Republicans and the Right Continue to Bumble and Stumble

Don't look now, but there finally appears to be some work getting done in order to reopen the government and get some kind of deal achieved on increasing the debt ceiling through meetings between the White House and congressional Republicans. But Republicans are hardly negotiating from a position of strength. Note that the story points out that "the White House and its Democratic allies in Congress were all but declaring victory at the evidence that Republicans — suffering the most in polls, and pressured by business allies and donors not to provoke a government default — were seeking a way out of the impasse." That part about "suffering in the polls" is no joke, by the way:

The Republican Party has been badly damaged in the ongoing government shutdown and debt limit standoff, with a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finding that a majority of Americans blame the GOP for the shutdown, and with the party’s popularity declining to its lowest level.

By a 22-point margin (53 percent to 31 percent), the public blames the Republican Party more for the shutdown than President Barack Obama – a wider margin of blame for the GOP than the party received during the poll during the last shutdown in 1995-96.

Just 24 percent of respondents have a favorable opinion about the GOP, and only 21 percent have a favorable view of the Tea Party, which are both at all-time lows in the history of poll.

I would like to use this blog post in order to thank the shutdown caucus for bringing about this unmitigated political/public relations disaster for the Republican party, and for the right in general. No Democrat or liberal, actively working to undermine the starboard side of American politics, could possibly have done a better job than the suicide squards of the right did with the GOP's reputation.

The good news for Republicans is that they have over a year until the 2014 elections. The bad news is that the Republicans have over a year to think to themselves "gee, how else can we make ourselves less popular than the bubonic plague," come up with answers, and then merrily set about implementing them--to the shock and delight of Democrats everywhere. I for one have no doubt that Republicans will rise to the occasion.

To the extent that congressional Republicans are able to get themselves out of the political jam they have created for themselves, it may be because of the efforts of Paul Ryan, who doubtless will be considered a RiNO and an apostate in short order for actually trying to be responsible instead of doing something crazy like urging default on the debt, or working to get the GOP's approval ratings in the single digits.

Of course, if congressional Republicans wanted a blueprint on how to act halfway intelligent, they might have listened to Megan McArdle. The following excerpt revolves around a point I have tried to make myself:

The shutdown is eclipsing the horrifyingly inept rollout of the federal exchanges. Republicans should be basking in schadenfreude while a grief-stricken administration watches its poll numbers plunge. Instead, Obama and his deputies are getting front-page stories every day where they get to claim to be the grown-ups in the room. Again, I don’t care whether this is because the mainstream media is biased, unless you have a negotiation scenario where the MSM disappears at the stroke of midnight and is replaced by the staff of the National Review and the Daily Caller.

To amplify McArdle's point, the GOP could have spent time chortling over the fact that only five people in Iowa have signed up for Obamacare. No, that's not a typo; only five people in the entire state of Iowa have signed up for Obamacare. But, you know, God forbid that congressional Republicans should listen to reason, get themselves out of the line of fire, and let the storyline focus on all of the problems with the Obamacare rollout.

This is political malpractice at its worst. And it has been brought about by "thought leaders" on the right who wouldn't know a good thought if it confronted them and slapped them in the face. Whether activists on the right--both in and out of Congress--actually genuinely believed that it would be a good idea to shut the government down and play chicken with the debt ceiling over unrealistic negotiating demands, or whether those activists knew that this would be a disaster, but felt that it would profit them to curry favor with the Tea Party, there needs to be a serious examination on the right regarding the kind of leadership it has been saddled with. Specifically, anyone who argued that the shutdown strategy and threats of not raising the debt ceiling were good ideas needs to be ousted from any position of leadership on the right. It is high time for the grownups to take charge. As things stand right now, the GOP's/right's brain trust is short on brains, and shouldn't be afforded any trust whatsoever.

In Which I Write the Blog Post that Gets Me Called a RINO/CINO/LINO/Whatever-the-HeckINO*

With the shutdown of the federal government, we the citizenry were treated to ironclad promises and Namathian guarantees from congressional Republicans that at last, at long last, we had finally found a way to undo Obamacare. All that was required was for us to "hang tough," and mysteriously, magically, miraculously, the president of the United States would be persuaded to agree to defund his signature legislative achievement. You know, the achievement that Democratic presidents since Harry Truman yearned to get Congress to pass. The achievement that he believed and still believes will vault him into the Pantheon of Great American Presidents. The achievement that has won him rapturous support among members of his own base. All of this Barack Obama was supposedly going to forsake in order to end a government shutdown.

Now, congressional Republicans--who cannot see more than one move ahead in any battle of wits if their lives depend on it--are shocked, shocked to find out that the president of the United States is not quite prepared at all to give up his signature legislative achievement. What's more, he's not even prepared to negotiate with congressional Republicans over any changes to Obamacare until and unless the government is re-opened for business, and perhaps not even then. I am sure that many the congressional Republican is howling in anger and protest at the White House's stubbornness on this issue, but whatever his faults and shortcomings, Barack Obama cannot be blamed if congressional Republicans ignore poll after poll after poll after poll after poll indicating that whatever the American people think about Obamacare, they don't want the government to be shut down over an effort to defund it. Furthermore, Barack Obama cannot be blamed for basing his response strategy on a position that sells in the polls, and Republicans can hardly be surprised that the president will take public opinion into account when thinking about how best to counteract Republican demands (though congressional Republicans continue to amaze me by finding ways to be surprised by the bleeding obvious).

For a group of tough talkers, preening swaggerers and would-be political gladiators, congressional Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they don't have the first clue how to fight and win political battles anymore. Much of the problem has to do with the fact that much of the congressional Republican caucus is made up of members who simply aren't the swiftest Porsches in the garage. Ineptitude and stupidity appear to be the Chekhov's gun of congressional Republicans; they are plainly in view on the political stage and at some point during the drama, as sure as the rising of the sun in the east, congressional Republicans will reach for, grasp and employ ineptitude and stupidity in their battles with Democrats. If congressional Republicans were a police force, they would be the Keystone Kops. If, as Dante Alighieri said, names are the consequence of things, then many members of the congressional Republican caucus would be named Moe, Larry, Curly and/or Shemp, irrespective of the gender of the congressional Republican in question. If American politics were analogized to the Godfather movies, congressional Republicans would be a collective Fredo Corleone. If American politics were analogized to World War II, congressional Republicans would be the Maginot line.

Consider the fact that one GOP representative, Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, has decided that it would be oodles and oodles of fun to plague his fellow Republicans with migraine headaches by declaring that Republicans are "not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is." (Emphasis mine, though perhaps emphasizing was entirely unnecessary.) When I was but a mere boy, I was taught that one never enters a negotiation without know what one wants, what one is prepared to give up in order to get what one wants, what one will never give up, and what one's best alternative to a negotiated agreement happens to be. Marlin Stutzman--who, remember, was elected to represent actual Americans in Congress and to negotiate on their behalf from time to time--has made it abundantly clear that he has not learned these lessons. And that means that Marlin Stutzman is a rube. An easy mark. A bamboozlee waiting to be bamboozed by the nearest bamboozler. And thus, the perfect mascot for the congressional Republican caucus, who in deed have demonstrated that they too don't have any idea whatsoever what they want out of any negotiations with the White House.

Oh sure, at the beginning, it was all about defunding Obamacare. But that was never going to happen, and no, it doesn't take hindsight to see that. Now, congressional Republicans say that they might be prepared to settle for an amendment to or repeal of the medical device tax, or a one year delay in the mandate for health insurance. Raise your hand if you believe, after the display we have been treated to this past week, that the White House will suddenly decide to fold like a cheap tent and give congressional Republicans even this victory. And even if the device tax is repealed (you can forget about the mandate going away), will any congressional Republican be able to sell the public on the idea that it was worth shutting down the government just for this?

The Hindenburgian/Titanicesque calamity that has been brought about by the performance of congressional Republicans has understandably left Republican leaders with few options. So now, we are told that Republicans are considering a "Hail Mary," which for non-football fans, is what happens when a team is behind, with almost no time on the clock, and in desperate need of nothing short of a miracle in order to win. The Hail Mary in question is the ever-elusive "grand bargain" on fiscal issues, "a budget deal that would include entitlement reforms, tax reform, and a new budget agreement, while also restoring government spending and raising the debt ceiling." Like Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, and Iranian political moderates, the "grand bargain" has been much discussed around campfires by people snacking on smores, but thus far, no evidence has been introduced that a grand bargain exists anywhere but in the imaginations of congressional Republicans. And yet, we are supposed to believe that one is achievable, despite the fact that congressional Republicans have not succeeding in repealing or defunding Obamacare. If they cannot do that--and remember, they promised us that they could if only we indulged the shutting down of the government!--how can we possibly expect them to deliver on some kind of "grand bargain" that brings us fiscal sanity, allows us to raise the debt ceiling so that the nation can pay its bills (more on this later), and gives all Americans a unicorn?

The grand bargain's reappearance on the political scene is due to the fact that "[m]ost House Republicans privately concede they’re fighting a battle they’re unlikely to win, and to avoid a prolonged shutdown and a disastrous debt default, Washington has to create a package so big that lifting the borrowing limit and funding the government is merely a sideshow." So, essentially, the grand bargain is a trick play designed to distract us from the fact that congressional Republicans utterly and completely botched their battle with the White House, which surely does little to restore one's faith in the intelligence of congressional Republicans--though it does much to reinforce my disdain for their critical thinking skills.

To be fair to congressional Republicans, part of the problem doesn't stem from the fact that they are bereft of field generals who are worth a damn. Part of the problem stems from the fact that if congressional Republicans do not hew to rigid ideological principles--irrespective of the facts on the ground and irrespective of how much rigid ideological principles might interfere with the crafting and implementation of pragmatic negotiating positions--then congressional Republicans will be challenged in primaries by people to their right. I am fine with the occasional primary challenge to congressional Republicans--people need to be kept honest, after all--but threatening primary challenges simply because some Republican somewhere decides to be practical about things every once in a while does not constitute the upholding of principles. Rather, it constitutes a sort of political cannibalism that makes Republicans look utterly and completely unreasonable to the American people, backs them into exceedingly uncomfortable corners, and lays waste to the Republican negotiating position in any talks with Democrats. From time to time, Republicans need to have sufficient ideological elbow room to strike deals. They cannot run the government on their own. But try telling that to activists who see pragmatism as heresy.

And what has all of that activism wrought? Has it wrought unity amongst congressional Republicans? Has it wrought any kind of desirable espirt de corps? Have congressional Republicans settled on a coherent battle plan and are they prepared to implement it? Hardly. Congressional Republicans are at each other's throats, don't know how to get themselves out of trouble, and are providing endless amounts of entertainment and mirth for congressional Democrats. The GOP has become one big, giant clown show.

And as though all of this is not enough, congressional Republicans are now planning to fight an increase on the debt ceiling (I told you that we would get to this issue). For those wondering about my sentiments on this scheme, let me spare you the suspense: Refusing to increase the debt ceiling is a fantastically stupid idea. In the annals of stupid ideas, it may rank as one of the stupidest. The United States would become a deadbeat nation. Financial markets would be thrown for a loop by the news that America cannot pay its bills. Interest rates on borrowing--and every nation borrows money; if the United States simply stopped borrowing money and lived only on tax revenue, you would see a dramatic and alarming drop in the standard of living for the American people--would rise alarmingly, something we absolutely, positively do not need with the economy still weak and with labor markets still very, very hobbled. The financial crisis of 2008 may look like a walk in the park by comparison, and the effects would be worldwide. The human misery would be staggering to behold. And I choose my words very carefully when I write all of this.

"But Pejman," I hear you cry, "we simply cannot afford more debt!" Well, here's some good news, for a change: Raising the debt ceiling will not put us further in debt. And refusing to raise the debt ceiling does not mean that we have decided to control government spending. Raising the debt ceiling is needed to pay bills that the United States has already incurred, just as having a job and bringing home a paycheck is needed to pay bills for your household. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling is not--repeat, not--like going to a big spender and cutting up his/her credit card and telling him/her that s/he has to live within means. Rather, it is like going up to someone who relies on a job in order to pay bills and telling him/her that s/he would no longer get paid for work that s/he did, which means that s/he will not be able to pay bills, get food, get gas, keep a roof over his/her head (and those of his/her loved ones). Refusing to raise the debt ceiling will not bring about financial responsibility. It will bring about the very opposite of financial responsibility, in fact; it will cause the United States to be unable to pay its bills. I thought that paying one's bills on time and in full was a sign of maturity, responsibility, a willingness to do the right and adult thing. I thought that these were conservative/right-of-center libertarian/Republican virtues. When did Republicans suddenly decide that these were vices?

One of the biggest tragedies associated with this SNAFU Brought to You by Congressional Republicans is the fact that it overshadows the utter, total, complete, absolute, stark-raving-hysterical failure that has been the rollout of the health insurance exchanges that are supposed to help make Obamacare The Next Awesome Thing in the History of Ever. Quite laughably, the Obama administration compares the health insurance exchange websites with Apple products and tells us that but for a glitch here and there--and thanks to the overwhelming and rapturous popularity that has greeted the implementation of health care "reform," popularity that has simply overloaded the poor widdle websites with which one is supposed to sign up to be part of the health insurance exchanges--the exchanges would be up and running and we would find unicorns, Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, Iranian political moderates and fiscal grand bargains along with our Glorious and Unstoppably Fantastic Health Care Reform. Don't believe a word of this fatuous nonsense; the job of the people who prepared the health insurance exchange websites was to prepare for heavy traffic starting on October 1. If they botched that job, who knows what other shenanigans we will have to put up with when, you know, we actually go to doctors' offices for necessary--and perhaps life-saving--procedures. Much political hay could have been made about the Obama administration's lack of readiness when it came to rolling out the health insurance exchanges, not to mention the ridiculous attempts to compare their Internet-work with Apple products. But unfortunately, the political clumsiness of congressional Republicans--who on their best days have trouble catching a break from a partisan media--helped ensure that far less attention would be paid to the Obama administration's bungling of the exchange rollouts this week.

So, here's three hearty Bronx cheers for congressional Republicans, who remind us why Bobby Jindal was forced to tell the GOP that it should stop trying to be the Stupid Party. Too bad that congressional Republicans refused to listen to Jindal's instruction. This week, they have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, catastrophe from the jaws of temporary defeat, and a spate of night terrors from the jaws of brief and minor frights. No mean trick, that. Maybe someday, congressional Republicans will collectively grow a brain. Too bad that I will likely have died of old age well before anyone has the chance to witness that particular phenomenon.

*Republican in Name Only, Conservative in Name Only, Libertarian in Name Only, [INSERT VIRTUOUS APPELLATION HERE] in Name Only.

I Get It Now

Nicolás Maduro is J. Jonah Jameson. Maduro even looks a little like Jameson. And he certainly acts like him:

What to do if your country’s economy is on the ropes, inflation is soaring, shortages are rampant, political support is fragile and violence is flaring? For critics of Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, the answer is that you wrap yourself in the national flag and blame somebody else, anybody else, even Spider-Man.

Since becoming president five months ago, Mr Maduro has routinely cited vague international conspiracies by capitalist plotters, or even cartoon superheroes, for Venezuela’s mounting problems that range from a lack of toilet paper and national electricity blackouts to one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Most recently, he has set up a hotline 0-800-SABOTAGE, for Venezuelans to file reports on illegal economic activity, part of new measures aimed at countering economic “sabotage”; said he would sue Airbus with “the help of an international law firm” after his presidential aircraft suffered a fault; and identified what he calls US “factories of anti-values” such as Hollywood.

“Take a 14-year-old youngster who has a 9mm pistol in his hand and is carrying in his head thousands of hours of violent programming,” mused the 50-year-old president this month, after watching Spider-Man 3 with his wife. “Stimulated by such consumerism and violence, no wonder he goes out and kills.”

Yup. Spider-Man is responsible for Venezuela's economic crisis, according to Maduro. And you thought that Venezuela's governing political class couldn't get any crazier.

Utterly Smash, Destroy and Obliterate the Rotting Counterrevolutionary Line Inherent in Being Reincarnated Without Great Proletarian Approval!

Not from the Onion:

In one of history's more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is "an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation." But beyond the irony lies China's true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region's Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, whose soul, by tradition, is reborn as a new human to continue the work of relieving suffering.

I just can't top that. (Via Charles Lipson.)

The National Security State Run Amok

After reading this, do you feel safer or more secure? Do you think that American national security interests are served when the besotted use the awesome power of the state to spy on those with whom they are in love?

National Security Agency officers on several occasions have channeled their agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on love interests, U.S. officials said.

The practice isn’t frequent — one official estimated a handful of cases in the last decade — but it’s common enough to garner its own spycraft label: LOVEINT.

Spy agencies often refer to their various types of intelligence collection with the suffix of “INT,” such as “SIGINT” for collecting signals intelligence, or communications; and “HUMINT” for human intelligence, or spying.

The “LOVEINT” examples constitute most episodes of willful misconduct by NSA employees, officials said.

In the wake of revelations last week that NSA had violated privacy rules on nearly 3,000 occasions in a one-year period, NSA Chief Compliance Officer John DeLong emphasized in a conference call with reporters last week that those errors were unintentional. He did say that there have been “a couple” of willful violations in the past decade. He said he didn’t have the exact figures at the moment.

NSA said in a statement Friday that there have been “very rare” instances of willful violations of any kind in the past decade, and none have violated key surveillance laws. “NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities” and responds “as appropriate.”

After you have picked your jaw up from off the floor, read this as well. I don't know which part of the story is worse; the fact that a Hindu traveler was mistaken for a Muslim? The fact that a TSA officer demonstrated that he knows nothing whatsoever about Hinduism and that what he thinks he knows is laughably wrong? The fact that no traveler--Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Christian--ought to be subjected to such a mix of both insulting behavior and inept security procedures? The examples of petty tyranny that make up so much of the piece? The craven actions of JetBlue? The fact that in all of its years of existence, the TSA appears to have learned precisely nothing from past mistakes?

Oh, and while we are on the subject, this Venn diagram still is accurate:

Venn Diagram
I swear, some politician could strike electoral gold if s/he ran a campaign made up in large part of efforts to making the TSA go the way of the dodo bird.

I Am Officially Smacked by Gob (Economic Development Administration Edition)

Your government at work:

The Economic Development Administration (EDA) is an agency in the Department of Commerce that promotes economic development in regions of the US suffering low growth, low employment, and other economic problems. In December 2011, the Department of Homeland Security notified both the EDA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that there was a potential malware infection within the two agencies' systems.

The NOAA isolated and cleaned up the problem within a few weeks.

The EDA, however, responded by cutting its systems off from the rest of the world—disabling its enterprise e-mail system and leaving its regional offices no way of accessing centrally-held databases.

It then recruited in an outside security contractor to look for malware and provide assurances that not only were EDA's systems clean, but also that they were impregnable against malware. The contractor, after some initial false positives, declared the systems largely clean but was unable to provide this guarantee. Malware was found on six systems, but it was easily repaired by reimaging the affected machines.

EDA's CIO, fearing that the agency was under attack from a nation-state, insisted instead on a policy of physical destruction. The EDA destroyed not only (uninfected) desktop computers but also printers, cameras, keyboards, and even mice. The destruction only stopped—sparing $3 million of equipment—because the agency had run out of money to pay for destroying the hardware.

Oy. And also, vey.

My State Attorney General Wastes Taxpayer Resources on Frivolous Lawsuits

Perhaps yours does too:

Following a letter from 22 state attorneys general, Urban Outfitters has agreed to stop selling a humorous mug with a “Prescription: Coffee” design. The AGs argued that prescription drug abuse is a very serious matter and not something to be joked about. [H/T Eugene Volokh]

The humor-impaired AGs participating (is yours on this list?) included those from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as Guam. According to Maggie Thurber at Ohio Watchdog, “the Partnership at Drugfree.org went further and categorized [the mugs and related coasters and other trinkets] as ‘prescription drug paraphernalia products.’”

The mind reels.

Why I Can't Stand Kanye West

All summarized in one interview. Some extra appalling bits:

You’ve won a lot of Grammys.

“[My Beautiful] Dark [Twisted] Fantasy” and “Watch the Throne”: neither was nominated for Album of the Year, and I made both of those in one year. I don’t know if this is statistically right, but I’m assuming I have the most Grammys of anyone my age, but I haven’t won one against a white person.

But the thing is, I don’t care about the Grammys; I just would like for the statistics to be more accurate.

You want the historical record to be right.

Yeah, I don’t want them to rewrite history right in front of us. At least, not on my clock. I really appreciate the moments that I was able to win rap album of the year or whatever. But after a while, it’s like: “Wait a second; this isn’t fair. This is a setup.” I remember when both Gnarls Barkley and Justin [Timberlake] lost for Album of the Year, and I looked at Justin, and I was like: “Do you want me to go onstage for you? You know, do you want me to fight” —

For you.

For what’s right. I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things. So when the next little girl that wants to be, you know, a musician and give up her anonymity and her voice to express her talent and bring something special to the world, and it’s time for us to roll out and say, “Did this person have the biggest thing of the year?” — that thing is more fair because I was there.

But has that instinct led you astray? Like the Taylor Swift interruption at the MTV Video Music Awards, things like that.

It’s only led me to complete awesomeness at all times. It’s only led me to awesome truth and awesomeness. Beauty, truth, awesomeness. That’s all it is.

So no regrets?

I don’t have one regret.

Do you believe in the concept of regret?

If anyone’s reading this waiting for some type of full-on, flat apology for anything, they should just stop reading right now.

But that is something that you apologized for.

Yeah, I think that I have like, faltered, you know, as a human. My message isn’t perfectly defined. I have, as a human being, fallen to peer pressure.

So that was a situation in which you gave in to peer pressure to apologize?

Yeah.

So if you had a choice between taking back the original action or taking back the apology, you’d take back the apology?

You know what? I can answer that, but I’m — I’m just — not afraid, but I know that would be such a distraction. It’s such a strong thing, and people have such a strong feeling about it. “Dark Fantasy” was my long, backhanded apology. You know how people give a backhanded compliment? It was a backhanded apology. It was like, all these raps, all these sonic acrobatics. I was like: “Let me show you guys what I can do, and please accept me back. You want to have me on your shelves.”

So, Kanye West doesn't believe in regret, even though he did apologize to Taylor Swift for what he did, because he has "like, faltered, you know, as a human," but he gave into peer pressure when he did it, but later on, he wrote an entire album which was his "long, backhanded apology," which presumably, he wasn't pressured by peers to do.1

Got that?

I am personally disgusted that I now know so much about this issue.

1. I hope that I got that sequence right, but even if I got it wrong, I'm not rewriting it.

“They Can't Take Away . . . Our FREEDOM!”

Via Professor Bainbridge, I see that the perpetually silly Sarah Palin is making noises about joining the also-perpetually silly Mark Levin in forming a new party--the "Freedom Party." Of course, as Professor Bainbridge notes, the choice of name is, well, unfortunate. But there is good news associated with this development; if Palin and Levin make good on their threat to leave the Republican party, they will increase my chances of staying in the party.

Which would be nice of them. After all, having to go through the trouble of changing party identification can be somewhat annoying.

Not the Swiftest Porsches in the Garage

This story on Republicans who regularly get the party into trouble thanks to the less-than-intelligent comments they are often wont to make in public, is a welcome one. For one thing, it embarrasses those Republicans, and perhaps--just perhaps--forces them to either step up their game, or get off the national stage. For another, it forces party leaders to tell those Republicans to either step up their game or get off the national stage. And for a third, it highlights good work that the Republican party has done in order to enhance its image in the aftermath of two straight presidential election losses.

That having been written, it is clear that Bobby Jindal was right to urge the GOP not to be "the stupid party." To be sure, the vast majority of Republicans have not only heeded that particular call, they have practiced what Jindal has preached long before Jindal started preaching it. But there are too many Republicans who are deaf to Jindal's pleas. As the story makes clear, they have something of an incentive to be deaf; they desperately want to get on television and apparently, they are willing to make dumb statements in order to achieve that goal. Something has to be done to keep those Republicans from taking the party down with them every time they wreak havoc on their own personal reputations.

The best thing that can happen to the Republican party is for it to elect a president whose words and presence will overshadow the mentally challenged statements of a few backbenchers. But paradoxically, those backbenchers make it more difficult for the Republican party to elect one of its own as president, which is kind of a problem for the GOP, anyway that one looks at it. So in the meantime, the Republican party may have to institute a tighter form of message control. Yes, I am aware of the fact that in this day and age, an individual representative or senator is less apt to follow public relations dictates from on high. But that doesn't mean that the Republican party leadership cannot have an open and frank discussion with members about the dangers of making stupid statements, and insist that members either watch what they say and how they say it, or retreat into the shadows. Such a policy will not stop all dumb comments from being made. But it may stop a number of them, which I imagine that the GOP would welcome.

The Ghosts of Lincoln and Douglas Weep

It's bad enough that the presidential election process in Iran consists of having hardliners eliminate reformist candidates so that the former can hold on to power without having to actually bother to steal the election (though 2009 showed quite clearly that hardliners are entirely willing and eager to steal an election if that is what it takes to hold on to power). It's even worse that the interaction amongst the candidates who are allowed to run makes it extra special clear that the Iranian presidential election is an utter farce:

Iran's first debate between candidates for the presidency degenerated into acrimony live on state television on Friday when, instead of discussing the economy, some of the hopefuls resorted to sniping over the questions and format.

The testy exchange between the moderator and reformist Mohammad Reza Aref, moderate Hassan Rohani, and conservative Mohsen Rezaie was the subject of wide ridicule by Iranian viewers who had tuned in for the four-hour discussion.

They were among eight candidates for the June 14 vote presenting their ideas on an 
economy buffeted by international sanctions over Iran's disputed nuclear program, rising unemployment, and inflation running at over 30 percent, according to official figures.

[. . .]

The debate's first half allowed the eight to give a three minute answer, with a 90 second response from the other seven. Then moderator Morteza Heydari asked them an economic question that could only be answered yes, no or with an abstention.

One question was: If you want to select an official for your administration, what is their most important quality? Candidates could choose between a lack of corruption, experience, expertise or prudence.

They were also presented with pictures, such as an agricultural scene, a market, or a cargo ship, and asked to say whatever came to mind.

[. . .]

The three, seated with their colleagues in a line of desks in front of a backdrop of flowers and rolling woodland, said the format was farcical and did not allow them to present their plans to the country or engage in dialogue with each other.

Several times they simply refused to answer the question.

"In honor of the dear people of my country I will sit here, but I will answer none of your test questions," said Aref, gesticulating with his pen towards the moderator standing in front of an image of Khamenei.

"I am a patient person and I can tolerate a lot," added Rezaie. "With these repetitive, discontinuous, short, one-to-three minute answers, the people are being harmed and the eight people up here are being insulted."

Rohani, the most prominent moderate candidate in an election dominated by hardliners, said: "People will see this style of debate as insulting."

I fearlessly predict that future debates will include the "if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" question.

People Who Are Against Genetically Modified Foods Are Ill-Informed, and Willing to Let Millions Starve to Death

Read all about it. And remember the port side's insane, completely unjustified opposition to genetically modified foods the next time that someone tells you that the American left and center-left has some kind of monopoly on respect for science and the scientific method.

Oh, and be sure to watch the video:

Anyone really surprised to find out that members of the anti-GMO crowd are unbelievably uneducated, completely weird, and boast at least one individual who refuses to vaccinate her kids because of the entirely invalid fear that vaccines promote autism? By the way, I am sure that these folks are more than happy to latch onto scientific findings when those findings support their particular political agenda. In such cases, you won't hear any of them complain or allege that scientists are on the take from big corporations or the government, or that scientific findings are any kind of fraud on the public.

Of Venezuela and Toilet Paper

For those who think that all has gone swimmingly in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro, I give you this.

I'll spare you the obvious jokes that I could make about this situation; this is a family blog, after all, and one tries to keep things clean. I will note, however, that if the Venezuelan government can't handle the relatively easy task of ensuring that people have sufficient access to toilet paper, it is probably fouling up a host of other more complicated projects even as I write and you read this blog post.

Also, who still thinks that price controls are a good idea? It's 2013. Have we learned nothing?