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Lindsay Graham to leave the Senate

Washington. In an announcement that shocked Washington, Lindsay Graham, (R-SC) announced today that he was resigning from the Senate for health reasons.

Several days ago, Graham asked for disaster relief for South Carolina, which has been devastated by Hurricane Joaquin. That led to the following:

Let’s just get through this thing, and whatever it costs, it costs,“ Graham told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” on Monday of the devastating floods in his home state.

Graham was among the Republican senators who opposed a federal aid package in January 2013 to assist states hit by Hurricane Sandy, but now he doesn’t remember why.

“I’m all for helping the people in New Jersey. I don’t really remember me voting that way,” Graham said.

Pressed further, he said: “Anyway, I don’t really recall that, but I’d be glad to look and tell you why I did vote no, if I did.”

A befuddled looking Graham explained his sudden decision to the Washington Press Corps.

“I did look into it”, he said, “and it’s true. It was a big deal at the time. But I still can’t remember doing it. I’ve consulted with specialists and they tell me that the only thing that can explain it is early onset Alzheimer’s. I have too much respect for the Senate to continue in office given my memory problems. Who knows what else I’ve forgotten. I owe it to the people of South Carolina to step aside for someone who can remember what they were doing yesterday, because frankly, I can’t”.

Graham’s decision has caused consternation in the studios of the Sunday morning talk shows, which, inexplicably, have had him on frequently as a guest, even though experts agree that his processing problems have been obvious for years.

Graham has no plans to drop out of the presidential contest. “That’s an entirely different matter”, a spokesman said, citing precedent. “Ronald Reagan was senile for the entire time he was in office, and every Republican knows he was the greatest president ever. ”

McGraw-Hill tripped up by little known historical fact

I haven’t been doing much blogging lately, for a number of reasons, not the least being my inability to come up with any more synonyms for “crazy”. Maybe Shakespeare would be up to the task of finding fresh things to say about the clowns running for president, or Republicans in Congress generally, but I confess I am not up to the task.

This post concerns a subject about which there is no need to search for such a synonym. However, it is about synonyms, or the stretching of that classification beyond its appropriate limits.

One of the many ironies with which this country must live is the fact that one of our most ignorant states, Texas, has an outsize influence on our textbooks. When Texas demands that a book be dumbed down, or filled with bullshit, those textbooks often find their way into the hands of kids growing up in states where people think learning is more important than football (or at least equal in importance).

Apparently this has gone viral, and that’s a good thing. Here is an excerpt from a geography textbook published by McGraw Hill, and duly sanctioned by the state of Texas.

The full story is here, but I must say that the title of the piece cuts McGraw-Hill too much slack. By no means can this creative use of the English language be considered a “mistake”, anymore than anyone can seriously believe the Republicans are continually investigating Benghazi in order to get at the truth. It was a deliberate choice of words, used with the intent to revise history, particularly since it was placed in a section discussing otherwise voluntary immigrants.

McGraw-Hill was exposed by a Texas woman, whose video (you can see it at the link) went viral. McGraw-Hill eventually owned up to its “mistake” and promised to rectify its error by “adequately convey[ing] that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.” They came to the conclusion after a “close review of the content”, which, we are presumably supposed to believe, was required, because the fact that millions of people “emigrated” here against their wills is a little known fact, known only to history buffs, and certainly not to the panel of propaganda enablers who gave the book their imprimaturs (watch the video).

The whole thing is truly outrageous. And yet, I confess that I don’t feel outraged. Like anyone with half a brain in this country, I am suffering from outrage fatigue. After all, when you consider (as one tiny example) the lack of outrage over the fact that it’s only been three days since a mass killing in Oregon, and it is already both literally and figuratively yesterday’s news, whitewashing slavery seems like such a little thing.

The PR pontiff shows his true colors

As the (or should it be “a”) poet once wrote, “hope springs eternal in the human breast”, and it is that human foible which perhaps best explains the eagerness with which Americans of a not right wing persuasion have rushed to embrace he who is Pope only because his predecessor resigned to avoid exposure. Some of us voices in the wilderness have warned that Pope Frank is all hat and no cattle, but no one listens.

Now we learn that the Pontiff met with Kim Davis, in so doing giving her his imprimatur. So, let’s examine this.

The argument that she somehow has the right to refuse to do her job as a matter of religious right has always been intellectually bankrupt, at least if one accepts the principal of separation of Church and State, which I believe the Catholic Church has done, albeit somewhat grudgingly, at some point since the Enlightenment. Not for a minute would I believe that he would support her if she had used the same argument to refuse to marry an interracial couple, yet the principal would have been exactly the same. As has been endlessly pointed out, she had a perfect right to oppose gay marriage; she simply had no right to refuse to do the job she was elected to do, and had even less right to instruct her underlings to abide by her own religious beliefs. He supports her not because he believes that a public functionary has a right to impose the religion of his or her choice on the public, but because she is attempting to impose a religious doctrine of which he approves.

I give Francis credit for understanding the issues involved here.Only a Republican could fail to understand, and that takes an effort of will even for them. So by meeting with Davis, he knowingly strikes at the heart of the major advance the West made by pushing religion out of politics. Like his predecessors, he looks back with fondness to the golden days of the 13th century. He’s more dangerous than his predecessors because he’s more adept at PR.

It’s rapidly becoming clear, by the way, that Davis is just another grifter. Sure she had to spend a few days in jail, but she’s coining money now. There’s nothing more profitable in today’s USA than entering the pantheon of right wing victimhood.

Earth to Francis: Heal yourself

As regular readers know, I’m not a big Pope Francis fan. He’s better than his recent competition, but that’s not saying much. Anyway, this sort of set my head spinning in disbelief:

Havana (AP) — Pope Francis met with Fidel Castro on Sunday after urging thousands of Cubans to serve one another and not an ideology, delivering a subtle jab at the communist system during a Mass celebrated under the gaze of an image of Che Guevara in Havana’s iconic Revolution Plaza

In his homily delivered under the gaze of a metal portrait of revolutionary fighter Che Guevara, Francis urged Cubans to care for one another out of a sense of service, not ideology. He encouraged them to refrain from judging each other by “looking to one side or the other to see what our neighbor is doing or not doing.”

“Whoever wishes to be great must serve others, not be served by others,” he said. “Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.”

via Pope meets Fidel Castro after warning against ideology, from The New London Day

Now, I don’t hold any brief for Cuba’s brand of communism, though it has its merits (see below), but, as Arlo Guthrie might say, the Pope “has a lotta damn gall” to tell anyone that they shouldn’t serve an ideology.

Assuming the word he used was accurately translated, I would assert that among the three definitions of the word in my Merriam Webster Unabridged, this is the applicable definition:

c 1) the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program;
2) an extremist sociopolitical program or philosophy constructed wholly or in part on factitious or hypothetical ideational bases.

To save a trip to the dictionary, factitious means “artificially created or developed”. So, I would submit that the Pope is skating on virtually non-existent ice here.

As Randy Newman once so brilliantly wrote (the devil is talking to god in this quote), the Judeo-Christian religion was cooked up by:

Some fools in the desert
With nothing else to do
So scared of the dark
They didn’t know if they were coming or going
So they invented me
And they invented you
And other fools will keep it all going

One could argue that those fools in the desert were Old Testament Jews, but the inventions only multiplied when the Christians come along. The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin who was inseminated by God (see numerous similar myths in almost all religions, ancient and modern). This person died and came back to life. His followers can turn bread and wine into his body and blood, which they then proceed to cannibalize, which is supposed to be a good thing. Even in the books they claim were inspired by their hypothetical god, there is very little support for the last of these “facts”, and the mind rebels against the rest of them. Needless to say, outside of the collected myths of Christianity, there is no evidence that any of these statements are true, anymore than there is truth to Zeus’s fling with Europa. And I’ve but scratched the surface of the factitious and hypothetical bases upon which the church is built.

The only reason that “ideology” is not a synonym for “faith”, is that religion is not considered “sociopolitical”, though if you’re a student of history, you know that religion is quite often used as a means of social control, so in that sense it’s as sociopolitical, and therefore as ideological, as communism or any other “ism” you want to name. There is one difference. Marx at least tried to make sense of reality and his analysis of the state of the society in which he lived was based on pretty good and incisive thinking. He drew his conclusions from actual facts. Those conclusions may not have all been correct, but he was certainly not basing his societal prescriptions on fairy tales.

Why is the Catholic Church anti-woman and homophobic? It’s not because its focus is on serving people rather than “serving ideas”. It is nothing more nor less than ideology that mandates that women must be excluded from the priesthood; that everyone must be denied birth control, that gay people must stay in the closet or else; or that people who led what anyone would call a good and honest life must nonetheless burn in hell because they failed to make a trip to Church each week or committed some other trivial act that the Church’s ideology has branded a “mortal sin”. It wasn’t long ago that Church ideology mandated a nice warm (well too warm) fire for anyone who happened to think that the earth moved. So far as I know, Fidel never roasted a single scientist, at least not for being a scientist.

If any “communist” country has worked out a social system that is reasonably fair to its people and somewhat consistent with theoretical communism, or at least socialism, it may be Cuba. Everyone there has decent health care, for instance, unlike one country (begins with the letter “U”) I can think of. Their educational system is very good, considering that it’s a poor country. Their poverty is as much a result of the hypocritical intransigence of the United States than in anything inherent in their system. Not perfect, but better than the 13th century, which is where we’d be if the Catholic Church had anything to say about it. So, listen Frank, I’m all for you talking about climate change, but really, you should remember what Jesus said:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

For his penance, I hereby require the Pope to recite the Communist Manifesto five times and to make a sincere act of contrition.

Shoot first and ask questions later

This is truly a sick country.

Student Loan Madness

Apparently, according to standard economic theory, the source of money used to purchase something, or invest in something, should not affect the price of that something. That is, over time, the cost of a given item or service should not rise just because most of the funds used to purchase that item or service comes from borrowed funds rather than ready cash. Why is it that it is no surprise to find that at least in the case of student loans, standard economic theory is dead wrong?

Sometimes you hear something that sounds so much like common sense that you end up missing how it overturns everything you were actually thinking, and points in a far more interesting and disturbing direction. That’s how I’m feeling about the coverage of a recent paper on student loans and college tuition coming out of the New York Federal Reserve, “Credit Supply and the Rise in College Tuition: Evidence from the Expansion in Federal Student Aid Programs,” by David Lucca, Taylor Nadauld, and Karen Shen.

They find that “institutions more exposed to changes in the subsidized federal loan program increased their tuition,” or for every dollar in increased student loan availability colleges increased the sticker price of their tuition 65 cents. Crucially, they find that the effect is stronger for subsidized student loans than for Pell Grants. When they go further and control for additional variables, Pell Grants lose their significance in the study, while student loans become more important.

via Next New Deal

The blogger (Mike Konczal) at Next New Deal explains the economic theory, and has his own ideas about why they don’t appear to apply to the student loan situation:

This derives from something called the Modigliani-Miller Theorem (MM), the frustrating staple of corporate finance 101 courses. A quick way of understanding MM is that how much you value an asset or investment, be it a factory or higher education, should be independent of how you finance it. Whether you pay cash, a loan, your future equity, a complicated financial product, or some other means that doesn’t even exist yet, you ultimately value the asset by how profitable and productive it is. In this story, which requires abstract and complete markets, expanding credit supply won’t drive tuition higher.

Now what would change your valuation, according to this theorem, is getting subsidies, say in the form of Pell Grants. This would make you willing to buy more and pay a higher price. This is one of the reasons why so much of the economics research focuses on Pell Grants instead of student loans: the story about what is happening is clearer. But, again, extensions of the credit supply, not subsidies, are doing the work here.

So the actual practice stands things on their theoretical heads. Outright subsidies have little effect on the price of education, while access to relatively easy loans is what is driving increasing tuition costs. The effect is greatest at private colleges, including non-profits, but of course as the cost of private education goes up, increasingly underfunded public universities have more and more room to increase their tuition, given that almost nowhere in the United States do we think of higher education as not only a right, but a necessary investment in human capital. Not to belabor the point, but most of us know that most people are not truly in a position to sit down with a calculator and figure out what the ultimate value of a college education may be; we know only that such an education is practically a necessity, and the only way to get it is to borrow the money and pay what’s demanded. This dynamic is sure to put upward pressure on prices, particularly since the federal government seems supremely uninterested in making sure that it or the nation’s students get value for the buck.

Konczal goes on to discuss the latest right wing solution to the problem, and like all right wing solutions, it seems designed to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. The idea is for “investors” to fund a student’s education in return for a given percentage of that student’s future earnings. It’s called Income Sharing Agreements, or as Konczal calls them “human capital contracts”. It sounds like indentured servitude, and to boot, would require close government monitoring of each student to make sure that he or she makes the proper payment to their investors.

The way to stop the madness is fairly obvious. Public education should be free. That would put downward pressure on the private sphere. Student loans, if they must continue to exist, should be available only for attendance at truly non-profit colleges (not this sort of thing. If you want to run a for profit school, that’s fine, but why should we taxpayers subsidize an industry that has demonstrated beyond doubt that it is based on a fraudulent business plan. There is, by the way, only one presidential candidate making sense on this issue, though to give Martin O’Malley credit, he’s coming close. Guess who that one candidate is? Hint: His name is not “Hillary”.

A simple question goes unasked

As I write, so far as I know, Kim Davis continues to rot in jail, and deservedly so.

Throughout the debate over her claim that she gets to opt out of doing her job, and in the process impose her religious views on others, one salient point, has gone largely unremarked, so far as I can see. This entire controversy has been covered as if it only involves gay marriage. The fact that it doesn't is no doubt the reason that even the present day Supreme Court, as stocked with reactionaries as it is, had no trouble turning down her appeal, without, so far as we know, a dissenting voice. Not even Scalia. Not even Thomas. Now why is that, do you suppose.

Well, the first thing that occurs to this well honed (okay, we can debate that point) legal mind is what should be a fairly obvious point. The principle for which Ms. Davis advocated cannot possibly be limited to opposition to gay marriage. At least not if we hope to preserve any vestige of rationality in our legal system. Confining ourselves to marriage licenses for the moment, what's to stop the next Kim Davis from denying a marriage license, due of course, to sincerely held religious views, because the couple have different skin colors; because one or both have been previously married; because the couple intends to solemnize their marriage before a JP instead of getting Jesus involved; or because one or both of them is a Republican and should not be allowed to breed. The latter, by the way, is my sincerely held religious belief. If you accept Davis's argument, you must allow every county clerk to impose their religious views. If you attempt to choose among them, by confining permissible bigotry to the anti-gay kind, for instance, you are violating the First Amendment in yet another way: you are establishing a religion. So you must grant clerks unfettered discretion to impose any religious doctrine they wish, or, you must do the rational thing and put people like Davis in jail. Even Scalia can see that.

Yet, the members of our press corps, so far as I've seen or heard, can't seem to grasp this simple point, or, if they can, they have yet to confront any of the Republican presidential candidates who have rushed to embrace Ms. Davis (who, is, by the way, and much to our embarrassment, a Democrat) with the logical implications of their position. Have any of them been asked if they think Ms. Davis could turn away an interracial couple, were that her sincerely held belief? Isn't that a rather obvious question? Since we can assume that even the bigots running for the Republican nomination wouldn't go that far (officially, anyway), we would surely like to hear how they would draw a line between racial bigotry and homophobia.

To stray from the point a bit, I'd certainly like to hear Jeb! try to articulate a distinction, given his recent pronouncement on the subject:

“It seems to me that there ought to be common ground, there ought to be a big enough space for her to act on her conscience, and for now that the law is the law of the land, for a gay couple to be married in whatever jurisdiction that is,” Bush told reporters after a town hall event in New Hampshire, according to Buzzfeed News. “I’m a little confused about why that can’t be done.”

via Daily Kos

I'm a little confused too. This sort of reminds me of the question posed by the Firesign Theatre: “How can you be two places at once, when you're not anywhere at all”. Jeb appears to be arguing for a two universe solution, in one of which the gay couple at issue gets married, while in the other universe Ms. Davis gets to impose her views on them. Anyway, imagine Jeb! trying to explain why discriminating against gays is religious freedom while discriminating against interracial couples is not. While we're on the subject, I'd sure like to see someone pose the question to Ben Carson.

Village to Trump: You’re not welcome here

This brings back memories:

Megyn Kelly might be getting a bit of a break from being Donald Trump’s main nemesis, because he was just kind of roasted by a bunch of foreign policy questions from conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

At one point, Hewitt asked Trump if he was familiar with “General  Soleimani” and the “Quds Forces.” (He referred to Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.) Trump said he was but then appeared to mistake the Quds for the Kurds, a Middle Eastern ethnic group.

“The Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by us,” said Trump.

Hewitt corrected him: “No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Forces.”

And after some more Qud/Kurd back and forth, Hewitt asserted that , and got classic Trump in return:

“Well, that is a gotcha question, though,” he said. “I mean, you know, when you’re asking me about who’s running this, this this, that’s not, that is not, I will be so good at the military, your head will spin.”

And out of that entire exchange, the only thing Trump supporters will hear is that last sentence.

via Daily Kos

I humbly submit that the diarist has it wrong here. Trump’s inability to answer the question proves virtually nothing about Trump, except that he’s incapable of admitting ignorance. Granted, that Trump knows very little about foreign policy, but the same applies to his fellow clowns on the Republican side. I would give odds that not a one of them would have been able to answer a similar question, and I can guarantee that Hewett would never ask them such a question, or assert in response to their ignorance that “these were standard things you should know if you want to be president”. To me, this is classic Village behavior, in the sense of that term used by digby over at Hullabaloo. Trump is invading their turf, and they are circling the wagons. His fellow clowns will be exempt from such treatment.

So, on to the memory that this story evoked. Back in 1988 Jesse Jackson was disturbing the Village from the left, and George Will was on the case:

Take Will’s 1988 interview of presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson on ABC‘s This Week(1/17/88). In a series of questions apparently meant to expose Jackson as unqualified for office, Will asked: “As president, would you support measures such as the G-7 measures of the Louvre Accords?” (These accords were technical agreements employed the previous year to stabilize exchange rates.) As Will sneeringly recapped in a later column (Washington Post, 1/28/88), Jackson’s “answer to [that] question was, ‘Explain that.’”

via Fairness and Accuracy in Media

Yes, indeed. It was a question never posed to Michael Dukakis, who no doubt was as ignorant of such technicalities as Jackson. Jackson was honest enough to not try to bullshit his way through the question, but the basic tactic on the part of the questioner is the same in both cases. In fact, one can run for president and be qualified for the position without knowing anything about General Soleimani or the Louvre Accords. It’s far more important to articulate the principles that you would apply when dealing with the problems in the Middle East or economic policy than to demonstrate mastery of every detail. That’s what advisers are for. I’m not arguing for Trump, by the way. He would be a disaster as president, though no more a disaster than his competition. But he’s absolutely right that it was a “gotcha” question, perfectly illustrating Village behavior.

Reflections from Fantasy Island

Scott Walker, who has held elective office since he was 25, is not a “career politician”. Let Scottie explain:

“A career politician, in my mind, is somebody who’s been in Congress for 25 years,” Walker said.


Some people have laughed at Scottie about this, but I fully understand where he’s coming from.

You see, in my mind, I am a career politician. In fact, I’m president of the United States, granted extraordinary powers due to a national emergency, and I’ve solved all our nation’s problems. (If you read this blog regularly, you can see how I would do it). I’ve dealt successfully with climate change, income inequality, and annoying ATM fees, and I’ve put Jamie Dimon in jail, among scores of other accomplishments. In my mind, the United States is a virtual paradise, living at peace with all people everywhere, all because of me.

Also, in my mind, I am 25 years old (the constitutional age requirements having been waived in my case) and members of the opposite sex are falling all over themselves just to get near me. Outside of my mind, they appear to employ extraordinary self restraint, to the point where most of the time they don’t even seem to see me, but inside my mind, they let themselves loose. Also, in my mind, I’ve won an Olympic gold medal, have led the Red Sox to multiple World Series victories, and was invited to join the Beatles, but passed that up because they weren’t as musically inventive as me.

So I get it. When things outside of your mind aren’t going your way, it’s always pleasant to go inside your mind, where things can go pretty much as you’d like. Like me, Scottie must go there fairly often, because in his mind, he’s fit to be president. I’m betting that Scottie will be spending a lot of time in his mind in the near future, because outside of his mind, things aren’t going so well for him.

A Connecticut grifter gets his reward

I’ve written several times about the fact that grifters have a natural home in the Republican party. There are grifter politicians, like Rick Santorum, who is always hopelessly running for president, thereby keeping his brand alive for those lucrative red meat speaking fees, and there are grifter political operatives, who siphon money away from the causes they allegedly promote into their own pockets, thereby doing our side a favor by seriously diluting the effectiveness of every dime contributed by the rubes, and that includes the billionaires, whose money is siphoned into the pockets of high priced grifters like Karl Rove. More thoughts on the subject, here, here and here.

So, I was pleased to read today that we in Connecticut have our grifters too. (I know I should have known about this already, but truth to tell, I’m not that interested in Connecticut politics):

Former House Republican Chief of Staff George Gallo was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison Thursday in federal court in Hartford for steering Republican candidates to a direct mail company in Florida in exchange for kickbacks.

The federal government told the court that from 2008 to December 2013, Direct Mail Systems Inc. of Clearwater, Fla. paid Gallo, of East Hampton, $117,617 in exchange for steering candidates to their firm.

Federal prosecutors asked the court to sentence Gallo, a first-time offender, to 15 months. But although U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa L. Bryant did sentence Gallo to about five months less than the federal government requested, she said she imposed prison time to stem the tide of political corruption in Connecticut. She said Gallo only offered a “tepid” level of responsibility for his actions.

via CT News Junkie

That’s $117,000 that state Republicans were unable to spend trying to get themselves elected, so on behalf of all Democrats I would like to thank Mr. Gallo, and I’d really suggest that the Democratic party should send him a going away present of some sort.