Saturday, June 14, 2014


William Logan in the Times ruminates on the place of poetry in contemporary life:
You can live a full life without knowing a scrap of poetry, just as you can live a full life without ever seeing a Picasso or “The Cherry Orchard.” Most people surround themselves with art of some sort, whether it’s by Amy Winehouse or Richard Avedon. Even the daubs on the refrigerator by the toddler artist have their place. Language gainfully employed has its place. Poetry will never have the audience of “Game of Thrones” — that is what television can do. Poetry is what language alone can do.
I have recently started reading poetry again after a hiatus of about 15 years. Basically since graduate school in English literature, which drove my previous love of poetry completely out of me. It has been a slow and lovely remembering of the ways language can be harnessed for deep meaning and pure aural pleasure.

I have been remiss in not reading poems to my children.

Friday, June 13, 2014

La Playa

Going to the beach with the fam this week so posting will be light.

Happy summer!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Reaping What They've Sown

Some interesting thoughts on both the self-inflicted and widespread damage being done by the Republican Party because of their relentless march to the conservative fringe.

First, a great polemic from Paul Waldman linking right-wing rhetoric to the increasing pace of right-wing terrorism in the U.S. Waldman doesn't pull any punches in calling out GOP politicians on their rhetoric and the atmosphere it creates:
What I’m about to say will raise some hackles, but we need to talk about it. It’s long past time for prominent conservatives and Republicans to do some introspection and ask whether they’re contributing to outbreaks of right-wing violence.
. . . 
The most obvious component is the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns. But that’s only part of it. Just as meaningful is the conspiracy theorizing that became utterly mainstream once Barack Obama took office. If you tuned into one of many national television and radio programs on the right, you heard over and over that Obama was imposing a totalitarian state upon us. You might hear that FEMA was building secret concentration camps (Glenn Beck, the propagator of that theory, later recanted it, though he has a long history of violent rhetoric), or that Obama is seeding the government with agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. You grandfather probably got an email offering proof that Obama is literally the antichrist.
In addition to noting current examples of irresponsible right-wing rhetoric and reprehensible right-wing violence, Waldman reminds us that this phenomenon is nothing new. Over the past 50 years, we have consistently seen an increase in right-wing violence following Demcratic political gains.
In our recent history, every election of a Democratic president is followed by a rise in conspiracy-obsessed right-wing populism. In the 1960s it was the John Birch Society; in the 1990s it was the militia movement shouting about black UN helicopters, and during the Obama presidency it was the Tea Party. Some of those movements are ultimately harmless, but alongside and around them are people who take their rhetoric seriously and lash out in response. After these killings in Nevada, and the murders at a Jewish community center in Kansas, and the murders at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and multiple murders by members of the “sovereign citizens” movement in the last few years, it’s worth remembering that since 9/11, right-wing terrorism has killed many more Americans than al Qaeda terrorism.
And Republican politicians explicitly fan these flames and actively rebuke people who call attention to the fact that right-wing terrorism exists. I admire Waldman for making such a public statement about the power of right-wing rhetoric on right-wing extremists, and for explicitly linking it to the fetishizing of firearms among a significant segment of our population.  I am also scared for Waldman for those very reasons. Which means their terrorism is working.

Less significant in the scheme of things, but important in the corridors of the Capitol, this week also saw another notable impact of relentless right-wing rhetoric on the part of Republican leaders and conservative media: the ouster of House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, in the Republican primary in favor of a far-right, Tea Party candidate.

As Jonathan Bernstein notes, the "establishment Republicans" made this bed, but, unfortunately, we are all going to have to lie in it:
Republican leaders, including whomever counts as the “establishment,” have spent more than 40 years educating rank-and-file voters that “more conservative” is always better. But they haven’t specified what “more conservative” actually means beyond attitude. So it isn’t surprising that people in the House or Senate leadership - those who are required to make and support deals with Democrats during times of divided government - will wind up accused of being squishes or RINOs. Even if we don’t know whether that is specifically the cause of Cantor’s defeat, it’s almost certainly part of the context that has made all Republican incumbents a little more vulnerable.
As for the consequences of Cantor’s loss (beyond changes in the leadership), they don’t really depend on the causes; they depend on how Republicans interpret the election.
One thing has consistently been true over the years. Whenever conservative Republican politicians are accused of not being sufficiently conservative, they react by rushing to tighten their embrace of the loudest, nuttiest, most radical, self-proclaimed conservatives.  
You know, the ones who want to shut down the government, or deny climate change exists, or declare that a fetus is a person, or want to privatize social security, or refuse to confirm any judges, or want to  deport every undocumented immigrant in the country, or try to restrict voting rights, or eliminate estate and corporate taxes, or loosen gun laws in the wake of school shootings, etc., etc., etc.

And then these "reasonable Republicans" wonder why their base keeps electing lunatics who often can't win a general election.  It's tempting to gloat and say "you get what you deserve, morons," but the reality is that we all suffer when this kind of rightwing extremism is embraced and encouraged.  It's time we start talking openly about the danger right wing reactionaries pose to this country and the ways that mainstream Republicans are supporting them. I applaud both Waldman and Bernstein for engaging in this conversation.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dumbing Down

Paul Glastris and Haley Sweetland Edwards have a really interesting long piece at Washington Monthly on how Republicans have dumbed down Congress. Not in the most obvious way, by electing a cavalcade of morons (although that doesn't help), but in their approach to congressional staffing:
In 1995, after winning a majority in the House for the first time in forty years, one of the first things the new Republican House leadership did was gut Congress’s workforce. They cut the “professional staff” (the lawyers, economists, and investigators who work for committees rather than individual members) by a third. They reduced the “legislative support staff” (the auditors, analysts, and subject-matter experts at the Government Accountability Office [GAO], the Congressional Research Service [CRS], and so on) by a third, too, and killed off the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) entirely. 
Why would Newt Gingrich and the newly-elected GOP majority in the house decimate their own staff and degrade the information-gathering and policy-making expertise available to lawmakers?
Part of it is political optics: What better way to show the conservative voters back home that you’re serious about shrinking government than by cutting your own staff? But a bigger reason is strategic. The Gingrich Revolutionaries of 1995 and the Tea Partiers of 2011 share the same basic dream: to defund and dismantle the vast complex of agencies and programs that have been created by bipartisan majorities since the New Deal. The people in Congress who knew those agencies and programs best and were most invested in making them work—the professional staffers, the CRS analysts, the veteran committee chairs—were not going to consent to seeing them swept away. So theyhad to be swept away.
The Republican belief that reality can be held at bay, King Canute-like, by simply decreeing that conservative policies will have benevolent effects, began long before Karl Rove came on the national scene. Unlike the Republicans, however, King Canute understood you can't change reality by simply wishing it away. Accordingly, the government has grown, not shrunk, with fewer Congressional staff to oversee and investigate increasingly complex agencies.

Another result of the gutting of Congressional staff? The outsourcing of policy development to entities  with very vested interests in certain policy outcomes:
Much of the research, number crunching, and legislative wordsmithing that used to be done by Capitol Hill staffers working for the government is now being done by outside experts, many of them former Hill staffers, working for lobbying firms, think tanks, consultancies, trade associations, and PR outfits. This has strengthened the already-powerful hand of corporate interests in shaping legislation, and given conservative groups an added measure of influence over Congress, as the shutdown itself illustrates.
This article is an in-depth primer on the crucial role played by both individual congressional staffers and the institutional congressional staff of organizations like the Congressional Research Service and the Office of Management and Budget in developing policy and providing competent Congressional oversight of government. It also details exactly what Newt Gingrich and the radical "Contract With America" Republicans wrought with their slash and burn approach to reorganizing Congressional committees and congressional staffing. Let's just say that the former speaker doesn't come out of this one smelling particularly fragrant.

We have seen the results of electing know-nothings to Congress in the form of climate change denial, lack of oversight in foreign policy and national security matters, adoption of economic policies that actually crash the economy, and on and on. It used to be that the know-nothing representatives went to D.C. and had competent, long-serving experts in various fields at their disposal, who would bring the new guys up to speed on policy proposals.

Now we have corporate lobbyists and right-wing think tanks providing that "expertise", with predictable results.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When Do We Make It Stop?

(Reuters) - A gunman walked into an Oregon high school and fatally shot a student on Tuesday before authorities found him dead a short time later, a day before students were due to finish classes and break for summer vacation.
Day before yesterday:
In a shooting rampage that left five people dead, two assailants killed two Las Vegas police officers on Sunday at a pizza restaurant and fatally shot a third person at a nearby Walmart before dying in a suicide pact, the authorities said. 
Four days ago:
Hours after a gunman shot a Forsyth County sheriff’s deputy in the leg, the investigation continued at both the county’s courthouse and the suspect’s home. After Deputy Daniel Rush was shot, other deputies who heard the commotion rushed to stop the alleged shooter, Dennis Marx. Marx died at the scene.
According to Sheriff Duane Piper, Marx began firing an AR15 and had two handguns as he drove up the courthouse walkway, where Deputy Daniel Rush was making a routine sweep of the courthouse lawn. 
Five days ago:
A male in his 20s has died and three others are injured after a shooting at the campus of Seattle Pacific University, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Police said on their verified Twitter account on Thursday that a lone suspect entered a university building, shot two males and two females, and began reloading. 
And the above tally of this week's carnage doesn't even include all the regular, run-of-the-mill shootings  like this:
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Investigators say a man apparently killed his wife and three daughters before turning the gun on himself in the family's southwest Florida home.
Lee County sheriff's deputies responded to the scene early Sunday and found all five people dead. 
or this:
A 3-year-old boy is in critical but stable condition in Hopewell, VA after his twin brother found an unattended handgun and accidentally shot him. According to CBS News, the shooting took place at around 10:00 a.m. on Monday.
 or this:
COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah — Friends and classmates are talking about an accidental shooting that left one Brighton High School student dead and two others in juvenile detention, facing potential charges.
or this:
CORNWALL — Town of Cornwall police say a 35-year-old woman was shot in the leg accidentally Friday night when her husband was demonstrating the operation of a handgun. 
or this:
A 14-year-old-boy was sent to the hospital after accidentally shooting himself in the leg Sunday evening in West Valley City.
The boy found a 22 caliber hand-gun near 2956 South 3145 West and wound up shooting himself in the left leg, according to the West Valley City Police Department. 
or this:
A 7-year-old boy is recovering in the hospital after first being attacked by a dog and then being shot. Police say the shooter appears to have been trying to stop the attack and believe the shooting of the boy was accidental.  
And I'm sure I didn't catch them all. This is an epidemic of death and destruction, and it can be laid at the feet of the gun manufacturers, the NRA, and the craven politicians who are more interested in saving face with the gun nuts than in saving children's lives.

Regulate the shit out of these tools of death. Install supreme court justices who don't undo two centuries of precedent in order to invent an unfettered individual right to own a gun. Call out gun fetishists for the freaks that they are, and make gun ownership less attractive for each succeeding generation of Americans.

Enough is fucking enough.

UPDATE: Oh look, here's news of another deadly shooting just since I posted this piece:
A man is dead and his wife critically injured in what the Delaware County District Attorney is calling an attempted murder-suicide.
Police say that Richard Piroli, 67, shot his wife Carol, 68, just before 8 a.m. Tuesday their home on the 600-block of West Ashland Avenue. 

If You Can't Win, Cheat (More, Again, Still)

The New York Times continues to do good work exposing Republican vote suppression efforts. Today's editorial tries hard to shame the GOP over their efforts to limit early voting in Ohio.
Someday, after they figure out how to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate, Republicans will probably be embarrassed by how much time they have spent making it harder for Americans to vote. For now, though, the beat just goes on. In a misguided effort to hold on to power despite an ever-shrinking base of older white voters, Republican lawmakers around the country continue to impose all sorts of barriers to the ballot box.
One of the most egregious examples is happening in Ohio, a critical swing state in presidential elections and the scene of many recent disenfranchisement attempts. 
I appreciate the effort, I just don't think these people are capable of feeling shame. After seeing what they have managed to do here in North Carolina as soon as they had the ability to make changes, it's clear that today's Republican Party doesn't care about anything other than making sure its base of resentful old white guys maintains its grip on the levers of power.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The G.O.P. in a Nutshell

Why yes,  of course it is okay to be corrupt if it is in service of a good cause. You know, like denying healthcare coverage to hundreds of thousands of your less fortunate fellow citizens:
RICHMOND — Republicans appear to have outmaneuvered Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state budget standoff by persuading a Democratic senator to resign his seat, at least temporarily giving the GOP control of the chamber and possibly dooming the governor’s push to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) will announce his resignation Monday, effective immediately, paving the way to appoint his daughter to a judgeship and Puckett to the job of deputy director of the state tobacco commission, three people familiar with the plan said Sunday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
. . . 
Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) said Republicans were unable to win the policy argument about Medicaid expansion, so they have resorted to other means.
“It’s astounding to me. The House Republican caucus will do anything and everything to prevent low-income Virginians from getting health care. . . . They figure the only way they could win was to give a job to a state senator,” Surovell said. “At least they can’t offer Terry McAuliffe a job. I hope Terry continues to stand up to these bullies.” 
The whole thing stinks to high heaven. I mean it is bad enough to craft a byzantine deal to offer jobs in exchange for a resignation that will tilt the balance of power in a legislative chamber. But to do that in order to deprive poor people of access to healthcare (and healthcare that you are already paying for through your federal taxes!) is just perverse.

Your Republican Party: stupid, greedy, heartless, and short-sighted. What's not to love?