Saturday, May 22, 2010

Crazy Uncles, Every One!

Matt Welch (via TBogg):

When reality is unconscionable, and you are an opinion-journalism outfit with principles (or just a human with a functional spine), you tilt at the goddamned windmills, without first vetting it through a reality check.

Why would anyone want to associate themselves with a movement that was content to tilt at windmill? At least regular conservatives try to win elections and enact policies. Libertarians just sneer at the world.

Marshall (TPM): Theories of the Fall

Josh Green has a theory about the Rand Paul implosion: the in-state Kentucky press has been so decimated by the newspaper crisis that there was no one to give him the kind of scrutiny Paul got on day one when he went national and had a head on collision with Rachel Maddow.

I usually find these sorts of explanations deeply unpersuasive, though one hears them more and more. Josh apparently does too, usually; but he spent some time down in Kentucky covering the Paul campaign and in this case he's thinking there may be something to it. And because it's Josh and because he's actually spent some time down there, which I obviously haven't, I'm inclined to believe him.

I've had another theory, though. And I think it actually dovetails nicely with the media crisis one. It's basically this -- all the stuff Paul is getting in trouble for now are things that would just be really tough to use against a candidate in a GOP primary in Kentucky, or frankly most red states, especially in 2010.

One of the things we rely on in politics is an adversary system to weed out bad apples. We don't just rely on the press. We rely on the self-interest of the candidates themselves to ferret out weaknesses and warning signs in their opponents. In this case, though, was Trey Grayson going to go after Paul for his archaic and troubling views on civil rights? In a GOP primary in Kentucky in 2010? I doubt it. And pretty much the same for thinking there shouldn't be a minimum wage or that Mexico and Canada are going to take away our liberty or that there shouldn't be an Americans with Disabilities Act or all the rest.

That doesn't necessarily mean that most GOP primary voters would have agreed with Paul's position. It's just that they weren't going to have any traction for a fairly milquetoast Republican like Grayson who needed to show that he was as anti-Obama and anti-federal overreach as the next guy in the year of the Tea Party. Just wasn't going to happen. So in addition to the press, there was a structural breakdown in the race itself that left a lot of Paul's nuttier positions unexplored.

Which brings us to another point. I'm not at all clear how much or whether any of this stuff is going to hurt Paul in the Kentucky Senate. I think the Rasmussen poll that showed him like a million points ahead a day after the election was nonsense. And Conway seems like a strong candidate. But, again, it's far from clear to me that this is going to hurt Paul in state.

That's now where this is cutting. Where this really has the potential to hurt Republicans is nationally. Whatever happens in Kentucky, Paul risks becoming the proverbial crazy uncle at the picnic they're constantly having to explain or excuse or be embarrassed about.


Republican Senate candidate and right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul got into a little trouble this week while explaining his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To a lesser extent, his disagreement with the Americans With Disabilities Act also raised a few eyebrows.

When Wolf Blitzer asked Rand about his ADA opposition, tried to make his concerns sound reasonable. "[L]et's say you have a local office and you have a two-story office, and one of your workers is handicapped," the Republican said. "Should you not be allowed maybe to offer them an office on the first floor or should you be forced to put in a $100,000 elevator? ... [M]y understanding is that small business owners were often forced to put in elevators, and I think you ought to at least be given a choice. Can you provide an opportunity without maybe having to pay for an elevator?"

At first blush, that may not sound ridiculous. The problem, as Yahoo News' John Cook discovered, is that Rand Paul has no idea what he's talking about, complaining publicly about the ADA without knowing what's in it.

The legislation specifically exempts the vast majority of buildings three stories and under from any requirement to install elevators. In other words, if you are a small business owner and you have a two-story office and one of your workers is handicapped, no one can force you to build an elevator. It's true that the exemption doesn't apply to health care facilities or shopping malls or buildings four stories and up -- and Paul, who has an ophthalmology practice, may have been thinking of those provisions when he insisted that businesses are "often forced to put in elevators."

Trouble is, we searched far and wide for a single instance in which a private employer was successfully sued under the ADA for failing to provide an elevator, or was compelled by a lawsuit to do so, and we came up empty. We searched the case law, contacted ADA experts -- both proponents and opponents of the law -- the Justice Department, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Not one of them knew of any case involving the government-ordered installation of an elevator. It looks like Rand Paul is either peddling a myth or spinning some vanishingly small number of elevator installations we've yet to hear of into an epidemic big-government overreach.

That's because, while the ADA does impose a burden on employers and business owners to make their facilities accessible, it also contains reasonable restrictions on what owners and operators of existing buildings can be forced to do.

When Cook asked the Paul campaign to substantiate the candidate's concerns, it did not respond.

Paul's bizarre worldview is troubling enough; is it too much to ask that he read up on the issues he claims to care about?

Libertarian Paul defends oil and gas company May 21: Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight discusses Rand Paul's libertarian urge to defend the honor of the oil and gas, the enormous recipient of taxpayer money.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Think Progress: Oil regulator apologizes for ‘Drill Baby Drill’ cake.

Earlier this week, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced a reorganization of the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which has been rife with corruption and incompetence. MMS would be split into three different offices. Shortly after Salazar’s announcement, John Goll, the head of the Alaska MMS office, called an “all hands” staff meeting to eat a cake decorated with the words, “Drill, Baby, Drill.” Goll is now expressing regret for the incident:

In an e-mail Thursday to agency employees nationwide, Regional Director John Goll says it was wrong and expressed regret that he let that happen in his office.

The Center for Biological Diversity is calling for Goll to be fired.

Update A Government Accountability Office report found that the Alaska office “deliberately avoided establishing consistent guidelines for determining whether future leases would cause significant environmental impacts in the Arctic.” Many scientists left the office, "frustrated that their concerns over environmental threats from drilling had been ignored."

Think Progress: Texas Board Of Education Members Largely Stay Silent When Man Says ‘Islam Brings Death’

One of the most contentious issues in the debate over what to include in Texas’ social studies textbooks surrounds the separation of church and state. The far-right members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) argue that America is a Christian nation and separation of church and state is a myth. In March, a majority of SBOE members voted “against requiring high school American government students to learn that the nation’s Founders barred government from favoring or disfavoring one religion over all others.”

At the opening of yesterday’s session — where the board gave final approval to the social studies standards — far-right member Cynthia Dunbar gave the invocation, in which she used the prayer to pusher her anti-church-state separation agenda:

Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia, or the charter of New England or the Charter of Massachusetts Bay, or the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the same objective is present: a Christian land governed by Christian principles. I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it. … I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion.

Watch it:

Additionally, during a session this past week that included debate and comment from members of the public, a man stood up and said, “I have to tell you: Islam is coming, and Islam brings death. So I say, ‘Repent America, repent.’” CNN said that Lawrence Allen, the one Muslim member of the board, called the man out for his “insulting” comments, but not one of the other 14 members complained. Watch it:

A May 4-12 poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for the TFN Education Fund found that “68 percent of likely Texas voters agree that church-state separation is a key principle of the Constitution.” That number included “59 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of political independents believing it is a key principle.”


After a contentious debate and international scrutiny, right-wing activists in control of Texas' State Board of Education did exactly what they set out to do: they approved a new social studies curriculum that ignores reality, and reflects history the way they wish it happened.

The State Board of Education Board, ending nearly two years of politically divisive deliberations, approved new social studies curriculum standards for the state's 4.7 million students despite vigorous objections from the board's five minority members.

The revisions have drawn national attention amid complaints that conservative Republicans on the board are attempting to alter history and trying to inject their political beliefs into the curriculum. [...]

The curriculum, which will be used in classrooms beginning with the 2011-12 school year, will also serve as a template for new textbooks. They will remain in effect for more than a decade.... With one member absent, the board voted 9-5 to accept the new curriculum for kindergarten, elementary school and high school.

As we've been reporting for months, the board's version of history is a fairly ridiculous one, which will now be imposed on public school students.

The new standards say that the McCarthyism of the 1950s was later vindicated -- something most historians deny -- draw an equivalency between Jefferson Davis's and Abraham Lincoln's inaugural addresses, say that international institutions such as the United Nations imperil American sovereignty, and include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.

Of particular interest, the new standards dictate that students must "describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association."

A majority of the state board took an especially hostile view of the separation of church and state -- which, of course, has been removed from the curriculum -- and board member Cynthia Dunbar (R) spoke for her cohorts when she insisted the nation's origins were "a Christian land governed by Christian principles," all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

At its core, this is not just a travesty for academic integrity and students in Texas, but it's also a reminder of what's gone horribly wrong with the twisted right-wing worldview. These state officials have decided they simply don't care for reality, so they've replaced it with a version of events that makes them feel better. The result is an American history in which every era has been distorted to satisfy the far-right ego.

Of course, the concern outside of Texas has been that the state-mandated ignorance might spread -- Texas is the nation's second-largest customer for textbooks, and "publishers craft their standard textbooks based on the specs of the biggest buyers." This week, however, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told CNN that he does not believe there will be a "ripple effect" that undermines education elsewhere.

Texas school kids, however, will be punished by the right-wing agenda, and there's not much anyone can do about it.

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