Giving up on the Redskins

Native American communities have been battling for decades for the right to influence how their culture and history are used by others. They have enjoyed some success in recent years curbing the use of “Indian” imagery in sports. Now they are closing in on a big prize – a name change for the NFL’s Washington Redskins.

The campaign has prompted a heated backlash. Fox News and conservative talk radio have been particularly fierce in condemning the “political correctness” supposedly undermining our respect for free expression and the sanctity of cherished cultural symbols.

If we are ever going to tap into the massive potential of a truly inclusive American identity we will have to outgrow a culture in which the only broadly respected values are those which are either shared by the white community, or do not bother them. Getting there will require white Americans to come to terms with cultural preferences that favor them in ways so nearly universal that they hardly even notice them.

Because the Redskins brand, like the use of “Indian” imagery in so many major league baseball settings is not deliberately racist or demeaning, it may offer a chance to see the meaning of white privilege in some of its less pernicious and far more pervasive manifestations. There may be an opportunity in this controversy for everyone to better understand the power and implications of a white cultural monopoly that must necessarily come to an end.

To get a better sense what upsets Native Americans about the Redskins, picture an NFL franchise in a decidedly northern city, maybe Boston, called the Texans. So far so good. After all, having a sports team named after you can be a sign of respect and admiration, right?

Boston’s mascot is a cartoonish stereotypical Texan, Nigel, who for some inexplicable reason is a goatherd. He wears a hat just like an authentic Texan, except it’s a small white bowler instead of a Stetson. Like all good Texans he loves to sit around the campfire and enjoy songs. That’s why he always keeps his flute nearby, the instrument that appears with Nigel on the team’s helmet.

Every home-game halftime show includes a routine designed to get Nigel and his Texans energized for the second half. A fan selected from the audience is dressed up in the uniform of a Massachusetts Civil War infantry regiment and forcibly frees Nigel’s slaves, sending him into a rage.

A volunteer chorus of men dressed up as Pentecostal women called “The Holy Rollers” keeps the crowd entertained. When the team needs a fourth-quarter rally, they get the crowd on their feet until the whole stadium joins them speaking in tongues.

Needless to say, this would not be tolerated and any attempt to play a road game in Dallas would not likely end well. More to the point, this would never happen in the first place. No one would be amused by such an explicit abuse of a white culture.

There is nothing explicitly or intentionally insulting in this depiction of a Texan, yet you can be confident that neither Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, nor any of the other folks who have so courageously stepped up to defend the Redskins brand would be defending these fans’ free speech rights.

The really signal detail is that we do in fact have an NFL team called the Texans and no one is complaining. That team is based in Houston where the local community is able to influence how that brand is depicted. Similarly, we have major sports teams called the Fighting Irish, Vikings, Yankees, Rebels, Celtics, Cowboys, Sooners, Steelers, and 49ers. In each instance these identity-oriented teams have roots in the communities that lay claim to those identities. Switch the Yankees and the Rebels and you might get ugly caricatures that look a lot like the Washington Redskins.

We generally assume that mainstream white communities will own their distinct identities while minority communities, like Native Americans, have been on their own. Depictions of minority cultures, no matter how ignorant, exploitative, or just plain dumb are supposed to be tolerated to a very large degree.

Sports mascots are the tip of the iceberg. From Speedy Gonzales, to Tonto, to Long Duk Dong, through an endless parade of cartoonish, dark-skinned terrorist and criminal villains, and on to the use of the “n-word,” minority attempts to exercise some ownership of their culture and image are condemned as censorship while white communities expect and receive the deference that everyone’s culture deserves.

The message is unmistakable and it reads like this: America is a white country that is so big-heartedly inclusive that it mostly tolerates other cultures when it’s not inconvenient. Complaining about crude, boorish, or stupid depictions of minority communities is an infringement on a white majority’s rights to use your cultural symbols in whatever way suits us. Consider it a compliment that we even know you exist.

The argument over the Redskins brand, and the wider conflict over so-called ‘political correctness,’ is not about free expression. Central to this debate is a question of empathy that must be resolved if America is going to thrive as a diverse nation. To finally become what we have always promised to be, a free country in which everyone is born equal, we have to abandon the assumption that some are more equal than others.

Our failure to recognize the offensive and exploitative abuse of Native American culture is not an example of free speech, but an emblem of how reluctant we have been to extend basic human empathy and respect beyond the boundaries of the white community. Respect for racial diversity is not just about who sits where on the bus. It’s about the scope of cultural legitimacy.

Pluralism isn’t easy but it builds a powerfully cohesive, resilient and prosperous nation. Giving up a crudely insulting football mascot should not be considered a high price to pay for that reward, but nonetheless losing the Redskins will have broad implications that some will resent. Making pluralism work means giving up something some Americans cherish very deeply – the idea that America exists for one set of its cultures to which all of the others must defer. Our willingness to embrace a nation in which white cultural assumptions are merely some among many is the price of entry to a freer, more prosperous American future.

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Posted in Civil Rights, Race

All Presidents have the same foreign policy – eventually

In July of 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order authorizing Operation Cyclone, a covert campaign to fund, train, and arm Islamist militias opposed to the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan. The operation is generally credited with precipitating the Soviet invasion of the country later that year.

Ronald Reagan authorized US troops to participate in a multinational operation in Beirut in 1982. Suicide bombings killed hundreds of US soldiers. Fighting there quickly escalated, putting US and allied troops in combat against Soviet-backed Syrian forces. Faced with risk of being drawn into direct conflict with the Soviets, Reagan withdrew the American presence in early 1984. By his final years in office, Reagan the anti-Communist crusader came within a breath of offering to give up our nuclear arsenal in negotiations with the Soviets.

Given enough time, all US Presidents eventually belong to the same political party when it comes to foreign policy. They may differ in terms of tactics and methods, but they eventually reach the same general conclusions about the nature, extent, and reach of US military and diplomatic power. Hawkish Presidents become pragmatists. Idealistic dreamers become pragmatists. They all become pragmatists when they are forced to do the job and face its inevitable outcomes.

The measure of a President’s foreign policy success is not how well they performed against their promises, but how much time, pressure, and blood were required to force them to abandon their illusions and come to terms with real constraints. Think of it as the resource-to-reality quotient – a measure of how much blood, treasure, and national humiliation it takes to force a President to face facts.

Measured against this quotient certain Presidents stand out. Guys like George HW Bush (Bush I) and Richard Nixon stand out for having a score near zero. They brought almost no illusions to the job and navigated maddeningly complex foreign scenarios almost flawlessly from day one.

Bush II and Lyndon Johnson rank near the bottom. Drinking from an endless well of denial and gifted with an impenetrable lack of curiosity about the wider world, they resisted pragmatism to the bitter end. Both Presidents left the country with miserable damage that would take multiple Administrations to mitigate. Their persistent delusions would limit American options in dealing with the world for years after they were gone.

Even in these worst cases, the demands of the job began to operate in time. By Johnson’s end he had recognized the need to apply more direct military pressure on North Vietnam though he never saw the potential for an opening with China that might end the war. Bush II achieved some minimal realization of the disaster he had spawned and began to at least try to apply some patches before he was ushered into an inglorious retirement.

Obama so far ranks somewhere in the middle. He came to office with a heavy burden of high-minded ambitions, like his goal of engaging in direct talks with Iran and his plans to being a swift end to the Iraq and Afghan wars. Despite lofty goals he started moving toward pragmatism almost immediately, incurring relatively few casualties and little long-term damage along the way.

His plans for dealing with Islamist militias in Iraq and Syria seem to mark Obama’s Bush I moment, the point at which his various hopes and goals are brought into line with realistic constraints and the demands of long term national security. Obama seems to have joined the Presidential party, embracing the complex, frustrating, and morally ambiguous foreign policy that all of our leaders are driven to in time.

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Posted in Foreign Policy

Bruce Rauner: The next blue state Republican Governor

Illinois is poised to send a new Governor to Springfield. He’s a native Chicagoan, closely allied to Rahm Emanuel, who is pro-choice, completely disinterested in social issues, and deeply tied into Chicago’s political class. And he is a Republican.

Bruce Rauner is a Republican from a bygone era, a pragmatist whose primary goal is to make state government function effectively again in a place where it has nearly collapsed. Democrats have found nothing so far to criticize beyond the fact that he’s wealthy. He’s held a solid polling lead from the very beginning and with no vulnerability to Akin-esque gaffes there is little chance he’ll blow his advantage.

As Republicans nationally are bogged down by the outsized influence of a small but aggressive extremist base, the Rauner era in Illinois might signal a turning point. The election will only be the beginning. Blue state Republicans have attempted this move before, with more disappointment than success. The question is whether Rauner will resemble Christie, or will he fall into the trap that swallowed Scott Walker, Rick Scott and Tom Corbett? In other words, can Rauner govern in the same way he has campaigned?

Regardless of Rauner’s own tendencies, there is one important fact that might keep him solidly in bi-partisan territory after November. Like Christie and unlike Walker, Scott and Corbett, Rauner will be presiding over a solidly Democratic legislature. He will accomplish nothing without compromise and coalition building. There is much to accomplish and he has ample opportunity to establish support among Democratic lawmakers.

There are two relatively un-ideological problems that sit at the heart of Illinois’ ills. Decades of corrupt political deals between public employee unions and the Democratic machine have saddled the state with unfunded obligations it can never meet. A recent 66% personal income tax hike, accompanied by massive corporate tax hikes briefly pasted over the problem, just enough to keep schools open and government functioning. Meanwhile the state’s hostile business culture dampens the potential of an economy that should be surging.

The second problem is the father of the first one. The entire state government is beholden to a very small junta in Springfield that governs with almost no outside input. Block grants are their signature tactic. The House and Senate leadership maintains almost dictatorial control over an increasingly restive legislature. In state that quite literally cannot pay its bills, funds keep flowing to politically favored recipients through unaccountable ‘grants’ doled out by the leadership.

Members on either side of the political aisle struggle to get bills paid to school districts and other government entities while money continues to flow to well-connected interests. A pragmatic Republican Governor unburdened by an unpopular culture-war agenda would be perfectly positioned to drive a wedge between the legislative leadership and back-benchers in both parties. If Rauner governs with the same discipline he’s shown on the campaign trail, he could blow apart the awkward Cullerton-Madigan alliance that controls the State Assembly and change the long term direction of the state politically and economically.

Along the way, Rauner could outline a new, post-culture war path to victory for Republicans at the national level. A political appeal premised on religion and white cultural fears no longer fits the realities on the ground. As the country grows more urban, secular, and culturally diverse, older Republican themes of pragmatic, fiscally accountable government are squarely at the center of public concern.

Freed from the constraints of a rabid, Tea Party base, Rauner will have a unique opportunity to govern in ways that make sense. What happens in Illinois over the next few years may be the best weather vane for the future direction of the country and the Republican Party.

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Posted in Illinois, Republican Party

Republicans after white supremacy

“We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long-term.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham

Inside today’s GOP, racism is like global warming. It’s an inescapable reality with powerful implications for our daily lives that is too ideologically upsetting for Republicans to even acknowledge, much less address. Like climate denial, the party’s grimly determined attachment to the remnants of white supremacy is going to cease to be viable soon. The demographics are relentless.

So what comes next? If reason wins out, Republicans will soon begin to build, or perhaps it’s better to say remember, a governing agenda independent of white racial paranoia. Reality-focused policies aimed at strengthening commerce, making government more authentically accountable, and fostering peace and stability through strength and wise alliances are sitting in the neglected back rooms of the Republican enterprise waiting to be dusted off and updated.

No one can promise that reason will win. Lincoln’s appeal to the better angels of our nature is 150 years old and we are still waiting on those angels. Today’s Republican Party might not pivot back toward reason, retreating instead into a Southern and rural regional fortress. What happens to the GOP in the 2016 and 2018 elections will likely determine whether the party recovers its sanity or retreats for the long term into a purely regional, obstructionist role.

Restoring a governing agenda that can win nationally will not be easy. The raw materials are there, but institutional forces inside the party are hard-wired to resist it.

Since the late Sixties conservative politicians have been busy retrofitting older Republican themes to make them fit into an increasingly sophisticated racist agenda. Every traditional element of the party has been reshaped by the demands of the Southern Strategy. Whatever cannot be fashioned around white cultural appeals, like the party’s old urban agenda and its appeal to women, has simply been jettisoned.

Fiscal responsibility has morphed into endless tax cuts. Commercial priorities have been entirely reduced to a program aimed at crippling federal authority. The Republican “traditional values” agenda has been re-imagined as an alternative explanation for the economic suffering of oppressed minorities.

Under the friendly green skies of the conservative alternate universe, racism ceased to exist one afternoon in 1964 when President Johnson signed a certain (ill-advised, according to some) law. Since that afternoon all subsequent inequality between whites and minority groups can conveniently be traced to their own sexual immorality, government dependence, and impiety. As a consequence, any and every reference to continuing racism is itself racism.

The process of grafting Southern racist fears onto the Republican agenda has gone unchallenged for so long that few people can even remember a Republican big-city mayor. Many voters in the prime of life cannot recall the days when Republicans dominated politics in New York, Connecticut, California, and Illinois. If a new generation of blue state Republican figures can quickly rise to prominence at the national level, it may be possible to start righting the party in time. That outcome is not assured.

Reason might not win. The collapse of the party’s influence at the national level might not be enough to change the party’s trajectory. Dog-whistle racist politics as perfected by Rick Perry, Rand Paul and Mike Lee might prevail over the older Hamiltonian commercial values represented by figures like Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani.

For the moment at least, we must recognize that the Perry wing of the party is winning. Across Dixie and the rural west they have mastered the art of white racial solidarity, racking up well over seventy percent of the white vote while Republicans slowly disappear from urban and northern landscapes.

A strategy aimed at consolidating national power by appealing to the racial fears of Southern whites has reached the end of its effectiveness. That does not mean we will stop using it.

It is entirely possible that a perverse new version of the Republican Party, the mirror image of its anti-slavery, Hamiltonian heritage may control its brand going forward. Political outcomes over the next four years may determine whether the Republican Party regains its national footing or retreats into a strategy of regional resistance with dangerous consequences for the country.

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Posted in Civil Rights, Election 2016, Neo-Confederate, Tea Party, Uncategorized

Tree of Knowledge

Admit it, when someone you know sends you a copy of their self-published novel, or for that matter their demo tape, or a gallery of their paintings, you cringe a little. You may be genuinely interested in what they’ve done, but you also feel a touch of dread. This is a work of art, a deeply personal expression of their thoughts and feelings. If it sucks, well…that’s gonna be awkward.

Imagine how great it feels when you get three pages in and you can’t put it down. That’s what it was like reading Tree of Knowledge from Scott Bonasso. Sorry for doubting, man. That’s reason #542 that I’m a jerk.

Tree of Knowledge is a science fiction mystery presented as an investigation. After his brother’s apparent suicide, HG Pruitt found a collection of documents and recordings related to his life. Tree of Knowledge is Pruitt’s edited compilation of his brother’s materials along with commentary on his discoveries.

Constructing a story about the mind-bendingly weird world of theoretical physics atop the fragmented, dubiously reliable basis of a collection of found materials is a stroke of genius. The story is a layer cake of mysteries. There’s no sure footing in this tale. Reading it is like dancing on a stack of balls, with the tension building from page to page as you question the veracity and even the sanity of the sources.

The physics on which the story is premised is well-researched, entirely real, and utterly impossible to reconcile with our expectations of reality. Bonasso manages to weave his characters though this increasingly strange account without losing any of the story’s complex threads, finally landing them all in an ending that still sticks with me.

Tree of Knowledge is a plot-driven thriller. The story is lean, fast, and exciting with openings for a sequel. Typical for the style, character development is perhaps not what it could be. The plot and the science beneath it were enough to keep me turning pages. It isn’t poetry, but I was sad to see it end.

That Bonasso self-published this work is a reminder of how much quality fiction is being produced now through unconventional channels. His story would make a fantastic screenplay, or even the basis of a series. You can get your own copy here.


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Posted in Art

Why Sorenson will go to jail and Perry won’t

Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson pled guilty this week to Federal charges that are likely to send him to prison. The influential Tea Party Senator accepted $73,000 from the Ron Paul campaign in 2012 to shift his endorsement from Michele Bachmann to Paul in the Iowa Caucus.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry has been indicted on flimsy charges of “abuse of office” for scheming to cut off an investigation into one of his numerous shady political deals. It is unlikely that Perry will ever even see the inside of a courtroom, much less a jail cell.

There is one very important reason why Iowa Sen. Sorenson is looking at a prison stint and Texas Gov. Rick Perry is still planning to run for President. Bribery is legal in Texas.

Both cases are complex, but each of them turns on details of their respective state laws. Iowa’s laws on public corruption provide an effective means of prosecuting those who try to buy official favors. Texas’ law does not. Though Sorenson was charged and pled under Federal indictments, those indictments related to Sorenson’s illegal efforts to protect himself from a state-level prosecution in Iowa.

Perry is operating in a state with almost non-existent laws on official corruption. With no need to conceal his actions, he doesn’t risk tripping over Federal fraud and campaign reporting requirements like Sorenson did. Rick Perry can accept millions of dollars from contributors like the late Bob Perry in return for setting up entire regulatory schemes in their favor. He can dole out millions of dollars in state “venture capital” funds to friends and donors without hiding. It’s all legal.

Bribery is effectively legal in Texas because of the carefully worded provisions of the state’s laws. First, for comparison, let’s look at how Iowa defines the offense of bribery:

[Bribery is a] benefit to a person who is serving or has been elected, selected, appointed, employed, or otherwise engaged to serve in a public
capacity, including a public officer or employee, a referee, juror, or jury panel member, or a witness in a judicial or arbitration
hearing or any official inquiry, or a member of a board of arbitration, pursuant to an agreement or arrangement or with the
understanding that the promise or thing of value or benefit will influence the act, vote, opinion, judgment, decision, or exercise of
discretion of the person with respect to the person’s services in that capacity commits a class “D” felony. In addition, a person
convicted under this section is disqualified from holding public office under the laws of this state.

Iowa retains a fairly standard definition of bribery. Here’s how Texas defines bribery:

BRIBERY. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly offers, confers, or agrees to confer on another, or solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept from another:

(1) any benefit as consideration for the recipient’s decision, opinion, recommendation, vote, or other exercise of discretion as a public servant, party official, or voter;

(2) any benefit as consideration for the recipient’s decision, vote, recommendation, or other exercise of official discretion in a judicial or administrative proceeding;

(3) any benefit as consideration for a violation of a duty imposed by law on a public servant or party official; or

(4) any benefit that is a political contribution as defined by Title 15, Election Code, or that is an expenditure made and reported in accordance with Chapter 305, Government Code, if the benefit was offered, conferred, solicited, accepted, or agreed to pursuant to an express agreement (emphasis added) to take or withhold a specific exercise of official discretion if such exercise of official discretion would not have been taken or withheld but for the benefit; notwithstanding any rule of evidence or jury instruction allowing factual inferences in the absence of certain evidence, direct evidence of the express agreement shall be required in any prosecution under this subdivision.(emphasis added)
(d) It is an exception to the application of Subdivisions (1), (2), and (3) of Subsection (a) that the benefit is a political contribution as defined by Title 15, Election Code, or an expenditure made and reported in accordance with Chapter 305, Government Code.

In Texas, as long as your bribe is reported as an official campaign contribution and you do not record the terms of the bribe in some “express agreement” anything goes. Bribery is legal in the absence of a contract.

Let’s be clear about what this means. Unlike in Iowa and other states, in Texas your campaign contributions can buy a politician’s vote so long as you do not reduce the agreement to a contract. Bribery via campaign contribution is solid, officially protected political speech in Texas.

Looking at the ethics rules for the Texas House and Senate presents an even uglier picture. Part of the trap Sorenson walked into was set by the strict ethics rules of the Iowa Senate. Texas legislators face no such obstacles.

In Texas, legislators are allowed to live off of their campaign contributions, vote on matters affecting businesses they own, and use money from donors to pay for vaguely defined “out of pocket expenses.” Texas State Senators are strictly prohibited from using campaign contributions to pay for laundry expenses. I’m not making this up. Apart from the laundry taboo, the Legislature is pretty much open for business.

Gov. Perry likes to travel the country encouraging people to relocate to Texas, touting its enviable freedom from regulation. Sen. Sorenson should have heard Perry’s call. Sorenson could have accepted that bribe from the Ron Paul campaign in Texas without going to jail. He could have used the method perfected by former Rep. Tom DeLay.

In Texas Sorenson could have accepted the money in the form of campaign contributions, used the money to pay living expenses, vacations, and other important items, and never needed to hide his activities. This is the method DeLay was using to fund his campaign to get Texas legislators to write a redistricting plan for him.

DeLay was only indicted because he was laundering corporate contributions, and doing it in a laughably sloppy manner. Bribery was never at issue because, as explained above, it isn’t illegal in Texas. DeLay ultimately walked free because a Texas Appellate Court ruled that his money laundering operation wasn’t illegal either. God bless Texas.

The lesson for Iowa Sen. Kent Sorenson is that Rick Perry is right. Life is better, at least for the well-connected and the wealthy, in Texas. Sure, you can’t use campaign contributions to pay your laundry bill, but who needs that when you can launder money instead? Paying for your own dry cleaning is a small price to pay to avoid getting a taxpayer-funded orange jumpsuit.

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Posted in Election 2016, Texas

Someone should remake ‘Four Lions’

lionsWe learned this week that two Americans were killed fighting for ISIS in Syria. There are likely to be many more as the Arab world’s long, awkward transition away from authoritarian government breeds more violence. It might be helpful for Americans to develop a better understanding of what’s driving violent fundamentalism, but we have little to work with.

The best film ever made about the lure of armed jihad among Western-raised Muslims is Four Lions from 2010. It’s tragic, dark, and in a way only the British can master, guiltily, gut-bustingly hilarious. The film was a minor success in Britain and on the international film festival circuit.

Four Lions earned a brief burst of attention in 2013 for its eerily prescient portrayal of a scenario nearly identical to the Boston Marathon bombing. From the details of the attack itself to the bumbling, awkward cast of characters, the film may be the first example of Westerners beginning to grasp the forces behind Islamic terrorism.

Unfortunately, even with the additional attention Four Lions did not get a lot of play. Audiences unfamiliar with Britain found the film utterly impenetrable.

Some form of translation might have helped around the margins. The characters spoke in what could perhaps be better described as a dialect rather than an accent. A working-class Birmingham accent is pretty far removed from global English. Add to it the nuances, idioms, and additional layers of accent common to the South Asian community there and you get an intricacy that can only be interpreted through commentary. Imagine trying to translate Pulp Fiction into Middle English and you get a sense for the challenge.

That said, Americans are starved for authentic, credible portrayals that might help them wrap their heads around the phenomenon of modern terrorism. In the absence of something that makes sense, we have portrayed foreign terrorism in comic book terms, conjuring images of bizarre, savage super-villains beyond the range of human feeling.

A distorted and frankly paranoid misunderstanding of foreign terrorism is breeding poor policy and blinding us to the growing dangers of domestic extremism. This film could help, but only if it was remade. Four Lions, as originally produced, is simply too authentically local to translate to a more global audience.

Despite the challenges, if you’re reasonably comfortable with British entertainment Four Lions is a must-see. Hopefully someone in Hollywood will pick it up and find a way to translate it without destroying its impact.

Four aspiring Jihadis on their way into London for a mass suicide bombing:

Posted in Art, Foreign Policy

Muslims are coming from Mexico to murder you

Kent Brockman: Professor, without knowing precisely what the danger is, would you say it’s time for our viewers to crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside?
Professor: Mmm, yes I would, Kent.
The Simpsons, Season 5, Episode 11

In advance of his next big campaign, Perry is learning from his 2012 mistakes and working to perfect his mastery of the paranoid style in American politics. Look closely at Perry’s remarks at the Heritage Institute this week and you’ll see a perfectly formed appeal to the modern Republican primary base. Sure, the delivery was wobbly and he had trouble pronouncing some of the words, but whoever built that speech understood exactly what a Republican politician needs to say to win.

Perry attempted to tie the immigration debate to terrorism with the bizarre suggestion that Iraqi terrorists may be infiltrating the US along the fortified shores of the Rio Grande. Here’s the relevant portion of his remarks from the video of the event (starts at 1:25:20):

“Certainly there is great concern that the border between the United States and Mexico is unsecure and we don’t know who’s using that. What I will share with you that we’ve seen historic high levels of individuals from countries with terrorist ties.

“Over the course of the last months. I’ll give you one anecdotal picture of what’s happening. Three Ukrainian individuals were apprehended at a ranch in far West Texas within the last 60 days. So, I think there is the obvious great concern that because of the condition of the border from the standpoint of it not being secure and us not knowing who is penetrating across that individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be, and I think there is a very real possibility that they may have already used that.

“We have no clear evidence of that, but your common sense tells you when we’ve seen the number of criminal activities that have occurred, and I’m talking about the assaults, the rapes, the murders, by individuals who have come into this country illegally over the last five years, the idea that they would not be looking at and managing any of those types of attacks from that region is not a good place to be.”

Most people forced to listen to those comments would hear nothing more than a word salad with spicy bigot dressing. Look closer though, and you’ll see in Perry’s comments all of the crucial elements of an appeal to the most motivated Republican primary voters.

Let’s take this apart piece by piece and observe what’s going on.

“Certainly there is great concern that the border between the United States and Mexico is unsecure and we don’t know who’s using that. What I will share with you that we’ve seen historic high levels of individuals from countries with terrorist ties.

“Over the course of the last months. I’ll give you one anecdotal picture of what’s happening. Three Ukrainian individuals were apprehended at a ranch in far West Texas within the last 60 days.”

Any appeal to the primary base must be founded on fear. “Concern”, “unsecure” (which might actually be a word), and “terrorist” are words that should appear in every paragraph of every speech throughout the nominating campaign. What should we be afraid of? There are so many things, but few are as scary as foreigners. Moving on:

“So, I think there is the obvious great concern that because of the condition of the border from the standpoint of it not being secure and us not knowing who is penetrating across that individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be, and I think there is a very real possibility that they may have already used that.”

Now it gets good. Those pansies who think we should be nice to little Hispanic kids are inviting head-lopping terrorists to come stalk your local Sonic. The battle to stop Latin American immigration isn’t just about keeping Texas politics white and English-speaking, it’s the front line in a campaign to preserve civilization from barbarians.

Islamic terrorists infiltrating the Republic of Baptiststan is a pretty frightening prospect. Is there any proof that this is happening? Watch this nifty move:

“We have no clear evidence of that, but your common sense tells you when we’ve seen the number of criminal activities that have occurred, and I’m talking about the assaults, the rapes, the murders, by individuals who have come into this country illegally over the last five years, the idea that they would not be looking at and managing any of those types of attacks from that region is not a good place to be.”

There is “no clear evidence” to support this claim, because it’s a patently stupid idea. On the rare occasion when terrorists enter our country, they do it through an airport like everyone else, or they drive across our relatively relaxed border with Canada. Crossing the Rio Grande is an incredibly low-percentage method for illegally entering the US. Migrants attempt it (usually repeatedly), because they are desperately poor and have no alternatives. They can afford to fail. Terrorists, like almost everyone on the planet, have alternatives and can’t afford the risks of breaching the most militarized border in the western world.

Perry’s claim may be idiotic, but it is also scary and that’s all that matters. Since it is not based on evidence, no one can prove that it’s impossible. As a consequence his claim is as true as anything needs to be in modern Republican politics.

“Evidence” is what limp-wristed, liberal poindexters use to block good people from doing what they know in their guts is right. Your fear is all the evidence you need to establish solid policy. What happens when we wait for “clear evidence” rather than acting decisively on our paranoia? Perry lays it out in lurid detail – “the assaults, the rapes, the murders” – that’s what happens.

Do you want to see assaults and rapes and murders committed by savage foreigners happening right on the front steps of your local church or school? Liberals do, but strong leaders like Rick Perry will protect our tender white women and children from this onslaught, which, by the way, may already be happening.

So what are the elements of a perfect pitch to a Republican primary audience? Perry hit every one:

1) A loosely defined, but extreme fear;

2) Of something which is either a) foreign, b) non-white, and/or c) involves a woman making independent decisions about her body;

3) Premised on the absence of proof that it couldn’t exist.

No issue anywhere on the Republican agenda can get a hearing unless it can be framed on this model. From fiscal policy to abortion to food stamps, a policy position only gains traction when its relationship to white cultural fears can be defined.

We have come a long, long way from “morning again in America.” The Republican Party has lost the ability to deliver a message that resonates on any level above Id. That is what should really be scaring us.


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Posted in Election 2016, Foreign Policy, Uncategorized

Contraception and abortion

Long busy week, but noticed this article related to a previous post and thought it was interesting.

From the Washington Post:

Between 2007 and 2012, Colorado saw the highest percentage drop in birth rates among teens 15 to 19 in the country, according to a report released today by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. During that time, its teen birth rates dropped 39 percent compared to 29 percent nationwide. Abortion rates in the state among teens fell 35 percent between 2009 and 2012 and are falling nationally, as well.


The CDC’s report comes on the heels of Colorado’s own study, which reported a 40 percent decline in births among teens 15 to 19 from 2009 to 2013. The stunning decline in teen birth rates is significant not just for its size, but for its explanation. State public health officials are crediting a sustained, focused effort to offer low-income women free or low-cost long-acting reversible contraception, that is, intrauterine devices or implants. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative, supported by a $23 million anonymous donation, provided more than 30,000 IUDs or implants to women served by the state’s 68 family-planning clinics. The state’s analysis suggests the initiative was responsible for three-quarters of the decline in the state’s teen birth rates.

Increased education, power, and access to contraceptives for women have been driving down both birth and abortion rates for a generation. Why isn’t the so-called “pro-life” movement embracing these effective approaches to reducing abortion rates? It’s almost as if there were something else they cared about more…

Posted in Reproductive Rights

The foolish gamble behind the Perry indictments

Considering the blatant, almost entirely legal corruption that has been the hallmark of the Perry years in Texas, it’s ironic that the allegations which finally led to his indictment are complete horseshit. Perry is being accused of using threats and a Legislative veto to depose a DA who had been a thorn in his side.

The Travis County DA, Rosemary Lehmberg, had been arrested for drunk driving in an incredibly embarrassing incident. Lehmberg refused to step down prior to the upcoming election because doing so would have allowed Perry to select her successor. Had Perry been able to select her successor, he would have been able to single-handedly kill the increasingly dangerous investigation into the political slush fund Perry operates for “technology investments.”

Perry used Lehmberg’s DUI as cover for a campaign to get her removed and finally gut the public integrity unit she oversees. He succeeded, and by shutting off funding to the DA’s investigation unit, he effectively cut off the DA’s ability to build the case against him over the slush fund.

Dirty politics? Of course. Illegal? Probably, but not in a way that could ever be effectively prosecuted.

By trying to take Perry down on the tenuous grounds of “abuse of power,” the Travis County DA is unintentionally obscuring a far more important investigation.  Her reasoning, probably, was that this was the only way to rescue the Public Integrity Unit’s inquiry into the Governor’s other activities. Unfortunately, Lehmberg is up against two miserable problems.

The first problem is that she is utterly compromised. The only lasting images likely to emerge from this complex mess are the pictures of her making an ass of herself during her arrest. The larger problem is that prosecuting public corruption in Texas is nearly impossible because of the shape of the legal and political landscape. By playing this desperate gambit, Lehmberg is not only likely to lose. Her actions may finish off Travis County’s public integrity unit, effectively snuffing out what little light of scrutiny still shines on the art of Texas political corruption.

Trying to take down Rick Perry on a such a trivial, clearly political matter is an embarrassment. This is a guy who let a major campaign donor, Bob Perry, write his own regulatory scheme to regulate his own industry. The Governor then appointed Bob Perry to head the “watchdog” agency that the legislation created.

Perry appointed the head of one of Texas’ most powerful payday lenders to head the agency that regulates payday lending. He presides over a half-billion dollar “investment fund” fueled by state money which he hands out to well connected friends with no oversight. And the best that the Travis County DA’s Office can do is indict him for hounding a prosecutor with a criminal record?

Ultimately, why is Perry being charged with something so seemingly trivial? Just as in the DeLay case, it is very difficult to find a form of public corruption in Texas that actually breaks a law. The core of the problem is that virtually nothing that passes for public corruption elsewhere in the western world is illegal in Texas.

Under Perry’s influence and with little legislation or oversight to stand in the way, Texas has become America’s champion of blatant, unapologetic, and remarkably uncreative public corruption. No one ever goes to prison for it, not even Tom DeLay. Perry is unlikely to be an exception. 

Texas has an unpaid Legislature. Think that over for a minute. Just as every new prisoner supposedly must fight for his life or become someone’s bitch, each new Legislator has to immediately decide which collection of donors and lobbyists is going to pay his rent in Austin. How do you prosecute public corruption in a system built on those rules?

The Travis County courts can do whatever they will. It doesn’t matter. Just as in the DeLay case, Perry would appeal any conviction into a system of Appellate Judges he constructed. Many of them he hand-picked across his record 15 years in office. The rest of them owe their livelihood to the Texas Republican machine.

The charges against Perry might be a minor factor in his Presidential ambitions, but no one was going to take him seriously at that level anyway. It will cost Perry some of the money which has been donated by the people he takes care of. It is unlikely to force him to dip into the millions in wealth God has granted him over the course of his public service career. You can bet that appearances at a few prayer breakfasts will shake loose whatever cash he needs to earn vindication.

This indictment is little more than a frustrated prosecutor spitting defiantly in the wind. She should have passed on this. By doubling down on a compromised investigation she is gambling the future of Texas’ only major institution for public integrity on a very bad hand.


This will all probably peter out within a year or so after his Presidential campaign fizzles. It will be fun to watch, but probably not much more.


From 2011, an old post on corruption in Texas. This stuff never gets old:

Why Texas Governors Don’t Go to Prison

Rick Perry’s aide gave a beautifully roundabout answer to a recent question about the blatant quid pro quo that marked his reign as Governor.  The spokesman explained, “There’s never been any wrongdoing substantiated.”

Nor will there be.  Remarkably, Perry’s probably done nothing illegal in his tenure.  One of the benefits of living in a state with hardly any rules is…well, it’s hard to break the rules.

The unique system of payola that makes Austin run is not only legal, it is startlingly public.  A politician in Texas can, and for all practical purposes really must, franchise himself to a set of well-financed individuals or interests and become their representative in Austin.  It is how the system is designed to work.

There’s never been any wrongdoing substantiated.

Home-building tycoon Bob Perry (no relation to the Guv) is the poster-child for this system.  He is arguably the most successful legislator of the past fifteen years and he has never held public office.  Bob Perry’s tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions have somehow coincided with remarkable success at getting complex, controversial, and significant legislation passed that benefits no one other than himself and his allies.  The one Perry sheds light on the other.

One of Bob Perry’s boldest achievements was to have an entire regulatory scheme created and implemented to serve his needs.  In the late ’90′s many Texas municipalities started trying to tighten construction regulations.  They were responding to waves of complaints regarding the poor quality of the sprawling new construction being hastily stamped onto the Texas landscape.

Governor Rick Perry, the enemy of “job-killing regulation,” decided entirely on his own, not inspired at all by the millions in contributions to himself and nearly everyone in the Lege from Bob Perry and the builders, to take the remarkable step of implementing an entire new state agency to regulate housing construction.

The law creating the agency was drafted by Bob Perry’s attorney, who Governor Perry then appointed as the first head of the commission.  The new agency’s rules would pre-empt any new local regulations and block new local professional competence requirements.  Along the way it would severely limit the ability of a home-buyer to sue their construction company.  The “regulations” it implemented were an obscene joke that shielded builders from common-law liabilities.  The law allowed the industry to literally appoint its own “regulators” and arbitrators.

This was one of the most unapologetically corrupt political arrangements I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime and I’ve spent seven grueling years in Chicago.  It happened entirely out in the open for everyone to see.

Again, the millions of dollars handed to Gov. Perry had absolutely nothing to do with his decision to let home-builders write their own legislation.  Likewise the money used by Bob Perry and the industry PAC’s to grease the legislature (almost every legislator in both parties – let’s be clear) had no influence at all.

There’s never been any wrongdoing substantiated.

Governor Perry and the Legislature just happened to recognize, entirely on their own, that the people of Texas needed a new fake regulatory body completely controlled by the construction industry to “protect” said citizens from poor quality home-building.

Texas, you’re welcome.

The Sunset Commission eventually recommended that the agency be dismantled explaining, “No other regulatory agency has a program with such a potentially devastating effect on consumers’ ability to seek their own remedies.” But it took two more Legislative sessions to get that accomplished.

The same serendipitous political process explains why in the hell payday lending is legal and why Texas always needs more tort reform.  It helps you understand who gets grants from the state’s Emerging Technology Fund (The Prominent Donor’s Kickback Fund).  And it’s the same purely coincidental process by which Rick Perry became a multi-millionaire during a career as a state employee.

Texas is not the only place where political officials are sometimes…influenced…by money from donors.  It’s the crass blatancy of Texas’ system that might cause complications for Rick Perry as he tries to take his very local show to a larger audience.  No one will accuse Perry of being the sharpest knife in the drawer and he’s used to hiding his pay-for-play in plain sight.  He probably has no clue what his deals are going to look like when exposed to national scrutiny.

I live in a state where the exit to the Governor’s mansion leads straight to federal prison.  It saves some much-needed money on pensions.  But even here the free hand a guy like Perry enjoys is at a minimum going to inspire some envy.

As the campaign winds on Perry will need to schedule a lot more prayer meetings if he wants to distract people from what really happened on his watch back in God’s Country.

Posted in Election 2016, Republican Party, Taxes

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