America’s Mass Shooting Leitmotif

okwiththis

Active shooter drills are to my kids what “duck and cover” was to boomers.

Fifty years ago, we feared Soviet nuclear armageddon, now we don’t have to be wary of expansionist Leninist communism, but random assholes who can arm themselves to the teeth if they have a working PayPal account.

Yesterday, it was a mass shooting at an Oregon Community College. Before that it was Charleston, Fort Hood, D.C., Newtown. It’s constant. It’s chronic.

The United States is unique in the developed world: it guarantees its citizens a right to own and possess firearms. It is also unique insofar as we don’t have one uniform rule across all 50 states, so the ease with which one lunatic can amass his arsenal varies from state to state. So, it’s very difficult to point to the experience of the UK or Australia in order to do something about the public health scourge of gun violence.

I wrote a piece around the time that New York’s SAFE Act – “Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement” Act – a gun control measure passed in response and in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass murder of 20 innocent first graders. I saw gun enthusiasts and 2nd Amendment absolutists declare the SAFE Act to be the most horrible and egregious infringement on Consitutional rights, ever. I called the piece “Fuck Your Gun” to be provocative.

The SAFE Act limited gun magazines and implemented universal background checks for any gun transfer in any context. The 2nd Amendment absolutists declared it to be the end of everyone’s Constitutional rights. Meanwhile, here’s a chart of mass shootings in the US since Sandy Hook. Since Sandy Hook, the US has tolerated one school shooting just about every single week.

That is a nothing short of a scandal. Thoughts and prayers aren’t working.

The second amendment. The one that helps enshrine perpetual violence and revolution. Its purpose – clearly stated – was to make sure that our new country, which at the time had no standing army, could protect itself from attacks by Britons, Frenchmen, Spaniards, and whatever Indian tribe or nation from which we were trying wrest control of land.

You want a gun for hunting? Target practice? Skeet? To ward off robbers or burglars? That’s fine. You should not, however, get to keep a military arsenal.

Those on the deepest fringes of the right wing – the people who think lunatic Alex Jones is an influential and sane voice about guns – love to bring up the notion that the 2nd Amendment exists to protect you from “tyranny”. No one gets too worked up trying to define what “tyranny” is, or who gets to decide when “tyranny” becomes a clear and present danger. The anti-government Oathkeepers group threatened to murder federal officials executing a lawful court order against anti-gay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis. This crowd loves to cite the Declaration of Independence – a document that was a declaration of war against a monarch who brutally exploited his American colonies. The Declaration, however, ceased to have any legal effect the moment that Britain lost the war and recognized American Independence.

So, no, proud patriot, you don’t have a right to take up arms against the government. Indeed, Article III, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution makes that sort of thing a very serious crime.

One more gun control effort, and one more gun fetishist makes some broken, semi-informed analogy about how if the Jews were armed in the 30s, they could have somehow halted their own genocide in the face of a German war machine. One more gun debate, and one more person suggests that our representative democracy – flawed though it might be – is or could oh-so-easily-be the equivalent of Pol Pot’s Cambodia. One more effort to limit the firepower we so casually make available to lunatics, and one more person expresses his idiot fever-dream of single-handedly taking on the FBI or One World Government or ZOG, notwithstanding the fact that the government could – if it wanted to – easily take out your entire neighborhood with an unmanned drone operated by a teenager nursing a Monster Energy Drink in a dank, smelly basement in Northern Virginia.

One more gun fetishist, one more clumsy analogy made to some other object with a large capacity or capability of doing harm that we are allowed to own, but the primary purpose for which is not “putting holes in things at breakneck speed”. Gas tanks, fast cars, pencils. False arguments backed by the tyranny of the gun lobby.

And what of tyranny? We’ve had plenty of tyranny in this country, but when the Black Panthers agitated for blacks to arm themselves during the civil rights struggles of the 60s, the NRA was happy to support the Mulford Act, which limited the Panthers’ ability to carry arms and inform black citizens of their Constitutional rights. The NRA supports your right to bear arms, so long as you’re of European descent and not too uppity.

If you want a gun to “protect yourself” (a statistically, epidemiologically false notion) knock yourself out. But you don’t need to keep a Kalashnikov under your pillow.  Gabby Giffords’ would-be assassin had a 33-round magazine in his possession. He was subdued only as he tried to reload; by that time, six people had been killed.

I get that violence is an integral part of American society and history. We’re not like Japan, where the society and infrastructure are such that little kids are still free to travel independently and safely. But I also recognize that you don’t get to own an F-15 or a nuclear missile just because it makes you feel safe or helps you ward off “tyranny”.

The United States is also exceptional and unique in its willingness to tolerate us being inhuman to each other. Another mass shooting and we simply shrug.

I am of the controversial opinion that homicidal lunatics shouldn’t have access to military weapons and equipment; shouldn’t be able to waltz around your town with enough firepower to put 11 holes in a first grader. Shouldn’t be able to get so many rounds off in so little time that the first grader’s jaw and hand are disappeared.

If you like guns, good for you. I don’t want to confiscate your gun. After all, it’s legally impossible to do so unless you commit some crime or threaten violence.

But the United States is exceptional and unique not only in how tolerant it is of mass shootings, but because homicidal maniacs have the easy ability – if not the right – to amass small arsenals and commit unspeakable horrors. Other countries also have homicidal lunatics, but they can’t easily obtain firearms; a Belgian can’t just pop down to Luxembourg to buy all the guns and ammo he needs to take out a 1st grade classroom.

Our easy access to guns and our gun culture make our society a particularly violent one; not video games or TV shows – those are safe avenues of expressing the reality of warfare. We love war and conflict. We can’t get enough of it. Somehow, other societies are able to function without it.

New York now limits your ability to transfer your guns to the angry and insane, and you have to reload more frequently while you’re shooting up whatever it is you’re pointing your gun at. The 2nd Amendment, however, is not absolute. The 1st Amendment isn’t absolute, either. You can’t defame someone or incite riot with your words. Likewise, the 2nd Amendment may guarantee your right to own a firearm, but government can put restrictions on that right.

And what rights to the victims of gun violence have? Did the Sandy Hook parents have a right to have their kids come home from school? Did the victims in Oregon have a right to go to school and then go home? How are those rights less valuable than the right to arm oneself to the teeth?

We could maybe aspire to be like Honduras, Jamaica or El Salvador – third world nations with massive income inequality where the building blocks of civil society are inept, corrupt, or both. More guns lead to more violence and killings. More guns don’t make a polite society, they simply make an arrogant and armed society – a society where it becomes much easier to bring about permanent retribution for even perceived slights.

“A society that is relying on guys with guns to stop violence is a sign of a society where institutions have broken down.”

What law would prevent these mass shootings? After all, criminals don’t obey the law. I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that we have a great country filled with smart people who could put something together. But we first have to decide – as a society, as a people – that these mass shootings of innocent people are simply no longer to be tolerated.

Right?

Last night, President Obama challenged the press to publish the statistics comparing American deaths from terrorism – a threat at which we’ve thrown lives and treasure – and gun violence. Here it is:

American deaths from terrorism are fewer than 100 for every year but 2001.

“We spent over a trillion dollars, and passed countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so” Obama said. “And yet we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?”

More guns means more killing – factually and statistically. This is doubtlessly terrorism, but it’s the kind we have, as a society, decided we can live with.

We have decided to live with it because we have decided that the right of people to bear unlimited arms without restriction is greater than the right of average people not to be shot.

The Planned Parenthood Witch Trial

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Under the guise of a congressional “investigation”, Republican seat-moisteners lawmakers are trying to do to Planned Parenthood what they did to ACORN some seven years ago. This time, though, it isn’t working. This is mostly because Planned Parenthood has a broader and politically stronger constituency than ACORN ever did, and because the videos that anti-abortion activists have circulated that purport to show Planned Parenthood executives bartering for fetal body parts were so obviously doctored and unfairly edited.

It is true that fetal tissue from aborted fetuses is sometimes donated for scientific research. Research using fetal tissue has resulted in incredible scientific achievements.

The Congressional inquiry was chaired yesterday by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, who, along with his right-wing colleagues, spent a great deal of time hurling insults and accusations but not at all a lot of time allowing the affiant, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, to testify.

The entire charade can be summed up in a chart that Chaffetz sprung on Richards at the end of his “inquiry”.  He hadn’t had the decency to show her in advance the chart he was going to use, so she was barely able to respond to it. But it was an especially – intentionally – dishonest piece of propaganda.

Chaffetz was trying to accuse Planned Parenthood of abdicating its role as a major women’s health care provider and instead making all kinds of money off of abortion. Here is the chart he showed:

The source is “Americans United for Life”, a radical anti-abortion lobbying group. Is this how these Republicans science and math? 

Notice that the vertical axes are not labeled. That’s because the two lines use different scaling. On the left side, cancer screening has a value of about 2,000,000; abortions, about 290,000. As you might expect, 2,000,000 is above 290,000. On the right, cancer screenings has a value of 936,000, and that is somehow below the number of abortions at 327,000. It’s also somehow below 290,000!

So, the chart is falsely designed to imply that Planned Parenthood now performs far more abortions than breast screenings, but that’s quite obviously untrue.

Kevin Drum went a step further in Mother Jones, showing how the charts should look:

He adds,

And why has the line for cancer screenings gone down? According to Cecile Richards, it’s because “some of the services, like pap smears, dropped in frequency because of changing medical standards about who should be screened and how often.”

More importantly, Drum adds that the suite of women’s health services that Planned Parenthood offers goes beyond mere breast cancer screenings, but includes things like STD testing and pap smears. If you include all of the non-abortion services that Planned Parenthood offers, the chart looks more like this:

This is standard Republican playbook stuff, but because of the sheer power and broad reach of the target, it’s not working out. The government isn’t going to be shut down over federal funding of Planned Parenthood, and the vast majority of Americans can see beyond the propaganda and value the important services that Planned Parenthood offers. It remains true that abortion services are never federally funded, and only make up 3% of what Planned Parenthood does. About 41% of the organization’s budget – just over $500 million – comes from federal funding for women’s health and contraception services.

The ACORN entrapment videos – all of which were deceptively edited, and none of which resulted in any illegality – targeted a group that worked to register mostly poor, mostly minority voters. This was supposed to be the sequel.

When Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina lies about a scene that doesn’t exist in any of the Planned Parenthood videos – a scene, incidentally, shot clandestinely without the mother’s permission or consent of a fetus that hadn’t been aborted, but was the victim of a miscarriage – it underscores that this Republican effort to destroy Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with abortion or “sale” of fetal body parts, but everything to do with interfering with women’s health and their ability to enjoy a safe and disease-free sex life. They’ve tried it before, and they won’t be satisfied until they completely alienate the female vote.

In the end, it’s about puritanism and denying to women their basic human rights. Here’s what that looks like:

Thankfully, there were reasonable people present:

It’s ok to be anti-abortion, and it would be great if abortions never happened. However, Planned Parenthood offers contraceptive services, the expansion of which would lower the number of abortions performed in this country. It’s ok to be anti-abortion, but it’s not ok to legislate a woman’s right to make that choice. But most importantly, because federal funds do not and cannot be used to finance abortion services, all of this is a lie. It is all a manufactured show-trial by men who cannot tolerate the idea that women be allowed control over their bodies and their reproductive rights.

I Watched the CNN Debate

These are my real-time reactions, at least until 10:20 when I had to get ready for work in the morning.

With Apologies to the Simpsons

trumpchoppper

Inspired by this

and this.

Birthright Citizenship: Start Packing

Two imbeciles from South Boston this past week pissed on a homeless man, and then beat the shit out of him. Get a load of what happened,

The homeless man was lying on the ground, shaking, when police arrived early Wednesday. His face was soaked, apparently with urine, his nose broken, his chest and arms battered.

Police said two brothers from South Boston ambushed the 58-year-old as he slept outside of a Dorchester MBTA stop, and targeted him because he is Hispanic. One of the brothers said he was inspired in part by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Forget, for a moment, the fact that “Hispanic” could mean the guy is Puerto Rican – an American citizen at birth from one of our colonial territories. Either way – regardless of his nationality – the victim is documented.  Here’s how Trump responded to this vicious assault done in his name,

When Trump was asked about the Aug. 19 assault in Boston, the billionaire New Yorker reportedly said, “It would be a shame … I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

Get that? Trump spends weeks demonizing Hispanic immigrants, two numbskulls beat the shit out of one and invoke Trump’s name, and Trump calls them “passionate” people who “love this country…want this country to be great again.”

Calling that depraved isn’t nearly strong enough. This is incitement. Irresponsible. Un-American. Donald Trump is setting the US up for an anti-Hispanic pogrom. He tried to amend his reaction on Twitter:

Over the past couple of decades at least, Republicans have managed to pull off something of a public relations feat. They purport to love America – love our Constitution, think ours is the best country in the world. Except they don’t. That’s why Donald Trump, whose campaign slogan is synonymous with “America is horrible” is surging.

This has long been a right-wing trope hurled at liberals; that we hate America because we might seek certain changes to our society, politics, law, and economy. It’s just as ridiculous, incidentally, to accuse right-wingers of hating America because they might also seek changes that happen to differ. But Trump has taken the “America sucks” label and made it a campaign slogan.

As Matt Taibbi writes, it’s not funny anymore.

There’s a difference between saying America is great but has room for improvement, and Trump’s slogan-equivalent of “America isn’t great anymore”. Alas, his slogan hits a particular nerve with the people who feel threatened and afraid, and some are responding positively to him. Whether it’s Obamacare, same-sex marriage, or anything in-between, some people are nostalgic for an America that probably never existed.

But Trump’s initial explicit approval of racial violence isn’t funny. Inciting a pogrom isn’t funny. Trump is unlikely ever to be President, but with each passing day, he further disqualifies himself.

Substantively, Trump is calling for the end of birthright citizenship; the Latin phrase is “jus soli”, or “right of the soil”. Trump reveals himself as a typical right-wing cafeteria Constitutionalist, picking and choosing the parts he thinks are important and worth protecting.

Birthright citizenship is enshrined in the Constitution. So far not just Trump, but even Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker would abolish or amend it. Specifically, this “Party of Lincoln” wants to get rid of the 14th Amendment – one of the most important legacies of Reconstruction.

The 14th Amendment was ratified just after the end of the Civil War, and granted citizenship to, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” including, most importantly, former slaves. The 14th Amendment also prohibits the states from denying, “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It was a huge expansion of civil rights to all Americans.

Republican front-runners want it gone.

Pursuant to the 14th Amendment, any baby born on American soil is automatically an American citizen. It has been this way since at least pre-Revolutionary times and was first found in English Common Law. Jus soli applied prior to the 14th Amendment, but only to non-slaves. Jus soli is typical throughout the former colonies of the entire Western Hemisphere.

The alternative is “jus sanguinis”, which is citizenship based on nationality and blood. “American” isn’t a “nationality” in the historic sense. Americans are not bound by ethnicity or religion. Instead, our nationality comes from our citizenship and/or allegiance. Said another way, “French” is a nationality and also an ethnicity. A baby born in the US to two people of French ethnicity is entitled to American and French citizenship from birth. The same goes for most every European and Asian nation-state.

America started as jumble of European colonies, and we’ve continued to bring in immigrants of myriad ethnicities to make up our newfangled type of nation. The citizens of countries of Europe and Asia, by contrast, are bound not just by the contents of their passports, but also through ethnicity or language or religion. (There are, obviously, exceptions. Countries that had been colonized are not homogeneous – think Iraq, Afghanistan, or Burma. In Europe, there are a small number of multi-ethnic states such as Switzerland and Belgium).

As it stands, I’m entitled to Croatian citizenship through jus sanguinis. Under jus soli, I was an American citizen at birth, despite the fact that my parents were recent immigrants with Yugoslav passports.

So, in the event that one of these revisionist conservatives – including Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal, both of whom directly benefited from jus soli (Cruz in Canada) – becomes President, I’ve begun the process of dealing with the possible retroactive rescission of my American citizenship. Ted Cruz had better start looking for Canadian real estate, and Bobby Jindal’s opportunities back home in Punjab are likely better than they were in 1971, when he was born in Louisiana to recent immigrants.

Donald Trump – German by nationality with a fake, phony Americanized name – took to Fox News to rail against what he called “anchor babies”, which is a handy way of literally blaming infants for a crime.

Trump plans to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and he plans to implement this insane scheme by tripling the number of ICE agents, presumably because he’s going to need a lot of enforcers to round up all the families he needs to deport.

And last but pretty damned far from least, Trump says he’s basically going to either repeal or ignore the 14th amendment to the US Constitution, because he’s planning to end birthright citizenship. His plan doesn’t spell out exactly how he’d accomplish this, probably because he knows it’s never going to happen in the real world.

In fact, none of this is ever going to happen in the real world, and if Trump becomes president and actually tries to make it happen, it would involve turning the United States into a full-blown police state.

But I guess that prospect is attractive to conservatives.

So far the only thing missing is Huckabee telling everyone how jus sanguinis is part of Jesus’ plan for America.

Some on the ultra-right who think Trump has a great idea have convinced themselves that abolition of jus soli in America wouldn’t require a Constitutional Amendment.  Breitbartistan is all over this line of thinking. They point to the italicized text of this 14th Amendment clause, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” So, for instance, because a diplomat in the United States enjoys certain immunities pursuant to custom and treaty, he is not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States, and any child born of a diplomat in the US is not entitled to jus soli. This is codified, in fact to apply not only to diplomats, but to heads of state and foreign POWs.

They extrapolate from this, (and use some earlier 19th century case law to do it), that this also applies to any foreign national whatsoever. If you are, “subject to any foreign power”; i.e., immigrant – legal or otherwise, dual citizen, your offspring is not entitled to jus soli. They also argue that foreigners are not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the US, although that is patently false in both law and common sense. If a tourist can be arrested under American law for committing a crime, he’s “subject to the jurisdiction” of the US. If an immigrant must obtain a driver’s license to drive a car that he’s registered with a state DMV, he is “subject to the jurisdiction” of the US.

In 1898 the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed, in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, that everyone born in the United States is an American citizen.

By the way, Ted Cruz thinks you’re stupid. Here’s what he said about birthright citizenship in 2011 – just four years ago.

“The 14th Amendment provides for birthright citizenship. I’ve looked at the legal arguments against it, and I will tell you as a Supreme Court litigator, those arguments are not very good,” he said. “As much as someone may dislike the policy of birthright citizenship, it’s in the U.S. Constitution. And I don’t like it when federal judges set aside the Constitution because their policy preferences are different.”

So, you, too, may have to prepare for the day when the Republicans abolish the 14th Amendment and attempt perhaps retroactively to rescind millions of Americans’ citizenship. With that amendment out of the way, it could arguably done without due process of law. The possibilities are endless in terms of making the US just a little less ethnic. This may soon be the real prepper movement – 1st and 2nd generation Americans born to non-citizens making arrangements for deportation.

Over the last few decades, the Republican Party has become not so much a big tent of conservative economic theories and values, but a para-fascist, predominately Southern strain of white identity politics. It might be time for thinking conservatives to find a new home and leave the GOP to history’s dustbin, or perhaps to purge the more reactionary element from its mainstream. Not my problem, though – it merely reinforces my decision to abandon it over a decade ago. If I was a reasonable Republican, I’d be looking at this Trump surge and I’d be not at all happy by what it represents. If I happened to be a 1st generation American and a Republican, I’d be running for the damn hills.

Hey, maybe Canada will take us in?

The Democratic GOTV Party

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Did you watch either of the two debates that Fox News held for the little league roster of Republican presidential candidates? I made it through the first hour of the frontrunners’ debate because anything more would have been masochism.

The reports this morning say that Trump dominated, but what I saw was an irrelevant 80s pop culture relic trying to make himself (a) relevant; (b) seem conservative; and (c) seem like less of a flip-flopper. What I saw seemed to me to be an embarrassment. For instance, if Trump was in favor of a single-payer health insurance scheme because, as he put it, it “works great” in Canada and Scotland, why would he deprive Americans of something that “works great”? In what way has Obamacare held back any putative effort to implement a single-payer (or partial single-payer) plan? Trump said he wants to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans, but Marco Rubio asked rhetorically about what happens when El Chapo buids a tunnel under the wall.

What we know is that Rand Paul is a miserable shit and everyone hates him.

Ted Cruz is a Bond villain. He is Blofeld and basically wants to kill all the ISIS with sharks, laser beams. Cruz seems to think that the key to defeating ISIS is to call them names. He’s a big fan of Egypt’s new, authoritarian military dictatorship.

Ben Carson seems like he has a nice bedside manner, should stick to medicine.

John Kasich seems sane, which means he has zero chance. As Josh Marshall put it, “he was the only person who seemed interested in governing. In context, a poor showing.” Ha.

Chris Christie livened it up when he took on Rand Paul, whom everyone hates. Paul is the annoying libertarian troll in the comments section; an unreasonable pest. Christie, unlike Paul, has actual experience as the chief executive of a governmental entity. I have mixed feelings about Christie – sometimes his brash outspokenness is good, when he defends the vast majority of law-abiding Muslim Americans, for instance. But scratch the surface, and he’s just as bad as the rest of them; perhaps worse.

Trump said that the Mexican government is “sending” all of its criminals to the US because they’re so much “smarter” than the US government. If Mexico’s leaders – who preside over a country that is now largely controlled by drug cartels and their corrupt government stooges – are so much “smarter”, wouldn’t Americans be flocking to emigrate south? The whole thing is idiotic.

Don’t forget that economic refugees from Mexico are easily demonized by GOP candidates, but economic refugees from Cuba are sacrosanct, entitled to citizenship by dint of reaching dry land. It’s a double-standard because someone thinks it’s ok to flee Communist dictatorship, but not ok to flee crushing poverty and narcoterrorism.

Huckabee is running to be President of fetuses. One thing I’ve learned over the past few weeks is that the right’s false and misleading ACORN-style assault on Planned Parenthood reveals how much more they value the life of a fetus than that of a living female. Planned Parenthood’s chief mission is women’s health, including cancer screening and treatment. All these men preening about how much they hate the Planned Parenthood and pledging fealty to fetus-Americans are willing to sacrifice the lives of women to cancer and disease. Scott Walker, for his part, would force a woman to give birth even if it kills her. Literally. It’s the “should’ve shut your legs” plan.

It doesn’t end there. When these children are born – in some cases by state force against a mother’s will – these same people will happily dismantle any semblance of a civilized society to help feed, clothe, nurture, and educate those children. They want to abolish Medicaid. They want to abolish SNAP. They want to privatize and abolish the public school system. They want to de-fund and abolish social security and make people rely on the market. They want to abolish Medicare. Forget Obamacare – these dinosaurs quite literally want to roll back every socio-economic gain this country has made in the last century and send us back into the pre-Teddy Roosevelt 1890s.

Fox’s Megyn Kelly called Trump out for some of his misogynist comments over the years. He turned it around into an assault on “political correctness”.  If you think that it’s acceptable to disagree with a female by calling her a “fat pig” or “dog” or “slob” or “disgusting animal” – that’s not being un-PC, that’s being a malignant asshole. Donald Trump obviously has no business being anywhere near elected office and makes for an entertaining sideshow. But like the miniature horse at the fair, there’s no there there.

But the whole spectacle really put on stark display how stupid our politics has become. The election is in November 2016. The Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary are in January. The moderators ask a candidate a question, and the candidate gets one minute to regurgitate a memorized set of talking points as quickly as possible. With a few exceptions, it was a canned set of little campaign ads. I think the Hill’s roundup of “winners and losers” is about right – I think Kasich was a breath of fresh air, and I’d put Bush as “mixed” and move Cruz to “loser”. Walker is weak, Carson seems uninformed, Huckabee is a snake oil salesman, and everyone hates Rand.

Let’s Talk about Donald Trump

Yesterday, Donald Trump, who is of German ancestry (Drumpf), Tweeted this:

It was quickly deleted after people like John Schindler pointed out that the troops shown in the red stripe are, in fact, wearing the uniform of the dreaded Nazi Waffen-SS, the war criminals who ran the death camps.

The ad would also work this way,

Don’t let’s forget that Trump was feted by the local Republican committee, which urged him to run for Governor against Cuomo.

Trump the Lumpenrich

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Donald Trump is one of the best cartoon characters of recent times – even Scrooge McDuck seems like a reasonable guy by comparison. McDuck might dive into a pool of gold coins, but he’s known for his frugality. Donald Trump is the flashy caricature of the nouveau riche asshole who gold-plates everything and preens around like an Arab Sheikh.

As Trump does palpable harm to what’s left of his brand and the Republican Party’s Latino outreach efforts, let’s not forget that in 2013 it was our own Republicans here in western New York who pushed Trump to run for Governor against Cuomo.  That’s a terrifying threat to replace the wild, unchecked egotism of Andrew Cuomo with a wealthy walking id.

Trump’s especial brand of anti-Obama birtherism plays well for like-minded fellas like David DiPietro and his tea party “Mass Murder Dylann Roof had a point” cohorts.

Donald Trump will never be President. He is a construct of the media and he’s polling well with Republican primary voters, but wildly disliked overall. Trump’s rise in the poll is him being patted on the back by the same people who are angry about the Confederate Flag, same sex marriage, and the people still clamoring for Obama to be removed from office for being an Indonesian Kenyan Manchurian candidate usurper. He is the candidate of anti-intellectual America, and the defeatist white male upstate voter with a “repeal NY SAFE Act” lawnsign; Cuomo is the devil, and Obama isn’t even human. They aspire to be just like Donald Trump, and they love that he thinks like they do – and he has the money and name recognition to not care what anyone thinks. 

Donald Trump would accomplish nothing. He would do nothing for education, for the poor, for upstate’s economic malaise, for Buffalo, or for anyone except the tea party and the ultrarich. The headlines related to the upstate effort to recruit Trump for governor should have read, “Lawmakers to Massage Trump Ego, Trump Reacts Favorably”.

However, Trump has done irreperable damage to his brand (and that of his children). His outrageous and false defamation of Mexican immigrants have prompted numerous people and companies to completely abandon the tarnished “Trump” name. For once, Trump is learning that the 1st Amendment and $4 billion in the bank can’t protect you from the very real, public consequences of the false and outrageous things you say. Macy’s and other companies have a business to run, and they simply can’t afford to be associated with a bigot.

The Trump name used to stand for opulent, rococo luxury. For most people with some taste, it was always over the top; kitsch, but quality kitsch. He’s always been a colorful public figure, brash and opinionated. But with his political behavior, he has taken the Trump name and essentially thrown it in the toilet.

He has now supplanted Orly Taitz as American birther-in-chief. His anti-Obama public political pronouncements have been false, offensive and loaded with thinly veiled racial animus – claiming that the President is foreign, socialist, evil, doesn’t have America’s best interests at heart. Even many Obama detractors who think his policies are wrong would concede that he hasn’t led the country over the last four years like the Bolshevik some make him out to be.

Trump throws shade at Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, but Romney used Trump as a surrogate; Trump is disloyal and has a constituency of one.

Over the past few years, Trump has polarized customers and voters, and ruined a formerly strong brand. Adopting crazy, fringe political viewpoints and broadcasting them in a way that is equal parts arrogance and ignorance won’t win him the Presidency, and will only deepen the already-extant boycott of his products. He’s also a hypocrite, bemoaning the very free trade deals that made it economically smart for him to exploit cheap labor and manufacture suits in Mexico and ties in China.

As for economic stewardship, Trump companies have gone bankrupt four times, avoiding legally binding debts.

Trump is one of about 15 Republican Presidential hopefuls, and he not only threatens the viability of his own brand, but the Republican brand in general. The more nonsense that comes out of his unfiltered mouth, and the more he beats up on the most vulnerable and powerless in our society, and the more he demeans his fellow candidates, you’d not be crazy to think that he might actually be a liberal plant setting up the GOP for self-immolation.

Enjoy the ride, Republicans, but remember that whatever Trump’s doing, he’s only in it for Trump.

Indiana and the Right to Hate

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In 2004, Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. It wasn’t done legislatively, but by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny homosexual couples the right to marry.

Back in the mid-90s, the federal government saw the writing on the wall and passed an idiotic and narrow-minded piece of legislation called the “Defense of Marriage Act“, as if “marriage” as an institution needed federal “defense” from the marauding homo hordes, as opposed to, e.g., hetero divorcees. To his eternal demerit, President Clinton signed this dreck into law. In 2013 the Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional, opening up federal benefits to married same-sex couples. That recognition was expanded administratively to ensure that same-sex married couples were treated like a heterosexual married couple for purposes of federal law.

In the nine years since Massachusetts’ highest court made history, the United States went from one state permitting same-sex marriage to thirty-seven, plus the District of Columbia. That’s a swift adoption curve.

Naturally, there will be resistance to such a rapid and dramatic societal shift. Alabama allowed same-sex marriage for a few weeks, but some of its state officials are taking a “state’s rights” stand and forbidding licenses from being issued. Apparently their stubborn adherence to Jim Crow generations ago didn’t teach them any lessons. Kansas is similarly complicated. There have also been a handful of cases where merchants have refused to serve same-sex couples, ostensibly on religious or political principle.

So it is that Indiana’s governor Mike Pence on Wednesday signed into law something called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act“. This law doesn’t “restore” religious freedom, so much as it effectively legalizes anti-gay bigotry. Signed in private, surrounded by clergy and social conservative lobbyists, Governor Pence claimed the law didn’t allow anti-gay discrimination. Not unsurprisingly, it is redundantly similar to a federal law President Clinton signed in 1993.

The NCAA, major corporations, and conventions have all expressed concern over how this law might effect their future placement of events and people in Indiana. After all, gay people play sports and spend money, too.

The law will allow businesses to deny public accommodations to gay people and couples, so long as there is some sort of a religious pretext to do so. The argument goes that one should have a right to discriminate against LGBT Americans because homosexuality is against their sincerely held religious beliefs. So, a bakery can refuse to serve a gay couple, a restaurant can eject same-sex dining partners, and lunch counters wouldn’t even need to segregate gay patrons to a separate section – they could simply refuse to serve them.

While Governor Pence rejects the idea that the new law would permit discrimination, when Democratic legislators attempted to add language into the bill to prevent it, Republicans wouldn’t do so. We should pay attention to deeds, not words.

But this whole notion of faith being under attack is utter garbage. According to Pew, (updated in 2012), over 73% of Americans identify as Christians, just under 6% are “other”, like Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu, and 20% of Americans are ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ about faith. Your ability and right to worship are as esconced in the Constitution today as they were 200 years ago. Just like an atheist has no right to demand that a Catholic clergyman conduct a same-sex wedding, a Baptist shopkeeper has no right to refuse service to a gay couple. Atheists don’t get to control what goes on in clerical life, so religious people don’t get to control what goes on in secular life or government.

But in the 50s and 60s “religious freedom” was one of the justifications whites used to maintain Jim Crow. Here’s a speech that Bob Jones, Sr, of the eponymous “university”, gave in 1960 doing just that. Here is a compendium of faux-religious justifications to segregate and discriminate. It’s no coincidence that the Ku Klux Klan burns crosses. The use of religion to justify hatred is not novel, and it shouldn’t be tolerated.

What we’re witnessing is a right-wing attempt to co-opt “political correctness”.  Forget the whole imbroglio over the Lancaster Redskins, which established how the new political correctness is to be against political correctness. This is far more dangerous, because laws are being passed to legalize and justify bigotry. For some, it is politically correct to allow Christians to refuse to accommodate a certain type of person because it is somehow against their religion. Query whether they’d agree if, say, a Muslim shopkeeper decided that his beliefs permitted him to exclude Jewish or Christian patrons.

But being asked to bake a cake for a gay couple doesn’t invoke anyone’s religious freedom. You’re not being asked to solemnize or legitimize something you don’t believe in – you’re being asked to mix up some ingredients and bake a cake. You don’t have to like it, but if we could all get away with avoiding things we don’t like, the world would be a bigger pain in the ass than it already is. Adding, “because my religion says so” shouldn’t be some sort of discriminatory wild card.

This is why using the word “tolerance” is so appropriate. “Tolerance” isn’t a synonym of “acceptance”; instead, tolerance is about holding your nose and putting up with something that’s noxious to you. Frankly, it’s a bad term to use for how it’s usually intended – that you shouldn’t be horrible to other people for any reason. The state of “not being horrible” is what we’re really talking about, and same-sex couples do not leave a trail of victims. Their state of being doesn’t insult or injure your place or your beliefs or your own marriage. Contrary to what many outspoken homophobes argued, same-sex marriage throughout the US hasn’t led to the destruction of traditional different-sex marriage, nor has it led to the legalizaton of bigamy, bestiality, or incest. (see Santorum).

So, no, Indiana, you don’t get to legalize discrimination by using “religious freedom” as a flimsy crutch. You don’t get to flip “political correctness” on its head and allow “sincerely held religious belief” to negate legally protected equality in public accommodations.

This, too, will pass.  All 50 states will eventually – and soon – have legal same-sex marriage. Discrimination against, and segregation of, homosexuals will eventually be illegal and socially repugnant, and history will not lightly judge the people misappropriating God’s love to protect their right to hate.

All These Racists

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It’s 2015.

Last week at a commemoration of the march on Selma, President Obama said,

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character requires admitting as much.

Look at Ferguson, Missouri. The Michael Brown shooting did a great job in dividing Americans along racial and partisan lines. The Justice Department investigated and issued a report on the city. While it found that there was no utterance of “hands up, don’t shoot”, and cleared Darren Brown of any wrongdoing, there were bigger, structural, endemic racial animus and discrimination in Ferguson that went far beyond one tragic episode on a city street.

Anyone with even a passing interest in the notion of justice should be appalled at what was going on in Ferguson, Missouri.

As it turns out, Ferguson was a shakedown racket. The conservative response to this governmental overreach, incidentally, is anemic. If the issue had to do with, say, the ability to buy a particular type of bullet that can pierce body armor, conservatives would be screaming bloody murder about Obama’s totalitarian dictatorship. But when an investigation reveals that a city had devolved into a corrupt, oppressive banana republic, there’s almost complete silence. Either you believe in your central political ethos, or you’re a disingenuous liar. Or worse.

Because Ferguson is run like a white mafia that exploited its largely Black citizenry with petty harassment and excessive fines for things like jaywalking and parking violations. It is a domestic kleptocracy. If you wonder why its citizens might have erupted in violence and anger in response to the Michael Brown shooting, consider that these people were being treated by their government as an occupied colony.

Ferguson officials repeatedly behaved as if their priority is not improving public safety or protecting the rights of residents, but maximizing the revenue that flows into city coffers, sometimes going so far as to anticipate decreasing sales tax revenues and urging the police force to make up for the shortfall by ticketing more people. Often, those tickets for minor offenses then turned into arrest warrants.

Police officers were judged not only on the number of stops they made, but on the number of citations they issued. “Officers routinely conduct stops that have little relation to public safety and a questionable basis in law,” the report states. “Issuing three or four charges in one stop is not uncommon. Officers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter.” Some officers compete to see who can issue the most citations in a single stop.

In one email, the police chief, who also oversees the municipal court, brags to the city manager about how much revenue it is generating. Ignoring that conflict of interest is a recipe for a justice system that bleeds the powerless of their meager resources.

The city’s judge was evaluated by the city council that appointed him, and they found that he was really bad at the whole “justice” part of his job, but he was outstanding at the “shakedown” part of his job.

He’s gone. So is the city manager. So is the police chief. So are a bunch of cops who sent Paladinoesque racist emails around. The city is a powderkeg, and somebody shot two cops last night. It goes without saying that violence is not the answer, but when America’s gun nuts go on and on about how the 2nd Amendment is about fighting governmental tyranny (it isn’t), I half expect the NRA or tea party to come out in defense of the shooter.

That sort of rhetoric, of course, is as dangerous as it is wrong.

But what’s going on with racism in this country? We’ve had a barrage of “nigger” coming out of white people’s mouths lately. A notable recent example came from some young idiot at the University of Oklahoma. It was heartening to see the rapid, strong, unwavering response from the school’s administration and the fraternity’s national governing body. The frat was shut down within hours, the students in question were expelled, and the school implemented its no tolerance policy properly.

What about locally? In the last year, we had the woman screaming “nigger” outside a dollar store, and the truck driver yelling that word at a woman who called him out for improperly using a handicapped spot. But this mentality isn’t rare in our segregated region.

Look no further than the WBEN Facebook page. Open and public, Operations Manager and Director of “Digital Strategy” Tim Wenger unapologetically encourages his station’s racist listeners to display their ignorance. Stuff like this:

or this

It can more subtle and easy to miss, of course, than the public rantings of WBEN’s oppressed white listenership. It can be blatantly obvious to the point of parody

What role, if any, did racial politics play in Bennett’s demise? School Board member Carl Paladino is sure it did. Peoples-Stokes, Heastie and Collins are all African-American, but that alone doesn’t prove anything. Bennett and many of his supporters are white and no one has claimed a racial component there. Still, race does seem to be playing a more dominant role in education, at least in Buffalo. It’s an important issue to resolve.

…like the Buffalo News taking cues on race relations from notorious forwarder of racist images and videos Carl Paladino.

I suppose we should be grateful, in a way, that all of this previously sub rosa racism is becoming more public. We can no longer pretend it doesn’t exist, or that it’s a problem that’s been rectified. It’s most definitely a serious problem in western New York, which is very segregated along racial and class lines. It’s hard to change people’s hearts and minds on these sorts of things. The comments at WBEN’s Facebook page or on Buffalo News stories are replete with racism – some anonymous, some from people who aren’t ashamed of their own ignorance. Social media seems to be an important factor in bringing episodes like Janelle Ambrosia or Oklahoma’s SAE racist bus song to light. In the past, it would have been rumor. Now, we have proof. The racism can be fleeting, like a casually thrown “nigger” during a parking lot dispute, but it’s the tip of an iceberg that the Ferguson report laid bare.

Racism remains not just a personal problem for many people, but a systemic one that does actual harm under color of law. We’ve come a long way in 50 years, but we still have a long way to go.

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