Friday, 30 November 2012

In praise of fanatics

America is the land of fanatics. No, this time I’m not talking about politics – yet.

America is a nation that works hard and plays hard. Even in leisure, Americans are usually fanatic about something. But the thing that keeps us from laughing too hard at the fanatic habits of others, is that generally when someone dives into a hobby, they dive in all the way. They learn the whole thing from top to bottom, they know every detail. They earn their right to obsessive silliness by doing their homework.

There are Harry Potter fanatics who can tell you every password ever used to get into the Gryffindor tower, Beatles fanatics who can tell you who was really playing drums on their first single, cooks who can argue for hours on the one perfect way to make chili and barbecue, Civil War guys who can tell you every one of Lee’s battles in order in sixty seconds, Red Sox fans who can tell you exactly what kind of beer bottle they threw through the front window when Buckner blew the World Series, Star Trek fans who can spot when actors put on the wrong Starfleet insignia by mistake, all sorts of encyclopedic knowledge about car engines, stamps, golf, bird watching, trains, gardening, young adult fiction. So, they do their homework, and you have to respect that.

Except for Christians.

Most of today’s Christians say they are very devout. Perhaps they think they mean it. In theory their faith is at least as important to them as, say, Harry Potter is to the typical Potter fan. So you would think that devout Christians would be cracking open that Bible almost daily, right?

Sadly, no. If you listen carefully, you can tell that today’s Christians are dogging it. They are not even reading their Bible. If, indeed, they own one at all.

Today’s Christian fanatics are actually doing the Christianity thing all wrong, because they don’t know what the Bible really said. Depending on denomination, today’s Bible-beaters are liable tell you that the Bible demands that you go to church on Sunday, ordained as the Lord’s day, and take the Eucharist and the other sacraments; that it prescribes eternal hellfire for sinners, and sweeping the holy up from earth to heaven when they die, and purgatory for everyone in between.

None of which is in the Bible.

Current religious practice actually violates Biblical rules on idolatry and paganism: worshipping Jesus instead of the one God, praying to Mary and the saints, and celebrating the anniversaries of Jesus’ birth and resurrection, both of which began as pagan rites. Saint Peter – the Saint Peter – openly condemned pagan idolatry, and even criticized it in one of the letters in the Bible, explicitly rejecting the “forbidden worship of idolatry”. Instead of actually listening to what Peter said – and he was the boss, the first Pope – centuries of Christians prayed, pagan-like, to Peter idols! They named him the patron saint of fishermen, sailors, bakers, farmers, butchers, glassmakers, carpenters, shoemakers, clockmakers, potters, masons, bridge builders, cloth makers, and criminals. In other words a huge chunk of the Christian world has been engaging in idol worship of the guy who made it a rule that you can’t, you know, worship idols. If he really is up there at the Pearly Gates, he is surely rolling his eyes at the stupidity of the faithful. This is more an issue for the Catholics than the Protestants, but still….

Likewise modern religious teaching violates the precepts of the Bible: allowing confession without repentance and attaining grace without good works, baptizing children, and promising rebirth and heaven before the Resurrection. Today’s Christians get Christianity wrong because they don’t even bother to read the manual. Can you imagine a Civil War fan getting this many major things wrong?

This extends not only to practice but also to philosophy. Today’s evangelicals believe the Bible backs them up on political issues, a belief which often falls apart once you actually open up your Bible. The founders of Christianity, Peter and Paul, told their followers not to follow Biblical law as though it was the will of God, and even Micah in the Old Testament said you get along with God by doing good, not by following religious codes and rituals. This deeply undermines the evangelicals’ use of the Bible to argue issues such as abortion and homosexuality, both of which are implicitly condoned in the Old Testament anyway (see Numbers, Ruth, Samuel). Jesus and his disciples spoke repeatedly about paying your taxes and caring for the poor and the sick, something conservatives often forget. Christians get the politics of the Bible wrong, because they don’t read it. Possibly they just don’t want to see how much of a Democrat Jesus was, the unemployed hippie preacher peddling peace, love, tolerance, meekness, charity, and a great abiding love for the “47 percent”. A guy who showed no interest in women. Hmm…

Christians often try to win political arguments by whipping out conservative slogans which they believe, incorrectly, to be quotes from the Bible: “spare the rod and spoil the child, God helps those who help themselves, a fool and his money are soon parted, charity begins at home, idle hands are the Devil's workshop, God's mill grinds slow but true, as you make your bed you must lie in it, beggars should not be choosers, there is none so blind as he who will not see.” None of which are actually in the Bible. Lots of expressions which Christians believe to be Biblical, actually come from William Shakespeare or one of the other poets; occasionally they slap the “Biblical” label on the sayings of Gandhi, Marx, Lenin, and Jefferson and Jackson, founders of the Democratic party. Christians would know this stuff isn’t Biblical, if they actually read the book.

Christians often get the actual events in the Bible wrong too. The forbidden fruit wasn’t necessarily an apple, and there were two different forbidden trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge.  Satan was not in the garden of Eden. Delilah didn’t cut Samson’s hair. Jonah wasn’t swallowed by a whale. Mary didn’t ride to Bethlehem on a donkey and the wise men didn’t see the baby in a manger. Jesus wasn’t necessarily a carpenter.

Also, Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. That was an error propagated by the Pope himself, Pope Gregory. He was the “infallible” Jesus Guy Number One, and he got that “fact” wrong, because he didn’t know the Bible, and read the scripture incorrectly. Another pope corrected the error. Thirteen centuries later.

Incidentally, the Bible is very critical of priests and organized religion, and it says nothing about Popes. The notion that any Pope, or indeed any mortal man, is infallible, is completely contrary to Biblical precepts. Particularly a Pope who dorks up basic Biblical facts like Gregory did.

Can you imagine how America would change, if Christians actually read their Bibles? Then we would find out what today’s Jesus people really believe. Do they really revere Jesus and his message? Or are they just using the pages of his book as fig leaves to hide their fears and hate behind?

“God hates fags!” Um, no he doesn’t. Because he made millions of them.

Right now, some Jesus person is hollering “Well, the Bible says that even the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose! Hah! Take that, accursed liberal!”

Sorry, dude, that’s not the Bible either. Shakespeare again. Antonio in the Merchant of Venice. And then G. K. Chesterton.

Actually, the wingnuts don’t read the Constitution either. If they did, they would have run Bush out of town on a rail. But that’s another story.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

How to beat evangelicals, using the Bible

One can argue that the Bible is a good book. But it’s not good all the way through.

We can reject the Bible as a moral code because its laws are numerous, often silly, and often outdated. Long lists of “crimes” requiring the death penalty, to include the incredibly cruel punishment of death by stoning: one crime even requires the stoning execution of a wild bull, which clearly was not ordered by anybody who ever tried to do it. Long lists of food restrictions including ham, enjoyed today by many Christian families and churches. Long lists of requirements for the pampering of priests, to including the golden glory of their synagogues and the waistline-busting list of meats which must be sacrificed for the priest. No interest on loans, no skyscrapers, no tattoos, no trimming of sideburns, no blended fibers, no gay sex, few rights for women, circumcision for all men. Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are regularly violated by Christians every day.

 We can reject the Bible as a moral code because nobody even knows where the damn thing came from. First of all, even if you believe in revelation, “divine revelation” is only revelation to the man receiving the revelation: to everyone else, it’s just hearsay, or hallucination if you prefer. Second, most of the Bible can’t be divine revelation: a lot of it involves reporting on earthly history, Aesop-like fables and proverbs, poems, songs, a little pornography (see Song of Songs) and sheer weirdness (see Revelation). None of which is revelation from any divine source: clearly man-made. And all of the Bible was written down by anonymous sources and adulterated with a thousand changes, errors, interpretations, translations, contradictions, human choices: not only do religious leaders argue about what it all means, they can’t even agree on what should be in the Bible, or what they mean when they call the Bible “infallible”. Is it infallible just on religious doctrine, or on science and law too?

 We can reject the Bible as a moral code because the people who are identified in the Bible as the leaders of the faith are often the most morally repellent of all. Jehovah himself, jealous and paranoid, regularly murdering a man or a city or all of mankind, just because he didn’t get enough love to suit him, and then killing his own son to drive the point home. Joshua committing genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass rape with Jehovah’s approval. Abraham prostituting his wife to save his life, and Lot doing the same with his daughters, who later got Lot drunk and seduced him. Abraham and Jephtha planning infanticide. Solomon writing Song of Songs which is essentially pornography. David arranging the killing of his mistress’ husband. A priest giving his concubine to a gang which raped her until she died, and then cutting up her body. Slavery, senseless cruelty, intolerance, racism, masturbation, voyeurism, adultery, bestiality, polygamy.

This was in time followed by centuries of celibate priests lecturing us on what normal sex is while raping altar boys and molesting their “housekeepers”. And along the way murdering and torturing thousands who were suspected of wavering in their faith, or accused of trying to demonstrate that man is an animal and the earth is a satellite. Three thousand years of moral crimes committed by men holding Bibles in their hands. And above all, the terrible moral crime of teaching fear, hate and ignorance to a hundred generations of children. Again wielding the Bible as the instrument of torture.

All of these reasons to view the moral precepts of the Bible with suspicion suffice on their own. But we don’t need to rely on such logic. Because even the people who founded Christianity told us not to follow the Bible.

 After the crucifixion, the men who build the Christian church, Peter and Paul and the others, did the usual apostolic stuff: preaching, working miracles, arguing with priests, getting thrown in jail over and over. But the first important thing they did, when they got together to discuss what Christianity meant, was to declare that they would not require followers to go back to the old Jewish Bible and follow those rules, even though they were Jews by birth. They realized that Mosaic law could no longer be interpreted literally as the will of God which must be obeyed without exception: those rules were the laws of man, and other men could decide for themselves whether they were valid, which is exactly what Peter and Paul did.

Paul even criticized Peter when he wavered on this point. Peter, under the influence of the old hardliners, refused at one point to eat with uncircumcised Gentiles because it would anger Jews, but Paul argued that Peter shouldn’t reject people for ignoring a Biblical code which was, by their lights, no longer valid. Paul accepted that some people would follow Mosaic law and even followed it himself sometimes, but did not want anyone coerced into it, or punished for violating it.

In fact, the main story of the birth of Christianity, the Acts of the Apostles, is dominated by a single plot line: Paul’s endless clashes with Jewish leaders over doctrine, observance and ministry. The first great chapter in Christianity is the story of the founders of the faith casting off ancient Biblical law and squabbling with the defenders of that law. When Paul spoke before the Jews and the occupying Romans in Jerusalem, he specifically referred to his past life as a vigorous enforcer of Jewish law, and to his subsequent conversion and abandonment of that life, which he implied was sinful. 

Not only did the founders criticize overzealous adherence to religious law, they also criticized organized religion, just as Jesus himself did throughout his ministry. Something that the leaders of today’s churches don’t like to emphasize.

 When Peter and Paul went beyond the Holy Land to spread the word, they preached what Jesus preached: love one another. They were not tramping all across the Mediterranean basin demanding that the Greeks and Romans circumcise themselves, give up ham and shrimp, and grow side curls. In part this was because they knew the locals would beat the hell out of them. They left Mosaic doctrine behind in Jerusalem and preached Jesus instead. Particularly, they did not want their flocks across the ancient world divided into circumcised and uncircumcised, pork and not pork. And they didn’t want earthly “referees” standing between the devout and the Almighty.

 When the founders weren’t preaching, they were writing letters to their churches across the Roman Empire. Again, they knew that the church leaders in Greece and Asia Minor would laugh at the notion of being asked to follow dozens and dozens of Jewish rules unfamiliar to anyone outside the Holy Land. So instead the Christian founders wrote to the churches that Christians should stick to the very basic precepts such as avoiding sexual immorality, which they didn’t even bother to define.

The founders of Christianity let people use their own judgment and follow a lot of local customs, just as the Romans very wisely did when they conquered territory. The Jewish priests of the day should have been thanking their lucky stars that the ruling Romans weren’t as rigid about religion as the priests were, because if the Romans had been that rigid, they would have killed the priests and eradicated Judaism forever. Actually the Romans did wipe out Jerusalem and the Second Temple a decade after Paul left the city for the last time, in response to a local rebellion rooted partly in religious pigheadedness by Jewish zealots. Paul would have been among the first to warn Jewish religious leaders not to go down that dangerous path: adhering rigidly to any doctrine without any thought or reflection is the short road to disaster.

Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans all argue that only some of the Bible is really God’s law. Even Christ’s teachings are in question. Over the centuries Christian leaders have asserted that even Christ’s words shouldn’t always be obeyed literally. Some argue that Jesus was just exaggerating in some of his admonitions, or that his suggestions were only general guidelines, or that it was okay to modify his actual words, or that the New Testament contradicts itself on some points, or that Jesus made those rules only because he thought the world was going to end very soon, or that it was sufficient merely to emulate Jesus’ attitude, or to obey Jesus only if you wanted to go beyond mere salvation to attain perfection, or to apply his precepts only on spiritual matters (that according to Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism). Some argue that Jesus knew his rules were impossible to follow, which would lead to sin, repentance, and stronger faith; others say that keeping Jesus’ rules perfectly is impossible in an imperfect world, but adhering to that standard would be possible in a better future. Paul himself, founder of Christianity, not only said we could ignore ancient Jewish law:  he also indicated that Jesus' words were not sacrosanct. In First Corinthians verse 7 he contrasts his own views on divorce, from those of Jesus. So there you have Paul and Luther, the founder of Christianity and the founder of Protestantism, saying that even Jesus’ own words cannot be taken literally. Jesus himself taught many of his lessons in non-literal parables, and gave advice which in literal terms would be insane or suicidal: if you see something tempting, pluck out your eye, let your attackers hit you twice in the face, etc; Jesus clearly never intended his words to be followed literally, as law.  

In other words, the Christians of today who insist that their faith and their Bible force them to reject abortion and homosexuality as immoral are contradicting the very people who founded their religion. The founders said “don’t follow the Bible”. Or rather, don’t cling bitterly to it. That’s the stance which the founders chose for their new faith, that’s what they told the keepers of the old faith, and that’s what they told the Roman world.

Remember all this when evangelicals fulminate about abortion and gays, and remember also that even the Bible is unclear on these issues anyway. On the abortion issue, the Bible asserts repeatedly that a fetus is not considered a human life with the same rights as a living person, that God does sometimes allow the killing of fetuses, newborns and pregnant women, and that God sometimes causes abortions himself – read the book of Numbers. Something which Christian conservatives neatly leave out, when they are carefully cherry-picking their Bible quotes.

Likewise the evangelical argument against homosexuality is founded on two fallacies. First, they refer to Leviticus, which is part of the Mosaic law which the founders of Christianity said we shouldn’t even be following anymore. Second, they refer to Bible passages which they claim to be condemnations of homosexuality, but which don’t really say what they’re claiming, or are in dispute: the story of Sodom, and passages from Matthew, Acts, Romans and Corinthians. Meanwhile – more cherry-picking --  evangelicals neatly ignore the story of Ruth and Naomi, and the story of David and Jonathan, the love that surpasses the love of women. This is why the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Congregationalists, Episcopalians and Methodists are all helping fight for LGBT equality.
The dirty secret is that evangelicals who cite the Bible don't actually read the Bible very carefully. So to beat them in an argument, just be smarter and better-informed than they are. And how hard can that be?


PS, just in case you forgot why this is relevant. Mississippi, led by these Bible-misquoting evangelicals, is slated to become abortion-free in about a month. Unless a federal court intervenes, the state’s last abortion clinic will be forced to close its doors, in accordance with a state law requiring doctors to apply for approvals which everyone knew were never going to be granted. This effort works in parallel with efforts in other red states to illegally overturn Roe v Wade by regulating abortion providers into submission and driving them out of business. When Republicans are allowed to run amok with their fallacies and Biblical bullcrap, real people get hurt.

What Republicans say and what they do

Rachel Maddow had a great piece recently on how the mainstream media is totally missing the work of real Republicans passing real laws in the states. She noted that while beltway reporters are musing that Republicans learned their lesson after the election and are now tacking to the left, Republicans out in the states, where they control legislatures and statehouses, are still pursuing the causes they really believe in – the war on women, the war on gays, banning abortion etc. In other words, in Washington where their minority views are often irrelevant, Republicans are playing nice, but out in the E-I-E-I-O states where they have real power, they are marching forward with extremist agenda.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the one key place in Washington where the GOP does rule, they have put forward their slate of House committee chairs. Nineteen white men. Notwithstanding all their blather about the need to reach out to women and minorities….When their actions actually count, they are still marching forward as though the election never happened.

Meanwhile, Daily Kos has a superb article about America’s Christian right celebrating Uganda’s effort to pass a bill imposing the death penalty on homosexual acts by parents, authority figures, and “repeat offenders”, as well as lesser punishments for all the other gays and lesbians. Powerful members of America’s Christian right are tremendously excited about the law, calling it a worthy example for America – let’s make it happen here! “It can be done!” As the Jewish community would be happy to remind you: when powerful rightwing nut jobs with government connections begin to openly advocate genocide against an unpopular group….you might want to pay attention. Because they, too, said “it can’t happen here!”

So in 2014 and 2016, when the Republicans yet again send people like Nikki Haley and Piyush “Bobby” Jindal to sell us their Big Tent snake oil, pleading with us to believe that they really love women and minorities, let’s all remember that all they love about women and minorities is their voting power. Once the election is over, it’s ban abortion, ban contraception, kill gays, blah blah blah.

Because they think we’re all stupid.

Monday, 26 November 2012

GOP admits trying to steal Florida

A great story from the Palm Beach Post: GOP officials admit that they deliberately worked to stop Democrats from voting, deliberately targeting black voting patterns, and that calling it an anti-fraud effort was just a marketing ploy to fool voters. They also tried to purge voter rolls illegally but were stopped by election officials; their effort to purge Supreme Court judges was blocked by the voters themselves, and their efforts to block voter registration were blocked by a federal judge.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Crazy Industry

As I’ve noted earlier, the Republican party is still having a great deal of trouble admitting they are wrong about anything. America tried their toxic formula of redistributing wealth from the middle class to the rich, waging war on women and minorities, and pursuing a chest-beating foreign policy abroad, and after thirty years America said they’ve had enough.

The problem is that The Crazy isn’t just a party, the Republicans. It is also an industry. At the bookstore, there are entire sections dedicated to books generated by the Crazy Industry. Ann Coulter alone has written nine books; Glenn Beck, fourteen books as well as a movie; Dinesh D’Souza, fifteen books and two movies attacking Obama and Michael Moore; Bill O’Reilly, ten books. And many, many more. All attacking Obama, attacking Democrats, attacking liberals.

The Crazy Industry controls a television network, Fox News, not even counting the religious channels with Pat Robertson and the like. They control a number of major newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, and a huge swath of the radio spectrum by means of Rush Limbaugh and his other radio buddies. There is merchandising, fake Confederate flags, wipe-your-ass-on-Obama toilet paper, anti-Obama T-shirts and coffee mugs. The Crazy makes big money: selling ignorance, fear and hate is boffo business.

On the internet, there are a thousand bloggers spewing, and recirculating, hate against Democrats: WND, Breitbart, Drudge, Newsmax, the Examiner. And of course right-wing think tanks, often with wildly-misleading names, like the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, American Family Association, Americans for Truth, Center for Individual Rights, Family Research Council, etc. Just imagine all the right-wing money needed to fund all these institutions!

They are supplemented by Republican couch potatoes who do nothing all day but re-post Democrat-bashing articles on internet forums, over and over and over. That is pretty much their entire lives, every waking moment they are not eating and pooping. The Crazy Industry is an army of millions.

The Crazy Industry is well-funded. Any Republican who strays from the Crazy Sheet Music on guns gets wiped out by the NRA and its donors; a candidate who gets wobbly on taxes gets carpet-bombed by the supporters of Grover Norquist; any Republican who even looks like he’s thinking about taking a step or two to the left will be primaried out of office by the Club For Growth. Express the notion that abortion should be considered to save the life of the mother and you will get dirty looks from a thousand evangelical ministers and their deep-pocketed flocks.
The Crazy Industry. More powerful than the banking Industry, or Big Oil, or Big Tobacco, or Big Pharma.

And it is increasingly a closed system. People who live on the Crazy Planet don’t talk to anyone except other Crazies. Analysts call this “epistemic closure”, which is inaccurate: the phrase actually means something else entirely, to philosophers. But the intent is accurate: the desire by the inhabitants of the Crazy Industry to hermetically seal themselves off from facts, logic, reason, science and reality. This is why arguing with them or even trying to educate them is pointless. They cling bitterly to their delusions like the most determined, unmedicated schizoid. The Democrats have now cornered the market of reality-based thinking, because Republicans have been forced to live on the Crazy Koolaid.


All of this we know. The problem with all this, is that the Crazy Industry does not have the same interests as the party that helped create it.

Republican party regulars know that in the real world of politics, the only way to get anything done is to compromise once in a while, and sometimes embrace moderation. But the Crazy Industry insists that since the other team is evil, compromising with them is like negotiating with terrorists, and that it’s better to destroy Democratic accomplishments even if people in the real world are hurt in the process: that is why conservatives are laboring with might and main to undermine Obamacare even though it is hurting their own supporters. Party regulars know that the middle ground is where a lot of progress is made; the Crazy Industry has done all they can to turn the middle ground into a scorched, uninhabitable no-man’s land, and to persecute moderates and “RINO’s” of both parties. The party cries “Victory!” while the discordant Crazies cry, in another key entirely, “Purity!”

Republicans want to control government, but the Crazy Industry wants to destroy it; Republican party regulars occasionally want to accomplish something, but the Crazy Industry wants to see dysfunction so they can complain about it.

The Crazy Industry has always thrived on hate and fear: in the 1980s they scared the dimwits with the Russians, and later they scared them with Usama and Saddam. Now they are frightening their base by using what they call crime, illegals, abortion, uncontrolled sex and immorality, but anyone with an IQ above room temperature knows that they are really trying to inspire fear and hate among white people against black and brown people, women and gays who threaten white power and the memories of earlier ages in which those other people knew their place. And all those blacks and browns and women and gays vote, in every-growing numbers. The Republicans can only survive by going brown and getting brown votes; the Crazy Industry has declared war to defend the white against the brown. A nation cannot move forward if their governing ethos is all about destructive hate and fear, but the Crazy Industry cannot survive once the hate and fear subside: spinning up deep, nasty currents of emotion is how the Crazy Industry makes reason impossible and keeps The Crazy in the ascendant.

And as folks like Chris Hayes, Kos and Steve Kornacki have intimated, the Republican party of course wants to win elections, but the Crazy Industry actually thrives on defeat, and the hate and fear which defeat generates. When Democrats win, the Crazy Industry can spew hate against Democratic leaders, their statements, their actions, their policies, and their imagined conspiracies against Traditional America. Their ideal situation is one in which the Republican party is in full retreat before the advancing armies of Obama the wicked communist from corrupt Chicago, Pelosi from the sinful city of San Francisco, Harry Reid from the sinful city of Las Vegas, Bawney Fwank from Massa-taxes. Hating Democrats isn’t enough: the big thing is hating Democrats in power. The Crazy Industry wins when the Republican party loses: they make money selling hate, and hate requires powerful Democratic targets.

The Crazies are a bit like some politicians in parliamentary democracies. They do okay in an opposition role, but as soon as they get anywhere near real power, all hell breaks loose. As Sam Rayburn said, any jackass can kick down a barn but it takes a carpenter to build one; America's extreme rightwing has become, ironically, the Jackass Party.

Citizens United was seen as a boon for Republicans. Hooray, the big money boys can spend money on Republican races is obscene quantities, as long as it is not coordinated with the party and the campaigns! And there’s the key problem no one noticed at first, the lack of coordination. A scary metric for Republican politicians: in the 2012 election, most of the money being spent to elect Mitt Romney, was being spent by organizations out of Romney’s control. And those outside groups spewed so many outrageous lies against Obama that the efforts backfired, hurting Romney (of course Romney’s own dishonest ads hurt him too).

The Republican party not only tolerated the rise of the Crazy Industry, they helped create it, and exploited it to win elections. But now the Crazy Industry has become as powerful as the party itself, and has goals which are often in conflict with the interests of the party. And the party has no clear way of regaining control of The Crazy. It’s a bit like the Pakistanis who undertook a great deal of effort to create the Taliban, a bunch of irrational extremists to do their dirty work for them, and then were shocked when their creation, Frankenstein-like, turned on its master.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Undermining same-sex marriage

The war on gays, Vol. 93,526.

Republicans think that the rules are for everybody but them. Whenever they lose a major political battle in Washington, they try to figure out ways to game the system after the fact, in defiance of the Supreme Court, or Congress, or whoever it was who peed in their Cheerios. The high court reaffirms Roe v Wade, and a dozen red states come up with a hundred ways to make it harder for women to get to a clinic. The high court reaffirms Obamacare and governors stamp their feet and vow to stop it. Everybody in the world affirms that women should have access to contraception, and suddenly Christian health-care providers declare that being forced to hand out birth control violates their religious liberty.

And now that gay marriage is taking hold, conservative groups are at it again. They are working across the country, wherever marriage equality is legal, trying to persuade court clerks to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses – all the clerks have to do is declare that “it violates my conscience!” So watch for this crap to take hold in places like Maryland.

The Battle Against Stupid never ends.

Obama's impeachment, 2014

The Republicans in the last few decades have come to the conclusion that they are so obviously right, and the Democrats so obviously wrong, that when Democrats win a presidential election, there must have been something illegitimate about it. The GOP has only managed to break 50 percent once in 24 years of presidential elections – Bush managed a piddly 50.7 percent as a wartime incumbent against a weak opponent – but they still believe that the only way a Democrat could reach the Oval Office is by some evil miscarriage.

So now they are following the same formula as in the Clinton era: try to de-legitimize Obama, and then block everything he tries to pass, and then try to stop his reelection, and then as a last resort, start talking up impeachment. The problem is that Obama’s administration has been extraordinarily scandal-free, one of the most honest administrations in a century.

The Republicans are fishing around for dirty information about Obama’s campaign financing, with no results. They are trying to peddle the idea that Obama has made the economy worse, which the American electorate knows is nonsense: Obama keeps drafting proposals to create jobs and Republicans keep trying to block them for partisan political reasons. And despite that Obama managed to create five million private-sector jobs.

They are trying to raise a lynch mob regarding Obama actions which have already been declared legal in court, such as Obamacare and the individual mandate, and actions which were not only legal but were pursued by Bush and other Republican presidents: recess appointments, executive orders, imprisoning prisoners of war, using weapons to flush out Mexican drug dealers, appointing issue “czars”, and suggesting that the Constitution be altered.

And of course they are trying to breathe new life into conspiracies that have been debunked and laughed out of town, such as voter fraud and ACORN, Obama’s birth certificate, Solyndra, Obama giving “amnesty” to immigrants, Obama establishing an electricity monopoly, Obama rigging the auto bailout in favor of the unions, Obama violating the War Powers act in Libya, a dozen conspiracies regarding Dodd-Frank, and of course Obama stopping help from getting to the Benghazi consulate and lying about it. All of which have been proven untrue, here in the real world.

None of this has any basis in reality. But the fascinating thing is that some of the people yammering about Obama’s non-existent crimes are the same people who eagerly helped cover up the very real crimes of Obama’s predecessor. These rightwing loons cheered as George Bush violated Article I of the Constitution by violating Congress’s prerogatives, by lying to them to get us into a war, blackmailing them into funding unnecessary troop deployments by threatening to put the troops in danger, defying subpoenas, and using illegal signing statements and administrative actions.

These rightwing cheerleaders applauded as Bush committed endless violations of Article II, perverting the executive branch into a partisan political weapon, illegally prosecuting Democratic politicians and firing Democratic attorneys, directing government offices to spread dishonest political propaganda, failing to uphold Article II responsibilities by keeping or financial system safe or enforcing product safety laws, sending thugs to disrupt officials from counting votes while screaming “don’t count the votes!”, and trying to convert the Vice Presidency into a fourth branch of government with no oversight.

They turned a blind eye as Bush repeatedly trampled over Article III by violating the prerogatives of the courts, by defying orders to preserve emails and concealing evidence. Bush’s violations of the Bill of Rights include illegal spying and secret prisons and torture against the innocent, and lying about it all.

And of course they ignored the garden-variety violations of federal law and other high crimes and misdemeanors: Bush killed thousands of innocent people in the Middle East, allowed other terrorists to destroy the World Trade Center without holding them accountable, turned a blind eye as Iran and Korea built the nuclear weapons which could destroy our cities, inflicted so much damage on our military that PTSD and suicide are skyrocketing, made America hated around the world, endangered a CIA employee and intelligence operations by exposing the employee’s identity, made it easier for aliens to enter the country across the Mexican border and through our ports, and put thousands at risk of disease and death after Katrina.
So be sure and remind the Issas and Limbaughs of all this when, inevitably, the Impeachment Bandwagon rolls out of the garage in 2014 or thereabouts.

Monday, 19 November 2012

GOP terrified of naked Indian!

Samoa-born Tulsi Gabbard, 31, is a decorated Iraq veteran and martial arts instructor; she achieved a singular distinction for a female warfighter, becoming primary trainer for the ultra-conservative Kuwaiti national guard. She got a business degree and was elected to the Hawaiian legislature at 21, the youngest ever in the nation. She was just elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat, 81 percent to 19. She won by 62 points.

She’s got some serious game.

She is everything Republicans hate: she supports choice for women on abortion and contraception, and same-sex marriage. Unsurprisingly she supports women in combat and works to stop the big banks from foreclosing on deployed troops. And she’s a woman in power, a woman who intensely dislikes bullies; while she was accomplishing all this in her very short life, she also defeated a phone stalker.

And when she is sworn into office this January, she will be sworn in on the Hindu holy book, the Gita, not the Bible. Because she is a devout Hindu.

And this is going to cause some silliness. Five years ago the conservative media went totally crazy when Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison reenacted his oath of office using a Muslim Qur’an, and oddly no sensible person ever asked why a Muslim would ever swear on a Bible. The same year, when a Hindu prayer was said on the Senate floor, rightwing protesters interrupted from the visitors’ balcony, and other conservatives condemned the prayer. It violates the Constitution, the Founding Fathers never would have approved, they don’t believe what we believe, blah blah blah. And of course the wingnuts still insist that Barack Obama is a scary Muslim, even though he was, in fact, the only true Christian in the 2012 presidential race, assuming we’re not counting third parties and the Mormon with his magic stones and magic underwear.

So when Gabbard gets up there with her Gita, expect her to get Fluked by Rush Limbaugh and carpet-bombed with The Crazy by the loony right. Three more choruses of “The Death of Traditional America”. OMG this snake-charming slut from the banks of the Barah-maputra! White Christians, look to your muskets!

By the time they are done, Republicans will have alienated the Hindus in America. All two million of them. Because the wingnuts don’t think they’ve done enough to irritate minorities in America. And the Hindus will remember this in the next election. To make my joy complete, two of the largest concentrations of Hindu worship are in states the Republicans absolutely must retain, if they are to avoid the terrible doom of the Whigs: Florida and Texas.

Personally, I think Gabbard should totally mess with their heads, drive the wingnuts nuts. She should strip naked, ululate in Hindi, sacrifice a goat on the House dais, set it on fire, and then give John Boehner the heart of the goat to eat. Make sure Fox News has their cameras rolling. And then just show up in her red power suit and pearls the next day, like nothing happened.

Is music dead?

Country music today has degenerated into pop with the occasional fiddle, and pop has degenerated into defiantly stupid dance music. And all black music, the source that gave the world blues, jazz, rock and soul, has been sucked into the vortex of rap, which essentially consists of juvenile bathroom-wall poetry over a really really loud drum track. And then singing teenagers from Disney, and contest winners. That is the music of today.

Of all the musicians to come on the scene in the last twenty years, the ten biggest sellers have been the Backstreet Boys, Andrea Bocelli, Rihanna and Beyonce, Eminem and the Black Eyed Peas, Shania Twain, Britney Spears, Spice Girls, and Taylor Swift. How many of their songs will be remembered, decades down the road? “Hit Me One More Time”? “Feel Like A Woman”? “What I Really Want”? “You Belong To Me”?

Ah, yes, I remember our wedding day, twirling on the floor, to our song, “My Humps”.

The second batch of top sellers after them: Robbie Williams, Usher, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Enrique Iglesias, Adele, Jay-Z….and it just goes downhill from there. So, any songs in there that will live forevermore? “Paparazzi”? “Rolling In The Deep”?

Look at the biggest song in each of the last twenty years. The only ones anyone can actually remember are “I Will Always Love You”, “Whoomp There It Is”, the Macarena, “Believe" by Cher, “California Girls” by Katy Perry and the Adele song.


Not to get all "get off my lawn" on you people, but compare today's sorry state of affairs to the albums we got just from one year, 1975, with records like Born to Run, Physical Graffiti, Wish You Were Here, A Night at the Opera, Rocky Horror, the Tommy soundtrack and Tubular Bells.

In 1975 we got a pile of great albums from singer-songwriters and the like, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, James Taylor, Carole King, Olivia Newton John, Judy Collins, Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, Joan Baez, John Denver, Joni Mitchell and Janis Ian. The former members of CSN&Y produced a total of four albums between them. In one year.

In 1975 the black community unloaded a mountain of music from Parliament, Earth Wind and Fire, the Isley Brothers, Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield, the Spinners, Smokey Robinson, Donna Summer, the Pointer Sisters, Al Green, the Commodores, the O’Jays, Sly Stone, the Temptations, the Staples, Patti Labelle, James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, Roberta Flack, and Kool and the Gang. All in one year.

In 1975 there was an explosion of music from the outlaws: Waylon Jennings, the Band, Tom Waits, the Outlaws, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Little Feat, the Charley Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Earl Scruggs, the Allman Brothers and ZZ Top.

In 1975 the world of jazz gave us works from Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Weather Report, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Manhattan Transfer, Dexter Gordon and George Benson.

In 1975 the kings of the music world were still cranking it out: three of the four Beatles had albums out, and the Stones, and the Who, and of course Led Zeppelin. The old dinosaurs like the Kinks still had their teeth, and the Hollies, the Four Seasons, Manfred Mann, the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, the Beegees, Eric Clapton, and even Elvis Presley.

In 1975, people who wanted to rock out could buy new albums from Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Jethro Tull, Jeff Beck, Blue Oyster Cult, Ted Nugent, Grand Funk Railroad, Kiss, Deep Purple, ACDC, Jimi Hendrix (posthumously), BTO, Journey, the Doobie Brothers and Peter Frampton.

In 1975 the old blues guys who started it had albums out, showing everyone how it was done, like Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters.

In 1975 progressive rock gave us albums from Renaissance, Kraftwerk, King Crimson, Rick Wakeman, Rush, and Styx.

In 1975 people bought new kinds of music by the ton, from Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Roxy Music, ELO, Supertramp, War, Abba, KC and the Sunshine Band, Rod Stewart and Chicago.

In 1975 David Bowie, Lou Reed and Suzie Quatro warned us that punk and new wave were around the corner; Bob Marley let us know that reggae and world music were coming.

All that in one year. And it was like that through the late sixties and throughout the seventies. Then all these great streams of music seemingly dried up at once, in the 1980s. Rock mocked itself with Nirvana and Hootie and the Blowfish. Soul and R&B died without warning. Hard rock turned into hair metal. Singer-songwriters ran out of things to write. Country lost its balls; the outlaws died off or sobered up, and meanwhile the punks overdosed, or aged into comfortable British commercials for household products. People like Springsteen and Prince and Madonna and Michael Jackson tried to keep music alive, but how much original music have they produced in the last decade or so?

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Twilight of the wingnuts

Democrats have a great deal to cheer about, quite clearly. Not only did our embattled President win reelection, but the American people, in poll after poll and referendum after referendum, showed that they want Democratic ideas. Affordable health care, GLBT rights, fair taxes on the rich, everything.

But the news is actually better than that. Because the events of the last thirty years were actually the high-water mark of conservative ascendancy.

For most of American history, the conservative movement was divided. The Bible-beating, race-baiting southerners were firmly entrenched in the Democratic party, while the big-business bankers and businessmen were on the other side of the line of scrimmage, first in the Federalist party and the Whigs, and then in the Republican party. Conservatives couldn’t unite because the two wings of the movement were always in two different parties.

Then several things happened, to strengthen the conservative movement.

The big one was the race issue. In 1948 Hubert Humphrey crystallized racial equality as a central issue for the Democratic party, and Truman backed him up. This began to loosen the Democratic party’s grip on the south. In the 1960s the Democrats pushed civil rights legislation. In 1968 George Wallace showed southerners that they didn't always have to cling to the Democratic party, and Nixon openly used a racist appeal to win southerners over to the GOP. By the 1980s the south was turning very red, and former hardcore Democrats like Strom Thurmond, Phil Gramm and Dick Shelby were now Republicans. And what that meant was that the big-business Wall Street conservatives and the southern conservatives, the two main pillars of the right wing movement, were all united. As the southerners joined the GOP, they picked up the powerful NRA too.

Also, the Democratic coalition that dominated America after the Depression collapsed. It was not a gradual decline: it happened all in one summer, due to the short-sighted, destructive actions of one man, George McGovern. In 1972 McGovern wanted to run for president, and came up with an ingenious method for securing the party nomination: taking over as chairman of the Commission on Party Structure and Party Selection, and using the party’s rules to grab the nomination for himself, much the same way Dick Cheney took over Bush’s VP selection process and grabbed the job for himself. But in doing so, McGovern had to launch devastating attacks against the major power centers of the party, the unions and the city bosses. He destroyed their power, and then when he needed their money and manpower  in the general election, they said “you declared war against us at the convention, you destroyed our power, we can’t help you now.” There were other reasons McGovern lost big in 1972 – he embraced the same radical elements that scared the hell out of Middle America in 1968 and he handled his VP selection badly – but the one mistake that had long-term consequences was his deliberate choice to destroy the power centers which the Democrats had used for decades to win elections, the urban machines and big labor.

While the Democratic coalition was collapsing, and the southern and big-business conservatives were uniting under the GOP banner, the conservative alliance was adding a third wing. In 1950 America was reeling from the “loss” of China to the Communists, the news that the Russians had acquired the atom bomb through treachery, the communist invasion of South Korea and the anticommunist jihad of Joe McCarthy, and the Republicans swiftly crafted a “Democrats are weak on foreign policy” meme which helped them win elections throughout the Col dWar, something that really only ended when Obama shot Usama bin Laden in the head.

So now the GOP had an alliance of three strong movements: fiscal conservatives selling sexy tax cuts, social conservatives selling “family values”, and foreign-policy conservatives promising to protect America from the bad guys. And just as important, these three movements learned to support each other: the Wall Streeters learned to sing the “pro-life” sheet music, the war hawks learned to preach the low-taxes gospel.

Then other things happened to help the Republicans. Reagan, a superb salesman with impeccable timing, succeeded where Goldwater had failed sixteen years earlier, in selling the conservative message. Conservatives built their own television network, Fox. They concocted a scheme which put harsh conservative rhetoric on the radio for hours each day across a huge swath of middle America, giving the programming away for free, in exchange for advertising deals and the implied pledge that radio stations wouldn’t add liberal programming – the Rush Limbaugh show. The pushed legislative rules to the limit, filibustering any bills they didn’t like and using that tool to slow the flow of Democratic judges into the federal judiciary, thereby giving the federal bench a far-right tilt. And then they used all those rightwing judges to affirm the right of big-money conservatives to buy elections with millions of dollars in ad money. And lots of mud-slinging and attacks, ranging from Willie Horton to “Obama will kill your grandma”.

So, a Republican party with three strong, mutually-supporting factions, with strong messaging, clever parliamentary tactics, tons of money, and an amazing gift for dishonest attack ads. Facing a Democratic party whose power coalition had fallen apart, and which kept trying, foolishly, to reach out the hand of compromise to Republicans who just wanted to kill them. How could the Republicans lose?

The Republicans lost because America saw them try their ideas out.

They saw America, under Republican leadership, follow the war-hawk foreign policy into an unbelievable quagmire in Iraq. They saw supply-side economics destroying the middle class. They saw what the social conservatives meant when they said “family values” and “traditional America”: a nation in which gays and other minorities were barely tolerated, and women were seen as too stupid to manage their own lives.

And the other tactics failed too. The nasty filibusters began to backfire, the millions of dollars in attack ads backfired, the lies got shot down on live television, nothing the GOP tried worked.

And the amazing thing is how briefly the Grand Coalition of Republican elites lasted at the top of the hill. They won two elections with Reagan, a superb salesman, and then beat Dukakis who was one of the worst campaigners in electoral history. That’s it: three elections.

Since then, the Republicans have won the popular vote exactly once in 24 years of presidential politics: Bush, a wartime incumbent running against a lazy opponent, scored a wimpy 50.7 percent. They used scary lies about health care to win the House in 1994 and again in 2010, and they used gerrymandering to keep the House in 2012, even though the Democrats actually got more votes than the GOP in the 2012 House elections. And that's it.

The conservative movement reached its high-tide mark during Reagan, and since then they have had nothing to sustain themselves, but dishonest attacks, fear, hate, unethical tactics, and sheer brass. Once they empty that toolkit, what else do they have? America has rejected their belligerent foreign policy, their rob-the-middle-class-to-feed-the-rich fiscal policy, and their medieval attitudes regarding women, gays and minorities. They can’t win on ideas, they can’t win on strategy and tactics. Their bag of tricks is now empty.

Can the GOP admit their error and save themselves?

Republican leaders are now in a crushing dilemma, on many fronts. The problem they face is that America really likes Democratic policies in a number of areas, once Americans manage to clear away all the Republican scare talk about them and get to the facts.

If Republicans go along with the Democrats on these issues, it means admitting they were wrong, it means they lose issues they can bash the Democrats with, and it means their crazy rightwing base will punish them with primary challenges.

But if they fight the Democrats on these issues, the sane 90 percent of the country will reject them at the polls, they way they just did on election day.

This is playing out on a number of fronts.

On budget policy, the tea-party caucus is pushing John Boehner to defy Obama and take us over the fiscal cliff, which forces the Republicans to reject their low-tax pledges and become the party that raises taxes on the whole country, a toxically bad idea for any Republican who ever wants to run for office. But if Boehner does the sensible thing and negotiates with Obama, his own caucus will fire him and replace him with Cantor or Ryan in a heartbeat, or that woman with three names. Boehner has had to deal with this push-pull ever since he became Speaker: that’s what happens when your leader can’t lead.

On Obamacare, it is becoming more and more obvious that Americans really do want the provisions in the plan, getting affordable care, preventing insurance corporations from chucking you out when you get too old or have a preexisting condition. Republican governors are trying to screw with implementation  of the program, because they hope it will deprive Obama of a historic victory, but it will also anger a lot of voters by taking away affordable health care. So do they admit that their three years of scare tactics about dead grandmothers were a load of crap, and stop fighting it? Or continue to resist changes that the voters want?

On foreign policy, Romney realized too late that trying to fight Obama on foreign policy was going to lead him straight into quicksand, and a public spanking by Candy Crowley. After that scarring experience, Romney simply agreed with all of Obama’s foreign policies while also attacking Obama as a failure on foreign policy, which fooled nobody. So now, as the Israeli-Palestinian crisis cranks up yet again, the Republicans are in a jam: how can they criticize Obama for following the same pro-Israel policy that every President since Truman has pursued? The funniest thing about Republican foreign policy is that, as hard as they try to sound like street-corner badasses ready to fight Iran, they have totally failed to see the hand of Iran in what is going on in Israel. This is a pattern that has played out many times over the last thirty years: whenever the international community puts pressure on Iran, the same thing happens – the world is suddenly distracted by the eruption of new violence further west. An explosion of civil conflict in Lebanon, then the intifada, then Palestinian shelling of Israel, again and again. All concocted by the Iranians. And the Republicans, instead of correctly hollering at one of their favorite targets, Iran, insists on hollering at Obama instead, for doing….exactly what they would have done.

Even on the election itself. Republicans have been hollering for a week that Obama won the election on a foul, by promising illicit goodies to gullible, greedy, lazy women and blacks and Latinos. But in 2014 and 2016 the party will need to win over those same gullible, greedy, lazy groups, who aren’t stupid and will surely remember these post-election insults. So do the Republicans blame minorities for screwing up the 2012 election, or begin sucking up to them for 2016? They can’t do both. And in fact they may not be able to do either: nobody really believes the “minorities wrecked the election” meme except the wingnuts, and minorities and women are not going to fall for any Republican snake-oil salesmen in 2016, even if the two people hopping out of the snake-oil wagon are Piyush Jindal and Nikki Haley. Romney, who will never run again, stuck to the “minorities ruined everything” meme, but many big party players who do have further electoral ambitions slapped him down for insulting minorities. And this makes it easier for us to figure out who is most desperate to exploit these groups for future elections: some of the most vociferous violators of the “thou shalt not criticize fellow Republicans” rule, spanking Romney for being mean to brown people, are Chris Christie, Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, Nikki Haley…

So now Republicans must decide whether they would rather admit they were wrong, and lose elections. Or stick to their guns and try to destroy all of the popular policies that Obama ran on, and lose elections that way.

This isn’t the first time the Republicans have been in this jam. For most of the last century, the American people wanted Democratic policies. So Republicans had to figure out a way to champion the same policies as Democrats, while attacking the Democrats who had championed them first. “I agree with everything my opponent wants to do, and if we elect him it will be a disaster for America!” Eisenhower got away with campaigning as a “New Deal Republican” because he was Eisenhower. Nixon tried the same thing in 1960 and was branded as a laughable purveyor of “me-too-ism”: Nixon only won when he sang the racist sheet music to a temporarily terrified nation in 1968, running against a divided Democratic party.

And now, the Democratic hand is arguably stronger than it was forty years ago. As Ulysses Grant once said, sometimes the only way to kill a bad idea is to try it out. So for the better part of thirty years we tried out Reagan’s Laffer-curve supply-side trickle-down strategy for giving trillions to millionaires and hoping they’d give it all back, and unsurprisingly it was a disaster. Only when Clinton steered us back to the left did we get the ship back on an even keel and create twenty million jobs. So now America knows: we’ve seen both parties run the economy, and we know that the Democratic path leads to jobs and growth.

But when will the Republicans admit it?