Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Try, Try Again

I will at the least give the Democrats credit for bringing up gun control in the Senate.

Senate Democrats are gearing up for another gun-control push after the massacre at a community college in Roseburg, Ore., as the chamber’s top Democrat accused Republicans of being “puppets” of the influential National Rifle Association in obstructing action on guns.

But as members of both parties pitch ideas for gun-control legislation, once again, there appear to be few areas of agreement between Democrats and Republicans.

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday that he is reaching out to other Democratic senators on moving background checks legislation – a tall order in the Senate, where just two years ago Republicans and red-state Democrats blocked a bill when the chamber was under Democratic control. On Monday, Senate Republicans again shrugged off the push from Democrats as political and not addressing the root cause of the country’s mass shooting affliction.

“We’ll see whether the people who have no solution, who just want to keep talking about guns, are willing to meet us halfway,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who wants to focus on the link between mental health and guns. “If somebody’s got a better idea, great. But if they’re just going to rail about guns and violence without offering solutions, that’s not good enough.”

Someone has pointed out that the United States cannot be the only country in the world with a population that has a number of people with mental illness.  That’s a human condition, not just one based on where you live.  So why is it that we’re the only country that has a problem keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them?  Does Canada or Australia not have people who are unfit to own a gun?  Why don’t they have all these mass shootings?  There must be another reason we have them and they don’t…

Yes, I’m being sarcastic.  But it’s time to start hitting back at the strawman arguments against gun control.  And it’s also time to stop using the qualifier of “common sense” gun control versus some other kind.  That’s a sop to the NRA.  Between their advocacy for the gun manufacturers and the paranoids who think every law is tantamount to the guv’ment grabbing all the guns just like the Third Reich, they have no idea what “common sense” means, as if they really cared in the first place.

I doubt that Sen. Reid’s attempt will create a legislative tsunami anytime soon, especially as we head into an election year.  But at least it’s more than “it’s too soon” to talk about it.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Nothing Will Be Done

Despite President Obama’s crie de coeur (see below), this yet-again shooting will not change anything.  Oh, there will be the obligatory vigils, the interviews with the families, the speculation on the motive, the tugs at the heart, but in the end, the politicians will shrug and say that freedom isn’t free, and then they’ll be off to a fundraiser hosted by the NRA.

Charlie Pierce:

I will tell you when I knew that the latest mass murder by gunfire in the United States wasn’t going to matter very much in relation to this country’s insane attachment to its firearms. It was the moment when one of the two CNN anchors felt obligated to mention that the campus of Umpqua College was a gun-free zone. For the record, Oregon is an open-carry state generally, but the courts there have ruled that colleges could ban weapons from campus buildings, and that is only going to make the inevitable rhetoric worse. Judges are going to be blamed. Academics are going to be blamed. The people turning a buck on our regularly scheduled carnage know how to duck when the blood coats the breeze. If only all the students were strapped, 13 of them wouldn’t be dead because the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, and so forth, forward into a general grave.

“I heard at least nine shots,” he said. “There’s a door connecting our classroom to that classroom, and my teacher was going to knock on the door,” Mr. Winder said. “But she called out, `Is everybody O.K.?’ and then we heard a bunch more shots. We all froze for about half a second.” “We heard people screaming next door,” he said. “And then everybody took off. People were hopping over desks, knocking things over.” All the classrooms in the building open to the outdoors—there are no hallways, Mr. Winder said—and “as we were running away, I think there were more shots, but my brain was kind of panic mode, just focused on running as fast as I could.”

See, this is what we have to understand. The full and free exercise of Second Amendment rights can be dreadfully inconvenient to the academic process, not to mention anyone who wants to live to be 25.

Mr. Grogan said students were evacuated to a local fairgrounds. “The police searched everybody,” Mr. Winder said, “searching their jackets and bags for weapons, before putting them on buses.”

See, there’s the barn. See how the door is locked. And over there, disappearing over a high and distant hill, that’s the horse.

And that’s the way it will always be.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday Reading

Going Ugly — Amy Davidson in The New Yorker: The birther question reveals the id of the GOP.

…But even more outrageous, this week, was Trump’s tolerance of the questioner’s premise: that Muslims in America are “a problem.” Calling Obama a Muslim is not wrong because being a Muslim is bad; it’s wrong because he is a Christian, and so “Muslim” becomes a shorthand for impostor and liar, for deceptive secret agent. Trump, though, went well beyond not defending the President: he affirmed an attack on the millions of Muslim Americans who are as much a part of the national community as anyone else. The man in the T-shirt’s actual point, after all, was about the supposed training camps “where they want to kill us.” He wanted Trump to answer his question: “When can we get rid of them?”

The campaign did say, according to the Washington Post, that it understood “them” to refer to the “training camps,” not to a potential ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population as a whole. A campaign official also said that Trump was focussed on the part of the question about this larger phantom threat, and not on the part about Obama’s religion—as if entertaining an insult to an entire community, rather than just to the President, were a defense. Trump’s own statement seemed to underscore the man in the Trump T-shirt’s fears: “The media wants to make this issue about Obama. The bigger issue is that Obama is waging a war against Christians in this country. Christians need support in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake.” Donald Trump, Christian warrior.

Last week, in an effort to slow Trump’s momentum, the Club for Growth released ads portraying him as a liberal. Jeb Bush, too, has made the case that the problem with Trump is that he is inadequately conservative—as if, with Trump’s talk of building walls, the G.O.P. were being pestered by a moderate in its midst. Perhaps his comments in New Hampshire will persuade his competitors to confront his extremism instead. So far, they have been too fearful or too eager for the votes of people like the man in the T-shirt. Or maybe they agree; Ben Carson, for one, has talked about the possibility of staged civil disorder leading to the cancellation of elections. (Hillary Clinton, who was also in New Hampshire, said that Trump “should have, from the beginning, repudiated that kind of rhetoric.”)

It can’t be said that Trump didn’t have control of the exchange; he had, after all, broken in twice. And he had another opportunity to do so when, later in the event, another questioner rose to say, “I applaud the gentleman who brought up the Muslim training camps here in the U.S.A.—the F.B.I. knows all about that.” To which Trump replied, again, “right.”

“But America has also guns pointed at ordinary citizens here,” the second man said, and then hesitated.

“Don’t get nervous!” Trump said. “You’re on about seven television networks here—don’t get nervous!”

The man launched into a disjointed attack on the Bureau of Land Management. “How can we get in and stop them?” he said.

“So many things are going to change,” Trump said, and then offered some news-you-can-use for conspiracy theorists.

“Being in real estate, we have Army bases, Navy bases—so many are for sale,” Trump said. “And so many of them have been sold over the last short period of time.”

And just who is buying those military bases? The audience seemed to know. Evan Osnos wrote recently about the support for Trump among white supremacists and other extremists in this country. It can seem, though, as if they are not only listening to him but as if he is listening to them. Trump is learning the practice of politics in halls echoing with American paranoia. There has always been a strain of that, and he is not alone in playing to it: a number of Republican senators solemnly presented themselves as concerned investigators of Jade Helm, a U.S. military training exercise that, in some circles, was presented as a dress rehearsal for martial law. The man in the T-shirt has a theory; the man in the suit smiles. What is less and less clear, in the interaction between the potential Presidents and the crowd, is who is humoring whom.

No-Show and Tell — Zoe Carpenter in The Nation on the kangaroo court in Congress over Planned Parenthood.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held the first of several congressional hearings sparked by undercover videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood profits from illegal sales of fetal tissue. Less than 40 minutes had elapsed by the time someone quoted Adolf Hitler. The hysteria lasted for nearly four hours, marked by claims that abortion providers start their day with a “shopping list” of body parts to procure, about a fetus’s face being cut open with scissors, about fetuses who “cried and screamed as they died” but weren’t heard “because it was amniotic fluid going over their vocal cords instead of air.”

The hearing was engineered to repulse and horrify; it was not designed to reveal any credible information about Planned Parenthood or the Center for Medical Progress, the antiabortion group that made and edited the undercover videos. Neither Planned Parenthood nor CMP were asked to make representatives available to testify. Instead, Republicans called on two “abortion survivors” who lived after their mothers attempted to terminate their pregnancies, and issued emotional appeals against abortion, broadly. They also invited James Bopp, the Indiana lawyer who argued on behalf of the nonprofit Citizens United in the Supreme Court case that extended 1st Amendment rights to corporations. Among other things, Bopp argued in his testimony that fetal tissue donation encourages women “to choose abortions as an acceptable form of birth control.” Priscilla Smith, who directs the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice at Yale Law School, was the only witness who supported abortion rights.

Representative Trent Franks, the Republican chairman of the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee, was particularly unhinged in his attacks, appearing to work himself nearly to tears as he described the videos that “irrefutably reveal” Planned Parenthood officials “haggling” over fetal tissue. Later, Franks was pressed on whether he’d actually seen full, unedited footage from CMP. After erroneously claiming that CMP had made it available online, Franks admitted that neither he nor anyone else from the GOP majority had seen the footage in its complete form. He also confirmed that committee Republicans haven’t asked for it.

Democrats were quick to point out the absurdity of holding a hearing about accusations based on film footage that no one on the committee has seen in its original form. Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the committee, called the hearing “one-sided” and said that the videos revealed “no credible evidence that Planned Parenthood violated the law.” Representative Steve Cohen called it “the Benghazi of health care hearings.” Representative Hank Johnson likened the proceedings to a “third world show trial.” “Senator Joseph McCarthy would be proud of this committee today,” remarked Representative Jerrold Nadler.

The hearing is part of a broader push to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which receives about $500 million a year. (Under the Hyde Amendment, none of that money can be used for abortions, except in rare cases.) Conservatives are hoping to ride the momentum from the undercover videos to force the issue during budget negotiations, potentially leading to a government shutdown at the end of the month. “The horrifying thing about this hearing,” Smith said in her testimony, “is the mismatch between the allegations and concerns here about abortion [and] about fetal tissue research, and what is being considered, which is defunding Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion-related services.”

Perhaps the most ridiculous line of questioning came from Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, who wanted to know “why Planned Parenthood needs to get over half a billion dollars of federal funding every year when there are other pressing needs, such as feeding hungry children, that maybe we should be putting that money into?” Here’s how much Sensenbrenner cares about hungry children: In 2013, he and 216 of his fellow Republicans voted for a $39 billion cut to the food-stamp program.

In a memo released in advance of the hearing, Planned Parenthood pointed out that this is the 10th time since 2000 that secretly recorded videos and other accusations against the organization have led to congressional investigations. The evidence has never held up. But as Michelle Goldberg explained here, the latest videos—and witnesses like the two “abortion survivors” who testified on Wednesday—have a powerful visceral impact, despite their lack of grounding in fact. Republican Representative Steve King explained during Wednesday’s proceedings, “I don’t need an investigation to know what’s going on here.”

The Threat to the First Amendment — The New York Times editorial board on GOP anti-gay bigotry.

This past June, in the heat of their outrage over gay rights, congressional Republicans revived a nasty bit of business they call the First Amendment Defense Act. It would do many things, but one thing it would not do is defend the First Amendment. To the contrary, it would deliberately warp the bedrock principle of religious freedom under the Constitution.

The bill, versions of which have been circulating since 2013, gained a sudden wave of support after the Supreme Courtlegalized same-sex marriage nationwide. It is being hawked with the specter of clergy members being forced to officiate such marriages. This is a ploy, as the bill’s backers surely know: There has never been any doubt that the First Amendment protects members of the clergy from performing weddings against their will.

In reality, the act would bar the federal government from taking “any discriminatory action” — including the denial of tax benefits, grants, contracts or licenses — against those who oppose same-sex marriage for religious or moral reasons. In other words, it would use taxpayers’ money to negate federal anti-discrimination measures protecting gays and lesbians, using the idea of religious freedom as cover.

For example, a religiously affiliated college that receives federal grants could fire a professor simply for being gay and still receive those grants. Or federal workers could refuse to process the tax returns of same-sex couples simply because of bigotry against their marriages.

It doesn’t stop there. As critics of the bill quickly pointed out, the measure’s broad language — which also protects those who believe that “sexual relations are properly reserved to” heterosexual marriages alone — would permit discrimination against anyone who has sexual relations outside such a marriage. That would appear to include women who have children outside of marriage, a class generally protected by federal law.

This bizarre fixation on what grown-ups do in their bedrooms — which has long since been rejected by the Supreme Court and the vast majority of Americans — is bad enough. The bill makes matters worse by covering for-profit companies, which greatly multiplies the potential scope of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

These are radical proposals, but they are accepted without question by many in today’s Republican Party. In its current form, the bill has 148 co-sponsors in the House and 36 in the Senate — all Republicans but one, Representative Daniel Lipinski of Illinois. It has been endorsed by the Republican National Committee and at least four Republican presidential contenders. It is, in other words, a fair representation of right-wing reaction to the long overdue expansion of basic civil and constitutional rights to gays and lesbians.

Thankfully, the bill’s chances of passage are low. Even if it were to get through Congress, President Obama would surely veto it. Still, its symbolic power will embolden those looking for a legal justification to discriminate — whether they are individuals like Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who went to jail rather than obey the law and issue same-sex marriage licenses, or states, where similar legislation has a much better chance of becoming law. In Indiana and Arkansas, laws protecting such discrimination have already passed.

Both laws, of course, provoked a swift and emphatic backlash from the public and the corporate world, leading both states to scale them back. (Indiana’s governor, Mike Pence, embarked on a bumbling effort to claim that his state’s law would not provide cover for discrimination against gays and lesbians.)

Fear of a similar debacle at the national level may help explain why a committee vote in Congress on the First Amendment Defense Act, which conservative Republicans pushed for in late July, was not scheduled.

The best outcome at this point would be for the bill to die where it is. The First Amendment needs no assistance in protecting religious freedom in America.

 Doonesbury — The news.  In spurts.

Monday, September 14, 2015

First Things First

George Takei does a masterful job of explaining why Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky, is violating the First Amendment when she refuses to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The First Amendment has two clauses that are relevant here. One is the Establishment Clause, and the other is the Prohibition Clause. Congress may not prohibit free worship, and that is what so many claim, wrongly, is being violated. But it is also not empowered to establish any religion, nor to enact any laws favoring one religion over the other. Permitting a state employee to foist her religion upon others, denying them a fundamental right as articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell, would be to give government, through this agent, the power to impose religious doctrine and viewpoint. That it cannot do. Ms. Davis is in effect establishing religion by using her governmental powers to impose her religious views.

Any questions?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

First Things First

Matt Bevin is running for governor of Kentucky.  You might remember him as the guy who tried to primary Mitch McConnell a couple of years ago and lost badly.  So if he’s whacky enough to lose to him, you know he’s not what you’d call mainstream.

Now of course he has an opinion on the trials of the Kentucky county clerk who won’t issue marriage licenses to anybody because Jesus and icky gays.

“I absolutely support her willingness to stand on her First Amendment rights,” he said. “Without any question I support her.”

How noble, except there is no First Amendment right to defy the Supreme Court’s rulings.  Your rights end where the other person’s begin, and the couples — straight or gay — in Rowan County have a right to get a marriage license issued by the county.

So do the people of Kentucky really want a governor who seems to have slept through Grade 10 government class?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Constitutional Dissonance

Shorter Scott Walker on immigration:

We must enforce the law by violating the Constitution.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says we should “reexamine” birthright citizenship as if it is some nebulous policy promulgated by liberals to pack the voting booths with immigrants who have yet to learn to walk.

What is it about people who say they revere the Constitution but have no trouble distorting it, ignoring it, or shredding it to fit their political motives?  If it’s not citizenship as defined by the Fourteenth Amendment, it’s the simple declaration that all citizens are entitled to the equal protection of the laws, also in the Fourteenth Amendment, that gave us marriage equality.  Yet somehow that is unconstitutional.

They’re also not wild about the First Amendment protecting people from the establishment of religion because, of course, it’s only meant for Christians.  They also believe that it protects people from being fired for denying marriage licenses to people they don’t like and from networks cancelling reality shows because one of the members of the family that breeds like rabbits is a pedophile, and that the Constitution guarantees “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  No, it does not.  That’s from the Declaration of Independence, which was a resolution passed by the Continental Congress, which went out of business before the Constitution was written.

But let’s be fair.  If we’re going to revisit various parts of the Constitution, let’s talk about the Second Amendment, shall we?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sunday Reading

“A Dream Undone” — From the New York Times magazine, Jim Rutenberg reports on the efforts to bring back Jim Crow.

On the morning of his wedding, in 1956, Henry Frye realized that he had a few hours to spare before the afternoon ceremony. He was staying at his parents’ house in Ellerbe, N.C.; the ceremony would take place 75 miles away, in Greensboro, the hometown of his fiancée; and the drive wouldn’t take long. Frye, who had always been practical, had a practical thought: Now might be a good time to finally register to vote. He was 24 and had just returned from Korea, where he served as an Air Force officer, but he was also a black man in the American South, so he wasn’t entirely surprised when his efforts at the registrar’s office were blocked.

Adopting a tactic common in the Jim Crow South, the registrar subjected Frye to what election officials called a literacy test. In 1900, North Carolina voters amended the state’s Constitution to require that all new voters “be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language,” but for decades some registrars had been applying that already broad mandate even more aggressively, targeting perfectly literate black registrants with arbitrary and obscure queries, like which president served when or who had the ultimate power to adjourn Congress. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know why are you asking me all of these questions,’ ” Frye, now 83, recalled. “We went around and around, and he said, ‘Are you going to answer these questions?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not going to try.’ And he said, ‘Well, then, you’re not going to register today.’ ”

Sitting with me on the enclosed porch of his red-brick ranch house in Greensboro, drinking his wife’s sweet tea, Frye could joke about the exchange now, but at the time it left him upset and determined. When he met Shirley at the altar, the first thing he said was: “You know they wouldn’t let me register?”

“Can we talk about this later?” she replied.

After a few weeks, Frye drove over to the Board of Elections in Rockingham, the county seat, to complain. An official told him to go back and try again. This time a different registrar, after asking if he was the fellow who had gone over to the election board, handed him a paragraph to copy from the Constitution. He copied it, and with that, he became a voter.

But in the American South in 1956, not every would-be black voter was an Air Force officer with the wherewithal to call on the local election board; for decades, most had found it effectively impossible to attain the most elemental rights of citizenship. Only about one-quarter of eligible black voters in the South were registered that year, according to the limited records available. By 1959, when Frye went on to become one of the first black graduates of the University of North Carolina law school, that number had changed little. When Frye became a legal adviser to the students running the antisegregation sit-ins at the Greensboro Woolworth’s in 1960, the number remained roughly the same. And when Frye became a deputy United States attorney in the Kennedy administration, it had grown only slightly. By law, the franchise extended to black voters; in practice, it often did not.

What changed this state of affairs was the passage, 50 years ago this month, of the Voting Rights Act. Signed on Aug. 6, 1965, it was meant to correct “a clear and simple wrong,” as Lyndon Johnson said. “Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote.” It eliminated literacy tests and other Jim Crow tactics, and — in a key provision called Section 5 — required North Carolina and six other states with histories of black disenfranchisement to submit any future change in statewide voting law, no matter how small, for approval by federal authorities in Washington. No longer would the states be able to invent clever new ways to suppress the vote. Johnson called the legislation “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom,” and not without justification. By 1968, just three years after the Voting Rights Act became law, black registration had increased substantially across the South, to 62 percent. Frye himself became a beneficiary of the act that same year when, after a close election, he became the first black state representative to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly since Reconstruction.

In the decades that followed, Frye and hundreds of other new black legislators built on the promise of the Voting Rights Act, not just easing access to the ballot but finding ways to actively encourage voting, with new state laws allowing people to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles and public-assistance offices; to register and vote on the same day; to have ballots count even when filed in the wrong precinct; to vote by mail; and, perhaps most significant, to vote weeks before Election Day. All of those advances were protected by the Voting Rights Act, and they helped black registration increase steadily. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.

Since then, however, the legal trend has abruptly reversed. In 2010, Republicans flipped control of 11 state legislatures and, raising the specter of voter fraud, began undoing much of the work of Frye and subsequent generations of state legislators. They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, directly countermanded the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on. Republican state legislators proceeded with a new round of even more restrictive voting laws.

All of these seemingly sudden changes were a result of a little-known part of the American civil rights story. It involves a largely Republican countermovement of ideologues and partisan operatives who, from the moment the Voting Rights Act became law, methodically set out to undercut or dismantle its most important requirements. The story of that decades-long battle over the iconic law’s tenets and effects has rarely been told, but in July many of its veteran warriors met in a North Carolina courthouse to argue the legality of a new state voting law that the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School has called one of the “most restrictive since the Jim Crow era.” The decision, which is expected later this year, could determine whether the civil rights movement’s signature achievement is still justified 50 years after its signing, or if the movement itself is finished.

Upping the Outrage — James Hamblin in The Atlantic on how the internet fuels the response to something and then moves on.

Now is the point in the story of Cecil the lion—amid non-stop news coverage and passionate social-media advocacy—when people get tired of hearing about Cecil the lion. Even if they hesitate to say it.But Cecil fatigue is only going to get worse. On Friday morning, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri, called for the extradition of the man who killed him, the Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Muchinguri would like Palmer to be “held accountable for his illegal action”—paying a reported $50,000 to kill Cecil with an arrow after luring him away from protected land. And she’s far from alone in demanding accountability. This week, the Internet has served as a bastion of judgment and vigilante justice—just like usual, except that this was a perfect storm directed at a single person. It might be called an outrage singularity.Palmer didn’t just kill a lion. He killed an especially good-looking and “beloved” lion in an ostentatious and gruesome fashion that culminated in decapitation. To make things worse, that lion had a human name. To make things worse still, that name was Cecil.


The Internet has served to facilitate outrage, as the Internet does: the hotter the better. And because the case is so visceral and bipartisan in its opposition to Palmer’s act, few people stepped in to suggest that the fury, the people tweeting his home address, might be too much. That argument wins no outrage points.Instead, the people who hadn’t jumped on the Cecil-outrage bandwagon jumped on the superiority-outrage bandwagon. It’s a bandwagon of outrage one-upmanship, and it’s just as rewarding as the original outrage bandwagon. Anyone can play, like this:

It’s fine to be outraged about one lion, but what about all of the other lions who are hunted and killed every year?  There are 250 Cecils killed annually across Africa as trophies, and that’s what you should really be outraged by. But good job caring now.

Actually, what about all of the animals? All of the cattle and fish and brilliant pigs who are systematically slaughtered for human consumption every day? Were you eating a hot dog when you posted that thing about Cecil on Facebook? Anyone who is not vegan is no better than the dentist Walter Palmer. That is what you really should be outraged by.

Actually, you only care about Zimbabwe when a lion is killed? Great of you. Killing animals is part of the circle of life, but you know what’s not? Human trafficking. People are bought and sold as slaves today all over the world. Why are you talking about one aged jungle cat in a place where the relationship between impoverished pastoralist communities and wealthy foreign tourists is more complicated than you actually understand?

And I’m glad you’re so concerned about human trafficking, but there will be no humans at all if we don’t do something about climate change. Reliance on fossil fuels and industrialized farming is the real problem, and that’s what you should be outraged by. You don’t know what to care about. I know what to care about.

The Internet launders outrage and returns it to us as validation, in the form of likes and stars and hearts. The greatest return comes from a strong and superior point of view, on high moral ground. And there is, fortunately and unfortunately, always higher moral ground. Even when a dentist kills an adorable lion, and everyone is upset about it, there’s better outrage ground to be won. The most widely accepted hierarchy of outrage seems to be: Single animal injured < single animal killed < multiple animals killed < systematic killing of animals < systematic oppression/torture of people < systematic killing of humans < end of all life due to uninhabitable planet.

To say that there’s a more important issue in the world is always true, except in the case of climate change ending all life, both human and animal. So it’s meaningless, even if it’s fun, to go around one-upping people’s outrage. Try it. Someone will express legitimate concern over something, and all you have to do is say there are more important things to be concerned about. All you have to do is use the phrase “spare me” and then say something about global warming. You can literally write, “My outrage is more legit than your outrage! Ahhh!”

Jon Stewart, Patriot — An appreciation in The New Yorker by David Remnick.

Political life in America never ceases to astonish. Take last week’s pronouncements from the Republican Presidential field. Please. Mike Huckabee predicted that President Obama’s seven-nation agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Ted Cruz anointed the American President “the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.” Marco Rubio tweeted, “Look at all this outrage over a dead lion, but where is all the outrage over the planned parenthood dead babies.” And the (face it) current front-runner, the halfway hirsute hotelier Donald Trump, having insulted the bulk of his (count ’em) sixteen major rivals plus (countless) millions of citizens of the (according to him) not-so-hot nation he proposes to lead, announced via social media that in this week’s Fox News debate he plans “to be very nice & highly respectful of the other candidates.” Really, now. Who’s writing this stuff? Jon Stewart?

Over the decades, our country has been lucky in many things, not least in the subversive comic spirits who, in varying ways, employ a joy buzzer, a whoopee cushion, and a fun-house mirror to knock the self-regard out of an endless parade of fatuous pols. Thomas Nast drew caricatures so devastating that they roiled the ample guts of our town’s Boss, William Marcy Tweed. Will Rogers’s homespun barbs humbled the devious of the early twentieth century. Mort Sahl, the Eisenhower-era comic whose prop was a rolled-up newspaper, used conventional one-liners to wage radical battle: “I’ve arranged with my executor to be buried in Chicago, because when I die I want to still remain politically active.” Later, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, and Joan Rivers continued to draw comic sustenance from what Philip Roth called “the indigenous American berserk.”

Four nights a week for sixteen years, Jon Stewart, the host and impresario of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” has taken to the air to expose our civic bizarreries. He has been heroic and persistent. Blasted into orbit by a trumped-up (if you will) impeachment and a stolen Presidential election, and then rocketing through the war in Iraq and right up to the current electoral circus, with its commodious clown car teeming with would-be Commanders-in-Chief, Stewart has lasered away the layers of hypocrisy in politics and in the media. On any given night, a quick montage of absurdist video clips culled from cable or network news followed by Stewart’s vaudeville reactions can be ten times as deflating to the self-regard of the powerful as any solemn editorial—and twice as illuminating as the purportedly non-fake news that provides his fuel.


Stewart set out to be a working comedian, and he ended up an invaluable patriot. But the berserk never stops. His successor, Trevor Noah, will not lack for material. As Stewart put it wryly on one of his last nights on the air, “As I wind down my time here, I leave this show knowing that most of the world’s problems have been solved by us, ‘The Daily Show.’ But sadly there are still some dark corners that our broom of justice has not reached yet.”

Doonesbury — Amateur Night.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Amend This

First Texas had a problem getting their state officials to go along with the Supreme Court’s ruling that banning marriage equality violated the Fourteenth Amendment.  Now they have a problem with the provision that people born on U.S. soil are citizens.

So if this plays out the way most of these things usually do, you’re going to hear people invoking their First Amendment — and possibly their Second Amendment — rights in order to deny people their Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Out of Control

Watching the response by conservatives and the Republican candidates to the events last week, especially the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, tells me something about them beyond just their political stance and the base they’re pandering to.  It tells me that they have come to the realization that they are no longer in control, and they can’t deal with it on a rational basis.

The responses by the presidential candidates and leading voices in the conservative movement have been both apoplectic and infantile, ranging from threats of secession to indecipherable spluttering about amending the Constitution and bracing for God’s revenge.  These are not the reactions of rational minds and it calls into question whether or not these people should be trusted with positions of power.  Invoking “states rights” may carry some weight when you’re talking about enforcing medical marijuana laws, but when you are dealing with fundamental human rights such as marriage or equal access to accommodations, there has to be an understanding that there are certain things we don’t get to vote on: those are already hard-wired into the foundation of the country.  When the Constitution says that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” that applies to everyone.

This theory presumes, of course, that they ever really were in charge of the narrative of America: that we were a nation of straight white people who went to church on Sunday where the preacher told us that gay people were abominations and that people of other faiths were not to be trusted because they didn’t have the same values as we did.  It never was really that way and it never has been despite their best efforts to make it so.  Now that significant steps have been taken to demonstrate that all people are entitled to all the rights, that making healthcare available to all people is possible, and that old banners of treasonous states are no longer acceptable in polite society, they feel as if they are the ones being marginalized.

Their biggest fear is that they will now be treated the same way as they used to treat the ones they marginalized.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

That’s Some Progress

From the man who admonished his fellow Republicans not to be “the stupid party,” we get this pearl of wisdom regarding LGBT rights and the people who fight for them:

“My concern about creating special legal protections is, historically in our country, we’ve only done that in extraordinary circumstances,” the Republican governor continued. “And it doesn’t appear to me that we’re at one of those moments today.”

According to [Louisiana Gov. Bobby] Jindal, “there are many that turn to the heavy hand of government to solve societies problems too easily.”

“I do think we need to be very careful about creating special rights,” he declared.

You’re not creating “special rights” when you grant people who have been denied rights the same rights as everyone else.  It’s called equality.

By the way, fifty years ago Mr. Jindal would have been denied the right to stay in any number of hotels, use any number of bathrooms, and not allowed to rent any number of apartments based solely on the color of his skin.  So it must be some kind of weird progress in America were civil rights have evolved so that he can turn around and be just as much of a bigot.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Other Side of The Coin

Mitt Romney was deservedly mocked in 2011 for asserting that “corporations are people, my friend,” and a lot of people were understandably concerned when the Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case affirming the right of a family-held corporation to essentially have the same religious rights as a living, breathing human citizen.

It seems ridiculous that a company is entitled to the same protections under the First Amendment as a citizen, but if that’s the case, there’s an upside to it.  If they’re entitled to them, they can exercise them in ways that may not make their conservative allies happy.  Witness the number of companies that have voiced disapproval of the RFRA law in Indiana, many threatening or following through on their intention to not to business in a state that allows discrimination against gays and lesbians, and when Walmart warned the governor of Arkansas not to sign the bill, they got his attention.

Be careful what you wish for, my friend.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Utah Passes Landmark Anti-Discrimination Bill

It’s not perfect, but it’s impressive that a state that is not known for religious diversity and tolerance would pass it.

The legislation, known as “the Utah compromise,” has been hailed by Mormon leaders and gay rights advocates as a breakthrough in balancing rights and religious freedom, and as a model for other conservative states. But leaders of some other churches oppose it, saying it would not sufficiently protect the rights of individuals who have religious objections to homosexuality.


The bill would ban employers and landlords or property owners from discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, adding those categories to Utah’s laws that already protect against discrimination on the basis of race, sex and age.

Religious organizations and their affiliates, such as colleges and charities, would be exempted. It also would exempt the Boy Scouts of America, which voted in 2013 to end a ban on gay scouts but still prohibits gay scout leaders. The bill also would protect employees from being fired for talking about religious or moral beliefs, as long as the speech was reasonable and not harassing or disruptive.

The legislation passed the Utah House on a vote of 65 to 10, after passing the Senate last week, 23 to 5.

“It is a landmark,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization. “This is a Republican-controlled Legislature with a Republican governor, and this will be the first time that a Republican-controlled process has led to extension of protections for L.G.B.T. people.”

The Southern Baptists don’t like it because it doesn’t demonize gay people enough, but the Baptists don’t think Mormons are real Christians anyway.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Detest and Defend

“I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” — Voltaire.

At first I thought it was a good idea to expel two college students at the University of Oklahoma for the racist video that’s gone viral; there’s no place at an institution of higher learning for such vile and juvenile behavior.  But the more I think about it and read what legal scholars that I respect have to say on the matter, I’m inclined to think that no matter how vile and indefensible the speech was, being expelled for it from a public university runs headlong into the First Amendment.

There’s probably a lawsuit already in the works to get the students reinstated.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Short Takes

Secretary of Defense stands up for transgender people in the service.

Malls in U.S. on alert after terror threat.

More winter weather hits the South.

South African miners rescued after fire.

New killer virus found in Kansas.

And the Oscars went to…  (And my brother was right about Birdman.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Jim Crow 2.0

Bob Cesca has a good post on the backlash to the rapid rise of marriage equality.

[…] in the face rapidly emerging and long overdue civil rights for LGBT citizens, RedState.com founder and Fox News screecher Erick Erickson posted an article on Friday calling for more state legislatures to pass what are known as Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) before the Supreme Court weighs in on same-sex marriage in June. In 19 states, RFRAs are already law, and additional RFRAs in other states would make it legal to refuse service to gays and same-sex couples based on religious objections to their homosexuality. Last year, Fox News analyst Kirsten Powers (a Democrat) saliently referred to RFRAs as “homosexual Jim Crow Laws.”


History has proved that religious freedom ought to end when it’s exploited as means of discrimination and oppression. The religious freedom clause of the First Amendment isn’t a valid excuse for slavery, segregation or vigilante justice; the free speech clause isn’t a valid excuse for slander, libel, child pornography, etc; and the 2nd Amendment isn’t a valid excuse for stockpiling cruise missiles and RPGs. Religious liberty isn’t absolute, because if it were, it’d open the door to all varieties of terrible things. Zealots who argue otherwise have probably never actually read the Bible. If they did, they’d also find a long list of passages that could be used to justify abortion. Someone could extrapolate the various episodes of infanticide depicted in the Bible as a religious justification protecting abortion rights. Faith is personal, so if a business owner can cherrypick a Bible passage that says homosexuality is an abomination and extrapolate that out to mean he’s allowed to not sell a cake to a gay couple solely because they’re gay, how can Erickson object to a woman using a similar form of twisty logic on abortion?

I’d like to think that this ploy of using the religious liberty clause as a valid reason to keep the LGBT community from achieving equality as the last desperate act of a dying mindset, but prejudice and bigotry is like Whack-A-Mole; you smash it in one way and it pops up again in another venue and fashion.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Civics Test

Todd Starnes is a particularly obnoxious reporter for Fox News who now has the monumental sadz because the state of Oregon has told a couple of Christian bakers that they violated the state’s public accommodation law by refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.  He sums up his veil of tears by citing the Constitution thus:

The evidence seems to indicate that Christian business owners are being intentionally singled out for persecution. And it appears the courts are consistently ruling that gay rights trump everyone else’s rights. The Constitution guarantees every American a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Melissa Klein makes wedding cakes. That’s her pursuit of happiness. Should she be denied that right simply because of her Christian faith?

Raise your hand if you see the flaw in his argument.

Okay, I’ll give it to you: The Constitution does not guarantee “every American a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Those words are in the Declaration of Independence, which has no force of law.  There is nothing in the Constitution about those guarantees.  There is, however, the right to equal protection under the law which has been interpreted by the courts and just about anyone who went to law school to mean that you can’t have a business that is open to the public and choose not to serve a certain segment of the public because you think they’re icky.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Speak the Speech

I was going to write something about Jonathan Chait’s column on the resurgence of “political correctness,” but here are two people who do it a lot better:

Melissa McEwan:

There’s little I can say in response to this piece that wouldn’t merely be a variation on what I’ve already said before.

But I do want to note this important context: Chait et. al. have spent a very long time making a living treating defining the terms of debate as the debate itself.

And that’s why we get these petulant thinkpieces about “the nature of the debate” and tortured explanations about how what they do is speech, but what their critics do is something that endangers speech.

Chait is a professional gatekeepers, whose career is built upon having conversations he defines as important exclusively with people who view his being white and male as credentials, but don’t practice identity politics. Ahem.

And the thing about professional gatekeepers is that they get very miffed indeed when people start saying fuck the rules of sitting at your table; we’ll build our own table.

Oh the terrible rending of garments when you make it clear you don’t care about their rules of engagement for discourse, because their discourse is garbage.

Betty Cracker:

Chait also seems to engage in some magical thinking about the curative powers of the “free market of ideas,” wherein more speech is always the cure for bad speech and therefore all speech must be protected (with the usual caveat about yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater, one presumes). I subscribe to that view myself, in the absence of a better one. But as always, there’s a difference between protecting speech and insisting that it remain free from criticism — even from harsh criticism that results in hurt feelings and blog-flounces!

And maybe it’s important to acknowledge that there will always be an imbalance in the free market model of speech, just as there is in the commodities market. I’m just as free to invest in political speech as defined by the Roberts Court as the Koch Bros. are; I just have a lot less to invest. And that matters.

Well said.

Short Takes

The blizzard in New England isn’t over yet.

Americans among those killed in a terrorist attack on a hotel in Libya.

A lot of people, including President Obama, showed up to pay respects in Saudi Arabia.

Consumer confidence is at its highest rating since 2007.

Mormons try to balance marriage equality and the right to discriminate.

Obamacare cost estimate keeps getting smaller.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015