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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

For years, the Republican Party has made the phrase about the “makers and takers” their political platform.  They always cite people on food stamps, welfare, WIC, Medicaid and the working poor at the “takers”.  Then, they turn around and tell everyone that the “makers” are those who are paying those poverty level wages.

We have discussed several times the fact that major corporations in this country pay little or no taxes.  They receive millions of dollars in subsidies from the government.  The very infrastructure they depend on is funded by tax dollars they don’t pay. And the list goes on and on.  However, the right-wing has found itself a new hero to fall back on.  Our friends over at the Foreign Owned Xenophobic news network even calls him a hero.  When in fact, he has been stealing from the Federal Government and American Taxpayers for 20 years and should be put in jail!

Of course I am talking about Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.  Mr. Bundy is a rancher in Nevada with a somewhat sizable herd of cattle.  Problem is his land is not big enough to maintain his herd.  Therefore, Mr. Bundy uses Public Owned Land to allow his cattle to graze on.  The Bureau of Land Management allows ranchers to utilize public land for grazing as long as the rancher pays a grazing fee.  Seems everyone in the area pays the grazing fee except Mr. Bundy.

He claims the government does not have the right to charge him the fees.  He says he does not “recognize” the governments right to the fees or even owning the land.  As a result, Mr. Bundy has NOT paid his grazing fees for 20 years.  He currently owes the Federal Government approximately $1.1 million dollars in back fees.

The government has tried to deal with Mr. Bundy in court and administratively to no avail.  Recently, they received a court order that allowed them to confiscate Mr. Bundy’s herd and sell it off to settle his debt.  Of course, Mr. Bundy started the bullshit of screaming how the government is overreaching and that he is just a “patriot” trying to make a living.  Naturally, other wackos, mostly from out-of-state showed up last Saturday, armed to the teeth, to “take back Mr. Bundy’s herd”.

After a very tense standoff, the BLM backed down and allowed Mr. Bundy to remove his cattle.  They didn’t want to get into a shooting match with the well-armed militia nuts who showed up.  The showdown is far from over. The BLM says it will “continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially,” though Bundy still doesn’t recognize federal authority over the federal lands that he continues to use in violation of a court order. The federal judge who issued that decision says Bundy’s claims “are without merit.”

That order from October 2013 says Bundy owes $200 per day per head for every day he fails to move his cattle. That amounts to roughly $640 million in damages owed to the federal government for illegally grazing his cattle.  Can anyone say felony?

This is the face of the right-wing’s “makers”!  A rancher who decides which laws he will follow, and which he won’t.  He makes money off of selling cattle that he feeds illegally on public lands stealing from the American People.  Their mouthpiece, FOX news, calls Mr. Bundy a “patriot and hero”.  I call Mr. Bundy a common criminal!

Mr. Bundy even backs up his claim by stating that his ancestors have been working the land since the 1800s.  Okay, but what about those Native American Tribes who worked the land and lived there for hundreds of years before Mr. Bundy’s ancestors ever saw the land?  Oh yeah, they aren’t white are they.  Guess in Mr. Bundy’s mind that means they don’t count!

There has always been conflict between ranchers in “sagebrush country” and the government.  There probably will always be conflict.  But showing up and threatening to shoot the wranglers who were hired to carry out a court order is not patriotism, it is anarchy!  So why should the right and their mouthpiece FOX news support such behavior?  Because it stirs up the hatred that they want.  The party of “pure evil” I wrote about yesterday wants anarchy.  That is their whole game plan to seize power.

The next time you hear one of the Republicans talk about the “makers”, you should picture Mr. Bundy.  This “maker” is a thief and “taker”.  That is what the Republicans support.  All the while they talk about gutting social safety nets, they want to allow thieves like Mr. Bundy to continue stealing from the public and calls him a hero.

It all falls in line with their true motto:  “Steal from the poor and give it to the rich”!  Bet that would look good on a bumper sticker!

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I guess it is time I ended my silence on the NSA situation.  The whole problem with a democracy is that everyone considers their privacy as paramount to continuing democracy.  I agree with that.  The other problem is that everyone wants the government to ensure that we are protected and our security is upheld.  I also agree with that.  But in todays modern, global world that is where the conundrum comes into play.  Just what is the government allowed to do and not do.

As you know, this all came about because Edward Snowden leaked information from the NSA about its collection of emails, phone lists, text messages, etc.  Although I was never involved in Intelligence Gathering, I did live in the “secrecy world” for several years.  Maybe I have a different point of view than others because of that.  That is also why I am not going to beatify Mr. Snowden or his actions, yet.  I need more information as to why a contractor should decide to steal and then leak this information and offer it to other nations in order to gain asylum.  That is to say, I am not convinced about his motives.

The only good thing that came from Mr. Snowden is that we now have a national debate about just how far the NSA should be allowed to go.  That is something that should have taken place when the Patriot Act took effect under Mr. Bush.  I am not blaming Bush, but there was no discussion as to what type of spying should take place then, and that has had a direct effect on what is going on today.

President Obama gave a speech offering several proposals to help clean up this situation.  Some will naturally say it doesn’t go far enough, while others will say it goes too far.  The one thing that seems to bother most Americans is the meta-data collection by the NSA.  The President said it should be held by a third-party, without specifying who that third-party is.  That can also be a problem.

Many of the reforms will need to be handled by Congress.  The President ordered the NSA and Attorney General Eric Holder to develop recommendations over the next 60 days as to how the program should be structured, and how meta-data should be stored. This window coincides with the late March deadline by which Congress must vote to re-authorize many intelligence practices anyway.

Since 9/11 we have had a series of problems with the Intelligence Community.  Again, some claim that they have gone too far.  Others claim they have not gone far enough.  Many even blamed them for the 9/11 attacks because they “should have known” something was going to happen.  The real problem with intelligence is that it is run by people.  People are flawed, and we can never be 100% certain of anything.

Rather than ranting and raving about what has happened, we need to take all of that into consideration and focus on what will happen in the future.  The reforms that are necessary in Intelligence Gathering will give us an opportunity to have a national debate on the subject.  That should give us an opportunity to mutually agree on a common method that the NSA and other Intelligence Gathering organizations must follow.

Senator Cruz offered his usual general statement that we “should only be going after the bad guys”.  How convenient for him to say.  But, how will we know just who the bad guys are if we aren’t allowed to find out?  That is what I mean by having a reasonable debate on the problems.  Headline grabbing nonsense like this cannot be part of the debate if we are to get the proper balance.

Benjamin Franklin once said “be careful of giving up freedoms in the name of security.  Otherwise, you will find that you have neither.”  Unfortunately, he lived in a time when global communications took several months, not seconds.  Even still, we must find a middle ground where our freedoms are protected and still allow our Intelligence Gathering organizations the tools necessary to keep us safe.  It will be difficult, but if we use common sense and level-headed thinking, it should be possible.

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Freedom of Speech is one of, if not the, most important civil rights we have in this country.  Recently, Phil Robertson of the reality TV show “Duck Dynasty” made some derogatory comments about the LGBT community.  Naturally, this caused an uproar.  As a result, and fearing lost revenues from advertisers, A&E suspended Mr. Robertson indefinitely from the show for his comments.

Immediately, the right pounced on the network.  Their biggest claim is that A&E was violating Mr. Robertson’s freedom of speech!  We heard this before.  Several years ago, Hank Williams, Jr. made derogatory comparisons between President Obama and Hitler.  ESPN who was using Mr. Williams for their Monday Night Football jingle soon let him go.  The condemnation of ESPN was just as quick and argued the same meme of violating Mr. Williams’ freedom of speech.

About a month ago, Martin Bashir on his show on MSNBC made some very repulsive comments about Sarah Palin.  He went on the air the next day and apologized.  After a short time off, mutually agreed to between him and MSNBC, he resigned from his show and it was removed from the air.  But, instead of the outrage about MSNBC violating his freedom of speech, the right blasted him for his comments.  The left, by the way, was silent about his exit.

I am not going to argue which side is correct or not.  I simply want to draw out some comparisons about the right to freedom of speech.  I have always believed that people have the right to say whatever they wish.  On the other hand, I believe that if what they say offend people, especially public figures, they face whatever music comes their way.

Mr. Robertson has a right to express his views on the LGBT community.  Mr. Williams has the right to say what he wants about the President.  Mr. Bashir has the right to say what he wants about Ms. Palin.  As we have seen in these three examples, there are and should be, consequences for their choice to say what they did.

The networks involved in these incidents are varied and similar.  A&E is an entertainment network that makes its money via sponsorships.  ESPN is a sports network who makes their money the same way.  MSNBC is a cable news network, some would say left leaning, who also makes their money via sponsorships.  Sponsors spend money on these networks because they are popular and have a substantial viewership.

Viewers and sponsors are the lifeblood of television networks.  Therefore, if someone associated with a network makes comments that cause problems with their viewers, and therefore, reduce sponsorship dollars, the network has the right to disassociate themselves with those individuals.  That is not violating the right of free speech.  That is exercising their business right to associate or not associate with anyone they choose.

In my opinion all three of these cases are reprehensible!  What these individuals said was totally their right to say.  But, as with all rights given to us by the Constitution, we all must be diligent about exercising those rights carefully.  They are all examples of what I would consider “recklessly exercising” their freedom of speech.  Any penalty they have paid is part of their choice to say what they did.  Is it really that much different from yelling “fire” in a crowded theater?

Both sides of the aisle must understand that our right of freedom of speech is a two-way street.  If comments offend others, is it really worth saying them?  Especially if you are a public figure.  I believe that all three of the networks involved in these incidents acted appropriately.  In essence they were exercising their right to fire anyone who brings discredit to their product.  That is within their rights.

Rather than yelling at the networks for doing what they believed was in their best interest, maybe we should examine what the individuals said and did to get them into this mess.  Maybe, it is time for public figures to consider what consequences their words will have on other people.  Maybe, that would be the start of becoming a more civilized nation again.

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Okay, I wasn’t going to get into this stupid argument about Santa Claus.  As you are aware, Megyn Kelly over at the Foreign Owned Xenophobic news network had a debate on what color Santa Claus really is.  It all started because of an article that says Santa Claus can be any race the beholder wishes.  But, no, Ms. “I know it is just another attack on Christmas” had to rebut that argument.  She even went so far as to say “Santa is just white”.  She even went on to say that “Jesus was white”.  Her guests all gushed their approval.

Then yesterday, the self-anointed prophet and false historian Bill O’Reilly told the world that Megyn is correct.  Santa is just white!  He further went on to say that anyone who disagrees with the Foreign Owned Xenophobic news network are just haters who do not understand what they are all about.  Problem is that we do understand what you are all about!  You are about division, hate, and self-gratification!

As you know, I do research and try to be somewhat factual here.  I really had no intention to get embroiled in this nonsense, but after the self-anointed prophet weighed in with his false history, I had to say something.

The first question is “where does Santa Claus come from?”  That is a good question.  Many cultures around the world have some form of Santa Claus.  But, most historians agree that Santa Claus comes from Saint Nicholas.  Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Myra and was credited with performing many miracles for sailors and children in the 4th century.  After his death he became the patron saint of both groups.  Pope Pious 1 dedicated January 6 as his feast day.  Around the same time, Pope Pious 1 also declared that Christmas would be celebrated on December 25.  The day to celebrate Christmas was open because no one really knew when Jesus was born.  Plus, there had been a long honored Pagan midwinter festival at this time of year and the Pope had hoped to “Christianize” these celebrations.

Eventually, Saint Nicholas feast day became associated with December 25.  It is said that children would place nuts, apples and sweets in stockings being dried by the fireplace to welcome him after the tradition of his visiting children became established.  After the reformation, Saint Nicholas became more unpopular in Protestant homes.  That is except in Holland where he was called Sinter Klaus.

As things go, Sinter Klaus was introduced into the U.S. by the Dutch in New Amsterdam, present day New York.  Over the years, Sinter Klaus migrated into what we now call Santa Claus.  There have been many renderings of him.  There was even a time when Santa Claus wore not only red and white costumes, but blue, green, and brown.  It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the now traditional red and white costume became permanent.

So, there you have a very, very brief history of Santa Claus.  As I said, Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra.  Myra is in Turkey!  I know a lot of people from Turkey.  I met a lot of sailors from Turkey during my time in the Coast Guard.  Turkey is not a Caucasian nation.  It is middle eastern.  Their skin is darker than a Caucasians.  So, if Saint Nicholas is the origin of Santa Claus, and all the evidence points in that direction, then Megyn Kelly and the self-proclaimed prophet Bill O’Reilly, are wrong in pronouncing him as “just white”.  Prophet O’Reilly even stated on his show that Saint Nicholas was Turkish.  So, now middle-eastern people have suddenly become Caucasian according to the self-anointed prophet.

But the real question is why do these two imbeciles have to dredge up this racial stupidity at Christmas?  As the history of Santa Claus shows, each nationality or race has absorbed Saint Nicholas into their own cultures as they desired.  Heck, the part about the reindeer comes from Pagan culture!  That is what Christmas is about.  It is not about race or nationality, it is about the brotherhood of man!  It is about good will!  It is about loving thy neighbor!  That is something that these two morons fail to grasp!  But, are they really that biased and stupid? Or are they just trying to increase ratings with their “race baiting” rants?  In either case, As Father O’Malley would say, the baby Jesus is weeping because of their hate!

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For about 40 years we have seen culture wars break out around America. I use the term “culture” instead of “class” because it is more about perceived culture than class. It is true that class is the target, but only in terms of who are we to blame rather than what is actually at fault.

All across rural and exurban America, there are thousands upon thousands of what some call “angry white men”. These are people who have lost their farms, business, and jobs.  They have downward mobility and see the American Dream disappearing before their eyes. These are people who feel their “legacy” has been taken from them.  They see the government as the demon because they don’t believe it was sympathetic enough to “their” troubles.  And to some extent, they are right!

They believed that if you were loyal to your employer, you would have job security.  You would obtain financial success.  You would be able to retire in comfort.  Their family farms would be handed down to the next generation.  Their family businesses would be handed down.  But, everything went wrong.  Instead of inheriting their “legacies” they watched as everything disappeared.  Their factories were closed and their jobs were sent overseas.  Their farms failed because of low commodity prices.  Their family business closed because customers dried up with the factory closures and large low paying national chains like WalMart opened and forced prices so low they couldn’t compete anymore.

They became angry.  The became disenfranchised.  They felt as if their masculinity was being challenged.  They became depressed.  In the 1990′s suicide was the cause of more deaths in rural America than accidents.  They felt hurt, lost, and abandoned.  Anger soon turned to hate.

These are people who love their country.  They fiercely believe in capitalism.  They are patriotic.  They are mostly Christians.  Most are veterans.  In a word, they are “us”.  I can empathize with them.  I grew up on the south side of Chicago and saw the mills and factories close down.  I saw how devastating it can be to lose your livelihood and pensions without prospects.  I can understand the anger.  Unlike them, I did not turn to the right and blame others.  I blamed the real culprits.  Corporate America who was only interested in profits and greed.  Politicians who made unions the culprits.

The Far Right has taken hold of this hate and began leading the culture war. They are very quick to point out who is to blame. It is the blacks, gays, immigrants, and women who are to blame.  And, since the Far Right is mostly white men themselves, they always use racial “code” words to rile up their constituency like using Urban Poor to mean blacks.    They have even come up with a fantasy called “The War on Christmas” in order to tap into these people’s religious beliefs.

The major problem is that these Far Right politicians are the real cause of what is making these “angry white men” angry in the first place! They are the ones who have made it easy to move jobs overseas, keep minimum wage so low it guarantees you live below poverty, passed “right-to-work” laws to eliminate unions and guaranty low wages for companies, made is easy for small business to go under due to low-paying “super marts” to crush their competition, cut education spending which could help build better futures for their families, and cut the safety nets that many of these “angry white men” needed to save their farms, businesses, and homes.

The Far Right, Radical Conservative Christian Groups, Race Supremacists Groups, and Right Wing news outlets have all joined together with billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Walton Family to drum up the culture wars.

It really wasn’t hard to get these people’s blood boiling either. As much as we like to believe that we live in a multi-racial nation, the prejudices of the past are very real in many parts of the country. Wherever one race of people are isolated from others, prejudices are easy to come by. It doesn’t excuse it, it just makes it easier to understand.

Then, when you have the likes of FOX News, Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, etc., telling them they are the victims of the “takers” in the country, their anger grows. They fail to see that it is the policies of the Far Right that have put them in their predicament! They fail to see that it was the Far Right who pushed through “free trade agreements” which they blame for their job losses.

Instead they turn their anger outward to the Jews, Catholics, Muslims, and “inferior races”.  They are bolstered by the likes of Pat Buchanan who in his “A Brief for Whitey” after President Obama called for a national discussion on race wrote:  “It is the same old con, the same old shakedown. America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.”

From that quote, I am sure Pat thinks the blacks should kiss our feet in gratitude!  Rather, it is an obvious reference to the belief that we are ruled by minorities and that whites are the new “oppressed minority”.  That is exactly what these “angry white men” want to hear, because it is what they have come to believe.  They wonder why they are losing everything and seemingly everyone else is getting the gravy.  They need to hear it is not their fault, and the Far Right is quick to tell them it is definitely these “others” fault.

Rather than dismissing them, we need to embrace them and show them they are not alone.  It will take a lot of work and effort, but it is time to attempt to get these “angry white men” to realize that it is the Far Right and their minions who are the real cause of their plight.  They need to understand that it is people like the Koch Brothers, the Walton Family, Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation who are pushing for their demise.  Their plight is shared by millions of people in all walks of American life.  They need to discover it is not only them, but everyone in America who is suffering beneath the yoke of oppression from the Far Right.

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“The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things, of sailing ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.” This column is going to focus on one particular self-anointed king. No, I am not referring to the self-anointed savior, Ted Cruz, I am referring to Rush Limbaugh.

As anyone who wants to keep abreast with things going on in the world around us, I listen, read, or otherwise research all sides of politics. Yes, that includes stomach turning places like Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Glen Beck.  Remember, you cannot defeat the enemy if you don’t know what he is up to.

I think the difference is that unlike many of my progressive friends, I actually laugh out loud when listening to the bloviated Rush. Somehow I seem to realize that he doesn’t believe a single thing that comes out of his vulgar mouth. He is not interested in the country. He is not even interested in his listeners. He is only interested in two things: ratings and money!

Now, in case you didn’t notice, I did not write anything yesterday. I must admit the reason was because I was calming down from one of Rush’s latest rants. I will explain a little later what that was. But, I didn’t want to write anything when I was in such a state of anger.

In case anyone is wondering how idiots like Rush have been able to spill their vile onto the airwaves, you only need to go back to the wonderful Reagan Years. In 1987 the FCC repealed the “Fairness Doctrine”. The Fairness Doctrine had required that stations provide free air time for responses to any controversial opinions that were broadcast. The repeal meant stations could broadcast editorial commentary without having to present opposing views. Daniel Henninger wrote, in a Wall Street Journal editorial, “Ronald Reagan tore down this wall (the Fairness Doctrine) in 1987 … and Rush Limbaugh was the first man to proclaim himself liberated from the East Germany of liberal media domination.” And the fun started in earnest!

His controversial comments has spanned the years, but his most outrageous ones really started in the 2000′s. One item that is not normally listed as a controversial comment is his continuous ranting about “family values” and how the breakdown of the family is ruining traditional American values. I really find it amusing that someone who has been married four times keeps talking about family values.

In 2006 he said that Michael J Fox had “exaggerated” the effects of his Parkinson’s Disease in a political TV ad advocating for funding for stem cell research. Limbaugh said that Fox in the ad had been “shameless” in “moving all around and shaking”, and Fox had not taken “his medication or he’s acting, one of the two”. Limbaugh later said he would apologize to Fox “bigley and hugely…if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act”.  Of course, he never did.

In 2007, he accused Iraq War Veterans who opposed the war as being “phony” soldiers. This is really rich coming from someone who never wore the uniform. As a matter of fact, he dropped out of college in the 1970s only after he was “free” from the draft when it was abolished. The only thing phony about the Iraq War was W.’s lies that got us into the war in the first place and Rush’s lies to help keep it going!

Then last year he went after a Georgetown University Law Center Student, Sandra Fluke. She gave a speech to congress advocating for  mandating contraceptives in insurance coverage. The great four-time married family value guy called her a “slut” and “prostitute” for her actions. He even went so far as to say she “should tape her sex acts so we could all watch”.  Even though several political figures, including surprisingly Republicans, expressed their disapproval, he continued making such statements over the next few days. That actually led to a lot of his local and national sponsors pulling their ads from the show. When that happened, he apologized on his show for some of his comments.  Never did specify which comments for which he was apologizing.

One of his many hyprocisies came to light on April 28, 2006 when a warrant was issued for his arrest on the charge of doctor shopping. Prosecutors explained that the charges were brought after they discovered he received about 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors in six months, at a pharmacy near his Palm Beach mansion. In 2009, after 3 years of prolonged discussion regarding a settlement, prosecutors agreed to drop the charge if Limbaugh paid $30,000 to defray the cost of the investigation, completed an 18-month therapy regimen with his physician, submitted to random drug testing, and gave up his right to own a firearm for eighteen months.

Before his addiction came out, he had condemned illegal drug use saying that “Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country… And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.”  Seems he really didn’t believe what he said or he would have “been sent up”.

To add to his hypocrisy, in June 2006, just two months after his arrest, Limbaugh was detained by drug enforcement agents at Palm Beach International Airport. Customs officials confiscated Viagra from Limbaugh’s luggage as he was returning from the Dominican Republic. The prescription was not in Limbaugh’s name. After he was released with no charges filed, Limbaugh joked about the incident on his radio show, claiming that he got the Viagra at the Clinton Library and was told they were blue M&M’s. He also stated that “I had a great time in the Dominican Republic. Wish I could tell you about it.”

I don’t know about you, but I find it disturbing that a major political party uses a drug addict as their primary spokesperson.

Now we come to what angered me. A couple of days ago, my wife and I were watching some news shows and there was the spineless Rush ranting about the NFL and their monthly recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness during October. As you all know, many of the players wear something pink during the games to show their support to finding a cure.

There was Rush bloviating about how disgusting it was to see NFL players wearing pink for a whole month. He even went on to say this was an example of the “chickafication of America”.  Really??? Showing support for a deadly disease that has wrecked thousands of lives and families is simply the “chickafication of America”??

This is a disease that often strikes without warning. One day everything is fine, and the next there is a lump in a woman’s breast. Everything changes from that point on. The fear and anxiety are simply unbelievable. We went through this in 1985. We were the fortunate ones because the lump in my wife turned out to be benign. But we experienced what everyone in this situation does. It is no joking matter.

My mother and my sister-in-law are both breast cancer survivors! When I heard those “chickafication of America” words come out of that drug addicted, fat, ignorant asshole’s mouth, I hit the roof. How dare he trivialize such a devastating disease!

That is when I came to the realization that the King must go! I know that the FCC is more or less powerless to pull his license, which in my opinion it should. But we can do something about it. I am asking everyone who has gone through this, knows someone who has gone through this, or simply supports those who have gone through it to start an email and phone campaign to his sponsors. We need to boycott every sponsor of this arrogant defiler in order to get him off the air for good.

It is apparent that he has absolutely no use for anyone except himself. His on-air comments shows that he hates African-Americans, Latino Immigrants, Women, Clean Air, Gays and Lesbians, and of course Drug Addicts (excluding himself).  True Americans may disagree, but they do NOT hate simply because you are different. If you wish to join in this cause, there is a website called “stoprush.net” where you can get a list of sponsors, It even gives email addresses to use.  I know I’ll be there a lot sending emails to sponsors.  Will you join me?

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A month ago, a deranged man stocked up on legally-purchased weapons and military gear, including an assault rifle with a 100-round magazine, and shot up a crowded theater showing the Batman movie; 13 people died, 58 were injured. Since then, at least two people have been arrested carrying guns into movie theaters showing the same film. Nineteen people were shot in one night in Chicago, three days ago; six died. The next morning, an ex-employee of a Manhattan company, feuding with the former boss who had fired him, killed the boss with a handgun on the sidewalk outside the Empire State Building during the morning rush hour; police officers on scene, extensively trained in firearms skills and tactical judgment, immediately killed the shooter, who never fired another shot, and wounded nine more bystanders in the process. Naturally, the gun-rights crowd insists, in every case, that the solution would have been more guns.

A couple of months ago  I received a review copy of  a recent book on US gun culture, and have finally gotten a chance to go through the volume and see what it had to say. American Shooter: A Personal History of Gun Culture in the United States, by Gerry Souter, is an interesting and highly informative book that conveys a vast range of historical and technical information about the development of firearms usage and attitudes toward guns in the US. It’s especially timely as the gun wars rage and another electoral season is on us. Its unique contribution arises from the perspective of its author – an outspoken liberal who is openly suspicious of the NRA and the fearful and fantastical paranoia of the “self-defense”/militia crowd, but who is also a lifelong shooter who has a great deal of experience with guns and not only supports responsible gun use but encourages it as a tool for social cohesion and self-development.

(more…)

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Thank You, Captain Obvious

I don’t like to slag off (semi-)liberal writers, but what, exactly, keeps Timothy Noah employed?

He’s a typical mainstream journalist lifer, rotating between right-wing news outlets (US News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal) and center-left magazine-style venues (TNR, Slate). He managed to change sides on the Iraq war not once but twice, and recently won the Hillman Prize for advocacy journalism for his magazine series (and now book) on income inequality in the US. He’s everywhere on the commentary and opinion blogs. And he writes an opinion column for TNR in which he attempts to be profound. It’s the latter that catches my attention right now.

When have you ever thought to yourself, about any important issue, “Well, as Timothy Noah says . . .”? Apparently Timothy Noah thinks that to himself with some regularity, and it bugs me. Particularly, it bugs me not simply because he writes drivel but because he’s getting paid to write that drivel and I’m not. I mean, we’re used to the gratingly stupid shit that comes up on the wingnut welfare circuit – National Review, World Nut Daily, CNS News, Regnery, and their “think” tank sponsors – but if lefties (more or less) are getting paid to write obvious inanities, hell, I can do that.

Here’s Noah on three burning issues of the day:

Clinton on Caro on Johnson

“I think it’s pretty clear that [in his review of Robert Caro's biography of LBJ] Clinton is not addressing these remarks to you, or me, or Caro, or Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, or Times executive editor Jill Abramson, or any other Times reader save one (though the rest of us are welcome to listen in). He’s addressing them to the 44th president of the United States.”

Upper-Class Internships

“Opportunity should not be bought and sold, even (perhaps especially) to benefit causes that purport to be charitable.”

The Hunger Games

“I’ve been struggling to understand why it is that I found The Hunger Games, which I saw last week with my teenage daughter, morally repugnant.” [Seriously, Tim? This required a lot of thought for you?] “Nowhere in the film is it suggested that if 12 moral individuals were told to kill one another for no reason other than to amuse the masses, then the only choice consistent with any notion of ethics that I’m familiar with would be to refuse and be executed.”

This ceaseless stream of platitudinous superficialities gets you a paycheck from The New Republic (as Chloe Sevigny kept repeating every five minutes in the movie Shattered Glass, “the inflight magazine of Air Force One!”). Apparently all that is required is an marginal ability to read, and no ability to understand anything.

The Clinton review is obviously political exhortation. Do you think Bill Clinton sits around doing literary criticism just for the hell of it? When he writes “power ultimately reveals character. For L.B.J., becoming president freed him to embrace parts of his past that, for political or other reasons, had remained under wraps”, he couldn’t be clearer what he’s talking about. And since there’s only one person in the entire world who is in a position to use the lessons from a Democratic president’s efforts to pass landmark progressive legislation, it’s not like identifying this person requires some kind of blinding insight. The suggestion that LBJ was a master interpersonal politician, and that Clinton emulates him and Obama does not, is hardly any more original. Noah offers absolutely nothing to this discussion. He’s like that annoying guy in the movie theater who insists on saying what’s happening on the screen, because he thinks you won’t understand it if he doesn’t explain. Shut up, Noah – you’re in the way.

On the fact that unpaid internships at powerful and prestigious institutions are actually being auctioned off – that’s right, it’s gone beyond rich kids working for free to get access and privilege; they’re now paying to work for free so they can get access and privilege – Noah’s only observation is that this undermines “meritocracy”. (That he uses that word, and apparently believes in what it means, ought to be proof enough of his establishment hack status.) The unfairness of the “internship” game in itself, or the nexus of class and political power or business opportunity, get no recognition in his two-paragraph piece. The fact that such institutions care so little about “merit” that they’re willing to guarantee positions without knowing who will buy them apparently implies nothing to Noah. Nothing about this situation moves him to criticize, or analyze, or even seemingly notice, the bankrupt system it feeds and arises from; he just thinks it’s bad to actually sell access outright – why restricting access only to those who can afford to pay to work for free is worse than giving access away only to those who can afford to work for free is an exercise for a much subtler thinker.

It’s the Hunger Games bushwa that really prompted this. Noah states outright that – while sitting next to his teenage daughter – he couldn’t figure out what bothered him about a film featuring teenage girls (and boys) being hunted and killed for sport. After putting a lot of thought into it, and consulting better writers, he finally comes up with this thin gruel: because the audience empathizes with the kids, but also enjoys the movie, “The Hunger Games wants to have it both ways”. See, the film fails to have a strong message. Well, honestly, since I haven’t seen the film I don’t know if that’s true or not, but neither does Timothy Noah. For one thing, he seems to think the film’s message is something about the draft. (“Perhaps there’s an intended parallel with the forced recruitment of child soldiers, or, more provocatively, with any government’s drafting of young adults . . . . But the first is an obscene form of savagery . . . . And the second has been necessary in the past” . . . what was that about trying to have it both ways, Tim?) From the reviews I’ve read of the books and the film, it seems obvious to me that the film is about power politics, not combat taken literally. A ruling class lives in luxurious self-indulgence while exacting tribute from a much larger population enslaved in a desperate struggle for subsistence, occasionally dragging some of them off for reality-TV blood sports: sound familiar at all? Taking the plot literally, focusing only on the violence, misses the actual conflict it portrays. For another, he works in an awkward reference to Rodin’s sculpture of the Burghers of Calais as his personal moral cry from the heart, appealing to the author and producers to throw in some refusal-to-participate-in-evil as a moral touchstone. Except that Burghers of Calais isn’t about the refusal to participate in evil; the Burghers sacrificed themselves, but they were never asked to do anything bad, so the choice being made there is completely different. Noah understands Rodin just as well as he understands this movie, which is to say not at all. Which, again, raises the question whether, in thinking that the problem with a movie about forcing teenagers to hunt on another to their deaths for the amusement of the upper class is that it might be too much fun to watch, Noah has put his finger precisely on the crux of the matter. I’m tempted to think it’s the hunting-each-other-to-the-death thing, and the upper-class-kills-lower-class-for-fun thing. Either way, though, it’s obvious that Noah has a painfully literal comprehension of everything he sees on the screen, and we have to believe either that this movie is really that dumb, or he’s not really seeing all there is to it.

That last point is pretty much what we have to believe about everything he writes. In just the last week he’s produced three short pieces in which he persists in saying that everything he sees really is just what it looks like. Sometimes he’s right (yes, Clinton was throwing a hint to Obama!); sometimes he’s wrong (no, The Hunger Games really isn’t just about the military draft). But when he’s right he has nothing to add (if it’s what it looks like, we can just look at it; nobody in the world needed Noah to point out the Obama parallel in Clinton’s book review), and when he’s wrong . . . sheesh.

But I don’t really mind. I just want The New Republic to know that, if it’s blindingly obvious literalism and a complete lack of critical insight they want, well, I’ll do my best.

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OK, so there’s that thing where you suddenly have to go to the bathroom and you get up and walk stiff-legged down the long hallway in your place of work, trying to get there before embarrassing yourself, and the severe internal pressure in your bowels which you are trying desperately to keep clenched in causes you to emit a little squeaky fart with each step, such that you goosestep down the length of the hall before all your coworkers accompanying yourself with a John Philip Sousa march played through your own anus, like the world’s worst one-man marching band.

I’m not saying that happened to anyone I know. I’m just saying that, if it had happened, it would have been awkward.

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So there’s been a lot of back-and-forth shot trading between the Romney and Obama camps lately. Some of it is hilarious. (“Romney strapped a dog to a car!” “Well Obama ate one!” “Romney’s grandfather was a polygamist!” “Well so was Obama’s father!“)

The right wing seems to think these parallels are especially embarrassing to Obama. Their theory seems to be that this negates the charges against Romney while leaving the Obama team with egg on its face. I’m not sure they really understand what game they’re playing.

First of all, the parallels aren’t really in Romney’s favor. Eating dog is accepted behavior in some societies, including the one Obama was living in at the time, and anyway he was a kid. Making your family pet do a 300-mile wingwalker act while ignoring the fact that it’s shitting itself in fear is not accepted American behavior, and Romney made a considered decision to do this as an adult and pet owner. And of course we treat pets differently from the way we treat food animals; I’m sure Romney eats cows, but it would be odd if he tied one to his car, and it’s odd that he doesn’t understand that. The polygamy thing is another case in point: it’s legal in Muslim societies, and was made explicitly illegal in America. Maybe that’s good, or maybe it’s bad, but the comparison only points out the fact that Obama’s dad was a product of a foreign culture which Obama has repudiated, while Romney’s family deliberately broke with their own religion on the major doctrinal point that made that religion a part of the American mainstream, and left America in order to evade US law and pursue a fringe branch of a minority religion that continued to embrace a practice that was abhorrent to Americans. (In his defense, Romney’s father rejected that line and came back to the US, and Romney himself has always been a “mainstream” Mormon. So Romney and Obama can both claim that they themselves were not involved in their forebears’ practices.) In both cases, Romney himself, or his family, deliberately undertook a practice that makes Americans queasy (in one instance fleeing the country to do so), while Obama was simply exposed in his youth to practices that were not out of the mainstream for their culture, and which he has never continued as an adult.

But the real question is not whose cultural ancestry or pet-keeping practices are weirder. The question is what role does this play in the campaign, or, for those of you with consciences, what role should it?

The obvious implication is that these historical anecdotes are embarrassing to the extent that they reveal bad behavior: that whoever’s polygamist past is worst is thereby at a disadvantage. Thus, the political role of these stories is to serve as “dirt” on their respective subjects, and the purpose of raising them in the campaign is to dirty the reputation of the opposing candidate. That’s how the right wing is playing this: “maybe Romney makes his dog ride coach, but at least he didn’t eat it!” But that’s not how this really works.

First of all, few voters are going to change their minds about either candidate after hearing these stories. To the extent that they do, the dynamic works against Romney because people have been hearing “scary Muslim” stories about Obama for 5 years now and still don’t care. But more importantly, these kinds of stories can only work on the kind of people on whom these kinds of stories work. That is, the “Obama the scary Muslim” stories work on people who are bigoted against Muslims, while “Romney the weirdo Mormon” stories work on people who are bigoted against Mormons (or just leery of Romney because they think he’s different from them). The thing is, these people all come from the same part of the political spectrum.

The people who hate Muslims are the same kind of people, and mostly the same people, who hate Mormons. None of those people are voting for Obama anyway. The anti-Muslim bigots would vote for Romney, until they remember that he’s Mormon and find themselves caught in a bind between two forms of their own bigotry. Which is the whole point: reminding people that Romney is Mormon doesn’t affect Obama voters or swing voters; it affects GOP voters (mostly evangelicals) who can’t swallow a Mormon even if he’s also a right-winger from their own party. (And reminding people that Obama is a Muslim also doesn’t affect Obama voters, because they’re not bigots and he’s not a Muslim anyway.) So the longer these kinds of clashes go on, the more it antagonizes the GOP base and leaves the Democratic base chortling with schadenfreude. The purpose of the cultural anecdotes is not to prove that one candidate or another has bad character; it’s simply to remind people – meaning GOP base bigots – that Romney’s a weirdo Mormon, to allow them to make their own decisions whether or not to take that into account (knowing that they will, because they’re Republican bigots and that’s what they do).

So the next question is: is that any way for a mature and responsible political party to behave? We can grant that that’s kind of a counterfactual in the American case, and we can even grant that it would be preferable not to have political elections determined by such concerns. But still . . . I’d argue that the answer is “yes”. Given the dynamics that drive the parties, this kind of wink-and-nod shit-stirring is not only appropriate but arguably contributes to a better and more mature campaign environment.

Figure it this way: the Republican party not only thrives on, not only promotes and manipulates, but exists largely for and because of racial and religious resentments that they deliberately stoke and take advantage of. Some of those resentments are anti-Mormon. Now they’re stuck with a Mormon candidate – a really, really Mormon candidate who explicitly rejects the separation of church and state. The religious bigotry that the GOP openly courts and deliberately escalates now comes full circle into their own base – the evangelical resentment and paranoia they’ve been pandering to for decades includes as its target the formerly negligible group from which they have now chosen their own presidential candidate. Every reminder of Mitt’s Mormonic tendencies inflames the rejectionist inclination of the religious right that makes up a significant fraction of the GOP base. But the delicious thing about this is that it’s a problem entirely of their own making.

This issue could have been avoided completely if the GOP had not embraced bigotry and religious extremism. If they didn’t have religious bigots in their base, noting the religious beliefs of their candidate wouldn’t have an effect on the electoral race. And it still wouldn’t if they simply repudiated religious bigotry now. But repudiating religious bigotry, and their bigot base, would mean sacrificing about half of their own voters, almost all of their elected officials, and the party’s stance on almost everything from birth control to abortion to women’s rights to defense, the budget, and even the environment. So they’re not going to do that.  They’re going to take their lumps in the presidential race, however bad it gets, but be very careful not to confront or criticize the elements of their own base who are threatening their own candidate with criticism or simply by staying home on election day – because the GOP fully intends to keep milking religious bigotry for every possible cause for the foreseeable future. (Of course, they’re never nominating a Mormon again.) But this situation does at least highlight the degree to which religious extremism has been built into GOP DNA.

I expect (though I wish I could be surer) that Romney will lose the election, and I’m certain that whatever happens he will come out with significantly lower evangelical support than otherwise expected. To the extent to which the Democrats can encourage evangelicals to vote their own (twisted) religious consciences – which is to say reject their own candidate because he’s not a mainstream Christian – that’s good for the country, both by helping elect a better candidate and by raising the price to the GOP of their own divisiveness and bigotry. Is this itself a form of pandering to bigotry? Well, it’s allowing the religious right to pander to its own bigotry. Again, they could completely avoid the cost to their own political party of acting out of bigotry by simply not acting out of bigotry. Letting bad people hurt themselves has got to be preferable to letting them hurt innocent people, especially when they can easily avoid hurting themselves just by changing their own ways.

The other thing to note is that, unlike most of the stuff about Obama, all the stuff about Romney is simply true. He has not been slandered, but he constantly complains that he has when people simply make factual statements about his religious identity (or other obvious truths: his wife, who spouts off her opinions about the problems of working women, has in fact never worked outside the home a day in her life; the Obamacare plan is in fact modeled directly on Romney’s own healthcare plan for Massachusetts). Romney’s a Mormon. Mormon, Mormon, Mormon. It’s true. The only people who care are evangelicals who are convinced Mormons are going to hell, and can’t bring themselves to vote for one – all of whom happen to be GOP voters, and in some cases party officials. They’ve got a Mormon candidate. A Mormon, Mormon, Mormon. They’ve got to decide whether their political desires will override their religious prejudices – a problem that wouldn’t exist at all if they simply weren’t prejudiced. But they are. And their candidate’s a Mormon, Mormon, Mormony, Mormon. Whether this conflict convinces some of them to be more open-minded, or convinces a lot of them to let their candidate lose to indulge their personal prejudices, that’s a win for America.

Mormon, Mormon, Mormon.

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