Defending Abortion Rights

The current podcast in the playlist on my phone is an interview with Katha Politt on the Diane Rehm Show from last week. While I have only heard half of it so far, the author has made many good points regarding attitudes towards defending abortion rights, some of which are reflected in my recent post on the culture war. Pollitt defends abortion rights on principle, as opposed to taking a halfhearted position of approving of legalization while still acting like abortion is something shameful, while debunking the conservative framing on the issue. I anticipate hearing more good points in the remainder of the podcast and from reading her book.

I decided to mention this now, before concluding the podcast, as I just noticed that Hanna Rosin has an interview up at Slate reviewing her book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights. While I have not read the book, the review does give a good feel for the points I have heard so far in the interview and presumably reflects her book. The review begins:

I had an abortion. I was not in a libertine college-girl phase, although frankly it’s none of your business. I was already a mother of two, which puts me in the majority of American women who have abortions. Six out of 10 are mothers, which makes sense, because a mother could not fool herself into believing that having another baby was no big deal.

I start the story this way because Katha Pollitt, author of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, would want it this way. In fact any woman who’s reading this piece and has had an abortion, or any man who has supported one, should go in the comments section and do the same thing, until there are so many accounts that the statement loses its shock value. Because frankly, in 2014, it should be no big deal that in a movie a young woman has an abortion and it’s no big deal. We shouldn’t need a book explaining why abortion rights are important. We should be over that by now.

The reason we’re not, according to Pollitt, is that we have all essentially been brainwashed by a small minority of pro-life activists. Only 7 to 20 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want to totally ban abortion, but that loud minority has beaten the rest of us into submission with their fetus posters and their absolutism and their infiltration of American politics. They have landed us in the era of the “awfulization” of abortion, Pollitt writes, where even pro-choicers are “falling all over themselves” to use words like “thorny,” “vexed,” “complex,” and “difficult” instead of doing what they should be doing, which is saying out loud that abortion is a positive social good.

Pollitt aims her book at the “muddled middle” who have been infected by the awfulization without thinking about it that much. To win them back she’s crafted a lengthy Socratic response dissecting the contradictions on the pro-life side. If you know Pollitt’s writing at all, it’s no surprise what she believes. But by the end of the book, it’s a surprise to realize that while the fight over abortion has been going on for more than 40 years, we’ve all forgotten what’s at stake. The left especially has lost sight of its original animating purpose.

Later in the review:

Pollitt spends significant energy dissecting the pro-life side’s contradictions. This largely involves explaining how the concept of personhood, when applied to a fetus, makes very little sense. She cites one poll for example showing that 38 percent of people say abortion is as “bad as killing a person already born.” But in the same poll 84 percent say it’s fine to save the life of a mother. If you really think about it, this position is untenable. No one would say it was fine to kill a toddler if the mother needed its heart. The pro-life position, she concludes, involves a reflexive moralism but doesn’t really reflect what people know to be true, which is that the fetus and the mother have a complicated relationship, unlike any other.

More at The American Prospect, Cosmopolitan, and  Elle.

I know it might not necessarily be right to recommend a book based upon listening to half a podcast and only reading the reviews of others, but this book certainly does appear worth reading. I just placed my order for a copy.

Update: In related news, the Supreme Court has blocked portions of the restrictive anti-abortion law in Texas.

Is The Culture War Really Over?

Bill Scher has an article at Politico on How Republicans Lost The Culture War. While it might be premature to say they lost and the war is over, a subject I’ll get into later, he does have some good points as to what went wrong for the Republicans.

Scher makes three main points. First, Republicans stopped being savvy on abortion. Rather than taking the purist position which they actually favor, legislatively the Republicans had concentrated on more narrow victories. Although late term abortions are rare, they made a lot of noise about “partial-birth abortions.”

While Scher sees this as no longer being savvy, I think that the change in Republican tactics was inevitable. They were never satisfied with stopping the rare late term abortions and were bound to ultimately push for what they really want–a complete ban on abortions.

They might have been more open in pursuing this partially due to a misreading of the polls which show Americans to be more ambivalent on Row v. Wade. The problems is that many people in this country don’t really know what Roe v. Wade means, but that doesn’t stop them from saying yes or no to a pollster. However, when the real question is posed, Americans do not want to make abortion illegal, and a majority agrees that women should  have the right to first trimester abortions.  Americans do not want to ban abortions, and imprison either women or the doctors involved.

Misreading the polls might have been a problem for Republicans, and this was compounded by moderate Republicans being forced from the party. The far right wing ideologues who now dominate the GOP would push for their position regardless of how unpopular, just as they push for restrictions on birth control, the second item on Scher’s list–Republicans got weird about birth control. If Americans would not go for Republican opposition to legalized first trimester pregnancies, they certainly did not accept their opposition to forms of birth control which prevent implantation, along with wider attempts to reduce access to contraception.

Hysterical Republican cries of “baby killers” are even more absurd when applied to a fertilized egg which lacks a central nervous system and consciousness. The Republican position here makes no more sense scientifically than Republican attitudes which deny science regarding evolution and climate change.  This also helps debunk the false Republican frame of making the pertinent question be when life begins. Certainly a fertilized egg is alive, but it also is not deserving of rights which trump the rights of a woman to control her own body. The Republican attitude on contraception only acted to expose their fallacious views regarding abortion, not to mention destroy any false claims they might make for being the supporters of limited government and greater freedom. This seems especially absurd to thinking people as providing easier access to contraception is one obvious way to reduce the number of abortions.

His final point is that Republicans bet wrong on gay marriage. Attitudes in this country certainly have changed rapidly. As James Joyner put it, “As we’ve become more educated, appeal to tradition and cries of “We’ve always done it this way!” are simply less persuasive. Ultimately, the arguments for excluding people from marrying others of the same sex were revealed to be provincial at best and simple bigotry at worst.”

However, while liberal Democratic voters might have supported legalization of same-sex marriage, many Democratic leaders were also behind the country on this one. Still, it is Republicans who made a major issue of trying to again intervene in the private lives of individuals, while Democratic leaders were at least ready to get out of the way as the country changed. While Republican have lost on this issue, Democrats also lost the opportunity to win respect by clearly standing for liberal principles before becoming politically safe.

While the country has been becoming more liberal on social issues, and I see this as a gradual process, not a sudden victory, this does not necessarily mean the culture wars are over. This country still consists of those of us who live in the modern world, and a sizable number who continue to reject science and reason and follow conservative ideas.

Fortunately such ideas are diminishing as fewer young support such conservative attitudes, but they are not disappearing entirely. Young people are far more likely to be influenced by the fake news of Jon Stewart than the fake news coming from Fox. Republicans now will have a hard time winning a presidential election if they do not change their views, but with a two party system we cannot exclude the possibility of another conservative Republican president. Democrats have a significant edge in the electoral college, but not a lock.

The presidency is only one branch of government. The Republicans still have the Supreme Court, although they have decided it best to stay out of the marriage issue now that conservatives are clearly on the wrong side of history. Republicans will continue to have an influence in Congress due to structural issues which keep it from being a truly representative democratic institution. Republicans have a tremendous edge in the Senate as the small states receive the same two Senators as the much more populous blue states. The framers of the Constitution never envisioned such a vast difference in population between the large and small states.

Part of the Republican edge in the House comes from gerrymandering, but even without gerrymandering the Republicans benefit from the concentration of Democratic voters in cities, unless districts are made to account for this. Republicans also benefit from a higher turn out by their voters in midterm elections, and they attempt to increase this edge with laws directed towards making it more difficult for minorities and young college students to vote. The right to vote itself might be the next big division between the parties as Republicans continue to pursue voter suppression as a tactic.

Republicans also dominate in a significant portion of the country, primarily but not limited to the deep south. The culture war is bound to continue there, with Republican candidates also seeking to promote their views elsewhere. As Eleanor Clift wrote, the Republican War on Women continues, just more quietly. We might not be hearing comments such as Tod Akin on women’s bodies shutting down in case of legitimate rape, but  have heard plenty of other outrageous statements this year.  Republicans might be trying to be more quiet on social issues, but they are failing, and this certainly isn’t coinciding with a change in their views.  It is also hard to say that the culture war is entirely over when Republicans have been successful in multiple state legislatures to make abortion more difficult, even if the most draconian Republican proposals have failed.

The Highly Successful Presidency Of Barack Obama

Paul Krugman has been defending Barack Obama much more recently, such as in a recent article in Rolling Stone and on ABC’s This Week. Krugman’s views on Obama have evolved over the years. I think that early on he was critical of Obama based upon disagreements on policy matters. Two things have altered how he discusses Obama. First there are all the off the wall attacks on Obama from both the right and many mainstream commentators. Secondly, he is doing a better job of separating differences of opinion with a more centrist president from outright condemnation where he disagrees. This includes both recognition of Obama’s actual accomplishments and realization that wherever he disagrees with Obama, the Republicans would be far, far worse.

In Rolling Stone, Krugman looked at the various types of attacks on Obama:

All Obama-bashing can be divided into three types. One, a constant of his time in office, is the onslaught from the right, which has never stopped portraying him as an Islamic atheist Marxist Kenyan. Nothing has changed on that front, and nothing will.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

Yes, Obama has a low approval rating compared with earlier presidents. But there are a number of reasons to believe that presidential approval doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to: There is much more party-sorting (in which Republicans never, ever have a good word for a Democratic president, and vice versa), the public is negative on politicians in general, and so on. Obviously the midterm election hasn’t happened yet, but in a year when Republicans have a huge structural advantage – Democrats are defending a disproportionate number of Senate seats in deep-red states – most analyses suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn’t what you’d expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.

More important, however, polls – or even elections – are not the measure of a president. High office shouldn’t be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. Has Obama done that? Do his achievements look likely to endure? The answer to both questions is yes.

From there, Krugman looked at Obama’s achievements on health care, financial reform, the economy, the environment, national security, and social change. As Obama has so many favorable accomplishments, I would suggest seeing the original article rather than trying to list them all here. He then concluded:

Am I damning with faint praise? Not at all. This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don’t care about the fact that Obama hasn’t lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn’t quite say, a big deal.

Andrew Sullivan cited Krugman’s article and added:

Just a year ago, I had a conversation with a friend as the healthcare website was crashing. All that mattered, we agreed, was if, this time next year, the healthcare reform is working and the economy is doing better. Well, both those things have happened – Obamacare is actually a big success so far; the growth and unemployment rates are the envy of much of the Western world – and yet we are now told that he’s a failure. WTF? The architects of the Iraq War – like, yes, Clinton and McCain – somehow believe they have a better grasp of foreign affairs in the twenty-first century than he does. And the party that bankrupted this country in eight short years now has the gall to ignore the fastest reduction in the deficit ever, and a slow-down in healthcare costs that may well be the most important fiscal achievement of a generation.

Add to this two massive social shifts that Obama has coaxed, helped or gotten out the way: marriage equality and the legalization of cannabis. These are not minor cultural shifts. They are sane reforms, change we can absolutely believe in and have accomplished on his watch. Jihadist terrorism? It has murdered an infinitesimal number of Americans in the past six years, compared with almost any other threat. Yes, Americans are still capable of PTSD-driven panic and hysteria over it, and Obama has failed to counter that more aggressively, but to be where we are in 2014 is something few expected after 9/11.

The idea that he has “lost Iraq” is preposterous. We “lost” Iraq the minute we unseated the Sunnis, disbanded the Baathist army and unleashed the dogs of sectarian warfare.

The only sane response to continuing unrest there is to cut our losses, act as an off-shore balancing power, and protect ourselves. And one reason we have this capability is that Obama managed to pivot nimbly last fall to ensure the destruction of Assad’s WMDs. The Panettas and McCains and usual suspects still seem to believe that it would have been better to have bombed Assad, let him keep his WMDs, and … what exactly? Can you imagine ISIS with its hands on those weapons in a failed state with a deposed leader? Think Libya today with poison gas. Who prevented this? Obama. And he is still pilloried for it.

SciFi Weekend: The Flash; Arrow; Gotham; Sleepy Hollow; Agents of SHIELD; Person of Interest; Doctor Who; Selfie; 12 Monkeys; Renewed Shows; Utopia; Gracechurch; Red States & Pornography

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 The Flash was off to an excellent start last week. It looks like it will be a lighter version of Arrow but has started to set up an interesting back story. There’s the death of Barry’s mother in the past and the episode ended with a look into the future which raises the question if they plan their own version of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. We don’t know for certain that the future will play out as suggested:

“Time travel is going to play a big part in the overall series, but one of the things that we will discover is that time is mutable,” executive producer Andrew Kreisberg says. “As the good Doctor says, time can be rewritten, so not everything you see on the show is necessarily what’s going to come to pass and not necessarily everything that’s happened is fixed.” In other words, that newspaper’s headline could change.

Presumably their version will not include the death of Barry Allen. The final scene also revealed that Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) can walk, contrary to what was previously suggested. Is his name supposed to bring H.G. Wells and time travel to mind? With Tom Cavanagh’s character able to walk, this also leaves open the possibility of returning to his bowling alley (Ed).

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Returning genre shows such as Arrow, Sleepy Hollow, Agents of SHIELD, and Person of Interest have all returned to strong starts. Arrow returned with a very brief romance between Oliver and Felicity along with  (major spoiler ahead)  an unexpected death, which I bet will ultimately lead to Laurel taking over as Black Canary. Thanks to flashbacks, this won’t be the last we see of Sara. The episode also introduced Ray Palmer, who has now taken control of Queen Consolidated. While Gotham has premiered, Arrow remains by far the best television adaption of Batman ever aired.

While still early, Gotham does look  promising. It essentially feels like a comic book world without the superhero. Jim Gordon serves as the superhero, even if lacking either superpowers of the special abilities of characters such as Batman or Green Arrow. In a city where virtually everyone else appears corrupt, just fighting for justice and being the rare good guy is enough. Hopefully the can continue to work in a storyline with young Bruce Wayne without it appearing too contrived.

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What makes Sleepy Hollow so much fun is how theye can have both a conspiracy linking Judas, Benedict Arnold, and events in the current episode, mixed with such humorous scenes as last week with Ichabod learning about how our banks work and getting confused about men wearing hats indoors (but not gays).

Ichabod : Is that considered acceptable now?
Abbie : Oh, lots of attitudes have changed since your days, not everyone’s but supreme court has upheld the constitutional right of same sex couples, and more and more states are even legalizing gay marriage
Ichabod : I meant gentleman wearing hats indoors, I know about homosexuals thank you, I trained under Baron von Steuben. His affections for his own sex were well known. Also, I watches the finale of Glee.

Even when in the midst of the big conspiracy they still don’t take things too seriously, such as with Nick Hawley not getting too worried about the apocalypse they were trying to prevent. After all, every civilization has their own apocalypse story.

Last week had another strong episode of Agents of SHIELD with a new role for Simmons. They are making far better use of both Fitz and Simmons than last year. Presumably the real Simmons, as opposed to the one in Fitz’s head, will appear intermittently while undercover at HYDRA. It would probably appear too contrived if they run into her every episode.

Person of Interest is also off to a great start after a semi-reboot, placing the major characters in new situations. I am hoping they do more with the big issues of surveillance and artificial intelligence as the season progresses, rather than number of the week shows.  There is the danger that the reboot won’t matter as they have quickly made things similar to before with the establishment of a means to communicate, a new base, and a new source of money.

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Steven Moffat had a line in The Big Bang with a call about an escaped Egyptian goddess on the Orient Express in space. With the substitution of a mummy for the Egyptian goddess, this premise turned into this week’s episode of Doctor Who, Mummy On The Orient Express. Perhaps some of the plot holes and unanswered questions from Moffat’s stories will ultimately be answered if we wait long enough.

We don’t know who Gus, who masterminded the situation, really is, but perhaps this will be answered at a later date. I also wonder if there is more to Perkins, and if he will be seen again. I am also curious as to whether this episode was planned at the time of The Big Bang. I suspect that it might have just been an idea in Moffat’s mind, which he later altered because he could not resist the line, “Are you my Mummy?”

The episode also included themes from previous episodes, including jelly bellies and the Doctor talking to his previous regenerations. In keeping with themes from this season, the mummy was a soldier. There was progression in the Capaldi Doctor’s attitude. He still had no qualms about watching people he considered to already be doomed die in order to gain information, (“Old ladies die all the time.It’s practically in their job description.”). However, he also substituted himself for a potential victim. In the end, he used the TARDIS to save everyone.

The Clara storyline was handled in a strange manner. Last week it looked like she was done with the Doctor, leading to speculation that this might have been done to set up a solo adventure. Instead Clara was present, yet they teased that this might be their last trip together. If Clara was planning to leave the Doctor, why did she go with him on the Orient Express? After so much teasing that she would no longer travel with the Doctor, she changed her mind quite quickly at the end. I also continue to wonder what type of cell service the Doctor and his companions have which allows them to communicate not only with each other regardless of where they are, but back with earth in the present. Personally I can lose cell service if I wander too far from the cell extender I found necessary to purchase to set up a cellular hot spot in my own house.

The Doctor Who Extra is below:

I had mixed opinions from the pilot of Selfie but obviously I was going to give any show staring Karen Gillian and John Cho a second chance. I’m glad I did as the second episode was much better. Pilots can be a poor way to judge a series as the pilot has the burden of setting up the situations. In addition, changes for the better are sometimes made in shows between the time a pilot is shot and the show goes into regular production.

While there are some excellent genre shows in the fall, summer was weaker on broadcast television. CBS has shown a commitment to mediocre summer science fiction, renewing both Under the Dome and Extant.

Still no word from Showcase regarding Continuum.

ABC has given a full season pick up to two of their better new shows of the season, How to Get Away With Murder and Blackish.

12Monkeys

IO9 reports that Syfy’s television version of 12 Monkeys, which begins in January, will be different from the movie, taking the aspects they like and changing others, like their previous reboot of Battlestar Galactica. It sounds like it might be an intelligent time travel series based upon their review of the pilot:

What the pilot really proved was that this is a show not afraid of the complications of time travel. It does not slow down and explain to the audience its fractured timeline, save for a few title cards in the beginning. Ivanek gives a speech at the end of the episode that wholly relies on the audience being quicker on the uptake about time travel tropes than the characters.

The pilot also builds in a lot of space in the characters’ backstories to fill in later. And you actually want to know about them. you want to know how Stanford got to be in a position where he was picked for his mission. You wonder endlessly about how Railly can get from where we meet her to where she ends up. There’s more than enough to carry more episodes.

An old CBS science fiction series us returning. Legendary TV is working on a rebooted series of Lost in Space. Hopefully they can improve upon the original with the reboot as Battlestar Galactica did.

Utopia Jessica Hyde

Channel 4 has canceled Utopia after its second season, which was one of the better genre shows over the past summer. HBO is planning a remake with David Fincher directing. He is again working with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), who has written the scripts for the new series. While I often question making US remakes of recently aired British shows, such as with Broadchurch,I am curious to see Flynn’s take on this story.

As a consequence of lacking the time for all the genre and quality television shows now on (a welcome problem and change from the past), I have not watched Gracepoint, having already seen Broadchurch. For the benefit of others in this situation who are debating whether to watch, I have found that most reviewers are saying that the early episodes of Gracepoint are very similar to Broadchurch, and where they differed Broadchurch did it much better. Both version star David Tennant. Reviewers are also saying Gracepoint begins to diverge from Broadchurch in the seventh episode. The producers have teased that the ending might be different, so at this point the reviewers I have read (who have not seen beyond this point) do not know how significant the difference from the seventh episode will be.

And, finally, yet another study shows that people in red states are more likely to search for porn:

A new study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, produced by researchers from Canadian Universities, found American states that identify as more religious and conservative are also more apt to search for sex online. Of course, the study makes a point of separating the religiously conservative from the politically conservative. The latter is more likely to look for sex specific terms, such as “gay sex, free porn and xxx,” whereas those that consider themselves religious were looking for generalized sex terms that could’ve theoretically fallen under the “health and wellness” category.

In heavily religious states, abstinence is often pushed as the only safe sex, with very little to offer in the way of sexual education. Unfortunately, that leaves a growing number of people with questions about sex but no answers. Enter Google: the best way to find an answer to personal, possibly embarrassing questions without calling attention to yourself. So of course the study finds that religious communities have a higher percentage of sex-related searches. That’s what happens when you can’t find it elsewhere.

Ebola Spreads To Nurse and Is Affecting Chocolate Supplies (Updated)

It has been a day for bad news related to Ebola. The more serious concern is the apparent transmission of Ebola to a nurse caring for the patient in Texas despite wearing protective gear. It is of concern that these precautions did not prevent the spread to this individual (although it now is reported to have been due to a breach in protocol), but it is at least encouraging that surveillance efforts were successful and the person was quickly identified and precautions taken against further spread.

John McCain, a member of the party which has been protesting the number of czars in the Obama administration, has now called for an Ebola Czar. Perhaps as a first step, the Republicans should reconsider their actions in blocking the appointment of Obama’s nominee as Surgeon General.

On top of this is the news that Ebola could affect supplies of chocolate:

Ebola is threatening much of the world’s chocolate supply.

Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer of cacao, the raw ingredient in M&M’s, Butterfingers and Snickers Bars, has shut down its borders with Liberia and Guinea, putting a major crimp on the workforce needed to pick the beans that end up in chocolate bars and other treats just as the harvest season begins. The West African nation of about 20 million — also known as Côte D’Ivoire — has yet to experience a single case of Ebola, but the outbreak already could raise prices…

The market is worried, too. Prices on cocoa futures jumped from their normal trading range of $2,000 to $2,700 per ton, to as high as $3,400 in September over concerns about the spread of Ebola to Côte D’Ivoire, noted Jack Scoville, an analyst and vice president at the Chicago-based Price Futures Group. Since then, prices have yo-yoed down to $3,030 and then back to $3,155 in the past couple of weeks.

While not yet time to panic, are we now in danger of seeing riots at the supermarkets and hoarding of chocolate?

(Original post updated with further information on the case in Texas and John McCain’s call for an Ebola Czar.)

Quote of the Day: Jimmy Fallon On The Clintons

“Congratulations to Chelsea Clinton, who gave birth to a baby girl named Charlotte on Friday. Or as Hillary described the baby, ‘Third in line to the throne.'” –Jimmy Fallon

Republican Tactics Of Fear And Voter Suppression

Republicans, lacking a real agenda or any solutions to problems, are basing their campaign this year on a combination of fear and voter suppression. They are even trying to politicize Ebola with threats that it will cross our borders (along with people of other colors) and even mutate to become airborne to attack us. (Does their belief that Ebola will change into an airborne infection suggest a new found belief in evolution for some?) First Read writes:

…these advertisements we’re seeing (here, here, and here) go well beyond faith in institutions or government competence. They’re about fear. And frankly, they come when there’s no evidence of ISIS coming across the border and when (remarkably) there’s still been just one confirmed case of Ebola in the United States. Now we understand why Republicans are picking up this theme — they want to nationalize the election, and they have every incentive to. (The more they get voters going into the voting booth upset at Washington, the more likely they are to get Republicans defeating Democratic incumbents in Senate races.) But some of these candidates are walking a fine line; there is a Chicken Little aspect here regarding Ebola and it can border on the irresponsible.

The New York Times reports:

Playing off feelings of anxiety is a powerful strategy for motivating the Republican base. And few issues have proven as potent when linked together as border security and the fear of terrorism. Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, said this week on Fox News that border agents had told him they apprehended 10 Islamic State fighters in Texas. The Department of Homeland Security said his statement was “categorically false.”

Fear has always been a centerpiece of Republican strategy. They scare poorly educated white males into fearing that minorities and women will take their money. They scare Republican voters into believing that Democrats will take away their guns and their bibles. More recently they have been concentrating on fear of Obamacare, even if every single one of their predictions of dire consequences has failed to come about.

Republicans rely upon fear to get their supporters to turn out to vote, and resort to voter suppression to try to keep Democrats from voting. As the GAO reported, Republican-supported voter ID laws aimed at voter suppression result in fewer minorities and young people voting. Fortunately the Supreme Court has thrown out voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas, but they have also allowed a law to stand in North Carolina.

Control Of The Senate Too Close To Call–Several States Still Can Go Either Way

With under a month to go, the race for control of the Senate remains too close to call. The fundamentals support the Republicans and they maintain a slight edge based upon current polling, but there are so many close races that we cannot be certain what will happen, despite the pessimism of some Democrats. Some Republicans are starting to get worried.

Looking at Electoral-Vote.com, the latest polls do give the Republicans 51 seats. However look at how many races are extremely close. Polls this close could easily be off if the pollster is incorrect in their assumptions as to who will actually turn out to vote. In other words, Democrats could retain control of the Senate if their  turn out is better than in previous midterm elections. Only a slight increase could flip several of the states where Republicans are leading.

Some states might still change from basic changes in a campaign, such as Mary Landrieu replacing her campaign manager.

Unexpected events in other states could change things. We have already seen the situation in Kansas where an independent has a real chance of winning. Now South Dakota has unexpectedly turned into a three way race. Republican Mike Rounds has led Democrat Rick Weiland, but suddenly former senator Larry Pressler, running as an independent, has closed the gap. There is no run off in South Dakota making it possible that any of the three could win with less than forty percent of the vote. Pressler is a former Republican but has become disenchanted with the GOP. He endorsed Obama in the last two presidential elections and says that if elected he would be a friend of Obama in the Senate.

Another factor working against the Republicans is their problem of nominating candidates who are extremists, if not outright bat-shit crazy. Terry Lynn Lands disastrous campaign has turned Michigan into a safe seat for the Democrats to hold. Republican leads in Iowa and even Georgia are now in jeopardy. Michelle Nunn’s chances in Georgia are now much better after a 2005 deposition surfaced in which Republican David Perdue bragged about his record of outsourcing:

The controversy stems from a 2005 legal deposition focused on the money he made at Pillowtex, a North Carolina textile company that closed and laid off thousands shortly after he left as CEO in 2003.

“Yeah, I spent most of my career doing that,” he said when asked to describe his “experience with outsourcing.”

Perdue then walked attorneys through his career helping various countries increase production in Asia, and discussed his goal at Pillowtex of moving production overseas to try to save the company. That never occurred, as the company ended up collapsing before it could do so.

His initial response to the revelations didn’t help put out the fire.

“Defend it? I’m proud of it,” he said on Monday when asked by a local reporter about his “career on outsourcing.”

“This is a part of American business, part of any business. Outsourcing is the procurement of products and services to help your business run. People do that all day,” he continued before blaming bad government policies for killing American jobs.

With all these races which could still go either direction, I do not believe it is possible to determine before election day who will control the Senate. We very likely will not even know that Tuesday. With Alaska in play, we won’t have all the results until at least Wednesday. Complicating matters further, if the races in Georgia and Louisiana remain close we cold very easily have a situation in which neither candidate has a majority and we have to wait for a runoff election in December (Louisiana) and/or January (Georgia). Should Larry Pressler win in South Dakota and Greg Orman win in Kansas, the pair of independents would very likely be in a position to decide who controls the Senate and we might not know how that plays out until January.

Leon Panetta and Jimmy Carter’s Irrational Attacks On Obama

There has been a lot of criticism of Obama’s Middle East policy from those of both parties who fail to recognize that we were placed in a situation with no good outcome the moment George Bush invaded Iraq. Leon Panetta has been all over the talk shows promoting his book, which echoes the criticism of Obama from Hillary Clinton.

Seeing the poor logic in these attacks makes me glad that Obama as opposed to either Clinton or a Republican have been calling the shots. It is easy to say that acting sooner would have helped, but no real evidence of this. The situation which allowed ISIS to develop and succeed in Iraq were created by the American intervention and subsequent actions of the Malacki government.

The actual advice given makes no sense. Arming Syrian moderates last year would have just led to increased bloodshed and more weapons in the hands of ISIS. Propping up Malicki longer was a dead-end policy, even if the United States could have stayed despite the desire of the Iraqui government for us to leave. While Panetta has criticized him over not bombing in Syria, Obama showed wisdom, not weakness, when he backed away from the military option when there was a diplomatic option to stop the use of chemical weapons.

The Neocon policies have been disastrous, causing this mess and Obama was right in opposing them, and attempting to disengage from the region. The Clinton/Panetta line is a repeat of the Bush/Cheney line and the current Clinton/Panetta attacks are no more credible than the attacks we are hearing from Dick Cheney

Other attacks are more petty. In a dispute between the White House and Pentagon over not giving the Pentagon everything it wants, I’ll generally side with the White House. It comes down to money on two levels. Now Panetta is cashing in to make money on his book, along with doing Hillary’s dirty work.

Kevin Drum put Panetta’s world-view in context:

…his basic worldview is simple: as long as Obama is launching lots of drone attacks and surging lots of troops and bombing plenty of Middle Eastern countries—then he’s a “strong leader on security issues.” But when Obama starts to think that maybe reflexive military action hasn’t acquitted itself too well over the past few years—in that case he’s “kind of lost his way.”

That’s the default view of practically everyone in Washington: Using military force shows strong leadership. Declining to use military force shows weakness. But most folks inside the Beltway don’t even seem to realize they feel this way. It’s just part of the air they breathe: never really noticed, always taken for granted, and invariably the difficult but sadly necessary answer for whichever new and supposedly unique problem we’re addressing right now. This is what Obama is up against.

Steve Benen had a great response to all the hypocrisy and poor arguments from the right being made by Panetta. He concluded:

The former Defense Secretary last week wrote a piece blaming Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq for the chaos gripping much of the country. And yet, it was none other than Leon Panetta who defended Obama’s withdrawal policy, repeatedly, before he was trying to boost book sales.

Panetta now says he believes Obama should have pressed Iraqi officials to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. What would those troops have accomplished that they didn’t already try over the last decade? Panetta hasn’t really said. What was Obama supposed to do about the fact that Iraq wanted American servicemen and women out? Panetta hasn’t really explained that, either. Why did Panetta see a residual force as impossible in 2011, only to believe the opposite now? He hasn’t offered an explanation of this, either.

And yet, Panetta just keeps complaining, not just about Iraq, but about U.S. policy in Syria, too, where the former Pentagon chief apparently believes it’s irrelevant that Obama rid Syria of its chemical-weapons stockpiles – weapons that now can’t fall into the hands of Islamic State militants.

Making matters slightly worse, as part of Panetta’s all-out media blitz, he complained to the New York Times about Obama going to Congress last year before intervention in Syria, and then complained about Obama not going to Congress this year before intervention in Syria.

Who knows, maybe this is a terrific public-relations strategy for a guy on a book tour. If Panetta hoped to generate chatter about his book, the past couple of weeks have been a triumph. If he hoped to get White House critics interested in his memoir, Panetta has done what he set out to do.

But those looking for real insights into a sensible national security policy probably haven’t learned much from Panetta’s p.r. campaign.

I would question if Panetta’s motivation is purely to make money from his book. He is also serving the Clintons well, considering that Hillary has motivation to separate herself from Obama but cannot speak out against him to this degree without looking calculating and disloyal. Of course both possible motives are served by the same actions.

The Daily Beast has further criticism of Panetta:

At both Langley and the Pentagon he became a forceful advocate for—or, some might say, bureaucratic captive of—the agencies he ran. As CIA Director he pushed back on efforts to expose the agency’s illegal activities during the Bush Administration —in particular, the use of torture (which he had once decried).

At DoD he ran around with his hair practically on fire denouncing cuts to the defense budget in out-sized, apocalyptic terms. The “catastrophic,” “draconian” cuts would initiate a “doomsday mechanism” and “invite aggression,” he claimed and always without specific examples. Ironically, when Panetta was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the early 1990s, he took the exact opposite position and pushed for huge cuts to the defense budget.

For Panetta, principles appear to be determined by wherever he happens to be sitting at any given moment.

However, his irresponsible threat-mongering and his constant stream of gaffes and misstatements (like the claim that the US was in Iraq because of 9/11 and that the war was worth it) masked a stunningly narrow and parochial foreign policy vision. It wasn’t just that Panetta was saying crazy things. As his new memoir shows, he apparently believed them.

The post went on to further criticize Panetta’s current ideas on what Obama should have done, along with his support for using force without adequate recognition of the consequences of using force, or of the positive benefits of Obama achieving an agreement to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Jimmy Carter  has also raised similar attacks but the same issues remain that intervention earlier would have probably worsened the situation in Iraq and Syria. It is also easy to criticize in retrospect, but his current attacks are not consistent with previous criticism of Obama whichwere for being too aggressive.

While I have qualms about some of Obama’s actions, from drones to the current bombing, he is looking far better than most of those who are now attacking him.

Bill Maher Reconsidering Idea Of Voting For Rand Paul Due To His Denial Of Climate Change

Bill Maher has previously said he might consider voting for Rand Paul if he were to run against Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. It is certainly understandable why someone might give this a thought in light of Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy views but this idea breaks down with a closer look at Rand Paul. Maher found that Paul is not as anti-war as he would prefer, but another issue is a real deal-breaker:

Maher said he was most attracted to Paul because of the senator’s general views on foreign policy, though he’s not a fan of his recent support for bombing ISIS.

“He’s great on ending the empire, not getting into any more foreign entanglements — I’m even to the left of him on the bombing (of ISIS); he wants to keep bombing ISIS, I want us to stop bombing altogether,” he said.

While Maher donated $1 million to a super PAC backing President Barack Obama in 2012, he has been less than enthusiastic about a potential Clinton presidency, especially when it comes to her foreign policy.

But Maher told Salon there’s stark daylight between him and Paul on a different issue.

“I had drinks with him about two weeks ago. He’s a nice guy, he’s a smart guy. My big problem is I asked him about the environment, which is my big issue,” Maher said. “He had made a comment that was very similar to what Dick Cheney said about a month or two ago, which was basically, ‘Why are we talking the environment when ISIS is out there?’ I said, ‘Senator, y’know, you sounded just like Dick Cheney.’ “

Last month, Paul blasted Clinton for saying climate change marked the “most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face.”

“I don’t think we really want a commander in chief who’s battling climate change instead of terrorism,” Paul said on Fox News.

Maher said that Paul’s answer on the environment was “wholly unsatisfactory” and that the senator would lose his vote based entirely on that issue unless Paul comes up with a better answer.

“This is the deal-breaker issue with me. You’ve got to be good on this or, I’m sorry, not going to happen,” Maher said.

In an ideal world, we would be able to exclude someone such as Hillary Clinton who backed the Iraq war with claims of a connection between Sadaam and al Qaeda. However in such an ideal world, we would also not have a major political party which denies science, including the scientific consensus on climate change. In addition to drumming up fear about terrorism, it makes no sense to say we cannot deal with climate change due to the presence of another problem. It is as if Paul and Cheney are unable to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Salon has more on Rand Paul’s anti-scientific views, related to both climate change and Ebola:

In a breathless “exclusive,” Breitbart News revealed that Paul thinks the Obama administration is misleading the public about the nature of the threat and how the disease is spread. “They’re downplaying and underplaying the risk of this,” Paul claimed. “They keep emphasizing that it’s so hard to transmit. Well if it’s so hard to transmit why are doctors getting it with masks, gloves, boots and hats—the whole works?”

You might think an ophthalmologist (though he’s not board certified) would be more responsible about spreading health panic. But you’d be wrong. “Could we have a worldwide pandemic? The Spanish flu in 1918 killed 21 million people, the plague in the 14th century killed 25 million people; I’m not saying that’s going to happen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I think we should have travel restrictions at this point in time coming from Africa,” Paul added.

Health experts shot Paul down almost immediately. “I don’t think that there’s data to tell us that that’s a correct statement, with all due respect,” NIH veteran Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We have had experience since 1976 with how Ebola is transmitted. And it is clear that it’s transmitted by direct contact with body fluids, blood, diarrhea, vomit, or what have you.

“And there’s no indication that there is another insidious way that it’s transmitted that we’re missing because of the experience that we’ve had. So, we’ve really gotta go with the evidence base. There’s always hypothesis and surmising about that, but there’s no scientific evidence,” Fauci added.