Thursday, December 27, 2012

Getting It Straight: The Tea Party Is the Republican Party

Back in 2009, a slightly silly show of faux patriotism, variously known as the tea baggers or the tea party, burst onto the scene in the form of spontaneous demonstrations across the nation attended by dozens of people draping tea bags from their hats. It started as a reaction to Barack Obama's stimulus proposal.

Then a combination of AstroTurf groups -- which underwrite fake grassroots movements -- like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, coupled with brazen propagandizing by Fox News, which continuously mischaracterized the tea partiers as a grassroots populist movement while publicizing and then covering every tea party event as if it were a really important political development, drove the movement deep into the political consciousness of the electorate.

Let's just forget about the Bush deficits now that Obama's here.

What must be understood is that it was always a phony movement, always. That doesn't mean that the spasms of populism, driven by angst that Obama was somehow different -- hint, he wasn't, except that he was black -- weren't real. They were. What's important to realize was that they weren't tea-party spasms of populism: They were the Republican Party violently overreacting to Barack Obama's election and lurching in a far-right direction and spread with the help of moneyed interests.

It's also important to realize that the powers that be in the corporate world were using this conservative angst and fear of the black to thwart Obama's efforts to reform health care, which the business interests feared would reduce their profits. Also, people like the Koch brothers, who underwrite Americans for Prosperity, feared the loss of profits from Obama's support for green energy.

Now, it may be convenient, especially for the media, to continue to refer to this far-right element of the GOP as the tea party, but what it really represents is the conservative core of the Republican Party that has gone off the rails, politically speaking. And this has had powerful ramifications for the country.

What's there to talk about exactly?
How so? This conservative core has become so reactionary that the Republican Party cannot participate in effectively governing this country. This in most evident in the remaining bastion of their power, the House of Representatives.

We've had political movements like this in the past. The McCarthy era was a Republican-Party spasm that wrecked careers and stymied creativity both in the entertainment industry and government. The John Birch Society was an anti-communist movement in the 1960s that drove the arms race with the Soviets. I've always felt that the cold war was an unnecessary enterprise that led to a tremendous loss in blood and treasure, especially because of Vietnam and the ridiculous build-up of atomic weapons.

We built thousands of them. Did we ever use them? Will we ever?

What happens now is anyone's guess. But remember this: the Republican Party is the tea party, and the Republicans are no longer a valid force in government. They don't give a damn about deficits. They only want to use deficit fears to cut taxes on the rich (how does that make sense, exactly?) and shrink the social safety net, mostly because they hate, and I do mean hate, the poor. But mostly, well, taxes.

The rudderless Republicans may do damage before they fix their own mess. They may even survive. But they will not be offering solutions for the near term. They will only be throwing bombs, many of which will land in their own camp. Just don't blame it on the tea party, blame it on today's Republican Party.

What tea bags hath wrought: this Republican catastrophe.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas, Skateboard Edition

I first saw this years ago on Daily Kos a few years back. I present it here for your enjoyment. As Kos recommended, skip the first two minutes:


Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Party in Retrograde: Whither the Republicans Now?

I'm totally going to their next block party.

Just what has the Republican Party become today? Let's look:
  • The GOP has run out the string on "the government is the problem, not the solution" and now won't allow enough revenues -- shrunk so horribly by the tax-cutting, war-spending Bush -- to take care of our most basic needs.
  • Their main point of attack is on "entitlements," in other words the poor, elderly, and shrinking middle class.
  • Republican opposition to internationalism is so strong that it recently forced the Senate to vote against a U.N. treaty that merely supported an international adoption of the principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that helps define America's humanity.
  • The GOP is united against any and all gun control laws, instead blaming gun violence on the media, Hollywood, video games, and the mentally ill.
  • The party's conservative base is a bastion of anti-intellectual, anti-science neanderthals, such that climate change can't even be acknowledged.
  • In spite of great advances in alternative energy sources, the GOP remains allied with the petroleum and coal industries, almost to the point of religiosity.
  • Its so-called "conservative" base is essentially anti-environment, when environmentalism would ostensibly be a bedrock conservative position.
  • This country, founded on immigration, now, in the GOP view, has no use for immigrants, even those who provide the vast majority of low-wage workers, especially in agriculture.
  • Because a large majority of the Republican Party are white Christians, there is a strong stench of racism at the core of its base, observable in the birther/Obama's-a-Muslim-Kenyan-socialist movement.
  • The incoherence of its anti-abortion, anti-contraception, pro-gun, pro-death penalty, anti-food stamp, anti-welfare, pro-war stance is stunning.
  • Speaking of incoherence, the leading voices in the Republican Party are the NRA, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Grover Norquist, Dick Armey, Michael Savage, and Karl Rove. (Wait, they're are coherent, in that they stick to the same script.)
  • The Republican anti-gay stance is antiquated in the extreme.
  • Its strain of libertarianism has taken such a definite anti-social bent that almost all communitarian efforts are, to the GOP, suspect, unless it's in service of its "pro-life" agenda, in which case there is no regulation of women too harsh or intrusive.
  • Others may have forgotten, but I haven't: The Republicans are the party of torture and indefinite detention.
 Okay. With these positions, who has the Republican Party alienated?
  • Women.
  • Gays.
  • Latinos.
  • Asians.
  • Blacks.
  • Union members.
  • Scientists.
  • Well-educated people not in the financial industry.
  • Foreigners.
  • Non-Christians, such as Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.
 Who's left? Straight white Christian males. Hmm.

Oh, there are strange bedfellows in the rump Republican Party. For instance, seniors, even though the Republicans are not working in seniors' best interests, continue to support the GOP. Also, there are enough gay fiscal conservatives to populate the Log Cabin Republicans (go figure). And there are women who cling to their husbands' guns and religion because, well, when in Rome or, uh, Athens, Georgia, because what else is there?

Lindsey Graham's angry white guys? Good luck with that.

The problem for the Republican Party is, as George Will pointed out, the seniors that support them are, well, dying. Will said that about the gay issue, but it translates to others. And none other than Lindsey Graham pointed out that “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Whoa.

Our favorite "Third Way" dude, Thomas Friedman pointed out in today's column, aptly titled "Send in the Clowns," that:
Republican politicians today have a choice: either change your base by educating and leading G.O.P. voters back to the center-right from the far right, or start a new party that is more inclusive, focused on smaller but smarter government and market-based, fact-based solutions to our biggest problems.
Of course, in his recommendations are the familiar Third Way strains, but the irony is that Friedman's notions are impossible for the Republican Party to adopt precisely because the center-right is already occupied: by the Democratic Party.

There you have it, the Republican Party in retrograde. If you weren't convinced before, surely you are now that John Boehner couldn't even get his caucus to vote for an innocuous proposal raising taxes on .8 percent of Americans only as a negotiating ploy with no chance of ever becoming law.

Where does the GOP go from here? Heaven only knows, but the dustbin of history is not out of the question. It might be only a matter of time. And even for a liberal/progressive like me, that might not be wishful thinking.

Uh, what's the demographic here? Anyone? Bueller?

Update. I found some recruits for Lindsey Graham:

I don't know what to say...

Wayne LaPierre Gains Cult Status

Okay, maybe not.

I wonder if any other newspaper feels the same. Oh, yeah:

Occupy Wayne LaPierre.

Friday, December 21, 2012

What Wayne LaPierre Said


The Tyranny of the (Shrinking) Minority: The Powerless in Search of Power

Any chance these people feel alienated and powerless?

At times like this, when elements in our society emerge into the light, there's an opportunity to see larger movements at play, to connect the dots, so to speak. Here are the groups I see as convergent:
  • White males, especially those who live in the South, the Great Plains, or the non-coastal West.
  • Suburban and exurban dwellers who have watched their expectations dwindle. In other words, blue-collar white workers including but not limited to men, who have seen their wages stagnate year after year.
  • Racists, whether they are self-aware or not.
  • Anybody living in rural sections of the country.
  • The non-educated or under-educated who have forgotten much of what used to unite us as a culture. By this I mean those who have forgotten our common history and cultural bonds.
  • The conservative base, which feels reality changing all around them.
  • Christian fundamentalists.
  • Rabid gun owners, as opposed to sensible gun owners.
And then there are events that are causative in this special convergence:
  • 9/11.
  • The reaction to 9/11 that primarily consisted of the new Dept. of Homeland Security giving funds to localities to beef up defenses, which often went to a military-style build-up of SWAT teams and the proliferation of armored personnel carriers, assault weapons, boatloads of pepper spray, concussion grenades, etc.
  • The creation of the right-wing echo chamber, including but not limited to religious and political talk radio, Fox News, and let's face it, to a certain extent CNBC and CNN.
  • The Obama election.
  • The panic over the (entirely imagined) Obama war on guns and ammo. 
  • The emergence of the Tea Party.
  • DADT ended, gay marriage increasingly accepted and welcomed into cultural mainstream.
  • Marijuana legalized for medicinal use in many states and for recreational use in two.
  • The Obama re-election.
  • A string of shootings culminating in the Newtown tragedy.
Watershed moment: Rick Santelli of CNBC on February 19, 2009, less than a month into the Obama administration:

CNBC is not out-of-the-mainstream and yet a stock-market commentator felt he could explode in anger at the Obama administration's efforts at providing stimulus for the economy and help for those sinking with the economy. It also shows that Obama's election was a catalyst for an explosion of incivility from the right.

We don't need to list everything that has happened since November 4th, 2008. You mostly know the story. So, where do we find ourselves now? What has converged, and what is the state of the nation?

We are a nation divided but, I hope, not as divergent as it might appear. What are the groups in our society, and what do they stand for?
  • The Democratic Party: a coalition of educated (often younger) whites, including Jews; blacks; Latinos; Asians (also more highly educated).
  • Independents: Many are disillusioned Democrats, even more are disillusioned Republicans, some of which find today's Republican Party as not conservative enough.
  • The Republican Party: a coalition of (a very few) moderates; a large number of conservatives (Tea Party and otherwise), composed largely of Southern and Plains-state whites, many of whom are Christian fundamentalists; tax haters; gun lovers; those deeply suspicious of government and international institutions, like the UN and the IMF; libertarians; racists, in the old sense, and the new sense, that whites see their world being subsumed by blacks, Latinos, Asians, and gays; old people; anti-intellectuals; science deniers, including climate-change deniers and creationists; and a whole host of people not clearly motivated by issues but nonetheless quite stirred up by the right-wing echo chamber.
  • Anarchists, Green Party, and activists: This segment runs from the well-intentioned environmentalist to tree-huggers to twenty-something believers in a host of causes to people not that interested in changing things so much as just breaking glass, burning trash cans, and messing stuff up whenever some shit is going on.
I see the Democrats, the Democrat leaners among independents, activists, Green Party -- minus the anarchists, of course -- as being able to work together for common societal goals. I put the numbers of this group at about 55 to 65 percent.

The Republican Party still contains a number of well-intentioned, reasonable people with a genuine libertarian bent and who like the idea of limited government, except when it comes to defense. Then there is the conservative core, the so-called base. All told, the Republicans, including the independent "leaners," come to about 45 percent tops. The conservative core, about 28 to 30 percent, is what I like to focus on.

I call this 28 percent the dead-enders, a phrase I picked up, I think, from Donald Rumsfeld, who was then referring to the Iraqis who didn't know their cause was defeated (turns out it wasn't). In any event, these people were first spotted when, after all the nonsense during the last four years of George W. Bush -- after Katrina, after Abu Ghraib, after trying to privatize Social Security, and after way too many had died or gotten blown up in Iraq -- still saw Bush in favorable terms. Long after Bush was discredited as the leader of the Free World, these people loved him, and they're with us to this day.

Unfortunately for us, they still have control in the House of Representatives, and it's likely they will be able, in what I can imagine as their "death throes," be able to tyrannize the rest of us through a series of actions:
  • Letting us fall off the fiscal (curb) cliff rather than allow one iota of tax increases.
  • Letting us slip back into recession amid a credit downgrade rather than surrender their "advantage" in the debt-ceiling negotiations.
  • Stubbornly refusing to allow any reform to our gun laws, either because their base loves guns or because they legitimately fear NRA retribution.
  • Continuing to support a foreign policy that prefers war and the threat of war to diplomacy or any conciliatory actions on the world stage.
  • Allowing our infrastructure to crumble rather than agree to anything that vaguely resembles stimulus.
  • Constantly attacking or attempting to dismantle any and all social safety net programs and so-called entitlements (earned benefits).

Doubt these people are Democrats.

To sum up, we have a tyranny of the minority brewing in the final years of the Obama presidency inspired and underwritten by the support of a shrinking group of dead-enders associated with the Republican Party and comprised of paranoid, bitter people who are, after all, clinging to their guns and religion. Obama had it right; his timing was just off. The disenfranchised whites of America hate government (if there's a D in the White House) and love guns and the death penalty while professing to be the party of God that protects life. Some pretty weird stuff.

One convergence that I see -- and find perplexing and alarming -- is the expansion of the police state, driven by Cheney-style politics, which include the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, illegal detention, loss of free-speech rights, the militarization of police forces, and violent reaction to peaceful protest, while at the same time gun-loving conservatives are going out on a guns-and-ammo buying spree, inspired by Barack Obama's (non-existent until recently) anti-gun campaign. A snake devouring its tail?

Do we stand a chance of fixing this, of getting past this? Time will tell.

Guns = freedom? Yeah, if you despise and distrust the government, or are trapped in 1784.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NRA News facebook Page: A Celebration of Death and Impending Doom

I really don't want to frighten people, but I went to this NRA News facebook page to leave a comment recommending sensible gun safety laws, and I found that quite a few of our citizens are seriously batshit crazy. Seriously. Sample comments there at your peril, but you deserve to know what we're up against. Sorry in advance, holy crap.

Go here. Be sure to check the comments on the individual stories of people using guns to avert crimes.

With my previous post featuring a cogent, insightful reader at Talking Points Memo, I was trying to pass on what the gun culture of yesteryear was and what it has become today. Visiting the NRA News facebook page, I actually had to come in contact with a whole lot of what TPM's reader talked about. I think of myself as being an ordinary man, not more fearful than most -- but hardly tested -- but thinking that I'm living in a world where people exist that thinking those leaving comments on the NRA News, I begin to hope it's different in Northern California's north-bay wine country and more than happy I don't live in, well, any one of a number of southern states, towns, and cities. But who knows?

How did we get here, and how do we fix it?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Josh Marshall Finds the Truth about Today's Gun Owners. And We Have to Live With It.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo got an email for a reader. I hope he doesn't mind my reprinting it in full because it's the most cogent -- as Josh also believes -- statement I've heard about the gun culture of yore and the gun culture of today. It's from TPM reader SS. It's chilling, to say the least:
I’m a pretty left-of-center liberal. Read TPM regularly. Donated nearly $1,000 to BHO’s re-election campaign. But I was raised with guns. More to the point, my childhood was steeped in gun lore: I learned to hand-load ammunition when I was 10 and 11, and - by the time I was 14 - my dad was trusting me to prepare my own handloads. I could (and to some extent, still can) recite chapter and verse of firearms arcana, from muzzle velocities - a product of the type of gunpowder used in one’s handloads; of the weight (in grains) of a projectile; of the length of a gun’s barrel (the longer, the faster); of the temperature and elevation at which one is shooting - to impact energy (measured in footpounds), to trajectories (flatter for heavier bullets; some calibers have an innate advantage over others), and so on. I bring this up to establish my bona-fides.
The gun culture that we have today in the U.S. is not the gun culture, so to speak, that I remember from my youth. It’s too simple to say that it’s “sick;” it’s more accurately an absurd fetishization. I suppose that the American Gunfighter, in all of his avatars, is inescapably fetishistic, but (to my point) somewhere along the way - maybe in, uh, 1994? - we crossed over into Something Else: let’s call it Gonzo Fetishization. The American Gunfighter as caricature.
The guns that I grew up with (in the late-1970’s and 1980’s) were bolt-action rifles: non-automatic weapons, with organic fixtures - i.e., stocks - and limited magazine capacities. As a pre-adolescent, weaned on the A-Team and the nationalist inanity of the Reagan years, I still remember marveling at the gorgeous glossiness - at the beauty - of my dad’s Sako “Vixen” .222 Remington, with its hand-checkered French walnut stock.
I was raised nominally to hunt, although we didn’t do much of that: once a year, at most. More frequently, we’d go to the range and shoot at targets. So I grew up practicing, and enjoying, what’s commonly called benchrest rifle shooting. I still do so (to a limited extent) today.
Most of the men and children (of both sexes) I met were interested in hunting, too. Almost exclusively, they used traditional hunting rifles: bolt-actions, mostly, but also a smattering of pump-action, lever-action, and (thanks primarily to Browning) semi-automatic hunting rifles. They talked about gun ownership primarily as a function of hunting; the idea of “self-defense,” while always an operative concern, never seemed to be of paramount importance. It was a factor in gun ownership - and for some sizeable minority of gun owners, it was of outsized (or of decisive) importance - but it wasn’t the factor. The folks I interacted with as a pre-adolescent and - less so - as a teen owned guns because their fathers had owned guns before them; because they’d grown up hunting and shooting; and because - for most of them - it was an experience (and a connection) that they wanted to pass on to their sons and daughters.
And that’s my point: I can’t remember seeing a semi-automatic weapon of any kind at a shooting range until the mid-1980’s. Even through the early-1990’s, I don’t remember the idea of “personal defense” being a decisive factor in gun ownership. The reverse is true today: I have college-educated friends - all of whom, interestingly, came to guns in their adult lives - for whom gun ownership is unquestionably (and irreducibly) an issue of personal defense. For whom the semi-automatic rifle or pistol - with its matte-black finish, laser site, flashlight mount, and other “tactical” accoutrements - effectively circumscribe what’s meant by the word “gun.” At least one of these friends has what some folks - e.g., my fiancee, along with most of my non-gun-owning friends - might regard as an obsessive fixation on guns; a kind of paraphilia that (in its appetite for all things tactical) seems not a little bit creepy. Not “creepy” in the sense that he’s a ticking time bomb; “creepy” in the sense of…alternate reality. Let’s call it “tactical reality.”
The “tactical” turn is what I want to flag here. It has what I take to be a very specific use-case, but it’s used - liberally - by gun owners outside of the military, outside of law enforcement, outside (if you’ll indulge me) of any conceivable reality-based community: these folks talk in terms of “tactical” weapons, “tactical” scenarios, “tactical applications,” and so on. It’s the lingua franca of gun shops, gun ranges, gun forums, and gun-oriented Youtube videos. (My god, you should see what’s out there on You Tube!) Which begs my question: in precisely which “tactical” scenarios do all of these lunatics imagine that they’re going to use their matte-black, suppressor-fitted, flashlight-ready tactical weapons? They tend to speak of the “tactical” as if it were a fait accompli; as a kind of apodeictic fact: as something that everyone - their customers, interlocutors, fellow forum members, or YouTube viewers - experiences on a regular basis, in everyday life. They tend to speak of the tactical as reality.
And I think there’s a sense in which they’ve constructured their own (batshit insane) reality.
One in which we have to live.
Thanks for reading. I apologize for having gone on for so long. Hope that you’ve found it interesting,

I certainly found it interesting and not a little scary. But it does let us know what we're up against: the true believer in an alternate reality the we, perhaps, are somewhat forced to live in.

This interfaces with another reality of today, also alternate in the sense that we don't need to be in it and it may be based on a nonsensical fear, and that's the growing "tactical" nature of law enforcement coming out of massive Homeland Security-enabled spending on the local level. This new cultural switch is also very dangerous both to life and limb and our culture in general.

But that discussion is for another time. Just contemplate the message above and what we need to do about it. And thanks to Josh Marshall. Support him at Talking Points Memo. I rely on him all the time.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Does Gun Control Have a Chance?

The president at Newtown: "We can't accept events like this as routine."

I'm a recovering optimist, by which I mean I'm a reluctant cynic. I want to look on the bright side but often end up disappointed, at least with public policy. That's the fate of many a progressive these days.

However, I watched Barack Obama in Newtown, Connecticut, tonight, giving yet another moving speech, this his fourth one as healer-in-chief. He's good at it and might have no equal when it comes to this sort of thing.

All of the speech was excellent, but one line caught me:
"Are we prepared that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
How do staunch gun advocates -- those who think banning military-style assault rifles and hundred-round magazines is a "slippery slope" -- answer such a question? Is banning guns that allow a 20-year-old to kill twenty children -- all of them struck multiple times by a rifle that can shoot six rounds a second -- and six adults in a matter of a few minutes, is banning those guns a slippery slope? As the president said, is that the price of our freedom?

No. What's more, it's not freedom in any respect. What's worse, though, is that it's built on lies, an ecosystem of deception, a wasteland of prevarication.

To prove that point, let's look at what is right under our noses:
  • In Australia in 1996, after a mass murder of 35 tourists in Tasmania, the conservative government of John Howard made sweeping changes to gun laws. Reports Will Oremus in Slate:
At the heart of the push was a massive buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, or about one-fifth of all firearms in circulation in Australia. The country’s new gun laws prohibited private sales, required that all weapons be individually registered to their owners, and required that gun buyers present a “genuine reason” for needing each weapon at the time of the purchase. (Self-defense did not count.) In the wake of the tragedy, polls showed public support for these measures at upwards of 90 percent.
What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies. Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia, of course. But as the Washington Post’s Wonkblog pointed out in August, homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile, home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership is needed to deter such crimes. But here’s the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country. There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.
That puts the lie to the notion that we can't do anything to stop gun violence because people will always be able to get their hands on weapons. Key to Australia's success was that the gun buy-back was mandatory. Yes, it might be harder in the U.S. to enforce such a move, but we could do it with due diligence.

Next lie to knock down: We're safer because we're armed for self-defense. Here's something I found in Talking Points Memo:
Most of us are aware of studies that show that having a firearm in the home increases rather than decreases your chance of violent injury or death — usually through accidents or suicide. I was not aware of this peer-reviewed 2009 study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study which concluded that people in possession of a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot during an assault than those who didn’t have a firearm.
I might as well mention a classic defense of guns. It goes something like this: "Cars also kill thousands of people a year, and we don't ban cars!" It doesn't take a genius to spot the faulty logic. Cars are designed to get us around town and beyond. Sometimes accidents happen that cost lives. But guns are designed to kill people.

The Bushmaster .223: Killing fast and furiously is a feature, not a bug.

Reading this article this morning in the New York Times, I saw how using an assault weapon changed the nature of the attack in devastating ways:
The gunman in the Connecticut shooting blasted his way into the elementary school and then sprayed the children with bullets, first from a distance and then at close range, hitting some of them as many as 11 times, as he fired a semiautomatic rifle loaded with ammunition designed for maximum damage, officials said Saturday.
The state’s chief medical examiner, H. Wayne Carver II, said all of the 20 children and 6 adults gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., had been struck more than once in the fusillade.
Feinstein became SF mayor after the murders of Milk and Moscone.
The tone of the gun-control debate is beginning to change. Diane Feinstein announced today that with the new Congress she'll introduce a renewal of the assault-weapons ban that had been enacted under Clinton but allowed to lapse under Bush. Sure, there's going to be a lot of resistance by Republicans -- and some red-state Democrats -- but there's a new hope that this last act of mayhem and carnage in an elementary school might swing public opinion back to favoring common-sense actions like banning assault weapons, oversized clips and magazines, and, of course, setting up effective background checks and waiting periods for all gun sales.

Voices are gathering all over the country, from Barack Obama to Michael Bloomberg to Diane Feinstein and more. Let's hope we don't run our usual cycle, from outrage to caution to discussion to forgetfulness to, ah, the next tragedy.

If you have a minute or two, watch Obama's remarks at the Newtown vigil. Some are calling it his Gettysburg Address.

Update. Today, the 17th, sees Joe Manchin -- yes, the West Virginia senator who shot holes in cap-and-trade legislation with his rifle in a campaign ad -- coming out in favor of gun control:
“I just came with my family from deer hunting,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I’ve never had more than three shells in a clip. Sometimes you don’t get more than one shot anyway at a deer. It’s common sense. It’s time to move beyond rhetoric. We need to sit down and have a common sense discussion and move in a reasonable way.”
Whoah. Shit's getting real when a red-state Dem is ready to move on an assault-weapons ban including high-capacity clips and, hopefully, waiting periods and background checks. What's most important about Manchin's move is that it gives cover to other red-state Dems who might have joined with Republicans in shooting down gun legislation. Manchin is very much a canary in the coal mine: If he goes there for gun control and survives, he signals that it's now okay.

Maybe, as with DADT and gay marriage, we actually have crossed the Rubicon.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Piers Morgan Can't Take It Anymore, and Neither Should We

Call them out, always, every day. Don't stop. Piers Morgan gets right to it:

Call them out always, never stop. Don't vote for anyone who can't help control guns. You know, six, eight years ago, gays seemed like, well, out in the wilderness. Now, not so much. Things are changing. Believe in human rights, believe in the coming gun control laws. The southern white man is having his ranks thinned. Not soon enough.

BTW, my stance on guns.

Update. Paul Krugman gets it right.

Update 2. Adam Lanza's mother was a gun enthusiast. Right. Guns don't kill people, the sons of gun enthusiasts kill people.

Update 3. These people will never grow up to be gun enthusiasts. Because, well, they're dead:


Update 4. If you own a gun for protection, it increases, not decreases, your chance of being shot. Talking Points Memo says:
Most of us are aware of studies that show that having a firearm in the home increases rather than decreases your chance of violent injury or death — usually through accidents or suicide. I was not aware of this peer-reviewed 2009 study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study which concluded that people in possession of a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot during an assault than those who didn’t have a firearm.
Let's all get some more guns so we can be safe.

Atrios, as usual, gets pithy.

Update 5. Diane Feinstein decides to lead on an assault weapons ban -- passed in the Clinton years and expired in the Bush years. It's a good first step. Now, let's see how the Republicans react. Filibuster, anyone?

Let the (Fake) National Gun Conversation Begin

A person who might benefit by gun control, or one would think.

Okay, maybe it's not fake, but it will probably be completely ineffective. Already the Republicans (the retrograde party) is lining up against any and all attempts to end our obsessive killing machine we call "gun rights." Thanks, NRA.

Here's a WaPo article about a senior GOP representative, Cathy McMorris Roddgers warning that:
I think we have to be careful about new, suggesting new gun laws. We need to look at what drives a crazy person to do these kind of actions and make sure that we’re enforcing the laws that are currently on the books. And yes, definitely, we need to do everything possible to make sure that something like this never happens again.
Right, Ms. Rogers. Let's do nothing so that we can do nothing right after the next one, and the next one, and...

More to my taste is this spot-on critique by Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker of what's really going on with the NRA and the gun nuts, and Republicans:
And now it has happened again, bang, like clockwork, one might say: Twenty dead children—babies, really—in a kindergarten in a prosperous town in Connecticut. And a mother screaming. And twenty families told that their grade-schooler had died. After the Aurora killings, I did a few debates with advocates for the child-killing lobby—sorry, the gun lobby—and, without exception and with a mad vehemence, they told the same old lies: it doesn’t happen here more often than elsewhere (yes, it does); more people are protected by guns than killed by them (no, they aren’t—that’s a flat-out fabrication); guns don’t kill people, people do; and all the other perverted lies that people who can only be called knowing accessories to murder continue to repeat, people who are in their own way every bit as twisted and crazy as the killers whom they defend. (That they are often the same people who pretend outrage at the loss of a single embryo only makes the craziness still crazier.)
Read the whole thing.

If there's a glint of hope it's in this day-after reporting in the WaPo giving us the straight dope on how out of the norm is our gun culture when compared to other developed countries. The charts drive the point home. Sample:

Yeah, great. We have 40% more guns per 100 people than fucking Yemen. Good on ya, NRA.

Oh, and just one more for the trash-talking brigade. Mike Huckabee says that the Newtown shooting can be explained by the fact that "we have systematically removed God from our schools." Right. We have an omniscient, omnipresent God who lets us little fuckers keep Him out of our schools so we can blow the fuck out of our children. Yeah, that's the God I want to believe in. And to think Huckabee was once considered presidential material. Holy crap.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Americans Favor Gun Control. Believe It.

As Ezra Klein reported, Americans' attitudes toward gun control have shifted in recent years to a more pro-gun position, but when asked about specific controls, support for policies that place limits on gun ownership are viewed more favorably:

Now, I favor outright ban of most guns -- with exceptions for guns appropriate for hunting with very strict requirements for training and licensing -- but I realize I'm certainly an exception among my fellow citizens (read the comments on this Yahoo! page). I stand by my view, even if I realize how unlikely it is that a ban will ever be approved.

Look at the list above and ask yourselves: If we favor these changes, why don't we make them? I support them, and you can, too. Let's urge our lawmakers to get this done.

How many more pictures like this do you want to see?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

George Carlin Weighs in on the Fiscal Cliff

This should be required viewing at the White House until this whole fiscal cliff/debt ceiling/sequestration fiasco-of-the-Republican's-making is over:

Definitely where the rubber meets the road.

Bonus George Carlin wisdom, very closely related to the above:

Before every negotiating session President Obama must review these clips, just to keep his head on straight.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The 47%: We Pay for Our Benefits and Would Pay for More

While reading a Thomas B. Edsall post entitled "Is Rush Limbaugh's Country Gone?" I had a sudden revelation: taxpayers get what they pay for, or should anyway.


I could care less about whether Rush Limbaugh's country has left him behind -- it's only shrinking -- but the stats in the article were key to my new thinking. The shrinking hard right favors capitalism, lower taxes, lower social benefits (for everyone else), and expensive international adventurism (wars). They are taxpayers. The growing hard left favors socialism, higher taxes (especially on the wealthy), more social benefits, and a smaller national defense. They are tax consumers.

Tax consumers.

This dichotomy should display the unfairness of our tax system, but it doesn't. It shows the exact opposite, including the various conflicts inherent in our system, and it shows the inherent incoherence of positions on the right. For example, the right wants, in general, more defense spending, or at least no reductions. But they gladly embrace lower taxes. That's incoherent. The left favors higher taxes to pay for more social benefits and wouldn't mind a decrease in defense spending to help pay for them. That's coherent. It makes sense.

Now, I performed a bit of a sleight of hand there by leaving out that the right prefers to reduce social benefits (I refuse to call them entitlements because they're actually earned benefits), which they can then balance against lowering taxes. The reason it's incoherent is that the earned benefits are paid by a different tax stream, FICA and Medicare taxes. You don't hear the right screaming to eliminate FICA and Medicare taxes, do you?

Here's where the 47% comes in. There are, whether you like or dislike Mitt Romney, a large class of people who don't pay much, if any, in income taxes -- I don't think they amount to 47%, but why quibble -- and mostly because they are poor or are in low-wage jobs. But they do work, and they do pay every month of their working lives into Social Security and Medicare. It says so right on their pay stubs.

How much should this family pay in taxes?

So when they don't pay much, if any, in federal or state income taxes, it doesn't mean that something improper is taking place. It means that there's nothing on the 47%'s pay stubs that includes "big-ass, stupid wars" or "bail-outs of the already stinking rich" or "subsidies to megafarmers and oil barons." You're damned right they don't pay those taxes, and that's the way it should be. What the poor and lower middle classes pay for are the social benefit programs they need, like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Hey, where'd all the money go?

Of course, on most of their sales receipts, there's a line where sales taxes are paid. In my state, that's 9%. That goes to state and local spending, like schools and roads and bridges. That's also the way it should be because those of us who pay those taxes get immediate benefits such as public schools for our children to attend and the roads and bridges we need to get around, plus police and firemen and yada-yada-yada.

What doesn't make sense is that the Villagers in Washington DC should sell out to the wealthy and provide them with tax cuts and any number of subsidies to business while Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity (and the entire Fox News propaganda machine), scores of local radio talk-show hosts, and evangelical hucksters preach that the country is going to Hell and we should lower taxes on the job creators, while most of the schlemiels in their audience don't realize that they've just been mugged by the Villagers in Washington DC as they happily waste their tax money and steal their earned social benefits. Now that's incoherent.

How much should these guys pay in taxes?

If what Edsall is pointing to is that the audience that is preyed on by Limbaugh et al is shrinking and the audience that eats up socialist doctrine is growing, then I say the sooner the better. The capitalist system that lets the top 1% have 40% of the country's wealth should be replaced by a system where the 47% get the chance to pay higher taxes through higher wages as long as the system allows for that hopefully declining 47% to get the right bang for their tax bucks, and that means expanded social benefits, paid for by more progressive tax rates.

It works in the rest of the developed nations. It surely can work here, too. It had better.

Bonus thought: If you needed a reason to dislike people who favor raising the eligibility age for Medicare, here's a coherent argument you could make. Another here.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

David Brooks Looks for a Pony, Finds One

At all times whacked but reasonable.
I have always found David Brooks to be a pleasant man. He's always reminded me of priests from my younger days, like a benevolent monsignor, Father Brooks, drifting through the halls of All Souls School, silently mouthing his daily prayers and pausing to pat the tops of our heads with a crooned "How are you all doing, my children?" In his declining years he'd be doing much the same thing, only on Sundays his parishioners would have to suffer through the same sermon praising Vatican II, though it had been more than thirty years since the epochal ecumenical council ended. To Father Brooks it seemed like only yesterday. Sorry, Father, the beloved Pope John XXIII died in 1963. More importantly, he was born in 1881. Time to move on, Father. Folk masses are fine, but for pity's sake, Father.

(For those who have never been Catholic, the key reference here is to the decree issued by the papal council known as Vatican II, which stated that the Church was, naturally, "the pillar and mainstay of the truth," but added that "Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines." To the vast majority of Catholics, that sentiment was liberating; to a very few, it was heresy. No doubt, today's pontiff, Benedict XVI, found it heresy. Vatican II also decreed that lay people have a greater say in the liturgy, which, disturbingly, led to masses with folk music.)

Brooks, of course, is Jewish. Likely it's my own myopic view that causes me to see him as more Jesuit than anything else. I attended a Jesuit university and have ever since identified Jesuits with all things pompous and outmoded, however framed as intellectual and philosophic.

As a boy growing up in the Village, Brooks went to Episcopal-affiliated Grace Church School, so maybe that's why he comes off so squishy. Oh, and he was born in Canada. Still, pompous and outmoded he remains. Jonathan Chait once described him well, saying Brooks was "a journalist who tends to view policy questions through hazy philosophical prisms." Hazy indeed.

Viewed through that prism, I find in his column in today's New York Times, "The Republican Glasnost," the pervasive strains of a reasoned and reasonable commentary on the stirrings of rationality in today's reinvention of the post-election Republican Party. Then, after a pause, I'm struck by the fact that it's complete hogwash.

Following that, or whenever I read him or hear him on radio or TV, grows a sneaky suspicion that he knows it. And then, right on cue, I'm briefly overwhelmed by outright anger that he gets paid for this stuff, whether he himself believes it or not.

Today's gist is that Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan gave speechs in which they proclaim that Republicans care for people because they're misunderstood and we like you, we really, really like you because you're poor and have brown skin and we're not such assholes as we been acting like until we got our butts kicked in the election. No, we're compassionate conservatives like George W. Bush, only not like him, like some other really nice guy who is more misunderstood. Because, you know, we get it.

This David Brooks calls the Republican glasnost. Holy crap.

Next, I peruse the comments on the column and find the vast majority think it's crap, as they usually do. This day, I find a comment hits close to the truth:
Mr. Brooks seems to be unable to identify cynicism and expediency even when recent history provides a context that makes it obvious. That willingness to ignore the fatal contradictions of his political philosophy results in the, shall I say, entertaining and provocative value of his column. Thin soup, but tasty.
Another comment struck me as a spot-on view of our political reality:
Actually what we need is to recognize that the Democratic party now represents the old Eisenhower Republican party and that we must create a new Progressive party that stands up for the restoration of our civil liberties, real opportunity for the poor and working class, the end of the influence of corporate money in politics, single payer health insurance, the end of drone warfare, and a systematic plan to reduce carbon emissions and deal with the global warming. That would be the restoration of our democracy.

What's hilarious about Brooks and his philosophical approach to the smash-mouth football that is our current retail politics is that in better days he could have been the Eisenhower Republican that he secretly probably longs to be. That's why he sounds so smooth and in the end sells out by affirming positions of utter nonsense. Could it be that I should let him find ponies where he wishes to find them, realizing that to be paid to represent today's conservative view he has no choice but to tack far right into la-la land? Shouldn't I forgive him for telling us for the past couple of years that Paul Ryan is a budget and policy wonk with the courage to speak truth to power even though Ryan is a demonstrable huckster with math that doesn't add up to squat? Shouldn't I let Brooks tell us Paul Ryan has now suddenly learned his lesson, even though six weeks ago at the height of the campaign Ryan raged on about the "makers and takers" in America?

Hell if I will. At best David Brooks is lazy, squishy, circuitous, and possibly disingenuous. At worst, he's an out-and-out Sophist*, building false arguments couched in impossible-to-refute Burkean principles usually left unstated. In any event, Mr. Brooks, you can look all day at the landscape that is today's filthy, nasty Republican Party, but you will never actually locate a pony. Much more likely, you'll find a caveman pushing men in wheelchairs off cliffs. (They really do that, you know.)

Creature David Brooks thought he found.

The Russian word glasnost means "publicity," though it's interpreted more broadly to mean "increased openness and transparency," a trend brought on by Mikhail Gorbachev as he attempted to keep the Soviet Union from unraveling.

Here, at last, we get a glint of rationality from Our Mr. Brooks: He is intent on keeping the Republican Party from unraveling and thus is ready to find ponies in the land of cave trolls. Good luck with that, David.

The actual creature David Brooks found.

*Sophism is defined as "a specious argument used to deceive someone." According to Wikipedia, "in ancient Greece, sophists were a category of teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric for the purpose of teaching arete—excellence, or virtue—predominantly to young statesmen and nobility." They were highly paid for their services. Remind you of anyone?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Guns Don't Kill People, Football Players Kill People

Jovan Belcher
Jovan Belcher, during a domestic dispute, killed his girlfriend before driving to the Kansas City Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium and killing himself in front of the Chiefs' general manager and head coach.

Belcher left behind a three-month-old daughter.

The phase used in the title of this post is absurd in the very way that the longstanding defense of guns -- guns don't kill people, people kill people -- is absurd. What's even more absurd is the frenzy demonstrated any time a reasoned commentary is offered on our widespread gun culture and its dangers.

Belcher's girlfriend and surviving daughter.
Longtime NBC sports commentator Bob Costas, more in sadness than in accusation, offered the observation after the Belcher tragedy that "If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today." In whatever spirit you find Costas to have spoken, it's hard to counter that what he said isn't essentially true, unless you want to mindlessly defend guns at all costs.

Which is exactly what happened in the aftermath of Costas' remarks. Media Matters flagged the response by John Lott, writing on, who said:
Guns can make it easier to kill people, but that isn’t relevant here. Even if no weapon existed, the strength differential is so large that Belcher could have easily killed Perkins in any number of ways. The same is true, sadly, about suicide. There are so many ways that Belcher could have killed himself, including crashing his car at a high rate of speed into a wall or even another car as he drove to Arrowhead Stadium.
Unfortunately, pointing to two deaths here does nothing to advance the case for gun control. Costas’ rant falls under the category of if gun control could save just one life it would be worth it. The argument makes as much sense as saying we shouldn’t have gun control if guns can save one life.
First, notice Lott's choice of "rant" to describe Costas' comments. I've seen Bob Costas often over the past thirty years, and I've never seen him rant. He's a cool, deliberative speaker; it's part and parcel of his approach to dignifying sports, something he brought to the business, a trademark. But it's classic counter-commentary these days to attack ideas one opposes as a "rant."

Next, Lott essentially makes the case that Belcher, being so much larger and stronger than his girlfriend, could have beaten her up, or broke her neck, or strangled her. Hell, he could have thrown her off a balcony. Fer chrissake, he didn't need to use a gun, it wasn't the gun. As for his own suicide, he could have crashed his car, driven to a bridge and jumped off, or tied a plastic bag around his neck. He didn't need a gun.

Only, it looks like he did. Jovan did use a gun to kill his girlfriend and take his own life.

This doesn't sit well with John Lott, who maintains that:
The question is the net effect of guns, and what Costas ignores is that guns save a lot more lives than they cost each year. And that's not even mentioning the roughly 2 million times a year that people use guns defensively.

Japanese don't kill Japanese, and neither do guns.
I've cited statistics that run absolutely counter to Lott's position. Here in the U.S., where guns are readily available, up to 30,000 die by guns each year (10.27 per 100,000); in Japan (read about it here), where guns are essentially banned, the annual gun-death rate is .07 per 100,000. In Germany, the gun-death rate is 1.10 per 100,000. You can argue "culture" all you want, but it's hard to get around the fact that we Americans love us some gun violence.

Here's a cheery set of numbers reported by ABC after the Aurora, CO, tragedy in a piece entitled, "Gun Deaths: A Familiar American Experience. It reads:
But on the other side of the argument, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a non-profit organization, points out that Americans still kill each other with guns at a level that is staggering compared to the rest of humanity.
A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined.
Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.
If you want to make the case that it ain't the guns after reading those stats, fine. I wish you luck out there.

4 in 10 U.S. homes have guns, some with larger arsenals. Are these next door?

Update. Of course Fox News has to chime in, calling Bob Costas a coward:

Stay classy, Fox News.

Update 2. ABC has an article about reaction around the nation to Costas' remarks. And right on schedule, Ted Nugent goes off on Costas.

Update 3. Just to test the waters of public opinion on the Costas affair, I found this page on the topic on Yahoo! Sports. Yahoo! commenters are notoriously right-wing and don't generally show much favor toward grammar and syntax. But this thread takes the cake for rabid support of gun rights. Also, the original Costas comments are on video at the top.

I've written about Yahoo! commenters before, and I don't mean to disparage a point of view or anyone's freedom of expression. But the notion of "hate-filled speech" is demonstrated at Yahoo! News pages 24/7/365. It's a bit frightening and certainly, from a civility/communitarian point of view quite demoralizing. Good reading!