act.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when they spread false information which contributes to mistrust of a law which has resulted in improvements in the lives of millions, they risk doing serious harm to those who remain uninsured based upon misinformation. The Affordable Care Act is also a good thing for the economy, helping to reduce the deficit, reduce unemployment, and enable people to leave jobs they remain in for insurance coverage to work for or form small businesses of their own. Those who truly support freedom, as opposed to giving it lip service as the right wing does, would prefer a system which gives more choice to individuals rather than leaving them at the mercy of an insurance industry which has existed without serious competition in most markets, and which found it to be more profitable to find ways to deny providing care. Support of Obamacare is the only rational position for those who support the rights of the individual over the rights of abusive monopolies. Unfortunately such a choice is beyond the thought process of those on the right who have been brainwashed to see our tradition of self-government as the source of tyranny.

I would find it far easier to ignore the Koch Brothers if they would cease spending their money on these dishonest ads and ideally use their influence to truly promote freedom. Regardless, we could show appreciation for contributions such as this and perhaps it is time for Harry Reed to find a new bogey man–or preferably to do a better job of actually promoting ideas.

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Conservative Victims And Science Fiction Fandom

robert heinlein

In principle I agree with the general argument made by Glenn Reynolds that politics doesn’t belong in science fiction, but knowing how conservative love to claim to be victims, I am skeptical as to the circumstances he described. He wrote:

That’s certainly been the experience of Larry Correia, who was nominated for a Hugo this year. Correia, the author of numerous highly successful science fiction books like Monster Hunter Internationaland Hard Magic, is getting a lot of flak because he’s a right-leaning libertarian. Makes you wonder if Robert Heinlein could get a Hugo Award today. (Answer: Probably not.)

I don’t know enough about the politics in science fiction fandom to know if this is the case, and wonder if “getting a lot of flak” is simply a daily occurrence in fandom for many regardless of their political views. His books are selling. He was nominated for a Hugo, which hardly makes it appear like he is truly ostracized for his beliefs. Reynold’s view in this op-ed also looks suspicious to me because of his claim that Robert Heinlein could not get a Hugo Award today. I am a huge fan of Robert Heinlein, and know many liberals who share this view.

There are aspects of Heinlein’s work which attracted liberals, conservatives, and libertarians, and most liberal science fiction fans I know do not have an ideological litmus test for enjoying the work of an author. Heinlein died in 1988 which also makes it impossible to categorize him by today’s political battles. His support for individual (and sexual) liberty and opposition to religious dogma and racism would align him with liberals over conservatives on many current issues. Whether he would be categorized as a libertarian today would depend on which of the many strands of libertarianism you are speaking of. I suspect he would only have contempt for people such as the Koch brothers who use government to make money while only being consistently libertarian in opposing regulation of their businesses. Heinlein was even further away from Ron Paul ideologically. While he displayed considerable support for the military in Starship Troopers, published in 1959, I wonder if his support for the Viet Nam war would have changed if he lived longer, and if he would have approved of the misuse of military power to invade Iraq.

Reynolds also cited the ouster of Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich, but again conservatives who desire to portray themselves as the victim generally gave a simplistic and incorrect description of this event. Mozilla is not a traditional company, and those in the Mozilla community who saw Mozilla as more of a cause than a business were responsible for forcing Eich out. Some liberals weighed in with concern over whether it was fair for Eich to be forced out over his political beliefs.

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Tying Republicans To The Koch Brothers To Campaign Against Plutocracy

Republicans often do a better job of messaging than Democrats, but they make their job much easier by making things up. They don’t care that the economic theories they promote have no relationship to how the economy really works or if the “facts” they use to justify their policies with are frequently false. Democrats have a tougher time explaining the problems caused by an economic system which has increasingly been rigged to transfer wealth to the top one tenth of one percent at the expense of the middle class. Those who do not understand the dangerous degree of concentration of wealth in a tiny plutocracy, and how this harms the entire economy, easily fall for bogus Republican economic arguments and false cries of socialism.

Republicans succeed with phony elevator pitches that they stand for capitalism and limited government. Democrats must stop letting Republicans get away with these misrepresentations. Republicans who promote plutocracy are no more supporters of capitalism than Republicans who support the agenda of the religious right are supporters of limited government. Of course I mean a main street form of capitalism in which people who work can profit from their efforts, as opposed to the Republican false-capitalism of using government to rig the system for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy.

As I noted recently, Democrats have recently been trying to make their case by standing up to the Koch brothers. Besides financing many of the dishonest ads spreading misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, the Koch brothers have made their fortune by taking advantage of government, and then come out with faux cries for libertarianism to protest needed regulations on their business. Greg Sargent explained the Democratic strategy:

As I noted the other day, this is all about creating a framework within which voters can be made to understand the actual policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on. This is what the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were all about: Dem focus groups showed voters simply didn’t believe Romney would cut entitlements (per the Paul Ryan plan) while cutting taxes on the rich. The Bain narrative made Romney’s actual priorities more comprehensible.

The Koch attacks are designed to do something similar. They aren’t really about the Kochs. They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies – opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states –  become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.

In many ways this strategy is born of necessity. The 2014 fundamentals are stacked heavily against Democrats, who are defending seven Senate seats in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 that are older, whiter, and redder than the diversifying national electorate. This is made even worse by the midterm electorate, in which core Dem groups are less likely to turn out.

GOP attacks on the health law in red states are not just about Obamacare. They are, more broadly, about casting Senate Dems as willing enablers of the hated president and blaming the sputtering recovery on #Obummer Big Gummint, to channel people’s economic anxieties into a vote to oust Dem incumbents. With the law and its author deeply unpopular in these states, Dems can’t really run on any Obama accomplishments. So they need to make these campaigns about the fact that Republican candidates don’t have an actual agenda to boost people’s economic prospects, and indeed are beholden to a broader agenda that has made the problem worse, even as Dems offer a concrete economic mobility agenda of their own. The goal is to boost turnout among Dem constituencies while minimizing losses among the older, blue collar, and rural whites that predominate in these states.

Adding such a framework may help, but there are limitations to the comparison to how Mitt Romney was harmed by the attacks for his actions at Bain. Romney was directly responsible for the actions he performed at Bain. Republican candidates are not directly responsible for the actions of the Koch brothers, and most people have no idea who they are. Democrats need to both explain why voters should oppose this type of policy and make the case that the Republican candidates are also promoting these ideas. I suspect that this might be too complicated for many of the voters the Democrats hope to attract, especially the low-information non-college educated white working class males who I recently discussed here and here, along with others brainwashed by Fox and right wing talk radio. If strategy helps, it will more likely help by motivating more Democrats to turn out as opposed to attracting additional voters.

Maybe this will work, and perhaps the wisdom of this approach will be clearer after it plays out. Unfortunately simpler elevator pitches typically prevail–an explanation of a position which can be explained in the span of an elevator ride. Explain how Republican economic policies are bad for the middle class and lead to economic stagnation. Democrats need to counter trickle down economics with trickle up economics. The rich don’t need any more special favors from government. They are doing quite fine on their own, and when more wealth is given to them, they are less likely to spend it. Instead concentrate on stimulating the economy and keeping more money in the hands of the middle class. The poor and middle class are far more likely to spend a higher percentage of their money, further stimulating the economy.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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