The Republican comedy road show

I am beginning to wonder if Herman Cain and the entire Republican field are not performance artists and the whole campaign is one big act. Take a look at this long new internet ad from Herman Cain, which is even weirder than the previous blowing smoke ad.

At least the production values have improved a lot. But this ad demonstrates perfectly the fact that the campaign seems to be oblivious to jarring notes. The first part is quite clever and amusing. Then when the actor steps out of the role at the 1:40 mark and becomes presumably himself, he acts like a egotistical and self-important jerk who is rude to the crew. Why would the ad’s producers think that an endorsement from such an unlikable person would be a positive thing? And what’s with that slow creepy smile at the end that seems to be becoming Cain’s trademark?

Stephen Colbert generates more ad ideas for the Cain campaign in the same vein.

In a comment to my earlier post, John suggested that these odd ads may be a smart strategy on Cain’s part since the smoker ad has attracted so much attention. I am not convinced. Being talked about is good to gain name recognition but Cain’s among Republican voters is already high at 80%, so he does not need more buzz. What he needs to do is convince people that he is a credible leader. It is one thing to have people laugh with you at something clever and funny that you put out, it is quite another to have them laugh at you for seeming to be a little strange. Coming out with ads that are ridiculed even by the people in your own party, such as this parody by Jon Huntsman’s three daughters, is not a good sign.

If it was only people like me who are laughing at the antics of the Republican field, trying to outbid each other in pandering to the looniest segments of their party’s base, that would be one thing. But even Republican party stalwarts are sounding the alarm. Neoconservative columnist John Podhoretz is one of those clearly worried about the looniness that seems to have overtaken the Republican party although, as Charles Pierce correctly points out, he and his fellow ‘moderate’ and ‘sensible’ Republicans benefitted for over three decades because of their careful cultivation and grooming of the crazy base that is all grown up now and biting the hand that fed them. Podhoretz scolds Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney as if they were children, saying:

Memo to the Republican field: You’re running for president. Of the United States. Of America. Start acting like it.

Stop proposing nonsense tax plans that won’t work. Stop making ridiculous attention-getting ads that might be minimally acceptable if you were running for county supervisor in Oklahoma. Stop saying you’re going to build a US-Mexico border fence you know perfectly well you’re not going to build.

Give the GOP electorate and the American people some credit. This country is in terrible shape. They know it. You know it. They want solutions. You’re providing comedy.

Enough with the foolishness. Stop it. Stop it now.

But it is too late. All these conservatives and neoconservative Republican party stalwarts calling for sensible behavior are the ones who sowed the seeds of this behavior. They cannot complain if the plants are now strangling them. Back in November 2008, I pinpointed the precise moment when they lost control and that was John McCain’s nomination of Sarah Palin to be his running mate. That let loose the furies that we now see driving the party’s agenda.

If they want to pin the blame on someone, it should be John McCain.

The crazy anti-science people

The rejection of science by the Republican party and its rabid base is quite extraordinary. To reject evolution is to reveal oneself to be a pre-Enlightenment person living in post-Enlightenment world.

The correlation of pre-Enlightenment thinking with religion is clear. Religious people fear (correctly) that science undermines religious faith and so they can be easily manipulated by big business to reject science and devalue evidence and data because of their belief in the value of ‘faith’, which is merely a synonym for prejudice and gut feelings.

In this clip from The Daily Show, Republican strategist Noelle Nikpour seems to be even dumber than Lord Monckton, in that she never seems to catch on that she is being primed to say crazy things that will make her look like a fool. How can such a stupid person ever acquire the label of ‘strategist’?

What use is half a wing?

Creationists like to challenge the theory of evolution by asking how it can be that things can evolve incrementally since in its early stages the new feature seems to lack its final functionality. They pose questions like “What is the use of half an eye or half a wing?” Of course, scientists have long explained this. They have shown how the eye could have evolved by tiny changes and in fact even right now almost the full spectrum of differential eye development can be seen in existing species.

They have also pointed out that it is a mistake to assume that the final functionality of a feature was the only functionality all along, and that features may have had other functions in the early stages and only later became adapted to its final use.

Carl Zimmer had a nice article earlier this year in National Geographic about the evidence that feathers might have evolved for a different purpose long before flight occurred. More recently, he reports on new research results that add to our knowledge of what purpose those non-flying feathers in primitive wing forms might have served.

Drone killings

Nat Hentoff cites Morris Davis, a professor of law at Howard University, who says that the continuous killing by the US of people around the world (Americans and non-Americans alike) in the CIA-run drone program is, apart from being a moral abomination, a clear violation of law because the CIA is a civilian organization and thus does not even have the fig leaf of ‘combatant immunity’ that the military can use to justify its killings.

Boycott Bank of America

Matt Taibbi makes the case that removing our money from Bank of America is one concrete action that we can take to show our disgust with the banking industry. Targeting one of the worst culprits is a better strategy because we cannot boycott the entire industry. If we can shake one of the main institutions, it will cause other banks to fear if they will be the next to have a bull’s-eye painted on them

I used to feel the same way about earlier boycotts of gas companies to protest gouging practices. General boycotts will fail because people eventually need gas. It would be better to pick a particular gas company and boycott only them because such an action can be continued indefinitely. After the BP oil spill, if people stopped buying only BP gas, that would have forced them to take the public outcry more seriously.

Signs of strong support for Elizabeth Warren

Since I contributed to Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for US senator from Massachusetts, I get email updates of the campaign. I must admit that I was impressed by the size of this turnout in Framingham when she went to a volunteer meeting. Such a huge crowd in a relatively small town for such a meeting more than a year before the election is extraordinary and augurs well for her campaign.

photo-framingham.jpg

I suspect that such enthusiasm is a spin-off from the energy generated by the Occupy Wall Street movement, since she has been such a sharp critic of Wall Street practices.

Rising income inequality

The Congressional Budget Office released a report yesterday looking at the changes in the distribution of household income from 1979 to 2007. The graph on the very first page tells the whole story: The top 20% has increased its share of the national income at the expense of the other 80%, whose shares have all gone down.

Jared Bernstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities digs deeper into the report:

Between 1979 and 2007, incomes grew by 275 percent for the wealthiest 1 percent of households, 37 percent for the middle 60 percent of households, and 18 percent for the poorest 20 percent of households. These figures adjust for inflation and account for the impact of taxes and government transfer payments such as Social Security and unemployment benefits.

inequality.jpg

In media coverage of this report, I have heard phrases like incomes of the top 1% have ‘doubled’ or ‘almost tripled’. This is wrong. A 275% increase means that they increased by a factor of 3.75, i.e., almost quadrupled!

Kevin Drum comments that what has happened is that “For all practical purposes, every year about $700 billion in income is being sucked directly out of the hands of the poor and the middle class and shoveled into the hands of the rich.”

blog_loss_gain_1_vs_80.jpg

Losing the capacity for shame

Glenn Greenwald has the details of the drone killing that killed the 16-year old son of Anwar al-Awlaki, the son’s 17-year old cousin, and seven others while they were reportedly having a meal. The US government will no doubt spin some story to justify their action. The standard operation is to immediately put out some self-serving lies and not worry about them unraveling later, since few people worry about corrections once the initial impression has been made. Nowadays they don’t even have to bother doing that since the killing by a US drone of a US teenager by the US government aroused hardly any interest. Just another ho-hum event.

In fact, starting with Saddam Hussein’s sons and with Mohammed Gadafi being the latest, celebrating the deaths of whoever has been named a major enemy and exulting over the display of their brutalized corpses with whoops of triumph, akin to one’s favorite football team scoring a touchdown, has become the norm. Glenn Greenwald is worth quoting at length:

As I wrote previously, “no decent human being would possibly harbor any sympathy for Gadaffi, just as none harbored any for Saddam.” And it’s understandable that Libyans who suffered for four decades under his rule (like Americans after 9/11 or Muslims after years of violence and aggression in their countries) would be eager for vengeance. Nonetheless, and regardless of what one thinks about Gadaffi or the intervention, summarily shooting a helpless detainee in the head is one of the most barbaric acts imaginable — under all circumstances — but Gadaffi’s gruesome death nonetheless sparked waves of American jubilation and decrees of self-vindication this week.

It is difficult to articulate exactly why, but there is something very significant about a nation that so continuously finds purpose and joy in the corpses its government produces, while finding it in so little else. During the Bush years, I frequently wrote about how repetitive, endless fear-mongering over Terrorism and the authoritarian radicalism justified in its name was changing — infecting and degrading — not just America’s policies but its national character. Among other things, this constant fixation on alleged threats produces the mindset that once the government decrees someone to be a Bad Guy, then anything and everything done to them (or ostensibly done to stop them) is not merely justified but is cause for celebration. That was the mentality that justified renditions, Guantanamo, vast illegal domestic surveillance, aggressive war against Iraq, and the worldwide torture regime: unless you support the Terrorists and Saddam, how could you oppose any of that?

That character-degradation is produced at least as much by conditioning the citizenry to stand and cheer, to beat its chest, to feel righteous and proud, each time the government produces a new dead Bad Guy. Even at its most necessary and justified, the act of ending a human life with state violence should be a somber and lamentable affair. There’s something bloodthirsty about reacting ecstatically. To react that way when guilt is unproven (Awlaki), or when the person is unknown (most drone victims), or is killed by acts of pure barbarism (Gadaffi) is the mind of a savage. But it’s now been more than a decade since 9/11, and this has been the prevailing mentality in America continuously since then (to say nothing about the lengthy, brutal wars fought before that). What happens to a citizenry and a nation that so frequently erupts into celebratory dances over the latest dead body its government displays?

What’s perhaps most revealing about these death-celebrations are how reflexive — how visceral — they have become. For a President to claim the power to target his own citizens for death — and to do so in total secrecy, with no rules or oversight — is literally one of the most radical powers that a political leader can seize. The Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of “due process” was intended to prohibit exactly that, as was the Constitution’s heightened requirements for proving “Treason” in a court of law. Had George Bush seized this power, it would have led the list of progressive “shredding-the-Constitution” grievances against him. But all of that was washed away in the celebrations over Awlaki’s death, drowned out by the blind ritualistic war cry of He was Bad and so I’m glad he’s dead!

Constantly celebrating the people we kill — dancing over their corpses — is now one of the most significant and common American rituals shaping our political culture. One of the most consequential aspects of the Obama legacy is that this mentality has become fully bipartisan. And it’s hard to see how this will change any time soon: once one goes down that road, it’s very difficult to turn around and go back. That’s true both individually and of a nation.

Even the Los Angeles Times notes the remarkable expansion in the use of deadly force by Obama, saying:

For a president who promised to end the gunslinger ways of his predecessor, Barack Obama has proven himself comfortable with the use of lethal force… All told this year, he has sent U.S. troops into action on land or in the skies of seven countries on two continents.

Now he has added Moammar Kadafi to the list of enemies eliminated.

“This comes at a time when we see the strength of American leadership across the world,” Obama said from the White House Rose Garden, tabulating his achievements with language that betrayed a trace of bravado.

Our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president Obama is really on a roll now, deliberately killing foreigners and US citizens with abandon. And as the deaths of al Awlaki’s son and nephew indicate, even adolescents and children are fair game. As Jacob Hornberger says, “The assassination of 16-year-old American Abdulrahman al-Awlaki confirms that we now live in a country whose government has the unfettered authority to assassinate anyone it wants, adult or minor, foreigner or American, and remain mute about it.”

Amy Davidson wonders in The New Yorker how far along we have to go on this road of celebrating the killing and imprisoning of even children and adolescents before we begin to ask ourselves who or what we have become. How young must the victims get before we recoil in horror? At long last, have we no shame?

UPDATE: Rick Santorum raises the ante saying that the US should actually cold-bloodedly murder any scientist who may be working on nuclear weapons programs for countries the US or Israel does not like. And this person is seeking the presidential nomination of a major party.