Obstruction as a ‘genius’ political strategy

Here’s a question. Did it occur to you — when Mr. Obama moved into the White House — that Republicans would simply grind governance to a halt?  Hats off to you if you saw that coming. You are a political genius, a seer and a prophet.

It never occurred to me.

And to my even greater discredit, if anyone had asked me (no one did, of course) would GOP obstruction — injurious as it is to the American people — backfire?  I would have said, how could it not? How could a party engage in straight-out obstructionism for two, or four, or six years and not pay a penalty with voters?

Well, the results are in. I was wrong. The Republicans are not at all popular, but they certainly did win. Their hand is stronger than ever. There was no penalty for six years of obstructionism.

Toles - GOP Blocking Tactics

Mitch McConnell, the new leader in the Senate, is now seen as an “effective strategist” for using all the levers of obstruction in the Senate. Sure, it’s bad for America when we can’t even fix roads and bridges (!?!), but it was part of a winning “strategy”. Of course, so was redistricting. Yes… again… bad for voters, but good for the GOP. (Let’s say hello to Glenn Grothman, Wisconsin’s kooky new GOP Congressman, replacing old-school GOP conserva-moderate, Tom Petri. Grothman didn’t even need to campaign; the district was that rigged to elect the Republican.)

To be sure, none of this is transformative. The government hasn’t worked properly for ordinary citizens in 35 years, and now in these mid-term elections we have gone even a few steps further in a wrong direction. But, in perspective, it’s just another few steps… you know, in a long journey.

Having demonstrated that pure obstruction “works” (for partisan ends, not the general public), will the Republicans now abandon it… or dial it back even slightly? Why in the world would that happen?

President Obama has said today that he will — tomorrow evening — unveil a series of executive actions on immigration policy.  A predictable chorus of Republican drama queens, having for six years deliberately failed to address immigration issues, will now fall on their fainting couches, wailing that a dangerous dictator the President is forcing them into a strategy of obstruction, which they were just about to stop doing, you know, until THIS happened… and now blah blah blah they have no other choice.

Pew research findings on what media sources we trust

Conservatives love Fox News. A lot. And they trust it. No surprise there. Slightly more stunning, conservatives dis-trust virtually every other source of news. Can that really be possible? The Pew Research Center’s report — Political Polarization & Media Habits — finds it to be the case.

The Pew study placed individuals into one of five groupings from “consistently liberal” to “consistently conservative” based on their answers to 10 questions. The five groups were then analyzed with regard to news and information choices. Published this month, here’s one of many interesting comparisons appearing in the final report — what media sources are trusted and to what degree. Media sources trusted by less than 50% of group members are not shown.

Pew Research - Media Polarization-12


The incredible shrinking Sunday audience

davidgregory_chucktoddOh boy, after months of rumor, NBC drops handsome, gray-haired David Gregory as host of ‘Meet the Press’. Average-looking Chuck Todd will take over.

As everyone knows, this has nothing to do with the show’s supposedly noble public purpose. It’s just a matter of declining viewership and thus revenue. That’s of course what draws attention at corporate headquarters.

Will this reverse the slide? Nope. This 67-yr-old show (and, yes, it is a “show”) is for and about Washington spin. Replacing one multi-million-dollar “host” with a different multi-million-dollar host who will — count on it — continue the same dismal questioning isn’t going to make it interesting. The whole hour deserves to be ignored by anyone who isn’t hospitalized and without a remote control.

And it’s equally true of the other Sunday morning shows.

Commenter ‘marylou’ at Politico explains:

These Sunday shows are geared toward Washington insiders rather than the audience that wants accountability, ideas and solutions. You can always tell when spin is about to occur. Gregory asks a question and the guest (usually McCain, Cheney, Kristol or Graham) will immediately belt out talking points they’ve been fed ahead of time, and often their answer has little to nothing to do with the question. And Gregory doesn’t stop them, doesn’t say you didn’t answer my question, doesn’t give facts that dispute the answer, and doesn’t do anything but let them off the hook when he should just keep repeating the question until the guest either answers or is rebuked and then not asked back…


Wisconsin State Journal gets gay!

Wisconsin State Journal, June 8, 2014The Wisconsin State Journal offers a nice editorial celebrating the sudden ability of same-sex partners to marry in Wisconsin. The news pages, too, had extensive and upbeat coverage of couples seizing the moment to marry, including this really heart-warming photo of Todd Kinsman and Ravi Manghnani outside the Madison City-County Building. And, of course, other pictures…

So, way to go, Wisconsin State Journal.

And, while we’re at it, let’s jump into the Way Back Machine and revisit the State Journal’s editorial stance eight years ago. Hey, that too was pretty good. In 2006, when conservatives had gleefully glommed onto “traditional” marriage as another cynically exploitable wedge issue, the State Journal actually got it right. In a strong editorial they argued against amending the Wisconsin constitution to prohibit same sex marriage.

Of course, that argument was lost later that year, as the people of Wisconsin approved the constitutional amendment (59%-41%) banning same-sex marriage. (Or even anything like it, no matter what it was called.)

That was a day for shame and regret. A solid majority of Wisconsinites voted to harm a harmless minority of fellow citizens. We might just as well have voted that Mormons shouldn’t marry, or left-handers. It was simple prejudice, inflamed by [some] preachers and [some] political interests. And now eight years later the fever is breaking.

But let’s not feel too good about this yet. The celebration has broken out only because of a court ruling, and by a federal judge, appointed by Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile our state remains entirely under the control of people who do not blink when they need to harm the harmless for their own political purposes. Look what they’ve done refusing Medicaid for the poor. Look what they did to teachers. Look what they did to voters (well, you know, “those” voters). Wisconsin’s Attorney General remains committed to wasting our money defending this deeply regrettable worse than pointless clause in our constitution.

The Wisconsin State Journal earned the right to crow a little about forbidden marriages breaking out now in Wisconsin. They earned the right when they spoke out in 2006. We’d love to say that sort of thing more often.

Now they didn’t manage to name the bad guys in this saga. That’s not the way we’d have played it. But just looking forward is OK for a day. And they get completely carried away when they say

Gay marriage isn’t going away because the public is committed to fairness.

You’d hope. But the public isn’t “committed to fairness” in any permanent way. It wasn’t so committed in 2006, and it remains divided. See the May 21st Marquette Law School Poll where support for gay marriage varies by which set of questions is posed (i.e., posed to the same people). We’d like to think this battle for progress is over. It seems, however, that nothing is ever really over.


Climate spurs debate — some thoughtful, some pretty frustrating

Antarctic Ice SheetThe Western Antarctic ice sheet has begun to collapse. There’s no scenario for reversal and the whole western sheet will be lost. It IS going to happen. This was the conclusion of two separate studies soon to be published in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters and reported lots of places but of course not everywhere (see below).

“it shook me a little bit”

Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University said he found the new papers compelling. Though he had long feared the possibility of ice-sheet collapse, when he learned of the new findings, “it shook me a little bit,” Dr. Alley said.

On the left (well, really the “center”) there’s a debate about how to communicate to the public. Basically the question is: should news about unfolding climate change emphasize urgency or actual somewhat-nerdy detail? (See: Climate Hawk vs. Serious People for example.)

  • Serious Person“: If you read the studies, this ice sheet “collapse” will be a slow-moving affair, in human terms, not really occurring rapidly until 200 years from now, or even later, at which point we’re on our way to seeing sea levels rise 10 feet or more.
  • Climate Hawk“:  Ya, sure, but we should still have “COLLAPSE!” in the headline just to get attention. If we’re going to avoid the worst of climate calamities, we must act now, now, NOW… within the next 15 years. Telling people that the real shit storm will arrive long after they’re dead is an ineffective motivator (for most of us) to do something NOW.

These are both reasonable arguments, and here at The Daily Tissue we weaselly endorse both, simultaneously.

But meanwhile what’s happening on the right?

Well, it’s unchanged. It’s now a very dumb discussion where facts don’t matter. Climate change is to be ignored, minimized or derided. It’s a foolish orthodoxy. In the week just past Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) reversed himself and said what “conservatives” (at least for now) simply must, must say,

“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”

Republican candidates believe (or know?) that they cannot say anything else if they hope to be nominated. So Rubio says it, even though he’s from a state where parts of two major cities and all of the Everglades will drown in the future.

But it’s not just the craven politicians angling to a Republican base. It’s more extensive than that.

Jonathan Chait in his Daily Intelligencer column does a point-by-point takedown of two conservative, millionaire star-pundits — George Will and Charles Krauthammer who will never run for office.

Krauthammer and Will are (or used to be) as good as it gets in the world of conservative movement punditry, and yet there they are on Fox News just grasping for ways to cast doubt on an established scientific consensus, even on the whole scientific field of climate science. WHY? Would they be drummed out of the movement if they broke with Rush Limbaugh?  Would they lose their well-paid pundit gigs? How long can this bubble-think go on?

Remember “Bagdad Bob”?

Bagdad Bob was DOUBTLESS. THE. ONLY. amusing figure in the 2003 Irag war. As Iraqi information minister, “Bob” became hilariously famous for saying things like “There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!” as U.S. tanks were rolling by, on camera, in the background behind him. He was a figure of rich satire at a terrible moment. This is what Krauthammer and Will are doing, positioning themselves as American Bagdad Bobs denying climate change, even as — in the background — California’s fire season lasts 75 days longer than a decade ago, rain events become stronger and more frequent in the northeast, and on and on.  

Are we really doomed to do almost nothing at the highest levels of government because of a gridlock where one side enjoys its bubble of misinformation and magical thinking? That’s where the smart money would be wagering for now. Even though it cannot last.



Senator Ron Johnson — how dumb is he? And does it matter?

ron johnsonIt’s the season for political fundraising, and U.S. Senator, Ron Johnson, has taken the time to write to us, hoping that we’ll send him some money. We won’t.

We’re a little surprised that — in this day and age — fundraising letters can be so badly misdirected that we would be getting such a letter from Wisconsin’s wealthy, backbench, climate denialist senator. Surely it would not be hard to apply some minimal software screening to eliminate completely implausible contributors, like us, from a mailing list. It’s actually mind-boggling. There’s a mountain of commercial junk mail that vendors could be sending us, but somehow they determine we’re a very unlikely prospect for certain products, and they don’t send us those ads because they’d be wasting their money. So why does Ron Johnson send us this?

Dear  ████████:

I’ve taken the lawless Obama Administration to court over ObamaCare.

Of all the things President Obama has done wrong, the federal takeover of America’s healthcare system really takes the cake. The Washington political class is well aware of what we all know to be certain: that ObamaCare is an unmitigated disaster….

It goes on for four (4) pages, all nonsense.

Meanwhile, what Johnson calls an “unmitigated disaster” is actually succeeding for lots of ordinary Americans. Does Johnson not know this? Millions of Americans are getting health insurance, many for the first time. Others are getting it back again, and others are getting better coverage, sometimes with lower premiums.

This is Ron Johnson’s “unmitigated disaster”? That insurance companies can’t turn people down for pre-existing conditions? Or cancel a policy after a frightening diagnosis? The new law isn’t perfect (first of all, it leaves too many still uninsured), but it does allow a few more millions of people to get sick or injured (it happens!) without going bankrupt. Does Ron Johnson not know any of this?


Wisconsin Republicans complete [another] attack on voting rights

In the last minutes of the legislature’s last session, Wisconsin Republicans decided to curb early voting. Sure, no citizens were asking for it, but somehow, mysteriously, it became a priority for Wisconsin Republicans that voting should become less convenient. Or for some people, unworkable. Particularly in the, um, urban areas, where, um, well, you know. Oh, Speaker Vos, this is sooo tricky. We can’t figure out what this is about.

Doonesbury - Jimmy Crow interview

The kill list and the public “dialog”

In a sense there’s no good reason for ordinary people to be interested in their nation’s foreign activities. “We” – and here we mean us ordinary schlubs (citizens) outside of the highest levels of the military and foreign policy establishment – we have no influence, no say, in what goes on. And huge parts of it are secret anyway. Secret from us. It may be “our” national policy, but we don’t know what it is.

Often we see reporting about foreign policy in the “serious” press. We look at these stories but with no conviction that it accomplishes anything. Why do we do it? Dunno… just do. Why do we look at funny cat videos on YouTube? In either case, it’s not because we think we’re accomplishing anything.

Reporter Mark Mazzetti

Reporter Mark Mazzetti

Nonetheless, we’ve been weirdly fascinated by the reporting of Mark Mazzetti which keeps popping up on the front page of the New York Times. We mentioned one of his stories earlier. Rather remarkably, it told us almost nothing! How is it that a story which tells us almost nothing can earn a spot on page A1 of the Times? Well, maybe the editors think we’re supposed to care about our national policy of killing individuals, one by one, by means of drone-based hellfire missiles. (Well, yes, also killing nearby friends and family, too. Collateral damage.)

So what IS our “policy”? Who knows?  Ordinary-citizen-schlubs, like us, perusing the Times can read that there’s a “debate” going on, a debate at top levels of our government about whether to drop a drone on one particular guy in Pakistan. Here, the proximate concern — actually just a sliver of what ought to be a much larger debate – seems to be that the guy in the cross-hairs is an American citizen, now gone over to Al-Qaeda. So there’s a little extra dithering about killing – if you want to get all legalistic about it — an American citizen.

Then we had a second story, again almost devoid of detail or factual certainty. And again on page A1 of the New York Times! In it we learn just a few more random facts. He was born “possibly in Texas” and “moved with his family to the Middle East when he was a toddler.” His real name and age still can’t be divulged, because it’s classified. Really? Check with Mr. Kafka down the hall.

So here’s what we think. 1) We think it’s great that America’s greatest newspaper is letting us in on the fact that there’s some secret debate going on, even though we’re clearly not invited to participate. 2) We’re pretty suspicious this debate includes only a very narrow range of participants and perspectives. 3) We’re almost certain this secret debate does not include the perspective that we happen to start with… namely, that we shouldn’t just go murdering our little-bitty adversaries (and this guy is nothing if not a little-bitty adversary). And 4) Why isn’t this state-sponsored terrorism (which we’re supposed to be so very opposed to)?

The President’s kill list

Headline, the New York Times, front page:

 U.S. Debates Drone Strike on American Terrorism Suspect in Pakistan

So, there’s a debate going on? About our national-list-of-guys-we’re-planning-to-kill-with-a-drone-strike? Well, that is nice to hear.

The “kill list” thing seems so nakedly immoral, not to mention so likely to, as they say, blow back. But at least there’s a debate, say the reporters, albeit a secret debate. The reporters aren’t able to tell what American is currently topping the kill list, or what he’s done, or rather “suspected” of. They can’t say for certain what’s being debated or who’s privy to the debate. The White House won’t comment. Neither will the Pentagon nor the CIA.

hookah-smoking caterpillarWelcome to Wonderland. In the absence of facts, feel free to wonder about anything at all. (One of the least important things to wonder about? Whether to call it “assassination” or “targeted killing”. See Erik Wemple in The Washington Post.)

Only late in their story do the Times reporters quote a non-anonymous, non-government source, Naureen Shahan, an Amnesty International U.S.A adviser. She identifies the one thing that is ironically certain

“The public and most members of Congress are still completely in the dark about where the U.S. claims authority to strike, the legal rules and the identity of those already killed.”

“The policy is still the stuff of official secrecy and speculation when it should be a matter of open debate and explicit constraints.”


Is Wisconsin falling behind on pro-life extremism?

Marlise MunozMany of us have become recently aware of a Texas law that’s forcing an effectively dead (i.e., brain dead) 33-year-old Texas woman to remain for months on a respirator so that the fetus still “alive” inside her can be “born”. Now the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tells us the fetus is deformed (so sex cannot be determined) and also shows both heart and brain irregularities. Not surprisingly, the dead woman’s husband and parents want to let go, but cannot, due to the meddling of Texas Republican law-makers.

Naturally this raises the question of why our own Republican-controlled legislature hasn’t kept pace with Texas. What’s the hang-up? Is it lack of money? Lack of grit? Are we supposed to let our pregnant Wisconsin ladyfolk just die off without harvesting their fetuses? It’s madness. Especially when Texas already has this law and is demonstrating how it can work.