Politics: Don't Tread on Me

Why, oh why, Ohio? Husted again tries to suppress voter turnout

Ohio Republicans have targeted predominately Democratic voters in every way they can think of. They’d probably outlaw other parties entirely if they thought they could get away with it.

Are you a minority, a low wage worker, a student, or a senior citizen in Ohio? Were you hoping to vote on Election Day? Unfortunately, I have some bad news for you.

From Think Progress:

“Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has followed through on promises to restrict voting opportunities in his state. The change, announced Tuesday, eliminates extended early voting hours on weekdays, the final two days before Election Day as well as Sunday voting…”

This isn’t the first time that Husted has tried to cut early voting – he attempted to cut hours before the 2012 election as well, even openly defying court orders to restore the hours. Continue reading

Bold prediction: outraged conservatives will not insist that Ann Coulter apologize to Melissa Harris-Perry

Did you see this?

Ann Coulter Calls Melissa Harris-Perry a ‘Token’ Black

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter insinuated on Monday that MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry was a token African American on the cable network. Coulter was on Fox New’s Hannity show discussing Harris-Perry’s apology over comments made on her show about Mitt Romney’s black grandchild. Continue reading

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

Bobby Jindal doesn’t understand the First Amendment

2016 presidential hopeful’s defense of Duck Dynasty star’s homophobic comments suggests a deep misunderstanding of what the Constitution says.

Here we go again.

The great thing about Duck Dynasty-style blowups is that they provide dumbasses a chance to trot their dumbassery out for public display. Take Louisiana governor (and prospective 2016 presidential candidate) Bobby Jindal, whose comments this morning suggest that he doesn’t understand Constitution even a little bit. Continue reading

Cthulhu Republicans

Club for Growth: meet the Cthulhu wing of the GOP

Here’s wishing the Tea Party luck in its efforts to destroy the GOP. One down, one to go.

A few days ago I wondered if, for the Tea Party, there’s any such thing as “too conservative.” After all:

Does the Tea Party have a right “edge”?

Is there any such thing as “too conservative” for Teabaggers?

I shall be with you on your wedding-night. – Frankenstein’s Monster

You may have noticed that a new “bipartisan budget compromise” has emerged on Capitol Hill, largely brokered by conservative darling Paul Ryan and “pragmatic liberal” Patty Murray. The howls of outrage from the Tea Party wing commenced on cue. Which is why, earlier this morning, I found myself joking that I was looking forward to seeing Ryan primaried from the right. Continue reading

Beltway Zen: has the Washington Post ever met a liar it won’t publish?

At WashPo, the narrative is more important than the facts…

Earlier today a friend forwarded me, via e-mail, the text of an opinion piece that was ostensibly about the “new reality” on the right. It began well enough.

Following the recent tea party Tet Offensive — tactically disastrous but symbolically important — the Republican establishment has commenced counterinsurgency operations. Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — both facing primary challenges from the right — are responding more forcefully to their populist opponents. Continue reading

Politics: Don't Tread on Me

The GOP’s highly entertaining civil war

Embarrassing defeat in government shutdown and debt ceiling face-off reveals cracks in GOP coalition.

While I have retired from political blogging, there is some value in pausing, from time to time, to remind our readers about past discussions of particular relevance to the events of the moment. One such opportunity presented itself this morning, as John “The Straight Talkin’ Mavericky Maverick” McCain and Mitch “The Voice of Reason” McConnell bubbled up on the old white guy/talking head circuit. Continue reading

Arts and Literature

Our psychopath Congress

Government shutdown, debt crisis reveal how much GOP has in common with other sociopaths…

Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response? Fluctuation of the pupil. Involuntary dilation of the iris?

I believe Philip K. Dick had it right in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Technology had, in that not-so-distant future, created androids that were nearly indistinguishable from humans. The one thing people had that the Nexus 6s didn’t, the quality that made them essentially human, was empathy. Continue reading

TeaParty member

Is the House Tea Party Caucus paving the way to campaign finance reform?

In turning its back on big business, the Tea Party Caucus may have taken an important step in freeing itself from the influence of big money.

Tea Party Caucus member, I mean hominid bust at the National Museum of Natural History’s David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Tea Party Caucus member, I mean hominid bust at the National Museum of Natural History’s David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In a New York Times article on October 9 titled Business Groups See Loss of Sway Over House G.O.P., Eric Lipton, Nicholas Confessore, and Nelson D. Schwartz report:

As the government shutdown grinds toward a potential debt default, some of the country’s most influential business executives have come to a conclusion all but unthinkable a few years ago: Their voices are carrying little weight with the House majority that their millions of dollars in campaign contributions helped build and sustain. … [Business] leaders and trade groups said … the tools that have served them in the past — campaign contributions, large memberships across the country, a multibillion-dollar lobbying apparatus — do not seem to be working.

Do you see what’s going on here? It’s usually progressives who oppose Citizens United and the influence of big money on elections. But it’s the Tea Party Caucus in the House who have thrown down the gauntlet on a kind of campaign reform. Representative and Tea Party Caucus member Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) is quoted in the article.” Continue reading

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3

Slate’s gerrymandering puzzles

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3Earlier this year I got into a debate with one of my fellow Scrogues about how best to stop gerrymandering. While we didn’t come to any agreements as to a solution due to my lack of time to continue, we were in violent agreement that gerrymandering is a problem that simply must be solved.

Today Slate was kind enough to publish a graphic way to learn just how screwed up the entire gerrymandering thing really is. Chris Kirk created six puzzles using actual state Congressional districts as a way to demonstrate how both Democratic and Republican state legislatures are gerrymandering district lines to ensure that the dominant party controls the state’s Congressional Representatives. It takes about 10 minutes to do all six puzzles and read the information that pops up after each puzzle is completed.

Some states (like Iowa, the tutorial puzzle) have strict anti-gerrymandering laws, but most states don’t. Barring such laws, it should be the job of the federal government to step in and prevent gerrymandering. However, both parties benefit from gerrymandering, and so it’s highly unlikely that an anti-gerrymandering federal law could pass out of Congress. And while the courts are more willing to address issues like this, the Supreme Court just overturned the part of the Voting Rights Act that was specifically crafted to prevent minority-based gerrymandering (rather than party-based, although the two are similar in large parts of the South). As such it’s not a foregone conclusion that the courts would be any more receptive to ordering states to stop gerrymandering than Congress would be.

Still, there’s little question that gerrymandering in the modern age is so bad that it’s risen to the level of being unconstitutional according to the “general welfare” standard – having a gridlocked Congress incapable of passing laws isn’t good for the country, however much big business and think tanks might say otherwise.

h/t Alex Palombo

North-Carolina

Predicting North Carolina’s future: if GOP wins again in 2014, expect a severe case of brain drain

North-CarolinaVia our boy Dr. Jim Booth: BuzzFeed last week presented “11 Things The North Carolina Legislature Gave Us This Session.” The list isn’t pretty. It includes:

  • Moral Mondays
  • Harsh abortion restrictions hidden in a motorcycle bill
  • The most restrictive Voter ID laws in the country
  • The decimation of public education as North Carolinians know it
  •  The assumption that all those on government assistance are drug addicts
  • The expansion of where you can carry your concealed weapon
  • The repeal of the Racial Justice Act
  • The end of federal unemployment benefits
  • A ban on Sharia Law (because if there’s anything that plagues The Old North State these days, it’s Sharia Law running amok)

And of course,

  • Turning the state into a national laughingstock

I don’t know how exactly to describe my feelings about what’s happened to my native state. Heartbreak at the neo-feudal paradise a once-vibrant place is becoming. Terror at what this means for my family and friends who are still there. Transcendent white-hot rage at the corrupt oligarchs who financed the coup. All that and then some.

A few days ago I posed a question via Facebook to my friends back in NC asking, essentially, how they viewed it all. Were any of them contemplating leaving? The results were about what I expected, I guess. A couple are pretty much stranded by commitments (family, etc.) that they can’t escape. A couple believe things will turn around. At least one is already planning on leaving and is researching options in another part of the country.

The ones who are staying are the sorts who are willing to fight for justice, and there are enough good people in the Tarheel State for me to know that the Art Popes and Pat McCrorys have a fight on their hands.

Next year’s mid-term elections are going to be a massive moment in the state’s history – perhaps the biggest watershed in my lifetime. It’s my suspicion that the conservative tide swept into office in large part because the “moderate” independent center of the electorate didn’t fully understand what the GOP represented. They thought they were voting for “fiscal restraint” and budget “responsibility” and “getting their house in order.” What they were actually doing was summoning demons, and I find myself at this point wondering how many folks voted Republican and now regret it.

We’ll find out next November, as Mephistopheles Art Pope puts his wallet behind a critical effort to consolidate the gains from the last election. He’ll be opposed by an aggressive alliance of progressives and moderates that won’t have the cash he does, but they’ll be battling tooth-and-nail, as only people fighting for their lives can do.

If the GOP is evicted, the new legislature will have its hands full repairing the damage. But with luck, the 2013 experience will have taught North Carolinians a valuable, if painful lesson and they will be inoculated against further nonsense from the far right.

If, on the other hand, the Republicans maintain control and continue their reign of terror, expect the brain drain to begin in earnest. The I-85 corridor – Charlotte, the Triad and the Research Triangle – votes dead-blue. These areas are also the state’s economic center. Business leaders won’t be bothered by a garden variety conservative climate, but the new order in the state capital will generate social and economic stresses that intelligent CEOs and shareholders are smart enough to grasp.

Companies trying to decide where to open new operations are going to steer clear of a state in rapid decline, and I’d begin watching the Triangle closely for companies packing up and moving out. A lot of the state’s brightest and best are not natives and they have no deep ties to the region that would keep them there. They’re imports from around the country (and abroad) and they’re going to have no interest in living in a hybrid antebellum South/feudal Europe.

That’s my prediction. We’ll find out if I’m right over the next couple of years.

 

Business

Responding to a small businessman who says he did it without any government help AT ALL

A few days ago I offered up Art Pope and Pat McCrory leading North Carolina into the 19th century, a collection of thoughts on the state I was born and raised in. The comment thread wandered a bit, as they tend to do when you say things other people don’t want to hear, and eventually one commenter – a Stan Lee Harrison – weighed in with this:

I run a small business [without any assistance from the state or Federal governments] and interact with customers every day.

Wow, you’re probably thinking. A truly self-made man, eschewing handouts and welfare state charity and Obama-style Socialism and everything else that the authentic Randite is vehemently opposed to. Up until they aren’t, anyway.

I got to thinking about Mr. Harrison’s remarkable claim and decided that it deserved a serious response. In some cases I’m skeptical – can’t help it, I’m afflicted with an inherently critical mind and have never been able to do much about it – and in others I have honest questions. If he can do it, maybe I can, too. When it comes to my perennially underwhelming pursuit of financial solvency, I’m always willing to learn.

What follows is a slightly revised version of my answer, which has so far received no response.

—–

Dear Mr. Harrison:

Since you “run a small business [without any assistance from the state or Federal governments] and interact with customers every day,” I have to admit that I’m having a hard time trying to guess what kind of company this is. I mean, it obviously has to be home-based, because you don’t use any state or federally constructed or maintained transportation infrastructure. This means you don’t make a product that has to be moved via roads and highways, or rail, or air. It can’t make use of the maritime system, which relies on government ports and management. You have to be working from home because you can’t be driving around on the roads that the rest of us use. You certainly don’t fly to visit clients in other cities because without the government airplanes would be crashing in midair every day. Amtrak is obviously out.

Not sure how you’re interacting with customers, either. Pretty much every corner of our communication system requires government regulation of some sort because if it didn’t you’ve have such a morass of unstandardized channels that nobody could talk to each other. And wait a damned minute. You’re using the Internet right now. Do you you turn it off as soon as you start work? If not, I’m going to need you to explain how the Internet was erected by private entrepreneurs with no government help at all. If you aren’t e-mailing your customers and you don’t have a Web site or a social media presence, I really don’t envy your marketing director.

I also assume that your home office is pretty spartan. Getting no help from the government and all, there’s no electricity or running water. Your cave must be in a gated community because you receive no protection whatsoever from law enforcement and if it weren’t for the high fence and the concertina wire and the private security force your home office would have been looted by now. Not sure what you’re going to do if you’re ever ripped off, though, because your only recourse (short of going vigilante) is the government court system.

I’m guessing that you don’t have any employees, because in your corner of the world you’d almost certainly have to hire people who at some point attended public schools. And forget college. Given the cost of higher ed these days they’d probably have had no choice but to rely on federal grants or scholarships and/or federal student loans. Or maybe you just hire uneducated people. Of course, that kind of mitigates against success, doesn’t it?

(Wait – you didn’t go to a public school, did you?)

Let’s see. You had to have been born rich. Taking a bank loan means federal and/or state influence on the system to assure that you weren’t scalped. And I’m especially wondering about how your company is incorporated. Every business of any magnitude makes use of a limited liability structure. If it weren’t for that, you’d be bankrupt and homeless the first time you screwed something up. And let’s be honest, we all make mistakes. In this same vein, if you have customers, that probably means you have contracts of some sort. How do you enforce them?

Also – do you keep your money in a bank or under your mattress? If in a bank, are your funds insured by the FDIC?

Since you aren’t in jail (you aren’t writing from jail, are you?) I’m guessing that you pay taxes (or at the least you have an accountant who helps you avoid paying them). From your tone, I’m guessing you’re the sort of person who takes advantage of every single deduction legally available to you. That’s a government thing – you could get a new car “for business use” and write it off, whereas I can’t unless I’m also pimping that government system.

What else, what else? Oh, right. Duh. How do your customers pay you and how do you pay your bills? Since you eschew any sort of federal support, that means you aren’t using the dollar. Do you accept payment in chickens?

As a side note, you never died as a result of rubella, smallpox, measles, or any of the other diseases that government immunization programs have mostly eradicated. (I’m assuming you aren’t a zombie here, although I admit, it would be pretty damned cool if you were.) You probably didn’t have polio, either, right? What other life-threatening medical conditions did you never contract and die from as a result of federally driven research into prevention and treatment? Because when it comes to running a successful business, such as yours, there’s really no substitute for being, you know, alive.

Also, does your business market a product or service that emerged in some way from federally funded research? There’s a lot of things that we sell that we wouldn’t have without those programs. I’m including in this research conducted at private universities which received substantial government support, like my alma mater, Wake Forest, which as I’m sure you know is one of the nation’s premier private institutions (Go Deacs!).

In conclusion, I cannot imagine what sort of business you run. I can’t think of single company that doesn’t get “any assistance from the state or Federal governments.” Not. One. I can’t even imagine how such a thing is possible.

So I hope you’ll fill me in. This seems like a great opportunity to learn something valuable that I might be able to use in my own career. Like every smart business guy, I’m always looking for an edge.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Sam Smith

missile-defense

Republicans perpetuate myths to keep Cold War alive

Republicans oppose U.S. cooperation with Russia on NATO missile defense.

MissileDefenseIn a Reuters blog post titled Why Russia won’t deal on NATO missile defense, Yousaf Butt of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies writes that, to “allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has invited Russia to participate in [a missile defense] system, helping NATO guard against Iran.”

But, reported the Associated Press in May:

Republicans … trying to block Obama administration overtures to Russia on missile defense [are] proposing a measure that would bar the administration from sharing classified missile defense data with Russia.

That would undercut a path that arms control advocates have urged to restart nuclear talks, which have been set back by a missile defense dispute.

Dr. Butt elaborates.

Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio), former chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, and other House Republican leaders have said that if the Obama administration hands over to Moscow technical data on the missile defense interceptors — as the White House has proposed — then this could persuade Moscow that the system is not targeting Russian missiles.

So while the administration has insisted it doesn’t intend to target Russia, the House Armed Services Committee leadership appears nostalgic for the Cold War — and wants to use the system against the Russians. Is it any wonder Moscow remains skeptical?

Let’s backtrack. Missile defense systems, such as the NATO system in which the United States is inviting Russia to take part, are, writes Dr. Butt

… known to have serious technological flaws. … Why would Russia want to cooperate on an expensive system that does not work — especially against a threat from Iran and North Korea, which Russia discounts?

Russia may reject two-thirds of the equation – that Iran and North Korea are threats and that missile defense would even be effective against them – but still finds it convenient to act as if missile defense is directed at Russian ICBMs. Never mind that Russia would become privy to the truth of NATO’s motives if it cooperated.

Please don’t misconstrue this as my approval of missile defense in any way, shape or form. The recent news that an East Coast installation was proposed for Fort Drum – 300 miles from where we live in New York State — brought it home to me. But it seems as if we survived a near-miss.

[A] letter from the leader of the Missile Defense Agency to the Senate Armed Services Committee could be a big roadblock. In it, Vice Admiral James D. Syring writes, “There is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site.”

Dr. Butt then asks:

If Iran or North Korea could so easily circumvent this vaunted missile defense system, why are the Russians (and Chinese) so up in arms against it?

The answer is simple: Russian and Chinese military planners — like those at the Pentagon — are paid to be paranoid. They must assume the worst-case scenario. Which, in this case, means they must treat a missile system as being highly effective —  even when it isn’t.

Or they treat missile defense as if it might be effective in the future.

Russian and Chinese analysts might also be worried about the potential for a major expansion in defensive missile arsenals; technical changes in the systems (such as nuclear-tipped interceptors); and the diversity and scale of sensor systems that are being brought online to support the system.

Republicans seek to turn Russian paranoia to their advantage by shamelessly perpetuating the myth that missile defense is directed against Russian ICBMs. To refresh your memories, remember, too, that missile defense is notorious for destabilizing nuclear deterrence. (Another disclaimer: optimizing nuclear deterrence is of no concern to me personally.)

By theoretically being able to halt an enemy’s first strike in its tracks, it makes the attacker’s remaining nukes vulnerable to a retaliatory strike by the state that was attacked. In other words, missile defense encourages other nuclear states to build more nuclear weapons and delivery systems. They would compensate for both those that would be shot down by missile defense and those destroyed in a retaliatory attack by the state that was attacked.

Missile defense continues to serve a useful purpose. No, not protecting the United States and Europe. But as the gift that never stops giving to keep the Cold War alive and money flowing into a white elephant as destructive to the economy as it is to our national defense.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

BlackForstFire

When it comes to judging America for its sins, God is an absolute doofus

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with God. And having no luck at all.

If you’ve been paying attention, by now you’ve figured out that natural calamities are God’s judgment on America. Preachers preach it and Christians believe it. When a hurricane hits, for example, it’s usually because we’re being unholy in some way or another. Drinking, fornicating, gambling, etc. But mainly the queers.

Katrina was God’s judgment. And it’s just beginning. Because of the Pride Parade. (A Google search on “Katrina God’s judgment” returns 129,000 hits, by the way.) Sandy? God’s judgment.

Tornadoes are God’s judgment. Earthquakes are God’s judgment. Forest fires, famine, volcanos – God’s judgment. You get the point.

Fine. God isn’t happy and he’s sending us a message. A warning shot across the bow, as it were. But…you can’t help wondering. Is God stupid? Does he have a bad aim? And what does his recent spate of angry warnings say about history? There have always been natural disasters, even back in the ’50s when there weren’t any homosexuals. There were volcanos during the late Cretaceous. Who the hell was he mad at then?

Let’s take a closer look.

Oddly, most hurricanes target our godliest states. Yes, Louisiana has the modern-day Gomorrah that is New Orleans, but if you recall Katrina mostly missed the Big Easy. The front side – the big overhanded haymaker – hit the Mississipi Gulf Coast and the damage there was massive. Had God aimed further west busted NO in the lips the way he did Biloxi, Bourbon Street and everything else within 20 miles would be gone. So – what the heck did Mississippi do? They’re one of the best-behaved Christian states in the country.

Another state that gets stomped by hurricanes a lot is Florida. Now, the Sunshine State is a mixed bag. You have some wickedness down around South Beach, but you also have a bunch of old people who haven’t done anything wrong. Not in the last 50 years, anyway. And yet, God judges them like they were one big Frankie Goes to Hollywood video. Makes no sense at all. He even threatened last year’s Republican National Convention, and the GOP is HIS OWN POLITICAL PARTY.

W. T. F?

Among recent hurricanes, Sandy is the only one that sort of makes sense. NYC is a godless wasteland, for sure, home to every kind of decadence known to man, as well as a few others that are still in the development phase. But God, in judging NYC, blasted the shit out of New Jersey, which has a Republican governor, and some of the hardest hit areas of NYC are in Congressional District 11, home of Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican.

Apparently God can’t afford a laser and has to use a shotgun instead.

What about tornadoes? Ever heard of “Tornado Alley“?

The core of Tornado Alley consists of northern Texas (including the Panhandle), Oklahoma and Kansas. However, Tornado Alley can also be defined as an area reaching from central Texas to the Canadian prairies and from eastern Colorado to western Pennsylvania. It can also be disputed that there are numerous Tornado Alleys. In addition to the Texas/Oklahoma/Kansas core, such areas also include the Upper Midwest, the Ohio Valley, the Tennessee Valley and the lower Mississippi valley.

Overlay a map of Tornado Alley with an election results schematic. They might as well be the same thing. Bright red, Republican, God-fearing and prone to swirling black judgment from one end to the other.

If it weren’t for tornado activity you’d have never heard of Moore, Oklahoma. Only 11 F5s (the highest and worst rating) have struck the US since 1999, and two of them hit Moore. Two more pounded nearby El Reno, which means that God has aimed one-third of the most devastating twisters in the last 15 years or so at the Oklahoma City suburbs. That’s Oklahoma, which is about as close to Sodom as Peoria is to Proxima Centauri.

Clearly, something is amiss with the God’s Judgment Hypothesis. Even the sort of … umm … intellect prone to believing that God judges us this way … even that guy has to be a little confused. I know, I know – the whole Lord worketh in mysterious ways thing. Mysterious, sure. But barking batshit crazy?

Think about it this way. Say that you’re a) God, b) pissed off about the gays, c) determined to send a message, and d) wanting to make sure it’s understood. Duh. A lot of your followers aren’t exactly rocket surgeons, so you need to avoid as much ambiguity here as possible, right?

Do you spin hurricanes at states that vote exclusively according to their understanding of the Bible or do you, you know, smite the guilty? If I’m God, I’m going to dial up a 9.4 on the Richter Scale and epicenter that sumbitch under the manhole cover at Castro Street and Market. I’m going to point three or four category fives directly at South Beach. And the greater OKC metropolitan area is safe, because the new Tornado Alley is going to start in Seattle, wind its way down the coast, make several passes back and forth through Hollywood, skip across to Vegas, then skip again to the Upper Midwest where we’ll thump Minneapolis and then draw a bead on Taxachusetts. Just to show off, I’d drop a hurricane on Ann Arbor. And don’t even try to tell me that isn’t possible. With God, all things are possible.

Hammer down, bitches. But that’s just me, and I ain’t God.

Meanwhile, I can’t help noting that my own state is ramping up another epic summer of wildfires. The Black Forest Fire, the worst in Colorado history, has so far killed two, destroyed 379 homes and forced 38,000 people to evacuate. And it’s nowhere near contained. The God’s Judgment Hypothesis predicts that such a fire ought to be looming over Boulder or perhaps creeping down Highway 36 toward Denver.

But it isn’t. It’s in Colorado Springs, ground zero for America’s aggressive new evangelical Christian movement. Specifically, the fire is roughly six miles, as the crow flies, from the headquarters of Focus on the Family. Where it’s currently 90° with humidity in the low 20% range.

I wonder if God is judging someone.

CATEGORY: Guns

I hate handguns, but I have still considered owning one

On my way into work this morning I was listening to an NPR story about how there’s now an ammunition shortage because Americans are stockpiling it. Many are afraid that the government will be taking away the right to own guns, or certain types of guns, or certain types of ammunition, or they’re convinced that an armed rebellion against the government will be necessary soon, and so they’re buying ammunition left and right. The story reminded me of the reason why I might be willing to learn how to use and own a handgun.

I might need one to protect myself from the kind of people who stockpile ammunition and think that they might need to overthrow the government.

I hate handguns. With vanishingly few exceptions they exist for one purpose – killing people. And they’re very good at fulfilling that purpose in the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, and poorly-trained private citizens. I think handguns and ammunition should be regulated and taxed so extensively that they’re too expensive to own and operate even for most criminals. I think that everyone who wants to own one should be licensed, both to ensure that he or she knows how to properly carry, wield, clean, and store their deadly weapon and to ensure that criminals and the mentally ill can’t get their hands on one. And I think that owners should be held criminally liable for the actions of anyone else who uses the handgun except under a very small set of exceptions (shooting ranges and self-protection).

But even with all that said, I no longer think that they should be banned outright like I once did. While I firmly believe that most people are better off learning some basic unarmed self-defense techniques than relying on a weapon, that doesn’t work for everyone or in every situation. So I appreciate that people should be allowed to own and carry handguns, albeit under the restrictions I mentioned above.

I also used to be afraid of handguns, or more specifically what I would do with one. I used to fear that having that kind of easy life-and-death power in my hand would be too likely to turn me into a monster. But that fear was burned out of me when, in November 2010, I briefly considered owning one myself.

There’s nothing like cognitive dissonance to clarify what you really believe, and in this case I came to the realization that as much as I hate handguns, owning one wouldn’t turn me into a monster any more than owning a sword or knowing how to kill someone with my bare hands would.

The NPR story today reminded me of what it was in November 2010 that got me to this point. It was the fact that my fellow Americans voted so many Tea Party politicians into Congress. I’m not afraid that the government is going to come and get me. But I don’t trust the significant percentage of the American population who are apparently terrified of the government. Terrified people tend to make really, really bad choices. And form mobs. And there’s not a self-defense technique that exists that can save me or my family from a terrified mob armed with handguns.

I’m not sure that owning and wielding a handgun myself would protect me and my family from a mob either, for that matter, which is one small part of why I still don’t own a handgun.

Every time I hear about how my fellow Americans are stockpiling ammo because they’re terrified the government will come and take their guns away, I think about owning a handgun again. Every time I read about how 29% of my fellow Americans think an armed rebellion may be necessary in the next four years, I think about owning a handgun again. Every time I read about how Republican Congresscritters killed sensible federal gun safety bills in Congress that the vast majority of my fellow Americans supported, I think about owning a handgun again.

I truly hope to never own a handgun. But if I do, it won’t be because I’m afraid of my government. It’ll be because I no longer trust too many of my fellow Americans.

PoliticsLawGovernment4

Republicans are the New Coke of politics

Yesterday, the Republican National Committee released its Growth & Opportunity Report, a compendium of all of the lessons the party learned from the 2012 elections, and what the Washington Post calls an “autopsy” of what went wrong.

If you break it down, the report focuses most on demographics and branding. The RNC rightly recognizes how associated the GOP has become with rich, white men – and draws the conclusion that the party must attract more minorities, more young people, and more women to the party, and take a different approach to marketing the party in pop culture. The report says this:

“On messaging, we must change our tone — especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters. In every session with young voters, social issues were at the forefront of the discussion; many see them as the civil rights issues of our time. We must be a party that is welcoming and inclusive for all voters.”

Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress already did a great job of analyzing the pop culture goals of the GOP, and I agree with her: most of the celebrities associated with the GOP are either crazy (Ted Nugent), racist (Hank Williams Jr.), creepy (Jon Voight), or Chuck Norris. I wanted to focus more on the report’s suggestions, and the new branding of the GOP.

The report makes great points – it says the Republican Party must appeal to people outside the Republican Party, which can’t even agree with itself right now (I’ll get to that). It advises the party to adopt a better regional primary system so that fringe candidates like Christine O’Donnell don’t beat established moderates like Mike Castle. It suggests that the Republican Party starts an opposition research and tracking operation, in the same vein as left-leaning powerhouse (and my former employer) American Bridge.

But the suggestions of the report are purely surface suggestions – they’re about messaging, not about policy. House Republican leadership and CPAC participants don’t seem ready to follow that report. These two groups within the GOP are proof the Party can’t get their ducks in a row, and shows how far the once fiscally responsible and socially conservative party has skewed to the Right.

With regards to messaging, there have been some great examples of moderate Republicans supporting social issues like LGBT marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights, but they’re progressive exceptions to a stagnant Republican rule. The same week that Senator Rob Portman endorsed LGBT marriage rights, tanning enthusiast and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said he would continue to oppose LGBT marriage even if his child were LGBT. And if you read further into the report, it says that the party should continue to stick to its outdated and discriminatory principles – they just should do so more quietly.

“For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.

If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out. The Party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues where we do agree.”

(I’m not even discussing the War on Women. Deny it all they want, the GOP has rolled back reproductive rights and blocked equal pay for women across the country for no reason. The party has serious work to do if they want to cozy up to the lady voters, and it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than messaging to do it)

So the report is saying that the GOP can stay as conservative as they want, they just have to sound less awful.  The baffling part is, the party can’t even agree on this plan – right now, the split is between more open-minded moderates who want to appeal to a wider base, and more conservative Tea Partiers who believe that lambasting their moderate colleagues and going after the “Guns and God” vote will endear them to everyone.

The RNC was trying to tell its party members how they need to rebrand themselves as more diverse and open minded, and willing to compromise with outsiders. But you would never be able to tell by watching the CPAC conference – a conference that left supposedly moderate Republicans like Chris Christie off the roster in favor of reality TV has-been Sarah Palin, pretend businessman Donald Trump, and McCarthy-lite Senator Ted Cruz.

The party got too caught up trying out a shiny new rebranding strategy without trying to modernize their tired, anti-minority, anti-women and anti-poor product to match. Instead of evolving, they point fingers at each other – they blame someone else for their troubles rather than turning inward and realizing that their branding isn’t the problem, as Meghan McCain’s “I Hate Karl Rove” rant shows.

The GOP lost the last few elections because they had awful ideas behind their ad campaigns. They are the New Coke of party politics – and like the soda, they’re not selling. Not because of the ad campaign, but because they’re gross.

The RNC’s report has great intentions, trying to liven up the party a bit and make them look more like the cool, progressive rainbow coalition that voted for Obama and less like the corporation-backed, wealthy old white men that everyone (accurately) perceives them to be. The problem is, the party leadership doesn’t want to change its outdated ways and attitudes towards minorities, LGBT people and women, or try to appeal to working class Americans. They just want to look good while they continue to discriminate, and to keep public embarrassments like Rape Gate and “I’m Not A Witch” from reaching the masses.

They want to win again. But until they stop arguing with each other and stop legislating like they have, it’s not going to happen that easily.

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

Ten years ago this week the Dixie Chicks controversy erupted: I’m still not ready to back down

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. ― Theodore Roosevelt

On March 10, 2003, at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire theatre in London, Natalie Maines stepped to the microphone and said this:

Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.

As our old friend Greg Mitchell notes, “It was a little more than a week before their fellow Texan launched a war based on lies.”

When word of Maines’s comment made it back to the US, what ensued was…well, what ensued was an infuriating look at the festering soul of Bush-era America and an illustration of the good, bad and ugly of how free speech works. Predictably, the hillbilly right closed ranks around the president and his WMDs-are-real cronies. Country & Western stations purged their playlists of Dixie Chicks music, records were burned, fatwas were issued, and the Chicks’ career Mark 1 was effectively destroyed. The message – for the Dixie Chicks and anybody else out there with a brain and a conscience – was more than clear: if you value your career, shut up and sing.

In some respects, the controversy was really useful. For instance, the president responded by saying:

The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say.… they shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records when they speak out.… Freedom is a two-way street ….

The remarkable thing about this is that Bush, a man renowned for being wrong on just about everything, was actually right for once. Free speech does not imply a freedom from backlash, and if you’re an entertainer people who disagree with you are perfectly within their rights to boycott. What’s good for Hank Williams, Jr. and Mel Gibson is good for The Dixie Chicks.

Granted, you also have the right to be hateful and ignorant, and it’s certainly true that the Dixie Chicks backlash had more to do with the gleeful exercise of these rights than it did any informed understanding of how free speech was intended to work by the Framers. But that’s another argument for another day.

Now, how you feel about President Obama?

In April, 2009, S&R honored The Dixie Chicks as the 25th addition to our masthead hall of fame. I wrote, at the time (and while I was extremely angry):

History will validate, with a minimum of controversy, the sentiments Natalie Maines expressed at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire theatre on March 10, 2003. Hopefully the record will point to our present moment and note that already the momentum had shifted and that within a generation people would have an impossible time imagining how such an affront to freedom was ever possible. Hopefully.

For the time being, “mad as hell” doesn’t begin to describe the indignation that those of us working to move this culture forward by promoting genuinely intelligent and pro-human values ought to feel, even now. I won’t tell you how to think and act, of course – you have a conscience and a brain, and you can be trusted to take in the information and perspectives around you and form an opinion that you can live by.

But for my part, I have a message for the “shut up and sing” crowd: I’m not ready to back down and I never will be. Your values are at odds with the principles upon which this nation was founded and true liberty cannot survive if your brand of flag-waving ignorance is allowed to thrive. You will not be allowed to use the freedoms that our founders fought for as weapons to stifle freedom for others.

You have declared a culture war, so here’s where the lines are drawn: I’m on the side of enlightenment, free and informed expression and the power of pro-humanist pursuits to produce a better society where we all enjoy the fruits of our shared accomplishments.

What side are you on?

Natalie and her bandmates lost tons of money over the past decade, but they’ll get by. In the end, it seems like they got a pretty good deal. In exchange for all those millions, they earned the right to a special place in the American soul. Justice matters. Facts matter. Humanity and compassion and freedom matter. Integrity matters more than money.

Looking back, I think the lesson to take away is a simple one. Our freedoms are important, but they’re empty and sterile and prone to corruption in the absence of an enlightened, intelligent embrace of the responsibilities that come with living in a democracy.

In the words of another of our musical heroes, George Clinton, “Think. It ain’t illegal yet.”

CATEGORY: TuesdayMorningRAW

Tuesday Morning RAW: What is WWE up to with this Zeb Colter/Tea Party angle?

This is hardly the first time pro wrestling has come at the audience with a blatantly racist angle, and WWE has, through the years, perfected the arts of cheap stereotyping and jingoism. So their latest gimmick – the anti-immigration “real American” Jack Swagger and his mentor, thinly veiled Tea Partier Zeb Colter – are hardly news. Except for one thing – this time, the WWE is portraying the All-American white folks as the heels.

Here’s a sample.

At WrestleMania in April, Swagger will challenge for the World Heavyweight Title, currently held by … wait for it … Mexican superstar Alberto Del Rio (Jose Alberto Rodríguez, nephew of wrestling legend Mil Mascaras). The promos cut by Swagger (former U of Oklahoma wrestler and football player Jake Hager) and Colter (portrayed by Dirty Dutch Mantell – real name, Wayne Keown) have relied on a lot of code and dog-whistling (in other words, about what you get at your average Tea Partier campaign appearance). The language isn’t explicitly racist – the official stance is that all foreigners need to go home, including Brit Wade Barrett, who holds the Intercontinental Championship) although a couple of times in recent weeks it felt like they’d gone about as far as you could go without whipping out a “spic” or “wetback.” This comes hot on the heels of a recent “you people”-style promo cut by the Big Show (Paul Wight) against Latino fans supporting Del Rio.

The whole affair has been uncomfortable, even if you know it’s scripted. Since the pro wrestling conceit is that it’s a real, live sporting event, when its characters slip over into this kind of behavior we perhaps feel a little more violated than we might when presented with a racist character in a TV show or film. Credit where due: the WWE creative team, headed by Stephanie McMahon, and all the performers involved, have done a great job of selling the controversial angle.

It gets weird, though. Now the WWE and its bad guy/racist characters find themselves in a shoot (real-life) face-off with Glenn Beck. No, seriously.

On a recent radio show, Glenn Beck blasted the WWE for mocking him and claiming the WWE is entertainment for “stupid people.” Beck continued his rant, accusing the WWE of degrading tea party advocates as racist, unrealistic caricatures.

Keown and Hager broke character and fired back.

“Everything we do with our characters is designed to tell stories,” Keown said. “Right now the story we are telling is that Zeb Colter and Jack Swagger are using the current, relevant, and topical story of immigration to target the WWE World Champion Alberto Del Rio, also a character played by my friend Jose Rodriguez. In our story, we are the antagonist and Alberto is the protagonist…

“Glen Beck, you recently referred to WWE as stupid wrestling people. Really, Glenn? Seriously, really? By implication, you are referring to the 14 million stupid wrestling fans who are watching our shows every week in America and our global audience in over 145 countries. 20 percent of our audience is Hispanic. 22 percent is African American. 35 percent is female. And we equally reach all major age groups including 25 percent over 50.

“We have about 60 characters on our show, a lot more than say NCIS or Glee, but we’re not that much different. Some of our characters are really likable and some are detestable, good guys and bad guys. We don’t use guns and we don’t depict murder or rape, typically seen on prime time dramas. Our program is PG. We look forward to continuing to tell provocative, funny, dramatic, and sometimes controversial stories with characters of all backgrounds and beliefs.

Many of your followers are WWE fans and they understand the difference between reality and entertainment. Are you out of touch with your audience, Glenn? Or are you just a stupid political commentator. Mr. Beck, we cordially invite you to Monday Night Raw in Dallas at the American Airlines Center where you can deliver a five-minute, unedited rebuttal to our global TV audience and a sold out crowd of over 12,000 stupid wrestling fans. So now let’s get back in character…”

You need to watch this. It’s wonderful.

But, but … that isn’t even the weird part. If WWE were run by, say, Rachel Maddow and her family, there wouldn’t be anything remotely odd about a Tea Party bad guy character. But it isn’t. It’s run by the McMahon family. As in Vince and Linda and their daughter, the aforementioned Stephanie. (Shane, their son, left the company in 2010.)

And the McMahons aren’t known for their liberal leanings. Mom Linda has run for office as a Republican and is decidedly conservative (although a member of the country club wing, not the social conservative wing). Viewed from this perspective, then, the Colter/Swagger “We the People” angle is throwing important electoral allies under the bus, and it isn’t hard to see why the likes of Glenn Beck might get his shorts in a twist.

So I find myself wondering, well, what the fuck? Where is this GOP-on-GOP intramural action coming from? A few possibilities:

  • The McMahons are providing moral support to Karl Rove in his recently declared war on the Teabaggers.
  • Linda is thinking about running again and has decided that a hard tack to the social left will do her campaign good.
  • Stephanie is actually a progressive and we’re seeing evidence of internal disagreement in the family.
  • Stephanie doesn’t do all the writing. Maybe there are progressive writers on the staff and they’re being given some freedom.
  • While it hasn’t been evident before, the McMahons believe that immigration reform is essential to the health of American business.
  • There’s nothing to it at all – creative just saw an opportunity for a ratings-grabbing storyline.

Which of these explanations is accurate? No idea. If WWE officials have addressed this in print I can’t find it. The third one – Stephanie is a liberal – seems the least plausible to me, but she has stated that she has no interest in pursuing politics like her mother. No telling what that means.

In any case, it’s a fascinating angle, and I now find myself wondering if the whole Glenn Beck thing is actually a work. A public controversy pitting him against the WWE might be good for everybody’s ratings, and the pro wrestling industry has a history of loving a good put-up job. Remember the whole Andy Kaufman/Jerry Lawler feud?

I don’t know how long this storyline will run. My gut tells me that the Swagger/Del Rio narrative will work better with Swagger as the evil champion and Del Rio as the white hat in hot pursuit, and if I’m right we can expect Del Rio to drop the strap at Wrestlemania. There are enough foreign stars in the organization at present that the creative team can probably get  a lot of mileage out of Swagger and Colter, True American Patriots.