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Newtown families assail Congress over need for gun controls

So says Senior Editor Dave Cook of the Christian Science Monitor.

Yes. You read that headline correctly. After the headline, the body text reports a much different story.

Family members of the children and educators killed in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting are on Capitol Hill Tuesday, engaging in face-to-face lobbying as part the Obama administration’s effort to persuade reluctant lawmakers to enact stricter gun controls.
Violent metaphors are common in journalism. For a variety of reasons, writers will often rely on lazy tropes and cliches that ascribe violent imagery to nonviolent events. An example would be something like this New York Times headline from a few days ago: Obama Budget is Dismissed by G.O.P. and Attacked by Left. Obviously, the critiques involved here are not a literal attack on the budget document.

But, this particular headline does not seem to be such a case of a violent cliche innocuously finding its way into a headline. The word choice is so bizarrely specific that it seems premeditated. The Newtown families are exercising their rights peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. These families are the victims of violence, seeking to prevent or curtail future acts of violence.

And yet, according to Mr. Cook, we should see these Newtown families as violent attackers and members of Congress as their victims. In his words, the Newtown families are assailants. I don't think anyone with a brain needs it explained to them how offensive, backwards and tone-deaf this headline is.

I encourage other readers to write a brief comment to Mr. Cook, to let him know how you feel.

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If the definition of a political gaffe is when a politician accidentally says the truth, then Willard Romney is the gaffe that keeps on gaffing. The defeated candidate gave Democrats an 'extraordinary gift' this week. As Congress prepares to renegotiate the terms on our social contract, Mitt's latest recording reminded America of the GOP's disdain for the majority of the American electorate.

It was no surprise that many prominent Republicans have seized upon this moment as a political opportunity to advance their own careers. Yesterday, Louisiana Governor Piyush 'Bobby' Jindal made his opening move in the contest to become the GOP's new standard bearer. Jindal made headlines when he called on Republicans to 'end dumbed-down conservatism' and to 'stop being the stupid party.' Making news this way was not accidental. On the same day Jindal was pushing these sound-bytes in interviews at the Republican Governors Association (to steal the spotlight from competitors like New Jersey's Chris Christie and Wisconsin's Scott Walker), he published those same words in an opinion piece for CNN.com.

I recommend that fellow Kossacks take the time to read this piece, entitled How Republicans can win future elections. No, it's not going to become iconic like Mitt's Let Detroit Go Bankrupt. It does, however, provide an interesting general glimpse into the current GOP mindset and into the specific style of politics employed by Mr. Jindal.

In microcosm, this column of a couple hundred words calling for change in the GOP demonstrates precisely why the GOP will never change. The heart of his advice, which made the headlines and first lines of news coverage, is the following:

4. Stop being the stupid party. It's time for a new Republican party that talks like adults. It's time for us to articulate our plans and visions for America in real terms. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. Enough of that.

5. Stop insulting the intelligence of voters. We need to trust the smarts of the American people. We have to stop dumbing down our ideas and stop reducing everything to mindless slogans and tag lines for 30-second ads. We must be willing to provide details in describing our views.


Jindal attempted here to list seven 'lessons' for the Republicans to learn from their 2012 defeat. Number 4 and 5 are almost identical. Word space is limited in a standard op-ed, but Jindal managed to waste one bullet-point paragraph by reciting the previous point in different language.

But, let's set aside the fact that two of Jindal's seven lessons are really the same thing. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he emphasized this point because he thought it was especially important. Repetition is as valid a rhetorical strategy as any. Focus on the heart of his advice: that Republicans should "articulate their plans and visions in real terms" instead of "reducing everything to mindless slogans and tag-lines."

It sounds like pretty good advice, right? Well, let's take a look at the rest of Jindal's editorial, to find out if he practices what he preached.

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Political battles are not won with facts and figures but with figures of speech. Year after year, we see Republicans overcome a massive onslaught of empirical evidence by winning the battle of language. In the midst of the victories of 2012, we must remember exactly how Mitt came so close to the White House.

The side that dictates the terms of an argument wins. For an instructive example, look no further than the first presidential debate. With one strong performance, Romney erased months of bad campaigning from his etch-a-sketch screen. There are a lot of different explanations for why Romney won, some substantive, and some stylistic.

In my estimation, the most revealing fact about the first debate is this one. By my count, the first debate transcript contains a total of 36 references to a Romney presidential plan (22 from Romney, 13 from Obama, 1 from Lehrer). By contrast, that same debate transcript contains 8 references to an Obama presidential plan (4 Romney and 4 Obama).

Set aside for the moment that Romney didn't really have a plan, and that his policy proposals didn't make any mathematical sense. Set aside for the moment that, even within that first debate President Obama made a great number of strong points about Romney's proposals. Obama won the first debate purely on the intellectual level, using deductive reasoning to demonstrate the huge deficiencies in the Romney so-called plan. But even for a man like Obama, with such remarkable talent for rhetoric, his first instinct as a liberal was to try to win the a battle of intellect, by defeat his opponent on his opponent's terms.

The undeniable fact remains that Obama lost that debate. He lost badly. He forgot that he was speaking on a stage, not critiquing a rival's Harvard Law Review article. Viewers didn't hear Obama's salient reasoning. They only heard that positive, one-syllable word PLAN, over and over again in connection to Mitt Romney. The message they heard was that Romney had a plan for the future, and Obama did not (even though the opposite was true). Just days later, voters wouldn't remember any of the specifics of Romney's policies, but they would still carry around an image in their brains of a smart business guy with his five bullet-points, his foolproof map to success, his magical list of five short items that we just need to check off in order to fix everything that is wrong with the country.

In the second presidential debate, President Obama brilliantly erased Romney's advantage. He accomplished it, not with reasoning and not by citing facts and studies as he had attempted in the first debate. He did it with rhetoric. He took Romney's most memorable figure of speech, his five-point plan, and he transformed that asset into a liability.

“Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules.”
Obama accomplished in two sentences what he had previously failed to do with hundreds of words. He turned around Romney's preferred language into a weapon against him and then pivoted to his own preferred figure of speech: people playing by the same set of rules. The effect was devastating. Even without Governor Romney pleasingly proceeding into that act of terror, Obama won the war of words.

Metaphor is the most important device in the rhetorical toolbox. The human mind understands abstract concepts by drawing comparisons to more concrete ones. Metaphors create visual images that endure in the human memory whether we want them to or not. (Highly recommended reading: Joseph J. Romm's Language Intelligence.)

Right now, the Republicans are dominating the national conversation with a memorable two-word phrase: Fiscal Cliff. You will hear this phrase repeated over and over again by Republicans in the next few months. Then, on cue, you will hear this phrase parroted over and over again by the media. And then, predictably, you will even hear it spoken by Democrats and then even on threads here in the DailyKos. As liberals, we tend to follow that same instinct that Obama heeded in that first debate. We want to win with logic and reasoning instead of language and rhetoric.

Doing so is a losing strategy. The Republicans have a winning metaphor. They have a metaphor that makes it impossible to argue against their proposals. The expiration of a tax cut is not scary. Sequestration might sound a bit nefarious, but not enough to scare ordinary Americans. Cliffs are scary. People imagine their retirement statements and employment numbers suddenly falling and falling with no end in sight. "Avoiding the fiscal cliff" is something every voter would prefer.

But even tough the so-called Fiscal Cliff is great rhetoric, but it is also a lie. There is no cliff for us to avoid. As Jonathan Chait explained in his outstanding piece in NY Magazine about the dueling economic plans of Romney and Obama:

This is not the story you have heard about the budget. You have probably heard a terrifying tale of dysfunction and impending doom, with the catchphrase “the fiscal cliff” used by budget wonks to describe all the automatic changes scheduled for January 1. It’s a story of disaster that could arrive by accident and must be prevented at all costs. Every aspect of this narrative is inaccurate.

The term “fiscal cliff” has leached into the broader political lexicon, though few people understand what it means, and many of them invoke it to mean its precise opposite. Among Republicans, especially, “fiscal cliff” has come to signify their Obama-era fears of a Greece-style debt crisis. Pete Peterson, an investor and longtime fiscal hawk, has devoted more than a half-billion dollars to lobby for a bipartisan debt-reduction agreement, funding a vast network of centrist anti-deficit activists, like the Concord Coalition, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and an organization called “the Campaign to Fix the Debt,” all of which have pounded a national drumbeat warning against the perils of the fiscal cliff. “Rhetoric won’t fix the debt, action will,” warns a statement by Fix the Debt. A “solution to the nation’s fiscal crisis,” scolded the Washington Post editorial page, which closely echoes the views of the Peterson network, “can be implemented only if Republicans and Democrats hold hands and jump together.”

This is all utterly wrong. Bipartisan agreement is not necessary to fix the debt. Nothing is necessary to fix the debt. It is as if the network of activists, wonks, business leaders, and Beltway elder statesmen who have devoted themselves to building cross-party support for a deficit deal have grown more attached to the means of bipartisanship than to the ends for which it was intended. The budget deficit is a legislatively solved problem. It is, indeed, an oversolved problem. In the absence of any agreement between the president and Congress, the deficit will shrink to less than one percent of the economy by 2018, and remain below that level through 2022. The budget deficit declines so sharply and so drastically, and in ways that neither party is entirely comfortable with, that the task for Washington is to pull back on deficit reduction.

It’s true that should all this come to pass and Congress does nothing at all, allowing all automatic deficit reductions to stay permanently, then our economy would be hit by a powerful shock—a massive anti-stimulus. This is the outcome that terrifies moderate liberals like Howard Fineman, who warns that the nation is about to “go over the fiscal cliff with no hang glider.”

But here is a case where a bad metaphor has caused everybody to think about the matter in exactly the wrong way. When you walk off a cliff, the first step is your last. There is no such thing as falling halfway down a cliff. But the “fiscal cliff” is not a cliff at all. The economic damage is cumulative. It is the opposite of the debt ceiling, when the doomsday clock ticked down to a moment of sudden calamity. A full year of inaction would do a lot of damage, but a week, a month, or even a couple of months would not. The president would have enough control over the mechanics of the budget to delay the effects of higher taxes and spending cuts in order to cushion the blow to the economy. Even if the tax hikes and spending cuts go into effect, any deal that gets signed later could be retroactive. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve could also take emergency action to keep the recovery afloat.

As it stands, the word game has been rigged against us. We must make every effort to reject their terminology. There is no fiscal cliff. There is only a road ahead with a slight incline. I don't want to hear any Democrat or liberal or progressive playing their word game. Talking about the fiscal cliff is a losing strategy, just as President Obama's 13 mentions of Romney's Plan in the first debate was a losing tactic. You can lose just be repeating the other side's preferred language.

Everyone is in favor of that thing called "avoiding the fiscal cliff," but in reality those words are Luntzian Republican code for extending the Bush tax cuts and preserving massive levels of defense spending. Grover Norquist wields such power not just because of his well-funded special interest lobby; he wins the word game when he forces the middle and the left to speak about closing tax expenditure loopholes and letting temporary tax cuts expire as if they were tax increases.

Instead of talking about this non-existent cliff, the Message that must be ring from sea to shining sea is this one:

Middle Class Tax Cut.
Middle Class Tax Cut.
Middle Class Tax Cut.

Everyone is in favor of middle-class tax cuts. It is impossible for Republicans to oppose a middle-class tax cut. Framing this debate as one over a middle-class tax cut accomplishes a number of things all at once: (1) it steals the home-field advantage away from Republicans on their number one issue; (2) it leaves defense spending out of the initial conversation entirely, so that there is something to bring to the bargaining table later; (3) it presupposes the preferred outcome of ending the Bush era rates in the top income bracket; and (4) it prepares Democrats to claim an eventual victory as the achievement of something positive ("We fought and fought every day for this middle-class tax cut, and here it is.") instead of the mere avoidance of something negative.

If we have a national debate about avoiding a fiscal cliff, the Republicans will win this showdown. If we have a national debate about passing a middle class tax cut, then Democrats will win.

It's that simple.

Discuss

Take a look at this 4-minute clip from the 1992 Presidential Debate in town-hall format. A member of the audience asks the candidates how the national debt has affected them. The question is a bit confusion, as the context seems to suggest that she's really asking about the recession and not the debt. But, watch how the two candidates react. President Bush is clearly annoyed. He can't come up with an answer and he goes into an insincere talking point. Clinton responds by demonstrating a genuine empathy and compassion that the Republican plutocrat just can't fake.
 

I hope that the town hall format of the next debate will create a moment like this one. Romney has revealed his inability to empathize with average Americans through a series of out-of-touch moments in the past (the Nascar ponchos, the 7-11 cookies, borrowing money from your parents, etc.). On Tuesday, a moment like this may arrive and Barack Obama must seize it: Show the people who really understands and cares.

Another striking feature of this debate clip is how little the debate has changed in the past 20 years. Clinton was hammering away at trickle-down economics as a failed economic theory in 1992, and that was before we had the additional empirical demonstration of the contrast between the Clinton and George W. Bush economies. Clinton here also emphasizes the same economic vision as Obama: growth through dedicated public investment in education and infrastructure to give America the competitive edge over the rest of the world.

Discuss

Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 10:37 PM PDT

Thank You, Joe

by Luhks

Thank you for fighting for us, not just for tonight, but for your lifetime of public service. If this is the end of a great career, he did us proud one last time.

Discuss

Unions were the driving force in creating and preserving the American middle class during the times of greatest prosperity. The basic concept underlying a union is that workers can achieve more for each individual through collective action than through individual action. Individual members organize and select representatives who negotiate on behalf of the whole. Solidarity is the key source of strength. A clenched fist does more damage than five fingers separately.

Not coincidentally, corporations are built upon this same principle of solidarity. Corporations essentially provide centralized organizational structure for capital. When individual investors organize their capital into a corporation, they can achieve far greater return than could the members using their wealth separately. Moreover, corporations have the will to pursue profit purely and without conscience; incorporation frees the owners from their own individual morality. With capital organized into powerful corporations, the organization of labor into unions once provided the necessary counter punch.

But what would happen if the corporations found a way to copy the basic strategy of the unions? What would happen if corporations found a way to unionize, to transform from individual fists into one giant hammer that could crush anything that might dare oppose it?

As any student of American history will tell you, this has happened before. Many corporations have discovered that they could earn higher profits through collusion than they could through competition. Collusion provides a method to circumvent capitalism: you could increase the return on your investment not by making a better product more efficiently, but by agreeing with your competitor to fix prices. Trusts steal from the public by imposing prices higher than the market would otherwise demand. In the early twentieth century, after generations of struggle, the development of antitrust law helped curb these abuses and pave the way for a period of prosperity.

The political revolution we're witnessing now in America, which has been growing since the 1970s and 80s, is built on a new and even more dangerous form of corporate collusion. Just as robber barons figured out that they could form a trust to pursue their common interests, today's wealthiest corporations and individuals invented new ways to pursue their interests collectively. Essentially, the corporations and their wealthiest owners have found out that they could form a national union to represent their interests and entrench their power.

The representatives of this union are the lobbyists on K-Street and the members of the Republican Party. Its organizational structure is ever evolving and gaining strength: the American Legislative Exchange Council and Grover Norquist controlling Congress with Frank Luntz and Fox News spreading propaganda on the ground. In 2010, the Supreme Court unleashed the full power of the union thugs for the first time. The results have been catastrophic: the 2010 Republican takeover, the Wisconsin recall, and soon the loss of the presidency and Senate in 2012. After the fingers formed into a clenched fist, Anthony Kennedy provided them with brass knuckles and spikes.

Their new brand of collusion is every bit as damaging as price fixing, and it should be every bit as illegal. The Republican corporate unionization undermines capitalism at every step. There is no need to make higher profits by increasing your revenues. Simply pay your way to a regulatory code that will reduce your costs by putting your employees and customers at risk. Buy subsidies and loopholes that help you only stamp out your competitors. Write yourself a tax code that will increase the percentage of your investment returns. Own a few judges whose role is to limit your liability for damages you cause. The reality is that these so-called capitalists aren't skilled enough to rely on free market forces to increase their profits. But they do have enough wealth that they can buy the whole market and rewrite the rules in their own favor.

Republicans say that they hate unions because they are a threat to liberty. It is true that unions are a powerful force, and all powerful forces can be a threat to liberty. But they seize upon a kernel of truth while ignoring its necessary broader implications. In reality, unions and corporations (and political parties) are all simply organizational structures. Unions are literally labor corporations, just as corporations are unions for capital. A priori, there is no reason why one should be deemed a threat to liberty while the other is deemed necessary for liberty.

The reality is that the Republican party and its backers are the most powerful union in America. Republican lawmakers are the union representatives for only the wealthiest individuals and corporations. The strength of both corporations and of the Republican party is predicated upon the very philosophy behind unions. In the end, one must conclude that it is not liberty they love and unions they hate, but wealth that they love and laborers that they hate.

Over the past few weeks, I've rewatched Ridley Scott's classic, the original Alien a few times. Different stations have been airing the original in anticipation of the release of Prometheus (which I have not seen). My respect for the 1979 original has grown immensely (although I've always thought that Scott's Blade Runner was the more beautiful and meaningful film).

The subtext of Alien has been scrutinized and analyzed from every angle over the years. When you create a captivating image that reflects some fundamental truth about our reality, it can be applied to almost anything, regardless of the original author's intentions. Although Alien is a film that relies more upon sight and sound than on dialogue, the film contains at least one scene with a truly great exchange. (Spoilers below)

ASH: Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.
PARKER: The damn company. What about our lives, you son of a bitch?
ASH: I repeat, all other priorities are rescinded.
RIPLEY: How do we kill it Ash? There's gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?
ASH: You can't.
PARKER: That's bullshit.
ASH: You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
LAMBERT: You admire it.
ASH: I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. ... I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.
Good luck finding a scene from any other film that illustrates so perfectly the current plight of the American people. Three beings collaborate here to pursue their interests at the expense of the lives of the wage earners (Ripley, Parker, and Lambert). The scene highlights the cooperation between these similar organisms whose structural perfection is matched only by their hostility: the alien, the robot, and the corporation. No conscience, no morality. All other priorities rescinded.

The tragic flaw of President Obama's first term has been his inability to understand what he is up against. Obama believed that his Republican opponents were human beings with conscience, who would do the right thing for the American people when given the chance. It is possible that he still believes it. But we know better. We are up against a pure being.

Ripley's question is the important one.
How do we kill it?

Discuss

Political blogs come in all different shapes and sizes. When you give anyone a platform, you can sometimes find brilliant, insightful commentary that puts the professional media to shame. Or you can see some of the most idiotic opinions expressed in the most offensive way possible. And then every once in a while, you read something so painfully stupid that you are embarrassed to even consider yourself a member of the same species as the author.

I will let you decide for yourself which category Monika Mitchell's recent blog on Huffington Post falls: Is it Time to Forgive Wall Street?. Ms. Monika Mitchell is CEO of Good Business International Inc. Her Twitter bio proclaims herself as a Top Thought Leader.

Huffington Post is moderating the comments section very heavily, with most comments censored and three hours of delay for comments that are actually published. If you would like to let Ms. Mitchell know what you think of her piece, you can reach out to her on Twitter: @Monika_Mitchell. Please share as many Twitter comments to her as possible.

Discuss

Citizens United was the tipping point. Our democracy is finished. We're all dead. We just don't know it yet.

In 2010, the Supreme Court condemned an entire generation to a lifetime of unelected corporate rule. Money buys power, which creates more money, which purchases more power. There is no public interest, only special interest.

As damaging as they were, the 2010 midterm elections across the House of Representatives and the legislatures were just the tip of the iceberg. The plutocrats were just beginning to take advantage of the unrestrained power to corrupt our government. In 2012, the beast will be unleashed.

Even then, with the new regime not only a year old, look at how dramatically successful the corrupt corporate candidates were across all fifty states. The next steps: evisceration of collective bargaining rights, elimination of public employees, unprecedented obstruction, the debt ceiling hostage crisis, redistricting, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and giveaways to corporate donors to concentrate even more wealth and power. Divide and conquer, as Walker promised. This is only the beginning.

In Wisconsin right now, we're starting to see how a true post-Citizens United election environment operates. Walker, based on his record, should be trailing by around 20 points. But, when you can purchase the media, when you can drown the opposition in a sea of corporate cash, his record disappears. Walker will win by around 10 points. The people will be bewildered, and make excuses. Make no mistake, that 2012 election was decided two years earlier by five men in black robes.

After Wisconsin, Democrats nationwide will regroup and try their best to win seats in the House, to preserve the Senate majority, and to re-elect the President. And we will fail. President Romney will entrench corporate rule for decades. The Republicans will pack the courts, gut financial regulations, dismantle environmental protection, destroy the safety net, funnel wealth to the top, destroy unions. One economic meltdown after another will destroy all middle class wealth. And then, after they have remade the country, they will entrench Republican rule for generations to come. The patrons who invested in buying a Republican lawmaker will receive a return many times the size of their investment. And then they will reinvest that dividend into the next election.

We will never see another Democratic president in our lifetimes after Obama. We will never see another Democratic majority in either house of Congress in any of our lifetimes. We will never see a Democratic majority on the Supreme Court for centuries. The robber barons will decide which puppets to install.

Once you reach the tipping point, the republic is lost. We reached that point in 2010, by a vote of 5 to 4, on a legal question that was not presented in the case at hand.

It's over. We're all dead. We just don't know it yet.

EDIT: Walker wins. As much as I prepared myself for this eventuality, I still had hope in a miracle. I was naive.

Discuss

Sun Apr 01, 2012 at 05:58 PM PDT

Must-Read on the ACA: Akhil Reed Amar

by Luhks

Akhil Reed Amar: How to Defend Obamacare

For anyone who may have missed this article amidst all of the media circus this week, this one is a must read. Akhil Reed Amar provides the most succinct and cogent explanation of why the arguments against the constitutionality of the mandate are unfounded. Although it is clear that Donald Verrilli was not up to the task of defending the law, it should be noted that the brief submitted by Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal contains a much stronger defense of the mandate, more in line with Amar's analysis. (Both Amar and Katyal served as clerks for Justice Stephen Breyer.)

The most striking characteristic that distinguishes Amar's analysis from the analysis of the Republican Justices is that Amar's argument is firmly grounded in the Constitution's text and structure, as well as precedent. If you scrutinize carefully the comments of Roberts, Alito, and Kennedy, you will notice that none of their arguments are based on anything concrete within the Constitution. The Republican argument assumes, without providing any justification, that the Constitution embodies some free-standing principle of economic libertarianism. None of their comments pointed to any particular textual provision that might justify their intuitions. Too many Republicans approach the Constitution from this undisciplined holistic perspective, relying on their gut feeling about what the Constitution stands for rather than analyzing what the document actually says and means.

Although Justice Scalia's hyper-partisan attack on the Affordable Care Act failed to maintain even the appearance of impartiality, Scalia to his credit did at least point to two possible parts of the Constitution that might invalidate the provision. First, he noted that the mandate might not be considered "proper" within the meaning of the Necessary and Proper Clause. This argument is exceedingly weak in that the Courts have always maintained a strong policy of judicial deference to the judgments of Congress in construing the clause. It also neglects the fact that the particular means chosen for the mandate, an income tax penalty, could be accomplished without any substantive distinctions in its application by employing Congress' powers of taxation. Second, Scalia pointed to the principle for construing congressional powers stated in the Tenth Amendment ("The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.") as possible grounds for invalidating the mandate. This argument fails when you consider that the regulation of the national health care market presents an interstate free-rider problem that the individual states are not able to address. An income tax penalty scheme represents no encroachment into any traditional police powers of the states.

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