Monday 24 December 2012

quote of the day

Self-described political "centrists" believe the best policy is halfway between right and wrong.
@RBReich via web

Saturday 22 December 2012

One man, one woman! It’s in the Bible!

All you Christians out there, who believe that God’s plan is for marriage to involve one man and one woman, I’ve got a test for you. Look at this group of twenty names – the great names of the Bible – and tell me which two names don’t belong with the other eighteen.


Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Esau

Gideon, Saul, David, Solomon, Rehoboam

Ahab, Lamech, Caleb, Belshazzar, Ezra

Manasseh, Nahor, Simeon, Zedekiah, Jesus


The answer? Adam and Jesus. The other eighteen men all practiced polygamy. Adam had sex with Eve, but since they were made from the same flesh, technically that was not marriage, it was incest. Jesus never married at all.

The norm for men in the Bible was not one-man-one-woman marriage. It was polygamy, which was also practiced by Joash, Elkanah, Ashur, Abijah, Jehoiada, Ahasuerus, Benhadad, Eliphaz, Jehoiachin, Jehoram, Jerahmeel, Machir and Mered.

If evangelicals seek for examples of one-man-one-woman marriage in the Bible, the quest will be harder than they thought. There was a lot of polygamy in the Old Testament. In the New Testament you do have Peter, who seems to have been married, but apparently if he was married he ignored his wife and the fishing business which was supposed to support his family, and wandered preaching all over the place until finally he was killed. And in fact that seems to describe all of Jesus’ apostles and disciples, abandoning any semblance of family life or gainful employment so they could wander all over the known world, preaching, living in poverty, getting arrested, and getting crucified, or killed in some other unseemly way.

The one story that clearly supports the one-man-one-woman model seems to be Isaac. But his marriage to Rebekah was arranged by others, and for most of their married life, Rebekah was barren. Other than that…somebody crack open their Bibles and find a happy, prosperous one-man-one-woman family.

The marriage model in the Bible is to treat your wife like dirt, either by marrying women in multiple batches, or ignoring your wife entirely while you go tootling off with your friends pursuing your Jesus hobby, which was more likely to lead to execution than to a well-fed family. In other words, polygamy or desertion.

Remember this the next time a Christian waves the Bible in your face, as a justification for insisting on one-man-one-woman marriage as the only acceptable model for your lifestyle.

PS, if I wanted to be really mean, I'd mention that famous couple, Joseph-Where-The-Hell-Did-That-Baby-Come-From, and Mary-That's-My-Story-And-I'm-Sticking-To-It.

Good guys with guns!

Let me tell you about a place protected by good men with guns.

This is an incredibly safe place.

This is a place with 30,000 people in it. Men and women sworn to protect the innocent and preserve our country and our way of life.

This is a place with an incredible array of concentric rings of security, gates, guards, badges and passes, the works. All of it supplemented by heavy weaponry, also manned by good men.

Very, very safe.

The place I’m referring to is Fort Hood.

Of course the population is only 29,987 because a crazy man shot the place up and killed thirteen people.

If 30,000 armed people can’t stop a psycho massacre, then one county cop isn’t going to stop one at your local middle school, either. There have been other shootings at schools, and in a number of cases, including the Columbine shooting, they already had security people there.

Friday 21 December 2012

Questions for the NRA guy

The NRA spokesman went on TV today to talk about Connecticut. As far as he’s concerned, Sandy Hook is the fault of everybody except the gun lobby: video games, gun-control advocates, shameless Democrats exploiting tragedy, movies, music, the media, and Obama. And he insisted that the answer to Sandy Hook is to put guns in schools.

They called this appearance a press conference, but the NRA guy, Wayne LaPierre, ran off without taking any questions. Here are the questions I would have asked.  

First, Mister LaPierre, as Daily Kos pointed out, the NRA Board of Directors includes Ted Nugent, Oliver North, John Bolton, Grover Norquist, Chuck Norris, and Larry Craig the pedophile bathroom stalker. These are the guys you chose to be the well-scrubbed reassuring public face of your group, and even these guys are people with a track record of saying and doing things that are batshit crazy. They openly hate blacks, women, gays, immigrants, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, environmentalists. In other words, the loony wing of the GOP. And overwhelmingly white and male (just like a lot of our mass shooters). If you’re pushing to retain your rights to all these weapons and even add bigger and more destructive guns, don’t you think you should try a little harder to hide the fact that even your leaders are mentally unbalanced and that you hate the rest of us with the heat of a thousand suns? The confluence of crazy GOP politics, hate, guns, and mental instability makes us a little nervous.

Next, one of your board members is Ronnie Barrett, who developed a 50-caliber rifle that can pierce police armor and shoot down aircraft. It’s the perfect tool for terrorists, and we know this because the Branch Davidians used this fire power in the Waco siege, to such effect that even the army’s Bradley fighting vehicles didn’t have enough armor to withstand it. Has it occurred to you, that you people are the greatest possible friend for terrorists who want to attack us without worrying about law enforcement? Imagine terrorists sitting alongside a dozen U.S. airport runways with these weapons.

Next, do you realize that your membership overall is becoming even more unstable? More and more, guns are being concentrated in the hands of crazy people. Overall, the number of homes with guns in them has dropped shockingly, from 54 percent of U.S. homes to only 32. But the number of guns overall is spiking upward, because the shrinking number of gun nuts are buying more and more guns, because they are more and more paranoid. Statistically, the typical gun owner is white, over 50, a rural southern conservative Republican, who has a high school diploma at best, and who doesn’t make much money – but is spending thousands and thousands of dollars he doesn’t really have, to load up on racks and racks of guns. Apocalypse preppers, men who await the rapture, outright paranoids, secessionists, lone wolves, self-appointed militiamen, people who don’t fit in with today’s America, or who refuse to try. Angry, frightened, alienated, listening less to the voices of reason and listening more to each other, or to the voices in their heads, or to Rush.  And when the Sandy Hook tragedy happened – something they helped create – they reacted by buying even more guns. A Death Spiral of Fear. And even when guns aren’t involved, there’s trouble—like the guy who watched a bunch of anti-Muslim stuff on Fox News and then drank a load of beer and burned down a mosque. Does this growing armed-and-crazy dynamic bother you at all?

Next, what is the NRA going to do further down the road? Your core of crazy angry old white guys is going to age off the system. The number of people who agree with your whackaloon beliefs is dropping. Eventually the GOP will return to sanity and they will be less reliable as your ally. The Democratic party, sick of being used as a punching bag, is growing some cojones, and in four years you won’t be able to use the scary black President to round up new recruits. America has tried things your way, with few gun controls, and we’re losing 80 dead per day – the national backlash is already underway. And your contemptible effort to recruit children is facing a backlash too, after Sandy Hook. So how are you going to survive the next few decades?

Next, you keep quoting the Constitution, but have you actually read it, and do you know how it was written? After the Revolutionary War, the Founding Fathers decided that rather than keep the Continental Army, they would disband it and just rely on state militias. Shortly thereafter they wrote the Second Amendment, allowing those state militias to keep their muskets, but decreeing elsewhere in the Constitution, Article 2 Section 2, that this distinction only belonged to actual state militias which take orders from the President. Guns rights weren’t intended for everybody, gun rights weren’t for nonmilitary purposes such as hunting (and people don’t really hunt for their dinners anymore anyway), and it wasn’t intended as a blank check to acquire any weapon you wanted (i.e. John Adams didn’t have a cannon on his front lawn). The founders did not embrace your notion that guns in the hands of common men keep America free: they insisted that guns in the hands of properly-led professionals keep America free. The founders had a deep mistrust of the common man, expressed over and over in the Federalist Papers: that’s why, elsewhere in the Constitution, they put many filters between the people and political power, refusing to pass laws by referenda, using the Senate to prevent popular sentiment from leading to foolish legislation, and protecting unpopular minority views from being trampled by the mob. The founders did NOT want to rely on the man on the street to protect freedom. So…as we discuss the Second Amendment ad nauseam, can we talk about the rest of the history too?

Next, can you explain why states with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence, and why countries with gun controls don’t kill 80 people a day like we do? Since you keep asserting that guns keep people safe.

Next. can you start getting serious about gun locks? For every time a gun is used in the home for a legally justifiable shooting or self-defense, there are 22 incidents of homicides, attempted suicides, assaults and accidental shootings. So when you buy that gun, the odds are it will be used on your or your kids, not some boogeyman. So can we start locking up our guns? Or better yet, not keep them in the home at all?

Next, you complained today that we need guns for protection because federal prosecutions for gun crimes have dropped by 40 percent. Um, isn’t that because your Republican pals have used legislation to gut ATF? Maybe we won’t need to sling lead at criminals ourselves, if the people who are actually trained to do that have proper funding and support?

Next, can we dispense with the pledges and oaths? Our members of Congress swear a very clear oath:

“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

In other words, our representatives swear to uphold their Constitutional duties, without any reservations or asterisks regarding any other oath they swore to. But you guys keep making them swear other oaths too: you make them promise to stop anyone from even talking about gun laws. Your board member Grover Norquist made a whole army of politicians swear an oath never to raise any taxes, regardless of the financial situation. Your pals in the Club For Growth swore in a bunch of hard-core tea-party politicians too, and ruthlessly exterminated any politician who defied their demand for political purity. So we have a whole lot of our elected officials, who aren’t working for the American people, to whom they are sworn. You guys are forcing them to ignore or violate their oath of office. So, someday when you’ve wreaked enough damage on the country, can we have our congressmen back? Can we have our democracy back? It would be nice.

And finally, Mister LaPierre, speaking of mental illness -- do you still believe that policemen are jackbooted thugs, that Bill Clinton deliberately fostered violence so he could ban your guns, that the UN will take your guns, and that Obama has spent a lifetime undermining gun rights and is still plotting to take your guns and “all is lost” if he wins? Have you talked to a professional about paranoid personality disorder? They make breakthroughs in medication and therapy every year. We can help you!

Regulate guns like cars

Automobiles are a little more dangerous than guns, but not very: in a typical year cars kill 40,000 and guns kill 30,000. But cars are heavily regulated. You must register the car for a fee, and get it inspected, and pass two tests to drive it; in many states you must be trained. As you drive, there are hundreds of signs on the road telling you where you can and can’t drive, where you can and can’t park, how fast you can go, rules for stopping, turning, yielding, all under the supervision of the police and a growing number of cameras. You can never use the car while drunk or otherwise impaired, or texting, or with improper equipment. There may be other restrictions on how and when you drive. There is a whole other set of rules about insurance. If you violate the laws, your license can be suspended or revoked; your car can be impounded.

Just imagine if guns were c0ntrolled that way.

As for the inevitable objection, that the right to drive is not in the Constitution, I will point out again, that the Second Amendment applies to militias, and Article 2 Section 2 of the Constitution says that “militia” refers to a group taking orders from the President. And even Justice Scalia, misinterpreting the intent of the framers of the Constitution on the militia issue, still only upheld your right to own a gun, period: he didn’t say that that right is unlimited. Scalia said it was okay to impose bans on concealed carry, keep guns out of the hands of felons and the insane, ban unusually dangerous weapons, set up gun-free zones, regulate gun sellers, and so forth. Even Scalia said gun restrictions are okay. The restrictions which Scalia and four other justices objected to, were the total ban on handguns, and the requirement for trigger locks.

With that in mind, here is my “motor vehicle code” for guns.
  • Register all guns and users, for a fee; background checks for all.
  • National registry for mentally-ill violent offenders; background checks against that registry too.
  • Pistols with small clips are allowed for home defense license, rifle with small clip for hunting license.
  • You must train and certify on your weapon, just as you do for a driver’s license; hunters must actually be hunting.
  • No 50-caliber weapons or ammunition, or cop-killers, or body armor, or intermediate cartridges.
  • Independent review of gun makers
  • All gun sellers to be audited aperiodically, and held responsible for improper sales.
  • No loopholes for gunshows or on-line gun sales.
  • Campaign finance reform to stop extortion of politicians by the NRA and similar groups.
  • Better safety training, procedures and funding for police and schools; procedures subject to federal approval.
  • All weapons in homes with children, the mentally ill and other people with similar incapacity,  should be unloaded and locked up somehow; the registered owner is liable for any ensuing accident or crime. If Scalia and the Court think gun locks make it too hard to defend the home, then someone can find a technical solution that resolves the problem. We have a million children in homes with loaded, unlocked guns – some answer is needed.
  • Gun-free zones to include schools and daycare centers.
  • Ban on concealed carry except with permit from federal law enforcement.
  • Full civil and criminal liability allowed for “stand your ground” shootings and other “accidents”.
  • Amend Obamacare to encourage doctors to ask about violent tendencies and weapons in the home.
  • Pass this in the form of federal law, now, and properly fund and staff ATFE to enforce it.

Thursday 20 December 2012

The Sandy Hook Weapons Law

Let’s write the law!

Earlier in this space, we demolished the arguments of the far right, to the effect that America needs to keep all of its gun rights just the way they are, and that the Sandy Hook attack was really all the fault of the Democrats. Today, we’ll look at what we possibly should be doing next.

Gun legislation could come in many different forms: banning gun capabilities rather than gun brands, banning semi-automatic weapons entirely, restricting rifles more than pistols, restricting guns that are too big or with too many military features, taxing guns, banning big clips and intermediate cartridges, banning cop-killers and body-armor, licensing and registering all guns, giving hunters and home-defenders only the guns they really need, restricting target shooters who have no constitutional protection, background checks for both criminal and mental issues, monitoring gun makers and sellers, controlling gun shops and gun shows and online sellers, beefing up the ATFE, better safety procedures for police and schools and the home (including gun locks), establishing more gun-free zones and less concealed-carry, enforcing legal liability for shooters, better legal and medical control for people who have mental illness and violent histories, strengthening PTSD treatment, and getting a bill through Congress before the gun nuts erect more roadblocks to legislation. This just goes to show how far we have to go, in this fight.


So, what should be in the gun control law? Some ideas to discuss, below. I’m not necessarily advocating all of them, but they’re worth talking about.


Ban capabilities, not brands: we cannot draft a list of banned brands and models, because manufacturers and distributors will just work around it. So specific capabilities must be banned instead.

Banning semi-automatic weapons: that would be difficult. Hunters and home-defense pistols would be heavily affected.

Restrict rifles more heavily than pistols: even Antonin Scalia intimated that pistols were the weapons that were okay for home defense. Rifles can actually be harder to use in such a constricted area, and the probability of collateral casualties goes way up: with the right ammunition, it is perfectly possible that you would take out your neighbor in the next house, or the guy walking his dog.

Weapon size: the 1994 weapons ban (which expired in 2004 thanks to the NRA) restricted pistols weighing more than 3 lb 2 oz.

By the way, what is the rationale for owning a .50 caliber weapon, assuming you’re not hunting Tyrannosaurus Rex, or trying to shoot down a MiG? Perhaps we’re, um, compensating?

Bells and whistles: the 1994 weapons ban restricted semi-auto rifles which had detachable magazines, and that also had other doodads that aren’t really central to the issue, such as folding stocks, pistol grips, bayonet mounts, flash suppressors and grenade launchers. Detachable magazines could be construed as relevant, but the other stuff, not so much. They added all that grenade-launcher stuff just because weapons like that scare people. Not a great bill. We need to ban stuff that is dangerous, not scary-looking.

Tax guns: this would weed out some of the casual crazies. Just tell the Republicans it would make it harder for black people to get guns, and it might pass unanimously.


Ban big clips: this one is obvious, the big one. Unless your hometown is Mogadishu, there is no legitimate need to have the capability to kill 20-30 people at a time, lying around your house.

Cop-killer ammunition: the long cartridges with small bullets, enabling shooters to pierce body armor. One could argue that these rounds are great for home defense, but these rounds endanger policemen, and so does the sale of body armor itself.

Ban intermediate cartridges: these cartridges combine the power of a rifle bullet and the control of pistol fire.


Register and license all guns: just like the rest of the world does. Actually, most of the civilized world won’t let you have guns at all, and they are much safer out there than here in America. That’s why America has half the world’s guns, and almost a hundred gun deaths a day.

Specify the purpose of the gun, and license them accordingly: people who are concerned about home defense get pistols. Hunters get rifles but no big magazines. People who think they’re going to launch a revolution to stop tyranny get psych evals and straightjackets: if tyranny befalls America, today’s gun nuts will either be supporting the tyrant, or will be wiped out by the tyrant’s bodyguards, the U.S. Defense Department. If our soldiers and SEALS can take down bin Laden, they can take down some fat jerky-eating white boy from the Kansas suburbs who thinks he’s the new Patrick Henry.

Restrict hunting weapons to actual hunters: if you go year after year without actually hunting or killing food out there, you can’t keep your hunting weapons. Hunting is clearly not what the framers intended when they wrote the Second Amendment anyway – militias don’t hunt. So restrictions are okay.

Restrictions on target shooters: the NRA can make the Constitutional argument about gun rights for home defense, hunting, or even “resisting tyranny”, but target shooting is nothing more than a hobby.

Background checks: we need criminal checks for all guns sales. But how do we do mental health checks without violating doctor-patient confidentiality?


Take a good look at the corporations who manufacture and sell the guns. Are they doing their business in an ethical way? Would they do anything differently, if they knew we were watching them closely? The big equity firm that owns much of the U.S. gun manufacturing market was probably hoping no one would notice they were Gun Central. Once Sandy Hook happened, they panicked and dumped their investment interest in the guns, in part because they were spending investment money on behalf of a major U.S. teachers union which, as you can imagine, has strong feelings about the Sandy Hook attack. And how many of us shop at Walmart and Dicks?

Gun shops: subject them to unscheduled audits. Currently ATF (now ATFE) has too many restrictions on their ability to monitor gun sellers, restrictions which shop owners exploit. And ATFE needs teeth: it needs to be funded, strengthened and defended from the rightwing gun nuts who have been attacking it for decades. We can’t pass gun control laws and then deny ATFE the power to enforce them. Right now, thanks to the Republicans, ATFE doesn’t even have a permanent boss; decapitating regulatory agencies is a time-honored tactic for politicians who protect crooks and maniacs for money.

Gun shows: too many loopholes for potentially dangerous gun sales. License the dealers at the shows, or shut them down entirely.

On-line gun sales: there are way too many methods for gaming the system, buying guns on-line. That avenue needs to be regulated or closed entirely.


While we’re looking at gun sellers, let’s give the same scrutiny to the NRA. Who they are, which Senators and House members and local politicians take NRA money and allow NRA lawyers to write our laws, how they work to undermine all controls on guns and the people who misuse them. They’re helping to kill 70-80 Americans in an average day, and in 1994 their spending ensured the rise of New Gingrich to the Speaker’s chair, so….yeah, a little scrutiny.

You might also take a look at the companies that have gotten into partnerships with the NRA for things like discounts: Allied moving, Lifelock, almost all of the car-rental companies, and several hotel chains -- Days Inn, Knights Inn, Howard Johnson, Ramada, Travelodge, Super 8, and Best Western.

Also, other gun rights groups that are even more extreme than the NRA, like the Gun Owners of America; these groups have attacked the NRA for not being extreme enough, and for not comparing American gun control laws to the restrictions imposed by Germany just before Hitler came along.


Better procedures and training for local police: due to the pressures of the economy and crippled state and local budgets, things like training and new safety procedures get cut all over the place. That needs to be reversed.

Better procedures, training and equipment for schools: same thing applies. I said ten years ago that if al’Qa’ida wanted to hit us hard, they wouldn’t be knocking down skyscrapers, they would be targeting our schools. Wishing I had been wrong. Governments need to stop treating our schools, teachers and kids like cash cows, easy places to steal budget money because kids don’t vote and Republicans hate teachers.

Also, arming teachers is a stupid idea because the teachers, understandably, are right around the kids all the time, so accidents are more likely. Focus instead on limiting and controlling school entry points. And that in turn brings up another issue: getting sensible, qualified people to draft your safety procedures. Try to avoid the whackadoodles who advocate arming teachers, or people who call for more men in schools (an unarmed man does nothing but give a gunman a bigger target), or people like Megan McArdle who suggested that kids should be trained to rush and tackle gunmen like linebackers, to reduce the body count. This woman, unsurprisingly, has no children. Kids, happily, have more sense: they see a crazy man with a gun, and they run and hide.

Better home security: right now the gun nuts want you to believe that (a) criminals are busting into people’s homes and killing people left and right (not true), and (b) therefore the only thing you can do for safety is buy a gun (also not true). There are a hundred things to do, to make your home safer, and the best thing is, don’t buy a gun. Buying a gun increases the odds that someone in your family will be shot. And that brings me to the issue of gun locks: America has a million kids, and other people who shouldn’t be near guns, living in homes with loaded, unlocked guns. Which is how Sandy Hook happened in the first place.


Gun-free zones: the NRA wants you to believe that gun-free zones are evil because they are open invitations for criminals to commit crimes. Time and facts have proved this to be absurd: criminals won’t go to schools and churches there because there is no potential gain worth the risk. Criminals like to steal valuable stuff quietly from empty buildings, not to shoot people and end up on the 11 o’clock news. Big shootouts inevitably attract the last people any crook wants to see: the police. Again, invariably it is the presence of guns, not the absence of guns, that makes any location more dangerous.

Concealed-carry: ban it! Concealed-carry doesn’t do anybody any good and increases the danger of gun violence. All concealed-carry does is allow cowards to boost their courage without telegraphing to all their neighbors what cowards they are. And do incredibly stupid things, like the Florida guy who went to the local Little Caesars this weekend, heard the guy in front of him complain about the slow service, and…shot the guy. Twice. I mean, seriously, right after Sandy Hook, this guy takes a gun to the local pizza shop! And probably everywhere else he went that day! And then insisted to the arresting officer that he was perfectly within his rights to shoot the guy. You could almost hear the police spokesman rolling his eyes as he said “we determined it did not reach a level where deadly force was required.”

Civil and criminal liability: we need to cut back on local laws that allow people to stand their ground the pump people full of bullets, and then try to escape liability by arguing “well, I was skeered”. It has been proved over and over that stand-your-ground laws increase homicides.

Mental health: there are two things to fix here. First, when Obama pushed his health care bill, the NRA shoved their way into the debate, putting language in the bill which discourages doctors from asking patients whether they have violent tendencies and guns in the home. The NRA was hoping that America wouldn’t notice that the confluence of crazy people and guns is a bad idea, a hope which pretty much ended at Sandy Hook. This Obamacare issue needs to be fixed: doctors need to be able to ask those crazy-plus-armed screening questions. The intersection of insanity and violence is key: a lot of policemen support the Assisted Outpatient Treatment system, a plan requiring people who have mental illness and a history of violence to either (a) stay in treatment or (b) be put behind bars.

Second, the psychiatric community needs to shout to all the world that post-traumatic stress isn’t just about soldiers and Marines: it’s about survivors of domestic violence and abuse, and survivors of violent events like the Sandy Hook attack.

This needs to happen now. In time national grief and anger will ebb, and with it, the impetus to pass a bill. And other issues such as the fiscal cliff fight and the debt ceiling fight could alter the political landscape. There will never be a better time to pass a gun bill. And the NRA knows this: their allies, like Kay Bailey Hutchison, are already trying to play stall ball. So when we need to decide who is complicit in the next shooting massacre…

And it needs to happen at the federal level. Anybody who thinks our state legislatures can handle this, should look at the current condition of our state-level laws on guns. Or on voting rights, or abortion rights, or union rights…

Conservatives, again, have settled on their own explanation for the Sandy Hook massacre: God caused those children to get killed because Democrats made God mad with their Godless policies, and just being, you know, godless. God chose, as his holy instrument, an untreated psychopath with his mother’s gun. In the last week, conservatives have attributed the tragedy to God’s wrath over – fill in the blank -- abortion, gays, Jon Stewart, atheism, political correctness, teachers’ unions, and teachers who are “radicals in the classroom”. They think it’s the fault of the teachers! Let’s go back to the teachers at Sandy Hook, the ones who didn’t get shot to death, the ones who kept their heads and herded their students into closets – let’s go explain to those teachers that they pissed God off so much, that God killed their students. I dare them to go look those teachers in the face and tell them that. That it’s all their fault. That’s conservative thinking for you. They also blamed gays and abortion for Hurricane Sandy, by the way: their notion of the Almighty is kind of Old Testament. In their minds, God is a handy Rube Goldberg machine for equating Democrats with massive death and destruction. Because they think we’re all stupid or insane.

Let the arguing begin. And, no, arguing that “all gun controls are bad” or “all controls are unconstitutional” simply will not fly. The Constitution protects gun rights for militias which take orders from the President. Period. Article 2, Section 2.

Saturday 15 December 2012

GOP blames Connecticut shooting on Democrats

Don't worry, the Republicans have explained it all for us! Within breathtaking speed, they have found a way to blame the Connecticut tragedy on….Democrats.
Mike Huckabee says this tragedy happened because we've removed God from our schools; anti-gay activist Bryan Fischer said it was because we stopped prayer in our schools (actually it was the Constitution that did that). Rightwing loudmouth Victoria Jackson blamed the massacre on people who are pro-choice -- "when you forget the ten commandments, people, this is what you get!" The Tea Party Nation has declared that those children died because of teachers, “radicals in the classroom”, unions, bureaucracy, and sex in movies; they wish George Zimmerman had been guarding the Sandy Hook school. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson said those children died because of atheists, abortion and gay marriage.
In other words, God ordered these children shot, because he’s mad about Democrats.
And the gun rights people also claim that it's the gun control people who have blood on their hands.
Republicans have been blaming Democrats for things they never did, since there have been Republicans. Newt Gingrich blamed Democrats for that crazy woman who drowned her kids in her car. Back during Bush 41, the Republicans blamed Democrats for everything so often that they joked about it in cartoons. Republicans have repeatedly tried to blame Democrats for their own plan to destroy Medicare, and for the big deficits caused by Bush’s policies. And so on and so on.
So why does the NRA insist on the right to big automatics with big clips?
First, hunting, which is absurd. A big clip auto won’t shoot a deer, it will turn it into Deer Vapor. 
Second, home defense. Um, no. First of all, the myth that guns save homeowners from being killed by burglars has no basis in reality: such incidents are so rare they don’t even keep statistics. If burglars had been killing homeowners in large numbers, you can bet your bottom dollar that the NRA would be reminding us of that every waking moment. But it isn’t true. And second of all, even if you do have a legitimate safety concern, you don’t need that big-clip Bushmaster unless the Sinaloa drug cartel is invading your home, in which case you have bigger problems than weaponry.
Third, “tyranny”! The head of Gun Owners of America claims Americans need guns to defend against Big Government, control government, take on government. Folks, if government really does descend into totalitarian tyranny, one of two things will happen: either…
(a) these fat old wheezy gun nuts will try to take on the U.S. Army and lose badly; they couldn’t even manage a shootout with the local police, let alone the army or the young lads of SEAL Team 6, or
(b) the gun nuts will be so attracted to the simplistic demagoguery of the tyrant, that they will be his most enthusiastic supporters; over the years demagogues have found it laughably easy to fool the more-tattoos-than-teeth trailer trash of the far right, with time-tested appeals to fear, hate and intolerance.
Either they will join the tyrant, or be crushed by the tyrant. The probability of these armchair warriors actually overthrowing a dictatorship is exactly zero. And let’s remember also that the probability of a dictatorship in this country is laughably remote: as Jon Stewart pointed out, what rightwing whackaloons call “tyranny”, the rest of us call “losing”. Being forced to pay your taxes to a black president is tyranny, it’s democracy.
In other words, there is no point to allowing the big guns and big clips on our streets.
The gun rights people argue that guns are not only necessary, but a positive good. They say we should be giving guns to all our teachers. Because slinging lead in a room full of children is the way to go. One of the guys who said that is sponsoring a Michigan to allow guns in schools.
The National Review asserts that we’re living under the “almost universally benevolent protection of the Second Amendment”. So exactly how has the Second Amendment helped America? What would America have lost, if there had been no Second Amendment? All I can think of, is a destructive four-year Civil War, and a million avoidable homicides, suicides, accidental deaths, and injuries.
They also say they have the Constitution behind them. Folks, the Constitution says militias are organizations that take orders from the President, and that it is militias who have unlimited gun rights. Militias, not the rest of us. The gun people don’t have the Constitution behind them: they have the Supreme Court behind them, a Court controlled by rightwing whackaloons, as we learned the hard way in 2000.
Some tea-party activists are trying to dodge the issue, by claiming the problem isn’t guns, it’s mental illness. But how do you solve that? Assuming they have no magic formula for banning mental illness, what would their solution be? After 62 massacres in the last 30 years, killing several hundred people, and a million other needless deaths, the American people have proved that they are too crazy-stupid to be trusted with guns. And inevitably it's the crazy-stupid people who are the first in line to buy guns – and they are too many, and too hard to spot. And even when they don’t buy the guns themselves, they seem to have no trouble getting them from friends and family. So rather than indulging in a hopeless effort to deny guns to people who might pull a nutty later on, the obvious answer is to stop these loons from killing people in batches of 10, 20, 30, by getting rid of the rapid-fire and the big clips.
They also say they will destroy anyone who opposes them. The NRA is like Grover Norquist -- political terrorists who control our national policy, but have no accountability for the consequences of the laws they force on the rest of us. Because the rules of democracy apply to everybody but them.

Friday 14 December 2012

Will Hillary run?

Already, terrified Republicans are ginning up their playbook, to fight another battle against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“Don’t you remember all the scandals from the Clinton era??” Hmm. Take a pop quiz regarding the alleged “scandals” following Hillary Clinton around. Which of these five is not like the others?

  1. Whitewater “scandal”
  2. Travel-gate
  3. File-gate
  4. Vince Foster case
  5. Cattle futures “scandal”

The answer is “e”. In the first four cases, Republican investigators tried to prove Clinton did anything unethical or illegal, and came up totally empty. In the cattle futures case, it was so obvious that she had done nothing wrong, that they didn’t even try to investigate. Clinton is clean as a whistle.

“Her health care plan was a secret plot to impose socialist bureaucracy on us and take away all our choices! Just ask Harry and Louise!” These are not only lies, but lies that are almost twenty years old. Hillarycare was essentially just a plan for get employers to help find coverage for their employees, just like most of us have already. Obamacare goes much farther than Hillary did, in many areas, and Obamacare isn’t socialist dictatorship either.

“Clinton is so liberal she practically sleeps with a copy of the Communist Manifesto under her pillow!” Um, no. Things Clinton has supported: nuclear power, Israel, resisting the aggressions of Iran, the invasion of Afghanistan, the Iraq war, releasing oil reserves to the market, the Cuba embargo, increased homeland security measures, putting national security ahead of human rights, the Patriot Act, a ban on flag burning, giving the president the benefit of the doubt on executive authority, three strikes and you’re out for violent offenders, the death penalty, Bush’s No Child Left Behind plan, and the right to pray in public schools. She also dislikes same-sex marriage and opposes sex and violence in video games. In the Senate, she was constantly reaching out to Republicans, working with Newt Gingrich and Bill Frist on health care, and even hooking up with Republicans at the Senate Prayer Breakfast. Some liberal.

“She doesn’t know how to be an executive!” Well, four years ago I would agree. A key goal for an executive is to choose the subordinates immediately beneath you, and on that score, Clinton did a poor job in 2008, choosing Patti Solis Doyle and Mark Penn as key leaders of her campaign team. Both were incompetent and both were gone by April 2008, but by then it was too late.

However, Clinton has totally redeemed herself in this regard, during her tenure at State. When she arrived at the State Department, the Department was arguably in its worst shape in the history of the Republic: the Department’s foreign-policy functions had been entirely usurped by White House advisers and the Pentagon. Secretary Powell was forced to do Bush’s dirty work at the UN and was eventually fired after squabbling too many times with Cheney and Rumsfeld. Secretary Rice was treated with open contempt by Rumsfeld. Morale at State was at an all-time low.

Clinton turned the State Department around. She improved morale, launched reforms, got the Department involved in social media, and persuaded Defense Secretary Gates to help her to get better budgets for State; meanwhile her demonic travel schedule helped her to restore America’s reputation and helped the President to manage a number of international brush-fires. She is arguably the best Secretary of State we’ve had since Dean Acheson. And it is absolutely an executive job, a very challenging one.

“America isn’t ready for a female president!” Well, some people aren’t ready, of course. But a lot of the people who would never vote for a female candidate will never vote for the Democratic candidate regardless of who it is, so the Democrats wouldn’t lose much in picking a woman. And meanwhile, there are a lot of motivated women out there, women who remember the way Clinton was treated as First Lady and as presidential candidate, and who remember the Republican efforts in 2012 to ridicule the notion that women have a legitimate need to be able to manage their own lives and get access to health care on their own terms.

Also, for decades the national bias against women in national leadership has stemmed in part from the desire to elect leaders who can put on a strong image in staring down global adversaries such as the Soviets and al-Qa’ida. But in recent decades America got a good look at women such as Hillary and Madeleine Albright playing creditable roles in national security, and the most testosterone-laden officials such as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Bolton leading America into quicksand, LBJ-style. Plenty of people decided that comparatively speaking, women haven’t done too badly. Clinton in particular has shown up well, performing superbly on the Senate Armed Services committee and staring down the Chinese as Secretary of State. In any case, national security issues are less likely to be major drivers for policy in the next decade or so, as America looks more inward to figure out its internal economic and social problems.

“America doesn’t want a Clinton dynasty!” Um, yeah. I guarantee you that the whackaloons who peddle this argument will be the same guys who screamed “Don’t count the votes!” in Florida in 2000, to get Bush II into the White House, and who are touting Bush III as the best man for 2016. So, there’s that.

“The Democrats have other choices!” Well, sort of. Biden was born in 1942; if he ran twice for president and won, he would leave office at age 82. O’Malley and Warner are pretty unremarkable and uninspiring.  Andrew Cuomo has angered a lot of Democrats by cozying up to Republicans in New York; some see him as Lieberman II. Brian Schweitzer would be a superb choice to go out and re-plant the Democratic flag in southern and western states, but he makes more sense as a vice-presidential candidate. Antonio Villaraigosa has serious ethical baggage.

The Democrats have other women in the pipeline, but none can really compete with Clinton. Elizabeth Warren is a law professor and an expert in one field, finance; four years in the Senate were enough to get Obama into the White House, but trying that a second time might be pushing it. Sebelius is absolutely brilliant but she is also the dullest speaker since Elmer Fudd. Gillibrand has nothing that Clinton doesn’t have. Jennifer Granholm would be president already if she hadn’t been born in Canada – crap!

It’s hard for a party to win three presidential elections in a row. In the last century it’s only been done three times: in 1928 because the Republicans ran an ugly smear campaign against their Catholic opponent, and during the Roosevelt revolution, and at the tail-end of the Reagan revolution in 1988, which again involved an unprecedented effort by the Republicans to smear their opponent. In 2012 Obama, an incumbent running against an unlikeable opponent with a weak strategy and a lot of baggage, still only won by 4 points, and in 2016 the Republicans may wise up, pick a better candidate, and maybe even rein in the influence of the tea-party wingnuts who crippled the GOP in 2012. So in 2016 we could have a real horse race.

And while we’re assuming that the Republican nominee will be someone with serious baggage (Christie), a thin resume (Rubio), or a toxic name (Bush), or someone who’s far-right views have already gotten harsh scrutiny from the electorate (Ryan, Huckabee, Palin, Perry, Santorum), the Republicans have four years to figure out a strategy for the one thing all Republicans agree on: they want to win the next one, bad. So, more than ever, 2016 would be a good year for the Democrats to put forward their obvious top pick.

Another reason to pick Clinton: the Democrats need a fighter. The last time the Democrats had an honest-to-God fighter running the party, was Lyndon Johnson. The Blue Team needs someone who will call a liar a liar, who will throw an elbow when they get crowded in the paint, who will defend democracy from the people trying to wreck the system, who are willing to compromise but only up to a point and only with people who negotiate in good faith. Obama and Kerry were not fighters. Harry Reid, not a fighter, or Hoyer or Durbin. The Democrats need wartime consiglieres like Schumer and Pelosi. And Clinton. People who don’t have their lunch money in their hands as soon as they see hungry linebackers march into the cafeteria.

And another reason: Bill Clinton. Bill steered Obama’s campaign out of torpedo water with a single speech at the convention in the 2012 race. Imagine him making speeches like that every day in the 2016 campaign, for his wife. Imagine the fundraising power he brings.  As we remember from the 2008 race, both Clintons want very badly to go back to the White House. Hillary’s disavowals of interest in another campaign are distinctly less than Shermanesque, and she has not said or done anything that would jeopardize her future options.

Here’s another indicator that she might run. Clinton wrote her memoir, “Living History”, in 2003. A lot has happened to her since then. Currently she is thinking of writing another memoir. But not about her 2008 race, which would be a really entertaining read, but could very well end her presidential ambitions right there. She wants to write about her time at State, the perfect vehicle for launching a White House bid. Retirees can be frank about their failures, and burn bridges by dishing out the blame; candidates who are still in the running want to talk about their successes and unite all their old allies. By skipping right from “Living History” to her State tenure, she not only skips over the 2008 loss, but also tricky stuff like her Iraq vote as Senator.

Kids and guns

Let’s do a little math.

1999, Littleton Colorado, 36 people shot at a school (School #1); 25 killed at an incident in Atlanta that same year (three with a hammer and the rest with a gun), and 15 more at a Christian rock concert in Texas.

2003, 14 shot, most of them black, in an incident in Mississippi.

2005, 14 shot at a religious meeting in Wisconsin, and 17 shot in a high school incident (School #2) in Red Lake.

The following year, 9 shot in Seattle and then 12 shot in an Amish schoolhouse (#3) in Pennsylvania.

2007, 14 shot in Nebraska by a teenager, and 56 at Virginia Tech (#4).

2008, 9 shot in Missouri, and 28 shot at Northern Illinois University (#5).

2009, 8 shot in North Carolina, 18 in Binghamton New York, 42 at Fort Hood in Texas.

2010, 11 shot in Connecticut.

2011, a Democratic congresswoman and 18 others shot in Arizona; 12 shot in Nevada including three members of the National Guard; 8 more at a hair salon in California.

That’s 335 people shot.


And now 2012.

7 at a school (#6) in California.

5 black men in Oklahoma.

6 shot in Washington.

60 in Aurora Colorado (#7).

11 at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

9 shot in Minnesota.

3 on December 11, in Oregon.

And now how many in Connecticut? 20? 30? That’s School #8. This is a town that will never, ever recover from this.

128 more shot, bringing the total in these incidents up to 463. And a number of these shootings that did not happen at schools, were either perpetrated by teenagers, or injured children. Kids, kids, kids. Forty years ago, four students were killed at Kent State, and the nation was changed forever – they wrote songs about it. For four kids killed. Today, we do…what? Go to the funerals and just get ready for the next shooting?

Mother Jones reports that, in all, there have been 62 mass murders with guns in 30 years. Almost all the guns were legal. Hundreds of people shot. What if it had been al-Qa’ida that had done this? 62 armed attacks, hundreds of people shot, all those dead children? The right wing would have declared martial law all across the country. And that’s not including the more mundane shootings, the under-achievers who only manage to shoot one or two at a time, like that abortion doctor shot in church in Kansas. This afternoon the White House said this is not the day to talk gun control. If not today…when? Can you think of a better day for it?

But don’t worry, help is on the way! The lame-duck Michigan legislature, the same one which is destroying union rights and abortion rights because they think no one is paying attention at Christmastime, just passed a law allowing guns in classrooms yesterday. Just what we need! We now await the decision of Michigan’s addle-brained Republican governor. Will he seriously consider signing this bill, while CNN is running pictures of the Sandy Hook school in the background?

In all, more than a million kids live in homes with loaded, unlocked guns, and 3000 children die each year because of guns. I wonder what the numbers will be like in Michigan next year?

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Invade the red states!

Political polling has evolved by leaps and bounds in the last decade or so. Back in the day, presidential candidates were lucky to get a reliable national poll once every week or two, and that was about it. In 2012, individual states were being polled almost daily, and there are so many pollsters out there that part of the game is knowing which ones are the most reliable, which ones tilt to the left or right, and so forth.

This is very much a two-edged sword. Because presidential campaigns have reliable state-by-state polling data right from the beginning of the campaign, it is very easy for them to do “triage” on the whole country: separate all the states into “Solid Blue”, “Up For Grabs”, and “Solid Red”, and focus all their attention on those toss-up states in the middle.

But that means giving up on a lot of territory, and it becomes a vicious self-fulfilling cycle. “Why don’t we campaign in Montana? Because we don’t win there. Why don’t we win there? Because we don’t campaign there. Why don’t we…”.and so on and so on.

As Tip O’Neill was once informed by one of his reluctant voters, more people vote for you if you get out there and ask for support: “People like to be asked”.

Republicans know this. First, they know they face serious demographic problems with women and minorities, so they know they need every bit of support they can get. And second, they are run by a bunch of extremist whackaloons who really do think they need to win every vote and every race so they can protect Umurka from the evil librul menace.

So Republicans don’t give up anywhere: they keep the Republican party alive in ultra-blue New York, they elect fascist governors in Florida and the Midwest, they successfully enact hard-core anti-tax legislation in California, and they built solid majorities in the legislatures of blue states like Ohio and Wisconsin, by means of gerrymandering, vote suppression, union-busting, by any means necessary. And, as old Tip would point out, Republicans get more votes in Blue Country because they get out and ask for them.


But Democrats don’t do this.

There are a number of states Obama could have won in 2012 if he had fought for them: Arizona, Indiana, Missouri and so forth. But he didn’t even try.

Down south, Bill Clinton found blacks, women and liberals to back him in Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Georgia in 1992 – that’s 64 electoral votes today. In those areas, Obama not only didn’t compete, he generally did even worse than John Kerry did in 2004. Because he didn’t try.

Out west, Clinton found environmentalists and live-and-let-live libertarians who had moderate views on gays and abortion; he took Montana in 1992, and came within a few points in South Dakota, Texas, Kansas and Wyoming. I’ll hit that point again: Clinton almost won Texas and Wyoming, without even really trying out there. Needless to say, Obama didn’t try out there at all.

You can’t just run for President of Ohio. Democrats need to contest the red states, just as Republicans contest the blue ones. They need to build up state organizations in places that have scarcely seen Democrats in years, nurture candidates, fight for the state legislatures, restore the unions, elect governors. They need to organize and energize blacks in the south, Hispanics in the southwest, and women and moderates everywhere. And they need nominees who want to fight in red states (i.e. not Obama), and who can compete there effectively (i.e. big old white guys like Brian Schweitzer). Go into a bar and shoot pool! Eat some barbecue! Take off your tie!

There should be no place in America for Republicans to hide safely and say “this turf is mine!” Especially Texas. And there should be no place in America where a Democrat should be afraid to tell the tobacky-chewing locals: “I’m going to defend Medicare and Social Security and unions, I think government shouldn’t tell women how to manage their lives, I think ‘equal justice for all’ applies to same-sex families, and I think the Clinton-era tax structure created a hell of a lot of jobs. I’m a liberal and so was Jesus.” There are liberals and moderates in every state of the union, just waiting for someone to come and tell them that it’s okay to put a pro-choice bumper sticker on their car, without fearing the locals will slash their tires one night. That “liberal” isn’t a badge of shame just because Republicans say it is. That we’re right and they’re wrong, everywhere, in all fifty states.

Resistance is futile!

In 2009 I wrote this: “Obama was put in the White House by 40 humans, and one space alien. Seven of Nine, a member of the Borg Collective, came to earth and, as Jeri Ryan, married Jack Ryan, an Illinois politician. Their ensuing divorce battle derailed Jack's Senate campaign, thus making the impossible possible -- the election of an unknown young black guy, Barack Obama, to the Senate. Thus beginning Obama's march to the White House.”

Star Trek may have struck again. In 1991, the same year the actress Jeri Ryan began her fateful marriage, a beautiful young girl named Ashley launched her acting career, also on Star Trek, playing young Wesley’s girlfriend. Now 44, same age as Ryan, Ashley Judd has been working for years as a global ambassador on humanitarian issues and she has also picked up a Masters from Harvard. And she may be the one to slay the most dangerous Republican dragon of all: Mitch McConnell, Senator from Kentucky.

McConnell richly deserves to be defenestrated out of the Senate. The King of Filibusters has done more than any American in a century to destroy Congress as a legislative body, and to foul up the proper functioning of government and politics in this country. Since 1985 he has sponsored no legislation of any consequence, on his own: his raison d’etre is blocking the work of others. Recently he even filibustered his own bill. He has made it clear for years that his aim in life is to attack America’s Democrats, rather than attacking America’s problems.

And he’s ripe for plucking. He came to the Senate without having much more experience than Judd has. After being bounced out of the army for medical reasons he worked as an intern and then was picked to be county executive for the county that includes Louisville, but he wasn’t allowed to run Louisville itself. In other words anything important was left to someone else, with leadership ability. He has made as much as $44 million as a Senator, which no honest politician could possibly do; unsurprisingly he is a bitter opponent of campaign finance reform. And even in Kentucky he is wearing out his welcome: in his 2008 reelection race he only won by 6 points, in a state Obama just lost by 22.

Next up: Tasha Yar for Governor!

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Death and destruction on the radio

Those two radio hosts, the ones who made the prank call to Princess Kate’s hospital that led to the nurse’s death, have already been pulled off the air indefinitely. In this case, one woman died.

So what should America do with a radio personality who championed a fraudulent war that caused a hundred thousand deaths, cheered at George Bush’s torture policy, helped cripple Obamacare which will put the health of millions in jeopardy, drove the Republican party so far to the right that they’re practically sieg-heiling each other on the street, and spent twenty four years spewing hate against blacks, women, gays and Democrats all across America?

Back in the day, American publishers and broadcasters would take responsibility for their content. So why have Rush Limbaugh’s bosses left him on the air? Haven’t you guys done enough damage, offering Rush’s noise pollution for free to all those stations in the E-I-E-I-O states, in exchange for cheap advertising? Is it worth selling your soul, to sell another million tubes of Gold Bond Medicated Powder to eighty-year-old Nazis with jock rash? How much dirty money is enough for you? The hundred companies that pulled advertising from Rush’s show after he called that law student a prostitute: didn’t that teach you guys anything? Did your business model include polluting the national community with garbage from the beginning, or did you just develop that as you went along?

You broadcast this garbage, and you own it. The first amendment confers great power upon broadcasters, and "journalists" like Rush. With great power comes great responsibility. Clearly Rush has no sense of responsibility. So it's up to the bosses who have made money off of his three hours of political vomit every day.