Who can forget Mitt Romney’s fateful campaign line, “Corporations are people too, my friend?” It was just the kind of rhetorical faux pas that reinforced the developing narrative of Romney as a soulless plutocrat.
Who can forget Mitt Romney’s fateful campaign line, “Corporations are people too, my friend?” It was just the kind of rhetorical faux pas that reinforced the developing narrative of Romney as a soulless plutocrat.
On the first anniversary of the Newtown tragedy, the most important thing we have learned about American politics is that cynics know best.
After Newtown, the idealists were energized. Horrific as it was, the gun control people had a wedge — an event so shocking that Congress might finally be persuaded to stand tall and break the gun lobby’s stranglehold. After all, if the massacre of 20 innocent children and seven adults didn’t spur politicians to put public safety first, nothing would.
It didn’t, and the cynics knew it wouldn’t. The NRA has weathered enough massacres to know that the best strategy is to lie low and make no comment while the wave of revulsion washes across the land. This being America, gun and ammunition sales actually spiked as gun owners worried that their rights might be curtailed. Since arms manufacturers are the lifeblood of the gun lobby, even the brief period when the opposition appeared to seize the momentum worked to their advantage.
There was talk about spending more money to treat mental illness, which is a commendable goal — but it was a distraction. The core problem remained the willful misinterpretation by vested parties of a constitutional amendment originally designed to protect Americans from an overweening government in a well-regulated context.
The gun lobby patiently worked in the shadows. As expected, Congress quailed, because the cold reality is simple: Gun rights advocates tend to be single-issue voters. They often don’t get involved in politics at all, unless they think government is coming after their weapons. They are supremely susceptible to scare tactics, and there are plenty of highly paid shills whose job it is to keep them perpetually terrified.
Those who favor reasonable gun control measures not only lack the sustained fervor of their opponents, they have other political concerns. A pro-gun stance by an otherwise progressive candidate in a hunting state is not necessarily a deal-breaker for moderates and lefties; an anti-gun position certainly is for the other side. In a purple state or a closely fought election, it can make all the difference.
In politics, it’s easy to incite aggrieved parties to attack a threatening initiative. Inaction, on the other hand, doesn’t create committed enemies.
Accordingly, Congress has seen fit to duck and cover after Newtown. Surely, there will be other Newtowns, along with more transient waves of revulsion. And, as though caught in some twisted, repetitive Kabuki play, America will follow its scripted path back to the way things have always been.
The cynics, as usual, know best.
Soon I’ll be attending my first same-sex wedding. The two women who are tying the knot have waited decades to solemnize their relationship, and they wanted to get married in the state where they make their home — a state that recently embraced marriage equality.
Formerly, state law did allow for “domestic partnership” status, for which they duly registered years ago. They carry around laminated cards to prove it. They bought a house together, taking care to make sure the language in the document protected survivor’s rights. They drew up legal documents delineating health directives and powers of attorney. When traveling, they always carried a copy of these documents with them and left one behind with a friend — just in case, God forbid, they were in an accident and they needed to prove what they meant to each other.
Soon, they will no longer have to occupy a nether world of quasi-legality that grudgingly grants them some, but not all of the legitimacy other couples possess just because they happened to be born with differing biological equipment.
The fiancées are doing everything you’d expect of a couple anticipating the greatest moment of their lives. They’re worrying about what they’ll wear, and they’re preparing to receive friends and loved ones who are flying in from all over the country. Parents who, years ago, rejected their own daughter when she first came out as a lesbian, will be front-and-center — ready to embrace their new daughter-in-law and officially welcome her into their family.
The other day, my wife and I were pondering the quiet enslavement caused by tradition-bound thinking. It’s sad enough that, until now, the “norms” of society have prevented two loving people from claiming their rightful place in the community. But I also feel sorry for those who can’t accept their commitment, for they are denying themselves the joy of participating in one of the most sublime achievements of which mankind is capable.
I have searched my soul, and cannot find a scintilla of feeling that my marriage has been cheapened, sullied or denigrated because these two women can now enjoy the same rights we do.
To those who say, “Marriage is for procreation,” I say that my wife and I married too late to have children. Yet, nobody protested at our wedding.
To those who speak of the “sanctity” of marriage, I say that my better half and I were legally allowed to marry — no questions asked — despite several past divorces between us.
So I have to ask: Why shouldn't the union of these two women be as valid as mine?
Admittedly, a medical marijuana bill’s chances of being passed by the Florida Legislature this year are about as thin as a leaf of ZigZag rolling paper, but if it does pass, it will be because the most powerful lobby in the state got involved.
No, we aren’t talking about the NRA. We mean Florida’s geezers. That’s right—the same massive voting bloc that enables people to hang onto their driver’s licenses well into their eighties without having to take a visual test might just flex its mighty muscle on this one.
Contrary to what some social conservatives might think, pot is no longer just the drug of young punks, shiftless ne’er-do-wells, criminals and ex-hippies. Granny has been sneaking a toke now and then to relieve her arthritis. Cancer sufferers smoke it to reduce nausea from chemo. It’s used as a palliative by all kinds of elderly folks who are otherwise happy to get their buzz from a Manhattan or a martini, but who find that booze doesn’t cut the pain like Mary Jane.
They don’t understand why this harmless drug that makes life worth living shouldn’t be freely available to them, just like video arcades and Internet cafes. Moreover, if it’s legalized, the state can regulate the quality while eliminating the criminal element needed to provide it. Entrepreneurs can enter the field, producing strains that provide maximum relief with a minimum of headiness, if that’s what’s desired.
It’s both libertarian and free-enterprise. What could be more Republican than that?
Oh, yeah…let’s not forget the compelling argument for our Democratic lawmakers: As a legal substance, it would be taxable.
Here in America, the land of the free, we freely pass laws designed to showcase our detestation for those unlike the majority (for example, my former home state of Oklahoma passed legislation banning Sharia Law⎯as if it were a real threat to the Sooner State, or as if the legislators even knew what it was they were outlawing). The same with sanctimoniously titled and thinly disguised legislation like the “Defense of Marriage Act.”
If Rick Santorum really wants to litigate the morality of contraception, that bus left the depot about forty years ago.
He seems to be laboring under some misconceptions about it, too, one being that only unmarried women use birth control. Evidently, they are relying on it as some kind of “get out of responsibility free” card so that they can indulge their libertine ways and contribute to the moral decline of the Great American Nation. Considering that at least one of the Founding Fathers was known to chase his slave around the property while not caring a fig as to whether she was using birth control or not, one has to wonder how much more declining there is left for us to do.
Another delusion Mr. Santorum, and so many of his ideological brethren, suffer under is that only men are capable of making decisions about issues concerning their womenfolk. Women rank in their world-view as somewhere near the status of personal property (remember all that “obey” stuff in the marriage vows?). Witness a congressional hearing about contraceptives the other day wherein all the testimony was provided by men.
Depending on your point of view, the recent federal appellate court decision in California and Washington State’s passage of a same-sex marriage law are either further signs of national enlightenment or two more steps down the road to America’s perdition.
History, and time, appear to be on the side of the pro-gay marriage forces, because polls reflect that as the population regenerates, only older Americans continue to embrace a prejudice on the topic. Even younger evangelicals don’t seem to have a problem with it. Ultimately, a Supreme Court decision will make it the law of the land, because justices are products of their environment. A decision that would perpetuate discrimination against one group in our society for its sexual preference will someday seem as outdated as barring the vote for women.
If you use your imagination, you can almost hear the political gears grinding in the Oval Office over this decision. Valerie Jarrett and Kathleen Sibelius are arguing passionately for the preservation of women’s rights. You owe it to them, Mr. President⎯not just politically, but on principle. It’s everything you stand for in a nutshell.
At the other end of the sofa, Bill Daley and Joe Biden⎯two veteran Catholic pols who should know⎯imploring him to let this battle slide and live to fight another day. “The blue collar types won’t go for this,” they counsel, “even though their wives all use birth control. The Republicans’ll turn this into a ‘war on religion.’ They’ll make the slippery slope argument!”
Evangelical feelings weren’t even considered. After all, their hatred is visceral, and how many times can you vote against the same candidate?
As I’ve said before, it’s seductively easy for an organization to take its eye off the ball and elevate its self-preservation to a position above its original mission.
This is particularly true of outfits that feel their purpose here on Earth has been blessed by the angels (as in the cases of the Roman Catholic Church and the Penn State football program, mentioned in the hyperlink above). The more outwardly sacrosanct the mission, the more the mere mortals involved in that organization are able to rationalize their activities in the servicing of it.
With all due respect, the Pope’s recent pronouncement that same-sex marriage undermines the future of humanity only tells us that His Holiness spends too much time cooped up in Castel Gandolfo.
When you tick off the biggest problems the world faces, you realize that the issues that really undermine the future of humanity⎯like climate change, hunger, poverty and the pollution of our resources--are the result of overpopulation. The Catholic Church, thanks to its stance on birth control, is doing everything it can to exacerbate this problem. You’d think that gay couples, which tend with some exceptions to adopt children when they want to start a family, would be something the Church might welcome as alleviating in some small way the sufferings of the flock.
First off, I’ll tell you what I always say to the checkout clerk when she sees my credit card and asks the inevitable question. “Yeah, I’m the owner’s nephew,” I respond. “You know about my family discount, right?”
She never believes me, either.
There’s a reality show on cable TV I haven’t seen, called “All-American Muslim,” which follows five Dearborn, Michigan, Muslim families around in the course of their daily lives. The theme, I understand, is that they are no more or less American than non-Muslim families. It’s a popular show, which is a good thing, because it gives the correct impression that being a Muslim has nothing to do with being un-American or subversive.
It was an unlovely moment. A quintessentially American one, too, since as a nation we love to voice our true feelings lustily.
I’m sure there were many fans in the NASCAR stands who were embarrassed when their brethren booed the nation’s First Lady, and who were ashamed on their behalf for not having enough respect to at least keep their mouths shut if they didn’t approve of the way the woman’s husband is running the country. After all, she came all the way down to help the families of veterans in need.
It really isn’t about respect for the First Lady, though. It’s that many Americans (some of whom attend NASCAR races, and some who do not) feel that she is a usurper to her position, as her husband is to his office. They don’t actually see the Obamas as President and First Lady, because to them they are squatters in the White House. Their very existence sullies the institutions they represent. It’s the same attitude that allows a member of the U.S. Congress to feel perfectly comfortable shouting “You lie!” during the State of the Union speech.
As we all know, logic doesn’t figure in this issue. States rights don’t matter worth squat when we’re talking about bedrock issues like guns and abortion.
Even though this bill doesn’t stand a chance in the Senate, the zealots had better be careful where they step once they start selectively stompin’ on sacred federalism. The same way folks in, say, California wouldn’t want the decisions of Florida’s NRA-bought-and-paid-for legislature to determine who can and can’t pack heat in their state, the God-fearing citizens of Texas wouldn’t want them soft-touch red-diaper types in Massachusetts and New York determining who’s allowed to dwell in connubial bliss in their little piece of heaven, enjoying all the rights and appurtenances deriving therefrom.
What’s sauce for the goose, as the saying goes, can end up splattered all over your face.
Sometimes you have to wonder if, down deep in their craven hearts, Republican members of Congress don’t regret having made that Faustian pact with Grover Norquist and his no-new-taxes pledge. Here they sit in their cushy jobs, big fish in their hometown ponds, and they uncomfortably find themselves in crisis mode, charged with the mission of saving the country for future generations with their hands tied behind their backs.
Their rational side must know that the only solution to our fiscal death-spiral involves a mix of cuts and new revenue, but they run smack up against that old survival instinct. If they choose to do the statesmanlike thing, it follows that they’ll self-destruct with their constituents.
There’s only so much you can write about the hypocrisy of conservatives who want government to stay out of our lives unless it’s to impose restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion, or to prevent gays from getting married, so let’s give that up for now.
Instead, let’s focus on how the rights of the unborn seem to outweigh those of the born. Once a nine-month-old “person” has been brought into this world, he or she, if unfortunate enough to have been born poor, is likely to avail him- or herself of government programs. Neo-natal programs, food stamps, child-care allowances—unfortunately, they all represent that repugnant redistribution of wealth conservatives love to rail about.
One of the advantages⎯or, maybe, curses⎯of getting older is that wisdom enables you to better appreciate where people with opinions at odds with your own are coming from.
You still may not agree with them, but your respect for their point of view grows as you realize that the world is a much more complex place than you ever imagined. Maybe this is why older folks are so much angrier than the young about our politicians’ inability to compromise with each other and find a path forward that is best for the country.
If there ever were an argument for fairly drawn state legislative districts, this is it.
Florida’s overwhelmingly Republican legislature is planning to revisit the hoary school prayer issue. It isn’t because our elected public servants care that much about religion. This is for back-home consumption. If the United States Supreme Court would allow them, they’d pass a law making the New Testament a required course for the FCATs without batting an eye.
It’s win-win, as far as they’re concerned. They can self-righteously pontificate about the importance of religion and prayer in a child’s upbringing, conveniently ignoring that children have plenty of places outside of school to develop their spiritual identities… like church, for example (I didn’t say “temples,” or “mosques,” because we all know that isn’t the brand of spirituality they’re talking about). Cynical? Shux, cain't even spell the word. Jus' lookin' out for our kids, that's all.
So this is what it’s all about. This is what the supporters of the Defense of Marriage Act have been so passionately protecting: The right of Kim Kardashian to make a multi-million-dollar TV spectacle out of a supposedly sacred act, then void it at her whim seventy-two days later.
Meanwhile, George Takei⎯better known as Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek series⎯was on the tube last night. He came out many years ago, before coming out was even cool. Last night, he shared that he and his partner had been married in all but name for twenty-four years. Yet, in his state, he is not legally allowed to sanctify that bond in the same ceremony so spectacularly and ostentatiously sullied by Ms. Kardashian.
I do not pretend to be well versed in the oratory and written work of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in his legacy he mentioned the importance of vigilance.
The victories he helped his fellow Americans to achieve were hard-fought. Lives were lost, including his own. Those holding power were not prepared to relinquish it; it had to be wrested from them.
Now, fifty years after the great battles of the mid-20th Century and the Voting Rights Act, we are in danger of backsliding on the progress Dr. King and his adherents made, as Republican legislatures across the land seek to restrict access to the polls by those who, historically, have been known to vote Democratic. The requirement that voters have photo IDs is an onerous one designed to suppress voting by those who don’t have drivers’ licenses (many of them residents of inner cities). Here in Florida, the ban on early voting the Sunday before election day was specifically directed at African Americans who traditionally go to the polls after church.
With each passing day, gay bashing as a political issue is becoming more and more of a loser. It used to be that the mere raising of the specter of gay equality was enough to coax a flood of cash from conservative wallets, but as more and more families discover they have one⎯or several⎯gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender members, the “stigma” continues to fade.
The only surprise is that American social attitudes have come so far so fast on the issue. Ultimately, gay rights will no longer be considered suitable for discussion in the political arena, in the same way we would never discuss equal rights for diabetics, or for redheads. It is a mark of national shame that gay equality was politicized in the first place.
Yes, the demonstrations make for colorful video and a refreshing news break from dreary unemployment figures, Washington gridlock and Republicans’ garment-rending over their presidential candidate field. While our hearts are with the occupiers, we all know they aren’t going to achieve anything meaningful (see my meditation on The Man from a few days ago).
The deck was patiently being stacked during the fat years, when we were all too busy trading our ballooning home equity for flat-screen TVs, new cars and cruises to notice. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was the final nail in the coffin for the have-nots. No matter how much money labor unions or public interest groups can raise in an attempt to influence the political process, the super-rich, who always manage to get super-richer no matter what the economy, will be able to spend more.
Since selling special editions of stamps to collectors is one of the few bright spots in the U.S. Postal Service’s ledger these days, it makes sense that the USPS would try to maximize that source of revenue.
Considering that Americans are so consumed by their ideological divisions these days, however, you have to question whether dropping a long-standing ban against allowing living people to appear on postage stamps is the best idea for the country.
Once people die, they become less controversial, especially with the passage of time. Putting the likeness of Ronald Reagan on a stamp today doesn’t cause nearly the brouhaha it might have right after his term had ended, or while he was still serving as president.
Rick Perry’s descent in Republican popularity polls has been nothing short of breathtaking. It’s as though the far right, in its zeal to embrace anyone who had a chance of unseating the hated Pretender in the White House, woke up the morning after a heavy date with a supermodel and saw her for the first time without any makeup.
Not only has he shown himself to be so remarkably inept on his feet that he makes George W. Bush look like William Jennings Bryan, Perry has committed the unpardonable sin of being morally suspect on some issues that are sacred to his rapidly eroding base.
How can somebody call himself a Christian conservative, as Perry does, if he performs a reasonable and generous act like allowing the children of undocumented aliens (who live in the state through no fault of their own) to attend Texas universities and pay resident tuition fees? Where in the Bible did Jesus say, “Blessed are the illegal immigrants, for they, too, are the children of God?” Don’t bother to look it up. You can’t find it, ’cause it ain’t in there.
The problem with the death penalty is that it’s imposed by human beings. I don’t know if Troy Davis was really innocent or guilty, but the problem is that I don’t think anybody else does for sure, either.
I do have a feeling he would have gotten a much “fairer” shake if he resembled the person in the cartoon above, and that’s where the human part comes in.
Those who would, say, cheer when Rick Perry is identified as the killingest governor in Texas history look upon the death penalty as the worst punishment society can visit upon an evildoer. I beg to differ. The criminal may or may not regret his crime (it appears Davis did not, for he steadfastly maintained his innocence even past the point when most guilty parties would relent, which raises serious questions), but after the cocktail has been administered, he has been put out of his misery, guilt or whatever, and entered the Great Void.
It’s ironic that the demise of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, while a victory for individual rights in America, actually gives the country another black eye.
At least we used to be consistent in the way we officially treated gays. Gay members of our armed forces had to keep their private affairs and proclivities in the shadows while their straight colleagues enjoyed their lives in the open. The official view of them was that they were depraved. It wasn’t just a passive rule; gay service members lived in continual fear of being “outed” by someone else and summarily discharged in disgrace. We don’t even have to go into the tragic loss of talent this represented at a time when our nation needed it the most.
At the same time, we denied those who put their lives on the line the very rights that they were defending for the rest of us. The combination of DADT and the federal Defense of Marriage Act was abhorrent⎯but there was, at least, a certain twisted reasoning to it. If gays weren’t fit to serve, it followed that they shouldn’t be allowed to claim the basic right to marry.
I’ve indulged in a thought exercise lately. What if, in 2012, a disgruntled and notoriously fickle electorate, fed up with high jobless numbers, decided that it had had it with the Obama Administration’s flounderings and voted in a Rick Perry or Mitt Romney as president? What if all the so-called anti-voter fraud laws promulgated by Republican legislatures in the various states worked as intended, disenfranchising core Democratic voters so that both houses of Congress went Republican (and a filibuster-proof Senate were created)?
If we gave the Republicans the full set of keys to the store, with unfettered access to every nook and cranny, what would they do with the privilege? Would they whack taxes on wealthy “job creators” and corporations to absolute zero? After all, if lower taxes theoretically (if not empirically) create more jobs, then logically no taxes whatsoever ought to yield a tidal wave of them, bringing in so much revenue from a newly employed middle class that the ban on upper-level taxes can continue indefinitely.
Talk about having the whole shebang blow up in their faces! Back during the height of Weinergate--or Twittergate, or whatever silly name you care to put on it--Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and the rest of the Democratic congressional leadership were falling all over themselves to railroad America’s favorite exhibitionist out of office.
They could perform with such sanctimony because they knew with certitude--to borrow one of former Congressman Weiner’s more famous utterances--that his district would remain in Democratic hands, as it had since the 1920s. There is no grandstander like a pol who can pontificate risk-free. Had Weiner’s NY 9 been less politically reliable, the calls for his resignation would, no doubt, have been much more muted.
My dog Tallulah and I enjoyed watching the Republican debate the other night. For us, political debates fulfill the same role that watching Survivor does for those who don’t have to do this kind of thing for a living. Tallulah’s ears, I noticed, picked up whenever Rick Perry weighed in. As I said to Mrs. Lowe-Down, it must have been a Pavlovian response to that conservative dog-whistle of his.
The way the organizers set up the debate, the candidates who ranked highest in the polls were positioned in the center, with the also-rans trailing out to the edges. I found it ironic that each of the eight (was it eight?) wannabes was falling all over him- and herself to invoke the sainted Ronald Reagan’s name. If Reagan were running in the Republican field today, he wouldn’t even be allowed on the stage. He’d be way out in left field somewhere near the restrooms.
This development shouldn’t come as any surprise. The Congressional Black Caucus⎯all Democrats except for Rep. Allen West⎯comprises, for the most part, members of Congress who represent black constituencies and fight for black interests and aspirations.
Rep. West is a tea party-backed conservative who ran in a politically split district that is majority white. He happens to be an African American, and while he does not downplay his heritage, he tends to identify himself more by his ideology and military background than his race.
So, was Michele Bachmann serious when she claimed that the earthquake and Hurricane Irene were acts of God designed to get Congress’ attention about overspending, or was she making a joke?
The fact that there is even controversy about this says something about where many of us think Michele Bachmann’s reality compass is pointing. If it was intended “in jest,” as her campaign publicist now claims, I don’t recommend that Ms. Bachmann take her act to the Catskills just yet. In these situations, it’s best to keep quiet, but if you find that you must tell a joke making light of a catastrophe that has claimed dozens of lives, it had better be a real knee-slapper, which this one wasn’t. It showed remarkable insensitivity to those who lost loved ones.
There’s nothing like a couple of natural cataclysms to prompt mere mortals to reexamine calcified mindsets. President Obama, who resolutely endured the slings and arrows of the political opposition to take his wretched little semi-vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, who played golf through a political upheaval in Libya, and whose putt was thrown off by the first major earthquake to hit the East Coast in almost a century, was finally driven off the island by a monster cyclone.
His people claim that he’s cutting his vacation short in order to better direct the hurricane response from Washington, but they’ve just spent the entire week telling us that the mobile White House is every bit as good as the real one for the purposes of governing. Which leads us to the real reason: The optics of not being in D.C. make him look dangerously like that photo of a detached W. staring out the window of Air Force One as he flew over New Orleans after Katrina. No way any president is going to allow himself to fall into that trap again.
North Florida and South Florida have no business being stitched together like some Frankenstein monster. We South Floridians squat at our end of our peninsula, many of us transplants from more progressive-leaning northern locales, with our own particular needs and cultural views that have little in common with our southern brethren to the north.
Worse, thanks to gerrymandered legislative districts, we’re subjected to the depredations of socially conservative hypocrites who spew their party line about freedom from government out of one side of their mouths while relegating gays to second-class status with the other, just because the Bible says so.
There are several sub-themes to the growing Newsweek/Bachmann controversy that bear exploring.
I’m speaking of the now-famous cover photo that portrays presidential candidate Michele Bachmann looking…well…fervent. Her supporters are claiming that the Newsweek editors are subtly trying to sabotage Ms. Bachmann’s campaign with the general public by portraying her as unhinged.
In addition, the National Organization for Women has rushed to her defense saying the photo is “sexist.” Evidently, sexism trumps Roe v. Wade in the pantheon of NOW priorities. It’s hard to see, however, how the photo is sexist. You want a sexist photo? Look at the cheesecake number Newsweek did a few months ago of Sarah Palin in hot pants.
We already know that the Republican Party isn’t interested in saving the economy. It’s really interested in exploiting the opportunity presented by a bad economy to push through a long-awaited and –cherished agenda. Otherwise, why would it fight tooth and nail to pass a deal that virtually guaranteed more jobs would be lost? Why would it agree to a so-called “trigger” mechanism that amounted to more cuts than it even achieved during the first round, without painful tax loophole closures? Please, please, don’t throw us in that briar patch!
A secondary benefit to throwing the economy a life-saving cement block is that it ensures the nation will still be struggling to come out of the morass by November 2012, paving the way for even a nonentity like Mitt Romney, should he be nominated, to attain the White House.
One of the reasons that revenue increases were taken off the table in the recently passed debt reduction deal is that Republicans contended they were a job-killer. As Rep. Barney Frank said the other day, the contemplated increase would have amounted to $30 per $1,000 earned by those who make over $250,000 per year, including millionaires and billionaires.
It’s hard to believe that the “job creators” would change their hiring plans over that amount, but the Republicans would have you believe it, anyway.
Instead, Congress just passed a deal that, by slashing spending on government discretionary programs, is a true job-killer when what we need in the short term are more jobs and more people paying taxes rather than acting as a strain on social safety-net systems.
Before you start with the comments, nobody can say that I haven’t been a consistent and long-time supporter, both in words and pictures, of equal rights for gays. This isn’t about that.
It isn’t even mainly about Allen West. We’re already familiar with him and his bigoted views. It’s about the people who would boycott businesses that belong to an organization that has invited West to speak at one of its functions. Whatever you may think of the man’s views about LGBT issues ⎯and they are not only repugnant but inexplicable coming from a man who has defended American freedoms with his own life⎯the answer is not to muzzle him.
As of this writing, it looks like the debt ceiling mess has finally been resolved, after a fashion. It’s great if you’re a tea partier. Unfortunately, most Americans are not tea partiers, so the majority did not rule in this case.
The Founding Fathers were fortunate enough to live during an enlightened period of intellectual development now dubbed “The Age of Reason.” Reason was revered as the most sublime characteristic of the human animal, the apotheosis of that which separated us from the beasts. “Je pense, donc je suis,” or “I think, therefore I am,” was the proud acknowledgement that man was capable of ordering his universe neatly and fairly according to a gift that all humans were born with, like opposable thumbs.
If you’re a Latino in this country, you or someone you know or love may well have an immigration problem. Unless, of course, you’re a Cuban-American.
The official Republican view of Latino migrants is xenophobic and borders on racist. Since Latinos often don’t speak our language all that well when they first arrive, and they don’t resemble the people who disembarked from the Mayflower, it's easy for GOP pols to demonize them as the dreaded “other,” terrifying the local folks with talk that our culture is being overrun by furriners while simultaneously reaching out for political contributions.
In many ways, South Florida is an outlier from the rest of the Sunshine State. Ideologically, somewhere between Palm Beach County and Orlando, time begins to slow, and then to stand still. If you continue farther north, the clock actually starts ticking backwards, as if Einstein himself were reaching out from the grave to apply the theory of relativity to Florida politics. By the time you reach Pensacola, where abortion doctors are considered target practice, you’ve traveled back to the era of the Scopes Trial.
This is the state whose Republican-dominated legislature passed a Defense of Marriage Act to enshrine discrimination in our law. The idea of those who sponsored it was that the institution of heterosexual marriage faced a threat to its moral underpinnings if gays were allowed to marry their own kind, or if the state were merely to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. It is noteworthy that an amendment put forward by then-Rep. Lois Frankel (who hails from a South Florida county, of course), which would also deny recognition to any marriage whose parties had engaged in adulterous sex before marrying, was overwhelmingly defeated by the so-called moralists.
It’s only human nature, when something occurs that offends our sensibilities, to round up the usual scapegoats. It happened again with the Norway tragedy. Evidently the Norwegians suffer from the same prejudices the rest of us do. They reflexively assumed at first that the perpetrator was a Muslim extremist, and, like the rest of the world, were surprised to find out he was a Christian anti-Islamist.
A corollary to this mindset is the reluctance to apply the word “terrorism” to terrorist acts perpetrated by non-Muslims. You rarely, if ever, hear the phrase, “Oklahoma City terrorism,” while “9/11” and “terrorism” are terms forever conjoined.
This concerns a picayune local story, but like so many local stories, it has national implications.
Normally, we touchy South Floridians save the religious antics for the holiday season, but this year the ACLU jumped the gun. It has written a letter to Plantation, FL officials indicating that their public holiday display, featuring only a nativity scene and a menorah, is still out of compliance with the Constitution because it leaves out symbols representing all the other religions of the world.
Last month, when the New York State Legislature passed same-sex marriage, I drew a similar cartoon that sought to point out the inappropriateness of judging a whole group of people based upon the way they were born.
To judge them thus is exactly the same as judging people because of the color of their skin. It’s a convenient dodge to assert that being gay is a matter of choice; that enables the so-called righteous among us to then class it as a sin of commission, and thereby apply their arbitrary rules to it. Condemnation is the natural next step.
It helps to look at the tea party congressional freshmen, who form the core of the opposition to a sane, reasonable resolution to the debt ceiling problem, the way one looks at terrorists: individuals who are so committed to their cause that their own martyrdom in its service is considered an acceptable sacrifice.
These are especially dangerous groups, because in the past both the political process and the nation’s security have been predicated on the idea that the actors wish to live to see another day. When some guy lights his shoe on an airplane, or pursues a catastrophic political course in the name of his dogma without caring if he’s reelected, it becomes much more difficult to defend the established order.
Here’s your problem, which is actually several problems rolled into one: You’re a Republican, running for president. You’re either so naïve, or your messiah complex is so in need of servicing, that you actually think you can run the country. Not just run it, but improve it. On top of that, you think you can do a better job of running it and improving it than anyone else in the race.
Any one of these things is enough to make you a pariah at a cocktail party, but in this context you’re taken semi-seriously, particularly if you’re able to scare up money in support of your delusion or are willing to throw in plenty of your own.
So, you’re set to bequeath your sterling personality to a nation that you believe clearly needs you, when WHAP!⎯the Iowa caucuses smack you in the face. They’re the first big hurdle, and if you don’t make a respectable showing in Iowa, the American People, unfortunately, will move on, never knowing how close they came to choosing a great leader.
Cultural conservatives are unwilling to accept, or even to entertain, the notion that same-sex attraction is programmed into one’s biological makeup the same as eye color, or a preference for anchovies. To continue to insist that being gay is a willful choice, or at least the result of confusion or weakness, allows one to develop a so-called moral argument that gayness is a sin that can be conditioned out the way one housebreaks a dog.
Let us set aside Scripture for a moment. To use “Because the Bible says so,” as a basis for discussion is like shooting craps with loaded dice, particularly since many people don’t accept the Bible’s words as sacred, and the Constitution, at least for the moment, still says it can’t be shoved down our throats. Conservatives like to argue that the sole purpose of marriage is procreation, and therefore same-sex marriage is a crime against society.
One of the advantages (or maybe it’s a disadvantage) of being a member of the same editorial board for 27 years is that you develop an institutional memory.
One memory I would have preferred to let slip away is from the 1980s, when the Broward County Commission first passed its Art in Public Places ordinance. In the name of beautifying our sometimes less-than-esthetically-pleasing metropolitan surroundings, it was decreed that a certain percentage (one or two percent⎯that I can’t remember) of the total cost of any new government construction⎯be it a building, park, sewage treatment plant, or whatever⎯must be reserved to buy public art to decorate the place.
I think some board was constituted under the aegis of the county that would pass judgment upon the artistic worth of the submissions, and make the purchases. Anyway, one of the county’s first acquisitions under the program was a work titled New River Rising, wherein the sculptor had skimmed detritus from the surface and banks of said river, the kind of stuff you look at from your vessel and go, “EWWWW!” He had arranged it in an abstract manner on a big piece of canvas, added some painterly flourishes, and presented it to the commission along with a bill for $60,000 (this was back when sixty grand in taxpayer money was still worth something).
Some people don’t understand why we celebrate the freeing of our nation from the oppression of the British crown with fireworks, particularly when every year, people accidentally blow off limbs and set fire to property in the course of their private independence festivities.
They don’t understand the barbecuing, beer-drinking bacchanal that is associated with such a seemingly solemn event. One of my dyspeptic colleagues calls it “Redneck Christmas.”
Talk about being in an awkward position. Here’s President Obama, trying to smooth over a group of gay activists in Manhattan, and instead of being greeted like a hero, he’s forced to endure jeers and catcalls for not giving them the Full Monty on same-sex marriage. Hours later, New York legalizes it, leaving him eating dust and playing social catch-up to Dick Cheney, of all people.
This is one of those times when heading the great Democratic coalition can be...challenging, to say the least. Let’s not forget that⎯unlike Republicans⎯the Democrats are a loose alliance of interest groups that have banded together to push their own agendas by agreeing to help others with theirs, much like a nationwide Amish barn-raising.
I have a problem with Michele Bachmann.
The problem I have isn’t with her socially conservative views, which I disagree with but do not denigrate, since they are legitimately held⎯nor is it with her recurring symptoms of foot-in-mouth disease, which provide comic relief more than anything else.
No, what I worry about is having as a potential president a person who is apparently capable of believing⎯simultaneously and passionately⎯in two opposing principles of government without seeing the illogic of her position(s).
She trumpets the inherent goodness of states’ rights, and has devoted herself, at least in her stump speech, to the goal of shrinking the federal government’s role in freedom-loving Americans’ lives to the fullest extent possible.
That sounds fine so far as it goes, until she is asked about New York’s recent legalization of same-sex marriage. Yes, Ms. Bachmann says, every state has a right to pass its own laws. But, as president, she would work as hard as she could to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution recognizing marriage as a contract exclusively between a man and a woman.
There must be some centrally located underground room where Republican governors and pols from Republican-majority state legislatures met to lay out a coordinated national strategy. Otherwise, why would so many states simultaneously try to pass anti-immigrant laws, union-busting laws⎯and most egregious of all⎯voter suppression laws?
Republican chief executives and supermajorities have willfully misinterpreted the economic “mandate” they were given last November and instead are using it to cram through cherished agenda items that they were never elected to promote.
If you really want to know the difference between a liberal and a conservative, it is glaringly apparent in this so-called anti-voter fraud legislation that is being foisted upon us in so many states, including my own.
Just when I think I've seen everything in 27 years of dealing with editors at this paper, I am freshly astounded.
In response to the story about Alabama's newly-enacted anti-illegal immigrant law, which is even more draconian than Arizona's, I submitted the above cartoon as a sketch to my opinion page editor, Antonio Fins. Tony responded by saying, "It seems flat. What about something having to do with a New Yorker and his accent?" Naturally, I bridled at this, since it wasn't my idea. Working at cross-purposes with my initial response was that I respect Tony as a second set of eyes (this is what editors are for). I always understand my work because I'm the one who thought it up. If it doesn't hit home with him, it could mean that it is, in fact, less than effective.
I sent him an explanation, which was that Alabamans are known for having one of the highest obesity rates in the nation, and I wanted to turn the tables on them so that our readers could better understand how visual profiling, as a technique, is bigoted and hurtful.
The U.S. Constitution, civics teachers like to say, is the defining document of who we are as a people. I would prefer to say that it’s the definition of the people we strive to be.
It’s when we tend to follow our natural herd instinct, rather than act like the inspired residents of the shining city on the hill, that we most need to refresh our memories as to the spirit behind our guiding charter. For the individual citizens of a nation to be truly free, the whole must be tolerant of, inclusive toward, and blind to differences between its parts. It’s right there in the establishment clause.
So if you’re the neighbor of a proposed mosque in West Boynton Beach, a mosque that is to be constructed on land that has been zoned specifically for a house of worship for years, it’s a little late to start complaining. You can’t suddenly decide that a mosque wasn’t what you had in mind, that you’d rather see a church or a temple next door to your development. The Constitution, basically, says, “Tough.”
Here’s where, if I were a Tea Partier, I’d be in a pickle…as in, “hold the pickle.” Once again, the nanny state⎯in the form of the USDA⎯is attempting to tell us what to eat, the same way the Surgeon General way back in the 1960s started telling us not to smoke.
Fatty foods and tobacco are both perfectly legal products, and we ought to be free to indulge in them as we wish. Give me liberty and give me death, to coin a phrase.
At the same time, if we actually followed the “dictates” of our overreaching government and practiced self-restraint, we would be a healthier nation. We’d be more productive per worker, and more wealth would be produced--a free-marketer's dream.
If you look hard enough, you can find an upside to almost anything, even the End of Days.
If Harold Camping and his disciples are right, and Rapture arrives tomorrow afternoon, then those of us sure to be left behind won’t have to put up with those irritating holier-than-thou types anymore. We can spend the three-hundred-odd days left to us reading Darwin’s Origin of Species and doing some good honest sinnin’ without the self-righteous legislating morality into our lives through their minions in the Republican Party.
We’ll be able to do what we want with whomever we want in our own bedrooms and marry anybody we want, regardless of the other person’s gender. Women will have unfettered access to abortions, if they find them necessary, without the morality police prying into their personal lives.
Unlike candidates Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, Newt Gingrich doesn’t embark on quixotic undertakings like running for president solely out of principle. He does it because he thinks he can win.
This demonstrates how out of touch he’s become with the down-home folks who comprise his would-be base. Gingrich is a Washington creature, and as such is lionized by the beltway media and establishment GOP party leaders as a towering intellect who bubbles ideas like a champagne fountain at a Long Island wedding. On paper, he is formidable.
If you want to analyze his strategy, however⎯which is to embrace the favorite hot-button causes of the cultural right, brandish his newfound religiosity, make slanderous assertions about Barack Obama, flog fiscal austerity, and bash the entire Muslim faith whenever possible⎯then you know that his intended listeners have certain strongly-held beliefs about personal and moral responsibility. They will expect their candidate to be a paragon of probity.
Ronald Reagan was able to get away with being divorced because he was an affable guy. That goes a long way with the American electorate (see the “Who would you most like to have a beer with?” polls). Gingrich is not only twice divorced, he has openly admitted he was unfaithful to two of his wives. He asked one for a divorce while she was in the hospital, recovering from cancer. Does he honestly think women voters will ignore all this?
Combine this with his demeanor, which falls far short of Reagan’s in the “beer” category (Gingrich would probably stick you with the tab—just because he feels so passionate about his country), and it’s difficult to imagine how God-fearing souls could bring themselves to pull the lever for him, considering there will be a lot of other Republicans on the primary ballot doing the identical pander to his.
That isn’t to say we won’t be looking forward to his performance in the debates. Scorched earth, anyone?
As I creep toward geezerhood, I become increasingly annoyed at people who selfishly encroach on my space and peace of mind, specifically the slick young exhibitionists in muscle cars who feel the desperate need to share their musical tastes with me at intersections.
Actually, that isn’t true. I’ve always felt that way. For years, one of my fantasies has been to answer them back with an even more powerful stereo system, and blow them off their tires with some Mozart or⎯even more annoying⎯klezmer. It would be so satisfying to give them a sense of how their generosity plays with others. If their goal is to impress, it doesn’t work with me…nor does it on the young women who are their putative targets, I would imagine.
As I creep toward geezerhood, I become increasingly annoyed at people who selfishly encroach on my space and peace of mind, specifically the slick young exhibitionists in muscle cars who feel the desperate need to share their musical tastes with me at intersections.
Actually, that isn’t true. I’ve always felt that way. For years, one of my fantasies has been to answer them back with an even more powerful stereo system, and blow them off their tires with some Mozart or⎯even more annoying⎯klezmer. It would be so satisfying to give them a sense of how their generosity plays with others. If their goal is to impress, it doesn’t work…nor does it on the young women who are their putative targets, I would imagine.
Lest we accuse the Florida Appeals Court of being activist liberals on this constitutional question of free expression regarding the noise polluters, they based their decision on the fact that the state law arbitrarily excludes commercial and political noise. I guess this is what they call “equal protection under the law,” although it appears that motorists like me aren’t being very well protected under this interpretation.
My other fantasy is that James Madison, while he was sitting upstairs in the heat penning the Bill of Rights, would have been treated to one of those university football factory marching bands passing right beneath his window, blasting brass arrangements of Broadway show tunes. Then the First Amendment might have read, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech under 90 decibels.”
If I were a Latino, me estaría herviendo la sangre (my blood would be boiling) right about now.
El Presidente came down to El Paso on a campaign sweep, paying lip service to the notion of immigration reform, but he was really laying it out to the Latino community this way: “Vote Democratic, because we’ll only show you benign neglect, whereas the Republicans really have it in for you.”
A friend of mine claims that she receives PBS signals in her head. She knows this for a fact because one day, she was out gardening and suddenly “Masterpiece Theatre” started coming in. Just to prove she was right about possessing this unique ability, she went inside, turned on the TV, and sure enough the transition was seamless. I asked her why, then, she wasted so much money on cable, and she said, “Unfortunately, I don’t receive video.”
How do you think it would go over if Barack Obama said to the tornado victims, “You red states down there can just go and kiss my overreaching, socialist big-government behind and fend for yourselves?”
We can’t even imagine it. That’s because the president is the leader of all of us…not just those who voted for him but also those who feel indifferent toward him, merely dislike him, and hate him to their very core. As the head of government, he cannot cherry-pick.
No, he can’t indulge in petty, parochial maneuvers like passing needlessly restrictive laws designed to disenfranchise whole classes of Americans. He can’t, while paying obeisance to some no-tax dogma, rob soon-to-be-elderly citizens of the medical care they have spent their entire lives paying for with the reasonable expectation that their country will look after them in their dotage.
Hey, talk about bait-and-switch. We didn’t elect these guys to go up to Tallahassee to try to singlehandedly repeal Roe v. Wade. They told us they’d create jobs, jobs, jobs. The only job openings I see in our state’s future are for sonogram technologists.
They know this is their chance, their golden moment when all the planets are in alignment⎯a Republican Cabinet, huge Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature, and a governor who would happily sign legislation forbidding people from traveling too far out to sea because they might fall off the edge of the earth, if it were placed before him.
So the White House finally did it. The Donald is strutting around like a gamecock, taking credit for forcing the administration to do something no one else had been able to. Effortlessly shifting gears, the pompous pompadour has moved on to questioning the president’s academic qualifications for getting into Columbia and Harvard, two institutions of higher learning that remained unattainable to Mr. Trump despite his financial advantages.
Meanwhile, the “legitimate” birthers are left scrabbling for a rationale, the way millenialists do after they’ve predicted the world will end and the sun stubbornly rises the next morning. Not to worry. They won’t believe this birth certificate any more than the last one.
The fact remains that this is the first president in history who has had to present documents to prove his origins. Some say it’s because his doubters believe he’s a closet communist. They said that about FDR, too, but nobody asked if he was born in the United States. John McCain has a much more tenuous hold on the “natural born” label than Mr. Obama, yet no birther movement coalesced to doubt his background, either.
Anti-voter fraud legislation is a solution in search of a problem. When Republicans talk about the specter of voter fraud that could bring the nation to its knees, they’re really talking about the horror of allowing people whose views they don’t agree with to vote.
Some supervisor of elections here in Florida recalled somebody registering as “Mickey Mouse,” and the state GOP seized upon this as proof that our state’s registration rules are too lax. Never mind that that particular registration was snagged by the existing system. No, the only answer is to make sure that college kids (who tend to be naïve, irresponsible, liberal and⎯of course⎯Democratic voters), old people, women and minorities have to jump through a series of restrictive hoops in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
There were elements of President Obama’s budget speech that left us wanting more, but in one area he delivered. He was right to cast the coming battle over the deficit as a moral issue, since the main battleground will be entitlement programs like Medicaid and Medicare, which exist because at the time of their inception, this nation felt an obligation to fulfill a moral imperative.
The Republican Party, particularly its Tea Party wing, is making an amoral, purely financial argument. The argument is simplistic and cunning, yet does not stand up to the test of the American character.
One thing everyone agrees on is that the deficit must be reduced. How it is done will depend on who is able to make the most compelling case to the American people. Republicans, in their zeal not to raise taxes on anyone⎯particularly the wealthy⎯will continue to push the discredited notion that by removing any financial fetters from the well-off, we will stimulate an economy that will float all boats.
President Obama was giving his deficit reduction speech while I was inking this cartoon, and among his proposals were the expected ones about raising more revenue by closing loopholes and hiking taxes on the well-to-do.
Two questions immediately came to mind: First, why did it take so long for him to bring up the dreaded tax issue? He (and all of congress, except for a few lefties in safe districts) allowed the entire shutdown debate to continue with no mention of “revenue enhancement.” It was all about cost cutting.
Is the American public really so selfish, so irresponsible, that it cannot understand that the beneficence it has enjoyed for so long needs to be paid for somehow? And if not by us, then by our children? And is it so dense that it doesn’t understand that raising taxes on those who make over $250,000 per year is different than raising taxes on the middle class?
Retired Republican U.S. Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming was on television the other night, expressing himself with the kind of rawboned candor that only a retired pol dare employ.
Simpson was opining, in his prairie twang, on the subject of abortion. He felt, for starters, that the government should “just get out of the culture business altogether.” Nobody wants abortions, he added. And, in a surprisingly sensitive observation for someone of his gender, he indicated that men should never be allowed to vote on the issue.
Ever since the Republican Party embraced cultural conservatism as a ticket to political success, there has been a fundamental—some would say hypocritical—disconnect in its platform. The small-government, libertarian wing believes that government’s role should begin and end with national defense and protecting the borders. The social conservative wing (or the “Terry Schiavo Wing,” if you will), on the other hand, feels that government ought to break into the hospital rooms, classrooms and bedrooms of American citizens to enforce a moral code that, while not hewed to by many or even by most of us, is justified in its enforcement by the sheer zealotry of its adherents.
While I was sitting around waiting for a federal government shutdown to happen or not happen, this little tidbit swam into my consciousness. It’s heartwarming to know that the Department of Homeland Security is being proactive about alerting the masses; it certainly beats the old color-coded system, which was vague and confusing, and whose only useful purpose was to be activated right before elections so we’d vote for Republicans.
It’s also a refreshing change from DHS’ shutting-the-barn-door prevention policy, which is to allow terrorists to come up with daring new ways to harm us, and follow after the fact with the safeguards (Ever since the Shoe Bomber and the Christmas Underwear Bomber, we all have to take off our shoes and have our skivvies electronically scanned before flying. Meanwhile, the bad guys have moved on to something more outlandish…the Belly Button Lint Bomber, for example).
That Glenn Beck and Fox News are parting ways could be the glimmer of hope we’ve been waiting for after this long, dark night of the national soul.
It’s in tough times like these, when fear has been stalking the land, that the Glenn Becks, Father Coughlins and Joe McCarthys have historically held sway. Fear erodes tolerance, clouds judgment, and makes men susceptible to easy palliatives like xenophobia, scapegoating and race baiting.
What Glenn Beck was doing had no place on Fox News or any other national media platform. Maybe his paranoid rants were given license because, for a long time, he made a mountain of money for his bosses.
Rep. Paul Ryan has just submitted his Great Republican Economic Plan for America’s Future, and there’s a great deal of ink being spilled about whether it’s visionary or just another Trojan horse. I’ll leave that to the pundits and pols who’ve actually read the whole thing.
The part that shouts out to me, as it should to everyone else, is the lowering of the tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. This includes you and me, as well as billionaires. Why does the American public remain so quiescent in the face of such injustice? Not all republicans are super-rich. Is the average voter that easily distracted by the culturally conservative candy the GOP tosses out every two years to placate him during the brief moment he becomes politically engaged? What happened to economic self-interest?
For a seduction to work, you need the cooperation of both parties.
Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was wooing the nation, he was saying all the things many of us wanted to hear. We were deep into Bush fatigue, especially toward the end when the economy collapsed (that’s right, it did happen during the Bush Administration, although it’s so easy to forget).
Here was a new face, telling us that he was going to come in like a fresh breeze, blow out the cobwebs, and change the way Washington did business. Of course, those of us who had been around long knew that they always say that. Nevertheless, we fell for the roses and chocolates because we so wanted to believe at that point.
Admittedly, this cartoon is speculative, but it’s certainly as plausible as the brave Minutemen who fired the shot heard round the world at Concord and Lexington, New Hampshire (Even then, the Colonials knew it was going to be the first primary state, and accordingly relocated the border with Massachusetts until the skirmishes were over).
Or as credible as how someone’s passion for his country prompted him to commit adultery (“Oh, God…oh, God…oh GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!!”).
One of the oddities about listening to the utterances of people like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich when they address friendly crowds is that they can say the most preposterous things, and no one among their nodding listeners ever steps up to correct them, or bursts out laughing at their inanity.
In addition to the measureless destruction of once-picturesque cities and countryside in Japan is another scene that appears even more otherworldly to American eyes: the absence of violence, looting and general chaos in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.
Instead, survivors wait quietly and patiently in line for supplies, or help each other pick through the wreckage for other survivors. Above all, order is maintained.
A theory holds that it’s because they’ve all been forced to live, densely packed, for centuries. The code of politeness and acceptable behavior that the Japanese have created in order to coexist in such a small space has come to define the scope of their daily lives.
To them, personal accountability and the avoidance of shame are so important that throughout their history, ending one’s life was an accepted way to atone for a breach of the social code.
Maybe the electorate is beginning to tire of the relentless talk about jobs, the economy and the deficit. If we Americans are known for anything, it’s the brevity of our national attention span.
Lately, we’ve been hearing the siren call (some call it “dog whistle”) of some old, familiar themes—mostly enunciated by Republican presidential hopefuls seeking to burnish their appeal with notoriously culturally conservative Iowa caucus-goers.
There’s been a resurgence of the hot-button social issues in congress, too, in the form of an attempt to cut Planned Parenthood’s budget, and the decision by the house to go ahead and defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court (since that amoral faux-Christian foreigner in the White House won’t do it).
What the Westboro Baptist Church people are doing is so repugnant, so outside the bounds of human decency, that many of us hoped the Supreme Court would blow them out of the water.
Surely, we thought, their vicious hate speech and bizarre antics at military funerals⎯mocking the idea of military service to one’s nation and subjecting the families of the dead to further misery⎯constitute an abuse of the First Amendment.
Navigating their way through this fog of anger, however, eight justices of the Court realized that the beauty of the First Amendment lies in the fact that it can’t be abused. Other than crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater or inciting to riot, just about anything goes.
There are two kinds of “American Way.” The one we prefer to dwell upon is the one based on idealistic principles like fairness, equality, and opportunity. The Bill of Rights embodies this kind of American Way. It’s the kind that prompts a tightening of the throat when we hear God Bless America being sung.
The other is the characterization we all too often tend to slide into as a nation: vindictive, xenophobic, paranoid, isolationist, racist, willfully ignorant.
While our better sides define our nationhood by a concept and not by race, ethnicity, religion or culture, our worse sides find that we need an “other” to demonize in order to achieve that warm “e pluribus unum” feeling. There was a time when the “other” was black, and we repressed him. Or he was an Indian, and we massacred him. Or he was a Communist, and we ruined him professionally and personally. Now, our most convenient goat has become the American Muslim.
At first, I was sympathetic to the standard line about the Wisconsin public employee unions, the one the Republican Party has been peddling.
It’s the time-worn narrative that resonates with us private-sector taxpayers, who like to visualize outfits like AFSCME as a litter of oblivious piglets blissfully nursing at the public teat while the rest of us disorganized drones tighten our belts.
But then, I began hearing that the Wisconsin unions had searched their souls, and had done what other public- and private-sector unions have in hard times past, which is to give up some of their sweet benefits for the greater public good. They’re taxpayers too, after all.
Nothing gets the right wing more lathered up than Michelle Obama, Wife of the Great Pretender, opening her mouth to render an opinion--even if it’s about something as innocuous and well-meaning as encouraging mothers to breast feed.
Michele Bachmann was first to screech off the mark, skillfully framing the issue as an attack on the IRS for declaring that breast pumps were medical devices for the purposes of tax deductions and medical flex accounts. Another overreach by the Nanny State, she said. This, of course, conveniently overlooks the fact that Tea Partiers are supposed to be against taxes of any kind, so technically, the decision ought to have pleased her.
Suddenly, people like House Speaker John Boehner are learning the hard way that the Tea Party-backed wing of his caucus not only means to stay true to its rhetoric, it doesn't feel it owes the old paternalistic party apparatus any fealty. The Republican side of the house is starting to look more like the Democrats: a coalition of pressure groups obsessed with different core issues that pull together now and then to scratch each other’s backs when it suits them. More often than not, they bicker amongst themselves.
Just yesterday, a group of Tea Party fiscal conservatives allied with Democrats to finally chuck a redundant, gold-plated jet engine that even the Pentagon says is a waste, but that has survived for years because the manufacturers spread the work around to as many districts as possible. The engine is assembled in Boehner’s home district, for crying out loud.
What kind of Speaker can’t even protect federal pork in his own district? Actually, the very question itself is so last-year. It reflects an archaic, old-politics viewpoint, one that prevailed before the seeds of the whirlwind Mr. Boehner is now reaping were sown.
Boehner's only hope is that, over time, Washington culture will work its evil charms on his irksome band of zealots before they bring the whole carefully-designed traditional structure crashing down around his ears.
When my grandmother hit her mid-nineties, it became too much of a hardship for her to hoof it the three blocks to the Polish church every Sunday. Instead, the priest came to her house once a month with his little bag to hear her confession and administer the Holy Eucharist.
There in her living room, beneath the hand-tinted photograph of the man she knew as Jan Pawel II⎯who occupied the second position in her pantheon of heroes just beneath Liberace⎯she made her confession in Polish, presumably because God would think she was trying to fudge it if she did it in her limited English.
It didn’t take long. She once said to me, “I old lady, ninety-six years old. What’s left to confess?”
Still, she did it regularly. It was important to her, and I’ve never seen a lady more at peace with her life and her maker than Nana.
To me, insistence on a punctilious, “authentic” interpretation of any document from another era is the safe haven of the small and fearful thinker.
We rightly esteem the legacy of enlightened reasoning and principles embodied by the U.S. Constitution, and the thinking that led to its writing ought to be revered and heeded as the philosophical bedrock upon which our way of life is built, but the act of divining the “original intent” of the authors from a 21st Century perspective is a form of freewheeling interpretation in itself.
Ought we modern readers to attempt to climb inside the heads of a group of men who never heard the sound of an internal combustion engine, who never conceived of machinery that could keep people artificially alive for months or even years, or who could translate “web” and “site” into Latin and Greek, but would be clueless as to the meaning of the two English words when combined?
It looks like the Affordable Care Act is headed to the Supreme Court, thanks to a rash of conflicting lower court opinions.
Court kremlinologists in the media and legal communities, basing their prognostications on the previous records of the nine justices (you get a gold star if you can name all nine without cheating, and no…Judge Judy is not one of them), have already decided that “Obamacare” will be decided by a vote of 5-4, with the battlefield being the heart and mind of the Swing Justice, Anthony Kennedy (far left in this group portrait).
Why they say they know this is because the case turns on how you view the reach of government in individual lives, and at what point you feel that reach becomes an overreach. The much-reviled “individual mandate,” which is at the core of the battle, is either within the purview of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, or it’s an unjust intrusion, imposing a penalty on people for not doing something.
Now, if George Santayana had been a real American instead of some foreign born, Harvard-educated elitist pinhead, his famous quotation would have read more like this: “Those who cannot remember the past can simply make it up as they go along.”
To say that Michele Bachmann doesn’t care when she is caught fudging a variety of issues is to not give her enough credit. Like Sarah Palin, she is actually proud to be exposed, for it makes her the butt of snarky attacks from elites, and victimization is an essential component of her equation. It reinforces her bond with her followers.
In an earlier posting, I indicated that Bachmann was eclipsing Palin as the darling of the Right. It isn’t just because we are growing weary of Sarah and her tweets and Faceburps; it’s also that Bachmann takes her fierce, willful ignorance one step further.
Marco Rubio’s no fool. Florida’s freshman senator was a familiar face in state politics, and a leader in the legislature, long before the Tea Party reared its tri-corned head on the national scene.
His fiscal conservatism was a natural attraction for the Tea Party, and when they decided to adopt him as their poster boy, he was more than delighted to surf the wave that would drive newly-converted moderate Charlie Crist out of the Republican primary race and then go on to swamp him when he tried to run as an Independent With Name Recognition.
Now that Sen. Rubio is happily settling into the cushions of his senate office chair, he has decided (as they all do) that it’s a pretty cushy gig and he’d like to stay on for a few terms. This is why it should be no surprise that when certain senate Tea Partiers called their first caucus meeting, Rubio conspicuously included himself out.
About twenty years ago, I found myself in the backcountry of Tahiti as the guest of an older Polynesian gentleman and his wife (No, I am not making this up).
They were preparing a standard meal for those parts, which consisted of a hollowed-out breadfruit refilled with canned corned beef (It came out in French as “cor-ned bif,” since the can had come from Great Britain) and roasted over an open fire. It was the perfect marriage of traditional fare (breadfruit, as implied by its name, is an excellent source of starch) and food that had only become available once Polynesia was connected by trade to the rest of the world.
The man told me that before the traders and colonists came, the islanders had subsisted happily on fish, coconuts, breadfruit, bananas, some cultivated crops, and the occasional wild pig if they were lucky enough to corner one and bonk it on the head with a special weapon that looked like a club with a rock embedded in the head.
Just as we are finally becoming oversaturated with Sarah Palin, her tweets, her Facebook postings, her bull’s-eyes, her surveyor’s marks, her book signings and her narcissism, we learn that⎯like a female version of John the Baptist⎯she has only been preparing the way for the one who is to follow.
For a couple of years now, Michele Bachmann has lurked on the lunatic fringe, not exactly a household name. But she whose unabashed and unapologetic verbal bombs make Ms. Palin, by comparison, seem like a model of statesmanship is about to catapult herself onto the national stage in the form of a Tea Party (she is its self-proclaimed Grande Dame) rebuttal to both the President and the Republican establishment.
So the Republicans have dutifully thrown the Tea Party people their bone. Yes, it was absurd and a waste of time, and while the Republicans won’t talk about it openly, they know just as well as everyone else how foolish it looked to pass legislation that was going nowhere.
These are the same people who accused the Democrats in the last Congress of putting their own agenda ahead of that of the American people, which purportedly consisted of jobs, jobs and jobs. This is why they inserted “job killing” into the title of their legislation, as a head fake toward relevance.
They were paying off a political obligation, and one must fulfill one’s promises. Yesterday’s vote, however, doesn’t eliminate the crosscurrent that the establishment GOP finds itself caught in.
The whirlwind that was unleashed at last year’s town hall meetings may have been directed at Democrats, but the Tea Partiers are still angry, they have no party loyalty, and they know when they’ve been played. They are not going to be satisfied with a mere kabuki dance and then quietly go back to their caves until the next election season. They will continue to clamor for the meaningful action they feel is their due.
Lost in the impassioned arguments about the Second Amendment and the right to defend oneself from government and each other is the question of what “open carry” might do to the already fragile fabric of society.
Let’s set aside the prospect of someone opening fire in a restaurant and forty would-be heroes suddenly responding with a hail of bullets, only guessing at who actually began the conflict.
Instead, let’s talk about what makes us civilized, and what makes America free. Guns don’t make us free, much as the NRA’s literature would have you believe it. What makes us free is the ability to govern ourselves, to make laws through a democratic process, and the mutual understanding that we will obey these laws once they are enacted.
Since this has turned into Gun Theme Week, I don’t have much more to say beyond my discourse of a couple of days ago, except that if you are one of those people who worry about the tyranny of our federal government, you can stand down.
As long as the NRA exists, with its awesome fundraising power and ability to turn out single-issue voters when it counts, congresspersons of both parties will quake and cower.
Yes, our representatives and senators know that there is no justifiable need for extended clips. They know that assault rifles are an invitation to mayhem, but they also have a highly-developed sense of self-preservation that, sadly, overwhelms any impulse to do what’s best for their country.
You want to talk tyranny? It’s as clear as the view through your telescopic sight.
In the wake of the Giffords shooting, freshman U.S. Rep. Allen West has indicated that he possesses a concealed weapons permit, and plans to avail himself of it if and when he deems it necessary.
I suspect Rep. West has been packing a piece for some time, only he’s telling us about it now for deterrent purposes.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has the bizarre distinction of being Rep. West’s representative in Congress (thanks to the fact that he doesn’t live in his district), has said that she prefers relying on a robust law enforcement presence at her events for her protection and that of her constituents.
Neither one of them is right or wrong; the difference does, however, neatly exemplify the two representatives’ distinct views of the role of government.
In the first case, individual responsibility for one’s own welfare is the operating principle. In the second, government is expected to act as a popularly empowered umbrella entity for the collective protection and betterment of society.
To boil it down, Rep. West’s view of government is “in spite of,” while Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s is “because of.” One is apart from, one is a part of.
As I said, there’s no right way or wrong way to look at it. There are simply different ways. All we can do is work harder to understand and respect where others are coming from.
The Second Amendment is right there in the Constitution, so it’s an integral part of what defines us as Americans, whether we like it or not.
What it was put in there for, and its relevance to us today, is another story. Conservatives love to use the constructionist argument, that the Constitution is not a “living document,” open to continual reinterpretation by activist liberals who can twist it to mean anything they want at the moment.
Fine, let’s use that argument. When the Founding Fathers, fearful of an overreaching, tyrannical government, gave citizens the right to bear arms, their intent was to guarantee them the means to defend themselves and feed their families. They were thinking about muskets and long rifles, which require almost a minute, even by a skilled marksman, to reload one round.
It’s hard to speak of a “silver lining” when faced with a tragedy like the one that occurred in Tucson over the weekend, but if the nation undergoes an agonized and honest examination of its political climate, and how it got to be the way it is, some good might yet come of it.
There was immediate, and irresponsible, finger pointing in the wave of emotion immediately following the incident. We don’t yet know if the alleged gunman is simply deranged in his own right, or whether he was influenced by inflammatory anti-government rhetoric.
Nevertheless, it’s high time we did step back and look at the methods and arguments we use when we confront each other in the arena of ideas. One congressional leader accurately characterized the way the national discourse has been conducted of late as “I’m right, and you’re evil.” In the clash of emotions, we have forgotten that we’re all Americans, chasing the same goal, which is to create the highest-possible quality of life for ourselves and our fellow-citizens.
Yes, the shootings were senseless. The best way to accord them some meaning would be to use them as a catalyst to improve the way we treat and respect those with whom we disagree.
Of course, this presupposes that, for once, we are prepared to listen to our better angels. A tall order, but not an impossible one.
I have to confess that this latest wave of technology, hailed by the tech crowd as a “game changer,” will probably pass me by, and I’m not in mourning about it.
The tablet and the smart phone are becoming the hand-held fonts of all human knowledge, the Delphic oracle we approach for everything from road directions to TV shows to recipes to purchases to world news to things “not even dreamt of in your philosophy,” as Shakespeare put it.
I went to an improv club up north a few months ago, and the audience gathered in the vestibule during the intermission. An eerie silence reigned; nobody was discussing the recently shared experience. No talk of favorite characters, no reliving witty skits. Each audience member was an island, his or her face bathed in the blue glow of an iPhone or BlackBerry, while thumbs danced on screens and keyboards.
It’s heartwarming to see that, even though the new House majority is supposed to be heralding a return to America’s philosophical roots as the Founding Fathers intended, good old-fashioned hypocrisy hasn’t gone out of vogue.
The Tea Party representatives appear to have found their places in the Washington minuet without too much trouble, hiring lobbyists to run their staffs and staging campaign debt retirement functions at fancy venues where checks are written and ears are bent.
The question, “Will they change Washington or will Washington change them?” was answered even before the swearing-in.
I’m sure the lobbyists/chiefs of staff, hired because “they know the ways of government,” view their naïve new bosses as rough clay waiting to be sculpted in their expert hands.
There are news stories that rank-and-file Tea Partiers out in the boondocks plan to keep up the heat on their new champions, to make sure they continue to uphold the principles they campaigned on. They’re going to call, email, even drop by for a visit.
Here’s some advice for them: Don’t waste your time. All those Mr. Smiths you just sent to Washington may not realize it yet, and you may not realize it either, but they stopped representing you the moment they arrived on the banks of the Potomac.
There’s talk (maybe wishful thinking) among the liberal elite that the Republicans, flexing their new found muscle in the House, will overstep and hang themselves by wasting the country’s time indulging in conservative movement issues that are of little relevance to the general moderate public.
I disagree. Assuming that establishment Republican members of Congress are cynical, which is usually a safe bet with pols, I expect them to get the ideological stuff out of the way early and quickly to satisfy the extremists who helped them win a majority this time around.
They’ll go after “Obamacare,” make a big production of reading the Constitution aloud (minus the 14th Amendment, of course), and throw a few other sops to the ravening mob so they can then settle down and get back to core party business. This consists of making sure the rich get richer and that their hard-earned fortunes aren’t frittered away in taxes so that bloodsuckers like the elderly, poor, unemployed and uninsured get free handouts from socialist do-gooders and other subversives.
Look for them to return to hot-button issues like kicking out all the Latinos, doubting global warming and maybe even a soupçon of gay-bashing (if it’s still in vogue by then) around the spring of 2012, when they’ll need to rally the commoners and successfully convince them to vote against their own economic self-interest for the umpteenth time.
Last summer, I stayed in a motel in southern Vermont, right across the street from a VFW hall.
Actually, the “hall” was more of a shack, and had one of those portable plastic signs out near the street that said, “Thurs nite bingo.”
I think of this place now, because I know it is a sacred repository of true American values, values that are so cherished they were fought for in faraway lands.
I also think of it because I wonder how the first openly gay or lesbian veteran who goes in there and asks for a beer is going to be received. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that after some initial discomfort, that gay or lesbian vet and the others in the hall are going to discover that they have a lot more connecting them than separating them.
They’re going to find out that they share the same priorities, the same gut feelings about the country they served, and the same willingness to back those sentiments up by laying their lives on the line.
And maybe, just maybe, treating gay people exactly like everyone else will enter the pantheon of true American values worth fighting to protect.
You have to wonder what kind of poison is coursing through Republicans’ minds right now for them to torpedo the DREAM act.
This is a hugely important issue to the fastest growing demographic in the nation, so it makes absolutely no long-term political sense for the GOP to brand themselves for years to come—if not forever—as anti-Latino.
In the short term, if they want to display their xenophobic bona fides to their base, what’s the point of doing it right after the election? Two years from now, everyone will have forgotten about the death of DREAM except the Latino community.
The mom who just filed suit against McDonald’s for selling Happy Meals (aided and abetted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest) claims that the fast-food giant has made it much more difficult for her to refuse the entreaties of her children and to provide them with a healthful diet.
This doesn’t cut it with me. I don’t have kids, but I was one once, so I’m familiar with the business end of parental discipline. My particular bête noire was liver and onions, and I felt that life was being terribly unfair to me when I was forced to eat said repulsive dish.
In retrospect, though, when I realized that no amount of wheedling and whining was ever going to change the situation (without exception), it provided a certain sense of stability. Stability and predictability are what kids really crave, anyway, even though they may not know it.
What is required, though, is that parents discipline their own behavior as well as the child’s. Take my dog, Tallulah, who is shown at right (an adorable basset-shepherd mix, in case you were wondering). Half the time I tell her to do something, she ignores me. This is not her fault, but mine for not putting in the time to train her properly (as Mrs. Lowe-Down frequently reminds me).
So my advice to the mom, to quote Nancy Reagan, is to “Just Say No,” and to say it consistently, rather than attempt to invoke the power of the nanny state to restrict a lawful product. Sure they’ll say they hate you at the moment. But years from now, they’ll come back to visit for the holidays.
And yes, I know dogs are different than kids. Tallulah doesn’t mind being seen with me in public, she doesn’t ask to be driven to the mall, and I never have to worry about whether she’s hanging out with the wrong element.
As sure as bullets fall from the sky at New Year’s, here in Florida Thanksgiving means the start of religious protest season.
Yes, the holidays tend to bring out the essence of who we are as a people…petty, vindictive, parochial and selfish. What can I say that hasn’t been said already?
Well, there’s this: the Florida Turnpike Enterprise has now banned holiday displays of any kind from its tollbooths (which until now have been provided at their own expense and initiative by the toll-takers, presumably to add a little joy to an otherwise distasteful operation for all parties) because some Christians complained that Halloween decorations were Satanic.
My favorite is today’s legalistic twist from the Catholic League out of New York (we Floridians are perfectly capable of stirring up our own teapot tempests without outside interference, thank you very much), which has weighed in with a complaint that the City of Boca Raton, by placing a menorah, a Christmas tree and a “Happy Holidays” sign alongside one another in a public building is practicing discrimination against Christians.
Since we’re in full confession mode this week, and I’ve already revealed that I’m harboring strangely positive thoughts about Hillary Clinton, I might as well go all the way and declare that I am deeply disappointed by John McCain.
Yes, ten years ago, when he was running in the Republican primary against W., I thought (as did many Americans), “Here is an honorable man. I might not agree with his politics, but he appears to have the integrity I find lacking in so many pols today.”
Somewhere between then and now, Big John sold his soul to the forces of darkness. We won’t even talk about his rank opportunism in plucking Sarah Palin out of obscurity—an act for which the nation still suffers.
Formerly a moderate on immigration reform, he demonized aliens in a craven⎯albeit successful⎯attempt to beat a rabid conservative in his recent reelection bid.
Now he plays the spoiler as ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, using one dilatory tactic after another to block the open integration of gays into the military. He called for a study. It was completed, but the results did not comport with his wishes. He wants another study.
Two-thirds of service members surveyed say they don’t care about the sexual orientation of their comrades. The Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs want DADT repealed. They attest such an action won’t harm the military in the long run. An overwhelming majority of Americans favors repeal. What dwindling group of troglodytes is McCain fronting for at this point?
Yes, John McCain served honorably in war, fighting to protect the sacred rights of Americans. Since that time, he seems to have forgotten that meant the rights of all Americans, not just the ones who vote in Arizona’s Republican primary.
We have Umar Farouk Abumutallab to thank for all this. If the would-be terrorist hadn’t tried to turn his Jockey shorts into a Christmas surprise, we wouldn’t be screaming about blue-gloved TSA workers visiting regions that twenty percent of Americans can’t stomach.
It’s the same with the Shoe Bomber’s bungled attempt. Now we have to make sure our socks match before we fly.
When it comes to transportation security, we’re always countering the last brainstorm. While we ought to be imaginative and forward leaning, just like our adversaries, we are reactive⎯which is probably better than nothing, but not good enough by a long shot.
If you subscribe (as I do) to the notion that all of this is window dressing just to get the sheep to feel reasonably safe about flying, you figure it’s highly unlikely that the next terrorist is going to try any methods that have already been attempted. And if, God forbid, he or she is successful, then we’ll never know the technique of choice, anyway.
That the Wall Street plutocrats should get more than their fair share in both fat times and lean…it’s the way the system works, so we might as well get over it. The eternal imbalance is why the groundlings invented the concept of the Day of Judgment.
Looking at the other end of the scale, however, it isn’t just selfishness but a moral injustice that the unemployed should have their benefits curtailed when they most need them.
After all, it’s the financial industry that got us into this mess. Certainly, they who possess plenty beyond anyone’s mortal need ought to allow themselves to be taxed so that the victims of their greed might at least buy food for their families.
All right, maybe this isn’t as important as abolishing congressional earmarks or extending tax cuts for the rich, but Bristol Palin’s advancement to the DWTS finals seemed to be all anyone was talking about down at the plant this morning.
Mrs. Lowe-Down, who is the household authority on this and American Idolatry issues, allowed as how the relative dancing prowess of the contestants left no doubt that poor old Brandy had gotten screwed. I did witness the live announcement that she had been eliminated, and the news was greeted in the studio with slack jaws and booing. And those were just the judges.
There are ugly rumors going around (which I have done my best to stoke in this cartoon) that it wasn’t Bristol, but in fact her mother for whom many of the viewers were voting. I don’t feel this is inappropriate, because the line between politics and entertainment has grown so fuzzy as to be indistinguishable of late.
One of the overlooked items in the recent stories about Facebook’s new “email killing” app, and Google’s attempts to counter it, is that young people now use texting as their preferred medium of interaction more than email, telephone or even face-to-face contact.
The domain within which they touch one another could come to define them the way older generations currently use race or religion to define their identities in society. It will be, in a sense, tribal, particularly if neither of the Internet Leviathans is able to knock the other out.
The more profound question is what will become of physical nodes of communication as we rely more and more on virtual connectivity. Will the great city centers of the world, the public forums⎯with the associated cultural ferment of masses of people convening, feeling, smelling each other, and conversing⎯wither and die?
For me, one of the most telling moments of the George W. Bush presidency occurred during a press conference. A newsman asked him if he could name any mistakes he had made, and the question took the President aback.
None that he could think of, he responded after some thought. Some would call this evidence of his resoluteness; others, of his foolhardiness.
In any case, we knew that his decision to invade Iraq was not something that kept him awake at night. What does keep him awake? Evidently, the verdict of history, because he is now seeking to shape it.
This is one of those heartwarming stories that can only occur here in God's Waiting Room.
My colleague Maria Herrera reports that a senior citizens' current affairs discussion group meeting at the Delray Beach Public Library has become so noisy and fractious on a regular basis that it has finally been banned from the premises.
Civilized discussion, if one uses group members' behavior as a guide, includes telling one another to “shut up,” shouting things like “sit down, you old hag!” and lustily performing the South Florida Official Regional Hand Gesture. If this isn't colorful enough, bystanders can be treated to fisticuffs afterward in the parking lot.
True to form, the group reserves the lion's share of its ire for the spoilsport director of the library for shutting this superannuated Romper Room down. On this point, evidently, it has found unity.
My Scripture is a little rusty, but when Jesus said, “Again, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven,” this probably wasn't what He had in mind.
The American body politic⎯quiescent, even oblivious in normal times⎯is restless and fearful due to economic uncertainty. In its currently aroused state, it has become prey to cynical self-interested forces. When people are angry, they are easily led.
For example, if it is a tenet of faith of one particular group that climate change is a myth, it makes sense that shadowy petrochemical plutocrats, who have so much to lose from environmental regulation, would give behind-the-scenes financial support, through patriotic-sounding front organizations, to candidates who espouse a laissez-faire regulatory philosophy (To the big money backers, all that Libertarian stuff about individual rights and Second Amendment gospel are window dressing. Being billionaires, they can simply buy all the rights they want).
Their shills in the media and in politics, all of whom have so much to gain, willingly spread the party line (As Deep Throat said, “Follow the money”). Their legions of listeners hunger for easy answers, which are cheerfully supplied in large helpings.
In the final days before the midterm elections, President Obama is playing catch-up, campaigning hither and yon to defend and explain his vision for the country. He and his party might not be in such a jam today if they had taken the trouble to do the plodding grunt-work of repetitive indoctrination from the beginning.
His opponents certainly did.
The now-celebrated Virginia Thomas phone call to Anita Hill is one of those random occurrences that just pop up out of nowhere, and leave people scratching their heads.
Life⎯even official Washington life⎯doesn’t always follow a script, and we can neither plan for, nor rationalize, the caprices of the human mind.
The names Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill will be forever entwined in history, whether or not it’s fair to either party. Evidently, this fact has been eating at Mrs. Thomas for the last nineteen years, and in her defense, it’s often true that one feels the hurt of a perceived injustice inflicted upon a loved one more deeply than when it is inflicted upon one’s own self.
What is more disturbing than her questionable dialing practices is her high-profile involvement in conservative and libertarian causes, especially in an organization funded by anonymous sources. Of course, as an American, she has every right to do this, and no one is asserting that the ethical rules that apply to her husband also apply to her.
Nevertheless, it would be logical that anyone who is concerned enough about her husband’s personal reputation to ask for an apology from his accuser after almost two decades would also consider his reputation as an impartial jurist, and soft-pedal the partisan passion.
I doubt, however, that Mrs. Thomas looks upon this logically.
I’m back. First off, I’d like to thank everyone who checked in on the blog while I was away recharging the batteries. I hope you enjoyed the vintage toons.
Onward to a topic that never seems to go away, regardless of the direction in which the country is moving. I ascribe it to the truism every politician is familiar with, which is that angry people are more likely to vote than those without a beef.
Surveys have shown that the military is no different than the nation at large, in that the younger the service member, the less likely the sexual orientation of one’s neighbor seems to matter.
Older members of the military are uncomfortable with the idea of gays serving openly, the same way that older members of the population at large have a problem with gays just being who they are. The reality is, older people are more likely to vote, so their sensitivities must be taken into account. Hence, the foot-dragging.
The military, as I’ve said before, is a great eraser of prejudice. If you can depend on your buddy to shoot straight and cover you, you stop caring about his or her color, creed, orientation, native tongue, or even what planet he or she may come from.
While we struggle through this uncomfortable period of transition, it might help to remember that the military exists to implement and facilitate national will through the projection of force. Since sexual orientation has been shown to bear no correlation to one’s suitability to serve honorably, it hardly seems germane to that mission.
The media, both “lamestream” and proprietary, have it wrong when they use the term “anti-incumbent fervor.” The words aren’t specific enough to properly convey the mindset of a large proportion of this year’s voters.
The ire directed at current officeholders is really more of a resentment that there seems to be an entitled class of rulers, of beltway-savvy elites who don’t connect with the fears and aspirations of your average Wal-Mart shopper. The anger at government is about the distance that has grown between it and the people from whom it used to derive its legitimacy, before it fell into the clutches of special interests and individual self-interest.
The Democrats think they’re onto something by highlighting the zany comments of some of the wilder right-wing candidates as way of slapping lethargic voters upside the head.
This strategy could well backfire. Average Americans⎯upon hearing that someone dabbled in witchcraft, doesn’t believe in evolution, or thinks that government shouldn’t be telling a private business owner that he is required to allow minorities into his store⎯may respond by saying, “Yeah, by golly! I can identify with that!”
Best to ride it out. Let the nation have its convulsion at the polls, then sit back and enjoy the show. You think these candidates look clumsy on the stump? Wait until they galumph into the halls of congress, and are forced to confront the intricate, exhausting, inglorious and unlovely process of actually trying to run a government.
Who knows? They might even take a cue from one of their greatest avatars, throw up their hands and quit in the middle of their terms.
Back at the end of December 1999, I drew a montage of sketches offering a cartoonist’s-eye view of what we had to look forward to in the coming century. I wish I could find it for you, but it’s buried somewhere.
Anyway, one of the drawings was of a slug-like figure enveloped in a cushioned cocoon of a body chair. There was a tube feeding nutrients into his mouth, and an electrode implanted in his brain through which all contact with the outside world occurred. Neither speech nor movement was necessary⎯all communication was done by thought waves.
His entire life could take place in the chair, and eventually his superfluous arms and legs would evolve into vestigial flipper-like appendages.
Little did I know how close we would be coming to that state of affairs by the end of the ensuing decade. Today, other than the acquisition of food and/or booze, there is no reason to leave our homes (particularly if we are unemployed), since all social interaction can now occur online.
Not only do we no longer need to be in the actual physical presence of anyone else, we have mastered the art of creating virtual personalities. By exercising control over the “information” we release about ourselves on our Facebook pages, and by judiciously managing our circle of “friends,” we are finally capable of projecting that image of ourselves to the outside world that we always wished we possessed.
There is no more living with the fear that we might allow our carefully-constructed façade to slip in an unplanned conversation or (gasp) in the course of a social evening out with friends. Unless we accidentally type something rash in a moment of reckless abandon, we and our electronic universe are safe from dreaded faux pas. No more spontaneity, no more surprises, no more uncertainty.
Now, that’s living.
In light of recent events, it's time to bring out this cartoon again, which I originally drew for the Sun Sentinel's editorial page in February of 2004.
That may seem a long time ago, but Florida's unique law banning gay adoption (it's the only state that still has one) was adopted in 1977 by a legislature swayed by the arguments of the notoriously homophobic Anita Bryant, who at the time was a Florida resident.
That was another era, and it looks like one Florida judge after another has decided that it's time to move into the 21st Century, along with a growing preponderance of the American people. This week, it was a state appellate court in Miami. Next, it will probably be our state Supreme Court, which should have trashed this archaic statute years ago.
Call it judicial activism if you want. The attitudes about gays in this country are becoming so settled that the only activists left are the bigots. Even the State of Florida can't decide if it wants to appeal the decision. If you want any further evidence that this law is unjust on its face, consider that Florida does allow children to be raised by gay foster parents.
As we all know, human beings are innately social. It is this gift of wanting to be part of a community that drew humans to organize in the first place. They assumed distinct individual roles that contributed to the common survival, thereby enabling civilization to flourish.
As civilization developed, societies became more efficient and moved beyond producing at mere subsistence levels. As the fruit of their labors, they began amassing surplus, or wealth. Since humans are also selfish, certain less efficient societies realized that someone else’s wealth could be theirs if taken by force. This was a lot easier than going to the trouble of amassing it in the first place.
Hence, warfare became a permanent stain on the development of the human animal. Man used his ingenuity to create tools of war that would multiply his abilities to overpower his foe.
Eventually, he created weapons of such potency that the mere use of them would guarantee the extermination of the entire species⎯an absurd concept.
On a much more individual level, selfishness and the natural need for social connection are at the core of distracted driving.
The notion that a personal message is so important that it is worth risking one’s own life and that of others to communicate it to someone else is the pinnacle of selfishness. It is also absurd, when it is only a minor inconvenience to pull over and stop driving while doing so.
On the other hand, if human behavior always made sense, think how dull life would be.
On this historic day, when the U.S. Senate is poised to further the process to repeal the infamous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy banning gays from openly serving in the military, it seemed appropriate to re-post a cartoon that first ran in this space in April of 2009.
By the end of today, we will know if Majority Leader Harry Reid was able to muster the sixty votes necessary to override a filibuster and pass the measure, which comes in the form of an amendment to a Pentagon appropriations bill that has already passed through the House, into full debate.
If not, the failure will largely be due to the efforts of Sen. John McCain, who once pledged that he would support the measure if it had the backing of military leaders. It now does, and he has not only reneged, but he is planning to lead the filibuster against it himself.
What happened to poor old John? I once respected him. Is reelection that important?
Since this cartoon was published, it has won some awards, was proudly worn on t-shirts by a contingent from Atlanta at a gay-rights march in Washington, D.C., and appeared on The Daily Show.
Here are my accompanying comments at the time of original publication. In my humble opinion, they are just as accurate today.
Tuesday Afternoon Update: The attempt has failed, 56-43. Thanks to the arcane rules of the Senate, a majority is not enough to prevent a filibuster. There is a slim chance something could be worked out during the lame duck session in December.
If you want an example of the ultra-right’s ability to flex its newly-pumped-up muscle in the Republican Party, go no further than Karl Rove’s embarrassing about-face on Fox News last week.
When confronted with the improbable news that Christine O’Donnell had won the GOP primary against the party’s designated standard-bearer in Delaware, Rove put on his independent news analyst hat and used words like “unelectable” and “nutty” to describe her.
By the next day, he was extolling her virtues and claiming that his statements of 24 hours earlier amounted to an endorsement. Sometime in between, Rove had gotten The Word.
Rove, of all people. The “genius,” credited by no less a figure than W., himself, as being the architect of two presidential election victories. One of the party’s most powerful generals.
His problem now? That’s the old party. The party that may have been ruthless in politics, but still used reason as its compass when formulating its strategies.
The Republican establishment is stunned and scrabbling to regain its balance after last Tuesday. As the hierarchy dutifully lines up to support the deeply flawed O’Donnell (minus her primary opponent Mike Castle, to his credit), they must contemplate the new reality; that in today’s poisonous voting atmosphere, the more unqualified⎯even unbalanced⎯a candidate appears, the more attractive he or she becomes as the runaway vehicle that will crash its way right into the U.S. Capitol building.
The bitterest pill for the former power elite to swallow is that they know she owes them nothing, particularly after the smash-mouth language they used against her in support of Mr. Castle. That’s why they’re now pouring money into her campaign in hopes of righting the imbalance, and setting the hooks for controlling her later.
Good luck with that.
“For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”
It's no longer the Republican Party of your father or grandfather. One has to laugh ruefully at the hubris of the mainstream GOP (conservative as it already is) in assuming it could co-opt the grassroots Tea Party movement and ingest it into the “big tent.”
This may end up looking more like the gnat wagging the party by its elephantine tail. Too late, the establishment turned on the upstarts and attacked them mercilessly, not realizing that every calumny leveled at them was tantamount to an endorsement in the eyes of angry primary voters.
The phenomenon defies all the standard, cynical political logic. These extremists can’t win in the general election, say the experts. Don’t people have any sense? Do they have a death wish?
The experts are playing by the wrong set of rules. Those who voted for the Tea Party candidates don’t care if they win, and they have no particular affection for the Republican Party in its current form. They would rather go down in defeat now, knowing that having flexed their muscles as an internal force, they will drag the party even further to the right the next time.
Eventually, Americans will be forced to vote for the new breed of conservatives because they have no other choice except (Horrors!) moderate Democrats. Moderate Republicans, practically extinct today, will have ceased to exist.
Then, both houses will be filled with members whose sworn oath it is not to cooperate with anyone who does not agree with them in every way.
You think we have gridlock now? In a few years, our current session of Congress will look like a Girl Scout sing-along by comparison.
None of this would be happening if we weren’t feeling economically insecure.
When people are fat and happy, they don’t care much about politics. Why fix something if it ain’t broke? As long as you are free to splurge on flat-screen TVs, iPads, SUVs and vacation getaways, then finance your sprees by taking out another mortgage on your house, you don’t sit around whining about having your constitutional liberties taken away.
If those halcyon days were still with us, Sarah Palin would be just a better-than-average-looking footnote in history, Glenn Beck would be calling high-school football games for a small-town radio station, and Barack Obama would be sailing toward reelection in 2012.
Our current national unrest is evocative of that experienced in the 1920s during the runaway inflation in Germany, when families brought their life savings to the market in a wheelbarrow to buy a loaf of bread.
In those days, the anger and frustration reached such a boiling point that every political party had its own paramilitary wing composed of thugs who went out to crack heads in the streets. It was only a matter of time before the frantic and demoralized populace tired of their weak central government’s lack of ability to maintain civil order and provide them with a basic living. They ultimately turned to someone who promised deliverance.
The irony, of course, is that in so doing they sacrificed every personal liberty they ever had.
In other words, it’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs…in a much more far-reaching sense than merely determining which party might win a by-election in November.
If you subscribe to the notion--as I do--that people fear what is alien to them and demonize that which they fear, then it would follow that education and exposure are the best antidotes for this poisonous formula.
There is a theory (not original with me) that the reason the coastal states, such as California, Oregon, Washington and those in New England tend to be the most progressive politically is that their port cities were exposed from their inception to commerce from around the world. With commerce came broader intellectual horizons and familiarity with foreign cultures. With familiarity came appreciation and respect.
The interior states, conversely, did not benefit from direct contact with the outside world. They were by nature more insular, grew to maturity in a cultural echo chamber, and as a result are less tolerant today of thoughts and influences unlike their own.
Maybe this is an overly general assessment, but I could not help but think of the above when I heard that Pastor Jones (as of this writing, still a “standby” Quran-burner…evidently there’s a continuing problem with static in the lines between God and His humble servant) bragged that he had not read the very book he intended to destroy. Nor, he claimed, had he ever met a Muslim until yesterday.
When I lived in Oklahoma decades ago, there was a minister very high up in the hierarchy of the Southern Baptist Convention who allowed as how God Almighty did not hear the prayers of a Jew, because those prayers were not routed through Jesus Christ.
Rather than condemn him, some Jewish groups got together and sent him on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel for a couple of weeks. He came back a changed man, and publicly repented his earlier statements.
When we do not feel threatened, we Americans are, at heart, an inclusive people. Maybe that kind of exposure is all we really need to regain familiarity with our true nature.
When the Founding Fathers bequeathed upon future generations the perpetual gift of the First Amendment, they probably gave some thought to the downside.
Unlimited free expression, while clearly the cornerstone of a strong democracy when made use of by responsible citizens, also cleared the soapboxes for all manner of speech: seditious, hateful, ugly and divisive.
Evidently, they decided that the positives outweighed the negatives, that a society rendered strong by the exercise of individual freedoms would be better able to withstand recklessness within its ranks without having to resort to dreaded (and self-destructive) censorship.
The fact that the nation has been having a lively debate about the intention by a small church in Gainesville to stage a mass burning of Islam’s most holy scripture is testimony to the Founding Fathers’ wisdom. While the behavior of these people repels us and makes us wince, it is behavior we must endure for the sake of our collective welfare.
Muslims around the world who do not appreciate niceties like our guarantees under the Bill of Rights assume that by allowing the burning to occur, the United States is tacitly condoning the act. All Americans will be tarred by it.
If you have any doubts about that, just think for a moment how many Americans believe that all Muslims are terrorists, based on the acts of a handful of madmen back in 2001, and how many of us have been mailing copies of the Quran to Gainesville to help fuel the flames.
All that “hearts and minds” stuff we’re trying to do in Afghanistan? It’s back to Square One for us. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200.
There has been some delirious chatter in the wake of Glenn Beck’s March to Reclaim America’s Honor about a “dream” ticket involving him and the nation’s favorite Mama Bear.
Professionally speaking, I’m all for it. I don’t care who’s at the top of the ticket. What a gift such a candidacy would be for any cartoonist.
Unfortunately, it will never happen, for several reasons: first, the one I’ve alluded to in this cartoon, which is that there isn’t room on the same bumper sticker for these two enormous egos.
Let’s hallucinate for a moment and imagine that a Palin/Beck or Beck/Palin combo actually won in the 2012 election. I can visualize a scuffle on the inaugural dais while they try to rip the Bible out of each other’s hands to be sworn in as the chief, each citing constitutional chapter and verse in support of his or her own position.
But it will never get that far. Remember that when a president or a vice-president gives a speech somewhere, they’re expected to do so for free. No fees…public speaking is included as part of the job description. I doubt either of them would be willing to take the pay cut.
Besides, it’s a lot easier to take shots from the peanut gallery than to actually be responsible for doing something. Ms. Palin proved this by resigning from a job that demanded too much in the way of accountability for her actions.
Finally, let’s not forget other sizeable egos waiting in the wings. Newt “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” Gingrich is prepared to assume the office he has always felt was due a man of his gargantuan intellect, and then there’s one who makes Glenn Beck look like a finely-tuned scientific balance scale by comparison.
Michele Bachmann for President. Talk about “I have a dream.”
What does the Glenn Beck rally to reclaim America have in common with the mosque in Lower Manhattan?
Even if you’re willing to give Mr. Beck the benefit of the doubt (and I’m not) that he really, truly, honest to God didn’t know that August 28th happened to be the anniversary of the March On Washington and one of the greatest speeches ever delivered in American history, it would still be appropriate to use his own argument on him.
Yes, he has every right to schedule his rally on the anniversary date and in the same venue as the “I Have A Dream” speech of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to invite Sarah Palin⎯who may not even know who Dr. King was--to speak as well.
His right is guaranteed by the same First Amendment that prevents government from interfering with religious groups’ right to build a house of worship wherever they want to.
Neither the date⎯August 28th, nor the place⎯the Lincoln Memorial, is sanctified by law. That combination of date and place, however, is revered and “hallowed,” to use a word that has been slung around a lot lately.
So, just because Mr. Beck can hold his rally in that place and at that time doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do, particularly if it is no more than a thinly disguised attempt to stoke hatred between groups of Americans and to aggrandize his ego.
And then, there's the possibility that he is doing it on purpose just to stick it to somebody, in which case I wouldn’t want to come anywhere near the bad karma he is surely amassing for himself.
Those of us who have heard the story are reminded of the famous Halloween hoax of 1938, when Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre of the Air broadcast a production of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. The radio play, disguised as a series of perfervid news reports, was so realistic that many Americans, actually believing they were under attack from extraterrestrials, packed up what they could and attempted to escape. Wells made a disclaimer at the beginning and the end, but many chose not to hear it.
This just proves, once again, that people will swallow anything if they’re scared enough. The year 1938 was a time of uncertainty and fear, just like 2010. The Great Depression had been grinding on for almost a decade, and as if that weren’t enough, Hitler looked poised to take over the world—at least all there was of it on the other side of the Atlantic.
Just substitute radical Islam (to a lot of ignorant people, the term is a redundancy) for the Nazis, and you have a vile-smelling brew of deception simmering on the current stove of state.
It does not help that there are opportunists out there willing to stoke the fires of hatred for their own immediate gain, whether it’s to win an election in a couple of months or to attract more listeners and viewers to their radio and TV shows.
What they are doing by taking advantage of the fears of those who don’t know any better is tearing holes in this nation’s fabric that will take a long time to mend, certainly longer than the span of our lifetimes.
All of us—liberals, progressives, moderates, and conservatives—rallied behind President Bush after 9/11. There were aspects to the man many of us didn’t like, but he was our leader, and we were smart enough and scared enough to know that we needed one, for better or worse.
We need one just as desperately now. Why is it so hard for some of us to accept the man who was duly elected by a majority of the people?
It’s a nightmare: a nation divided; a populace unable to move past its ethnic and sectarian differences; a central government paralyzed and powerless to lead a country; demagogues stirring up unrest…at least we Americans have a tradition of respect for the rule of law to fall back on when we find ourselves on the ropes like this.
Imagine what it’s like for the Iraqis…it has been said that they are such a fractious people that only a strong man along the lines of a Saddam Hussein could rule them, using fear as his enforcer.
Since Iraqi culture and thought have not been steeped in the nurturing humanistic broth of the European Enlightenment, any attempt to superimpose a framework of democratic government upon that country is like casting seeds on barren ground, so they say.
Moreover, their sense of tribal and sectarian identity is more deeply rooted than their concept of being a citizen of an Iraqi nation; consequently a central constitutional government will never gain legitimacy in the public mind.
Maybe what they’ll finally come up with is a uniquely Mesopotamian amalgam of government by the people and government by dictator, benevolent or otherwise.
Whatever. We’re outta there. What a tragedy that we had to go in at all.
According to the latest news stories, Republican Party strategists are beginning to caution their candidates not to pile on the mosque issue, and Muslims in general, too heavily. It could backfire.
Grover Norquist, a member of the GOP brain trust, happens to be married to a Muslim, and he is one of those urging restraint. In fact, he says Muslim-bashing is a loser in the long run, and he’s right. To know a member of a group personally is to humanize that group.
This is one of the theories as to why Americans have become more accepting of gays, and why each year it’s a heavier lift to get people riled up against them as a campaign issue. As gays have come out into the mainstream, more and more people realize they have one in their family, one whom they love and who hasn’t sprouted horns. Why shouldn’t they have equal rights?
One thing Americans don’t like is watching somebody get bullied, just because of who they are. It might give some people a thrill at first, but after a while the revulsion sets in.
The Republican Party, while it may gain a temporary advantage for the coming election, runs a risk of crossing that fine line and starting to look like it’s simply beating up on people who don’t happen to be white, straight and Christian.
A suggestion: Dump the crazies and go back to being the Republican Party you used to be, decades ago: socially moderate, fiscally conservative. It’s probably too late for that, but if you really want to capture the all-important American Independent Middle, it’s more of a winner than the line you’re pushing right now.
Better for the country, too.
For a nation made up of immigrants and their descendents, America has a shameful record of scapegoating whole groups of its citizens and residents when the going gets tough and fear reigns throughout the land.
American Muslims ought to be saddened, but not surprised, that they are the latest group to be singled out and tarred with a broad brush. Thanks to a handful of extremist nut jobs who happened to call themselves Muslims, the majority of the nation (according to the latest polls) takes umbrage at law-abiding Muslims building a house of worship where they have every constitutional right to do so.
Mosques around the country have been firebombed and defaced with Nazi graffiti in the years since 9/11. A church here in Florida is hosting a "Quran burning" on the anniversary of the tragedy. Even the Anti-Defamation League, in an uncharacteristic move, has ignored its own “slippery slope” philosophy and weighed in against the near-Ground-Zero mosque, so intense are the emotions.
Proof that we reserve special treatment for those “not like us” exists within the span of many Americans’ lifetimes. Japanese-Americans, whether foreign- or American-born, were herded into internment camps during World War II for fear that they might act as a fifth-column if left to roam free.
Also in World War II, the conspicuous valor of the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, composed of Japanese-Americans who swore a loyalty oath to the United States, made them the most decorated unit in American history. Even so, they fought in Europe—not being trusted to pull the trigger against their “own kind” in the Pacific.
Meanwhile, a German-American named Eisenhower (an Anglicized spelling of a word meaning, “iron mine worker”), was promoted to Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe.
No loyalty worries there. Wonder why?
So is the U.S. Constitution a living document, written and designed to be flexible enough to be interpreted through the prism of the times—thereby remaining current⎯or is it a strict set of iron rules that we must use to psychoanalyze the minds of the Founding Fathers and divine their intent; a screed frozen in the mindset of the Eighteenth Century?
The tension between these views will persist for as long as the republic lasts, and is at the core of philosophical fights over Supreme Court Justice nominations.
Anyway, it’s easy to be a strict constructionist as long as you agree with the particular fragment under discussion. This Fourteenth Amendment battle is a case in point. It’s part of the Constitution. There’s a process to change it, but once you start fiddling with one thing, what’s to keep people from messin’ with the rest?
I can see it now: Since the Founding Fathers had flintlock muskets in mind at the time they wrote the Second Amendment, maybe it should only cover the right to bear a single-shot rifle that you painstakingly load from the muzzle, and that won’t work when it’s raining. No automatic weapons of any kind. Or, conversely, if you should manage to get your hands on a tactical nuclear weapon, who's to say you can't bear it if you want to?
Freedom of religion? Maybe the government should only be allowed to butt in and restrict it if we’re talking about building a Muslim mosque somewhere. In fact, a lot of people last week already thought that’s what it meant.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Not if you’re gay and want to get married. Besides, that isn’t even in the Constitution, although many Americans don’t know that.
I could go on and on.
The National Rifle Association told senators that they were going to "score" the confirmation vote on Elena Kagan, which is to say that it would be factored into the gun-rights "grade" they give each legislator.
Those who did not show proper fealty would be retaliated against at the polls by single-issue NRA members who march in lockstep to orders issued from Washington headquarters, not to mention all the campaign funding that would be choked off.
That may happen, but evidently the strong-arm tactic didn't work. Every Democratic senator from states where this might matter, with the exception of the reliable Ben Nelson of Nebraska (a DINO, or Democrat In Name Only), voted to confirm her anyway.
It would be intemperate and unrealistic to infer from this that the NRA is losing its clout. I think the Democratic senators made the clear-eyed calculation that most NRA members were going to vote Republican in November anyway, and that they had a lot more votes to lose among Democrats if they voted against her.
It is also not to be inferred that they won't scurry like scared rabbits the next time an NRA vote of consequence comes up.
There are so many dramatic aspects to Wednesday's federal court ruling overturning California’s ban on gay marriage.
My favorite is that David Boies and Ted Olson, liberal and conservative superstar attorneys, respectively, were adversaries in one of the most consequential legal battles of our time: Bush v. Gore in 2000.
To argue their ultimately victorious case against the ban, they banded together as two Americans whose primary concern was the civil rights and equal protection under the law of their countrymen and –women. The right of gays and lesbians to marry, both assert, is not and should not be a Democratic vs. Republican issue, or a liberal vs. conservative issue.
My other favorite is that in ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, Judge Vaughn R. Walker noted that our rights under the Constitution ought not to be subject to votes of the people, which might take them away. This is why they are called “rights,” and why they reside under the purview of the judicial system, not the caprices of society.
He also said that California (and by extension, the rest of the country) had no beneficial interest in banning same-sex marriage, according to findings of fact. Just because the concept may be repugnant to some on moral or religious grounds is not enough to deny a group of Americans the same rights that others have.
Let us remember that not so long ago, the idea of blacks marrying whites was repugnant to some on moral and religious grounds. People live and die. Society progresses. Perceptions ultimately change.
Human rights do not.
This is such a sensitive topic, with honest feelings on all sides, that it’s easy to appreciate everyone’s point of view.
If we are ever going to move past the controversy (now legally, if not emotionally, resolved for the time being) over the mosque located near Ground Zero, we will have to cut through the blinding fog of hurt, anger and fear engendered by the 9/11 attack.
First, it will take a leap of clear thinking on the part of some of us, but we should not confuse the religion of Islam with the motivations of the 9/11 terrorists. To hold all Muslims responsible for the attack on the twin towers is no different from holding all Roman Catholics responsible for the terrorist acts of the Irish Republican Army in Ulster.
Second, those who will build this mosque are Americans. As Americans, they feel the hurt and anger just as deeply as the rest of us. There is an argument that American Muslims, in addition, feel a sense of betrayal that a belief system they cherish was perverted and used as an excuse for an inexcusable act of violence. We must not forget that there were innocent Muslim victims, as well, in the towers when they were hit.
Maybe it’s best to approach this as a test of our will as a people. We can never prevent all terrorist attacks, but we can prevent a terrorist victory by exercising our own strength of character. Let the mosque be built, and let us embrace it. By doing so, we will show the world that we refuse to give up the principles of freedom upon which this nation was based, even in the face of direct attack.
Other peoples will take notice, and the terrorists, while having achieved a tactical objective nine years ago, will have lost the war.
More and more with technology, we are finding examples of sophisticated solutions to problems we have yet to invent.
This particular application appears to be a small step backward for mankind, in more ways than just the apparent one. It seems that while we are developing new methods for communicating between ourselves, we are showing little or no improvement in understanding each other.
Social media, texting and email are in the process of eliminating the rich textures from the thoughts and ideas that comprise our common intellectual currency.
In the same way that possession of limited vocabulary has been shown to limit the scope of thinking, so would this new coarseness in the art of communicating limit not only individual thought, but hinder the transmission and sharing of collective wisdom that is the glue of a community.
Since texting, e-mailing, and their less-than-subtle protocols are becoming the norm, we can probably look forward to more simplistic thinking, less tolerance for other points of view, and a loss of the ability to interpret the riches of our experience in shades of gray as people stop talking to one another and simply read each other’s Tweets.
But that’s just the geezer in me talking. As one of my younger colleagues would probably text in response, “U R so full of it.”
Like gay marriage and gun control, cooler heads will not prevail on the issue of immigration reform until the last vote and the last campaign dollar have been squeezed out of the base, which is to say, never.
Both sides are guilty of demagoguery, which is nothing new. In a perfect world, we would bring out an enormous sieve, strain it through the American populace to collect all the illegal aliens, and ship each of them back to his country of origin.
At the same time, we would build a crenellated Great Wall of America across our southern border, with embrasures every dozen feet or so, that would afford a clear field of fire for the crossbowmen to keep the barbarian hordes at bay.
Of course, we’d all have to eat off paper plates because no dishes would get washed, and we’d need machetes just to get through our front lawns. Fruit and vegetables? An ounce of Beluga caviar would be cheaper than a chicken Caesar salad.
While it might offend the moral sticklers if a way were found to legalize (some would say, “reward”) those already here, it’s probably the only realistic solution in the long run. But reason is trumped by emotion when it comes to getting people to pull out their checkbooks.
Besides, if the pragmatic solution were ever achieved, we wouldn't be able to scream about the civil rights of the downtrodden being violated any more. Nobody would benefit from that, except the workers and their families who live furtively in a perpetual twilight legal state.
When you look at it that way, why would any politician want to settle?
It does seem ironic that these politicians are jumping on the Tea Party bandwagon in hopes they’ll get reelected and be able to spend two more years mismanaging the same Evil Empire against which they rail.
If I had a job with their salary, perks, and benefits, I wouldn’t want to leave it, either. Sure beats taking your chances in the private sector.
Small government is for the little people, not elected cheeses, particularly if along with the job comes a tidy staff allowance to hire lackeys who can handle the nuts and bolts, thereby leaving you free to demagogue your pet issues.
The new caucus members had better hope that their tri-corned constituents never find out the full extent of those benefits they pull down—the free gym membership, the more-than-generous pension, the health care, the travel allowance, the taxpayer-financed self-serving puff piece mailings, to name only those I’ve heard of.
They might just find themselves on the wrong end of a pitchfork.
Ultimately, this is a story about fear.
Fear on the part of Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, that a racist time bomb was about to blow up on his watch and embarrass the administration.
Fear on the part of the White House that the rabid right would use this as an excuse to accuse the administration of harboring racism within the ranks of the executive branch, a rap to which it is particularly sensitive, since the African-American president’s popularity is sinking among whites.
Fear on the part of the NAACP that it would not appear as pure as Caesar's wife when it came to condemning racism, no matter what quarter it came from.
And, of course, Fox News—in what is the most egregious motive of all⎯leaping to profit by stoking the fears of those who have never been comfortable with the Obama presidency.
In their fear, all parties started flapping their mouths without putting their brains in gear, or doing even the most rudimentary of background checks to find out the nature of the entire story. Everyone involved, except one, covered himself with shame.
The one person who did not show fear was Shirley Sherrod, who confronted her fears a quarter of a century ago, realized they were misplaced, and went on to back up her convictions with actions. Naturally, she’s the only one who got screwed.
There are many good-hearted people in the Tea Party, I’m sure, who have been swept up in the enthusiasm of a cause that articulates the frustrations that have been building within them for years.
The very nature of their movement--amorphous, absent any hierarchy, lacking a clearly defined manifesto, welcoming to all disgruntled newcomers—is the source of its spontaneity, its inspiration, and what makes it so exhilarating to be a part of.
It’s also the Tea Party’s Achilles’ heel. Without rules, structure or coherent leadership, what is a legitimate representation of political sentiment can easily be infiltrated and hijacked by those with a darker agenda.
Racism—tragically--will always be tangled in the warp and weft of the American fabric. It’s the legacy of a past we’d just as soon forget, but are shackled to forever. It lurks just beneath the surface of our national discourse like a crouching beast.
We see examples of it every day right here at our newspaper’s website. The Internet, with its attendant anonymity, has given voice to those whom nobody ever bothered to listen to before, and they exercise their vocal cords with a vengeance. Even comments to our weather site, of all places, can easily degenerate into racist rants if we don’t keep an eye on them.
So the Tea Party may have a racist component, as the NAACP claims, but that does not mean that all of its adherents ought to be tarred as racists.
It’s equally unrealistic to ask the Tea Party to condemn racism within its ranks. It isn’t organized that way. Who is going to write the resolution? Who will disseminate it? Who will sign it?
If Conservatives in Congress really feel that extending unemployment benefits will break the bank, why is it so incredibly difficult to find the means to pay for it?
Here’s an idea right off the the top of my head, and they don’t even have to give me credit: Why don’t we eliminate government subsidies for oil companies to drill in this country and off our shores?
Does an oil company that makes a profit of several billion dollars per quarter really need an incentive from the U.S. taxpayer to keep drilling?
Here’s another: The U.S. Treasury now has an agreement with Swiss banks to flush out American fat cats who stashed their wealth over there in order to avoid paying taxes. It has offered the scofflaws amnesty if they ’fess up and pay up now, rather than face prosecution later. Can you think of a more appropriate use for this sudden windfall?
Need more? Force American companies that base themselves in places like Dubai to pay their fair share of U.S. corporate taxes if they want to do business in this country.
Wow! That was so easy, it clearly can’t be a lack of resources…it’s more like a lack of human decency.
The Spanish expression for “to patronize” is, “tratar a alguien con condescendencia.”
Now, when President Obama just happens to give a speech in favor of immigration reform, and its intended audience knows he knows there’s nothing he can really do about it--given this Congress and the current public mood--it doesn’t matter if he’s treating them with condescencia or not; that’s they way they’re going to read it.
It doesn’t help that the speech came just as the polls show that Obama’s support with Latino voters is slipping a few months before the November election, when all Democratic hands are on deck to minimize the inevitable losses.
People get ticked off when they think they’re being taken for fools. It’s an affront to their dignidad. They went along on this ride the first time around, and now they’re being asked to get back up on the bronc after it already threw them into the mud and rode off into the sunset without them.
The political calculus in the White House is that Latinos aren’t going to suddenly vote Republican; the principles of that party are inimical to Latino self-interest. But they are worried they’ll stay home on election day out of disgust with the way they and their issues have been kicked to the back of the line. Hence, bring out the old silver tongue and woo them once more.
Words are nice, but action is all that counts at this point. The word in Spanish for “word” is “palabra.” Interestingly, there's a cognate to that in English: “palaver.”
It’s hard to think of another people that imbues the ownership of firearms with the same mystical, symbolic mix of independence, self-reliance and patriotism as Americans.
The Mujahedeen of Afghanistan may hold their personal weapons in similar esteem, but because they think tribally, the concept of allegiance to and affection for a nation-state whose very defining document bequeaths upon them the right to carry their weapons is an alien one.
Many of us would agree with last week’s Supreme Court decision that people should have a right to possess a firearm for defensive purposes. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t that simple. Once a gun is in someone’s hands, it can so easily be converted into an offensive weapon, depending on the bearer’s state of mind.
A psychiatrist friend of mine writes, “People, men in particular, get a sense of potency, of power with firearms, get pumped up, get stupid, and yes, this is one case where Freud and followers were absolutely correct: the similarity to the sex organ, the discharge, the “I’m a strong guy, I can shoot,” is absolutely a part of the mix.”
I’m sure the Founding Fathers were thinking about the fledgling nation’s collective security when they adopted the Second Amendment, and not about inserting access to an 18th Century-version of Viagra as the second most important right after freedom of speech and religion.
Yet, there it is. Meanwhile, little has been done in our history to bolster the self-esteem of the womenfolk (All right, we did give them the vote in the last century). The Equal Rights Amendment (remember that?) still hasn’t been ratified by the required number of states since Congress passed it in 1972, even though the deadline has been extended.
So girls, get your behinds into the kitchen and rustle us up some July 4th baked beans and slaw. We’ve still got a few rounds to squeeze off while the grill warms up. Your time will come.
Predictable and irritating as they are, we have no choice but to sit back and endure the Elena Kagan hearings, led by the requisite Parade of Egos.
This is big business for both sides when it comes to fundraising and firing up the base to turn out in November.
To listen to Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s appraisal of Ms. Kagan compared to that of Charles Schumer, you’d think the two Senators represented different planets. Actually, they do.
The Republicans may have latched onto something, however, with their harping on Ms. Kagan’s lack of judicial experience. William Rehnquist didn’t have any before he was named an Associate Justice, either, and look where that got us.
If his nomination had been voted down at the time, he would never have risen to Chief Justice. The Court’s decision on Bush v. Gore might have turned out differently. There would have been no war in Iraq, no “Mission Accomplished,” no Dick Cheney. Thousands of soldiers’ lives might have been saved.
Of course, they say the same thing about Theresa LePore, the hapless Supervisor of Elections who designed the infamous “butterfly ballot,” which resulted in an unexpected bump for Patrick Buchanan--at the expense of Al Gore--in the 2000 election.
And if Lawton Chiles hadn’t been the popular governor of Florida in 1994 when Jeb Bush ran against him and lost, Jeb would have been the Bush tapped for the Presidency, rather than his dimmer-witted brother, the successful governor of Texas.
“Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” as Yul Brynner, the King of Siam, used to say.
The iPhone 4 phenomenon is proof of what the theorists say, that we could easily spend our way out of this slump if we really wanted to.
The eighty-nine percent of us who continue to be employed (for now) are sitting on our money out of fear that we may really need it someday.
We put off buying that new air conditioner, or roof, or car, for better times, and those who would make these products we normally purchase get pink-slipped.
Then along comes a gadget which projects such talismanic appeal that people are willing to camp out twelve hours or more before the stores open so that they can be the first to spend several hundred dollars on it. To possess this thing, they will joyfully throw all caution to the wind.
It’s clear that all we need to rescue ourselves from the Great Recession are more irresistible products whose mere ownership induces the same euphoria, and—voila!⎯unemployment is banished.
Can’t you envision it? The iGarbage Disposal, the iFurnace, the iRiding Lawnmower. The manufacturers simply pay Steve Jobs a small licensing fee for the privilege of sticking an Apple logo onto whatever it is they make, and then sit back and wait for the iSheep to line up around the block.
There's probably an app for that.
Back when I lived in Oklahoma, I had a Hitchcockian problem with hundreds of pigeons living under the eaves of my house.
They were filthy, they left guano all over the place, and their incessant cooing drove me crazy day and night.
Desperate for relief, I approached a neighbor for advice. “You got several alternatives,” he said. “You can get yourself one of them fake owls to scare ‘em off, but they wise up after a while and ignore it. You can use a pellet gun on 'em, but you might bust a window if you miss.
"You can spread poisoned feed, but then you’ll have to clean up all the dead bodies. And finally,”⎯here, he grinned diabolically⎯“you can nail some shiny metal shingles to your roof. They go nuts peckin’ at the reflection, and they peck themselves to death.”
There was an almost biblical appeal to the last option, in which the pigeons actively participated in their own demise. Besides, it removed me ethically from direct responsibility for the birds’ deaths, because there was an element of free will involved on their part.
Maybe this is how people who make money by selling products that shorten people’s lives rationalize their livelihoods.
They produce legal products, after all. If people can’t control their urges around them and end up hurting and killing themselves and others, then they’re the victims of their own weakness. So be it. The providers can join Pontius Pilate in the clean hands club.
By the way, before I could figure out what to do about the pigeons, they flew off en masse one day of their own volition. I was left with a clear conscience and a fascia full of guano.
This is another one of those cases where the sensibilities of older folks⎯who remember a clumsier, less invasive time before the Internet⎯are having trouble reconciling with the new, ultra-efficient way of disseminating information.
Studies have shown that younger generations think nothing of revealing personal details about their lives online that would horrify their elders. This stuff is mined, collated, digested and fed back in the form of targeted advertising, and for some, the amount of money to be made off the raw data is clearly worth the effort to preserve the Internet as a wild frontier of non-regulation.
The geezers are feeling assaulted, and Congress⎯as always, with its ear to the ground⎯is ready to respond with some restrictive legislation to make them feel more comfortable.
The online businesses that have the most to lose, like the Googles, Yahoos and Facebooks, may be young and brash, but they’ve wasted no time getting wise to the old ways of doing things. They’ve begun using some of their vast resources to buy that very same Congress, so you can bet that any new laws will be short on substance.
Remember the old WW II slogan, “Loose lips sink ships?” Security begins with the individual. Nobody else is going to be looking out for you, especially when there’s a profit motive, so don’t put online what you don’t want everyone to know. There’s no taking it back, and chances are there’s no turning back to the good old days, either.
Winston Churchill, who was known as a superb practitioner of the mother tongue, said the following in his inaugural speech as Prime Minister in 1940: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.”
How well do you think a speech like this would go over in today’s America? Of course, the British didn’t need to be convinced that crunch time had arrived; the only thing that separated them from the Nazi war machine was 22 miles of English Channel, and they realized—too late⎯that they had squandered the previous 20 years in an idealistic fog when they should have been rearming.
Yet the threat that faces our country today is no less immediate or existential than that which faced England in 1940. It is a more insidious kind of threat, like the slick of oil that creeps across the surface of our pristine Gulf, enveloping all while we stand as observers, helpless to contain it.
We need a special kind of leadership, the kind that will--without fear of the effects on personal popularity--tell us what we must deny ourselves now so that we may continue to survive as a people.
Our self-indulgent energy consumption only stokes the dependency on oil that will kill us in the end—environmentally, economically, and strategically.
Sadly, leaders of Churchill’s caliber are all too rare, which is what makes them great. We could use one right now.
There’s talk here in the Sunshine State about adopting a “show-me-your-papers” law like they have in Arizona.
So far, the loudest voice is coming from a Republican candidate for governor who is trying to squeeze out front-runner Bill McCollum by playing to the conservative peanut gallery of likely primary voters.
It is doubtful that Florida will embrace the idea of such a law with the same passion as Arizonans…or even the rest of the country, as polls seem to show.
Unlike Arizona, much of Florida’s population (particularly South Florida’s) is no longer trying to hang onto the myth of a “real America,” one where Anglos rule by divine right and folks speak English without accents. By weight of sheer numbers, Latin immigrants to Florida—both legal and illegal—have forged a culture with the indigenous Anglos that redefines what “Americanness” is.
Of course, there are some Anglos, particularly recent arrivals, whose comfort levels are lower than those of us who have been here a while and learned to appreciate the richness of the stew rather than fear its spicy bite.
These folks will always lend a willing ear to opportunistic politicians who would twist xenophobic urges to their own purposes.
The fact is that we should be pressuring Congress to tighten our borders, rather than passing constitutionally doubtful laws that treat our neighbors as though they were subhumans.
Besides, as a lot of Florida politicians—even those from North Florida--know, Florida Hispanics, once motivated, can be a fearsome voting bloc. And they detest this law.
Everybody knows someone who, when given a small amount of authority, wields it as though he were Ivan the Terrible taming the Russian serfs. The more petty the authority he carries, the more he flaunts it.
Keep this thought in your mind as you ponder what appears to be the default pastime of federal workers with unlimited and unsupervised access to the Internet.
How did the SEC drones pass their time while Wall Street melted down around them? What did the Minerals Management Service revolving-door petroleum jockeys do when they were supposed to be inspecting offshore wells? That’s right—they surfed porn sites on taxpayer time.
So here you have TSA workers, who—let’s face it—don’t have the most exciting jobs in the world, being handed what amounts to a free pass to view people in the buff.
And let’s add a final titillation factor: Porn is created by people who either get paid, or give their permission for, their bodies to be on display. What thrills Peeping Toms is that looking through a keyhole is a violation of their victims’ privacy. They are stealing something they would never otherwise be given. Do you trust these same people to properly dispose of the images they view with such disrespect?
Add up all these motivators, and you may want to ask for the optional pat-down. At least you’ll know who’s looking at you.
Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, when Sarah Palin and her family were introduced to America in all their homespun glory, I couldn’t help but imagine what the Republican spin machine would have done had Joe Biden’s daughter been the one to get pregnant out of wedlock as a teenager.
Because it was Sarah Palin’s daughter, however, the pregnancy became a celebration of life and an affirmation, somehow, of the emblematic American family.
Hypocrisy is a commodity that has never been in short supply in American politics. The latest, most titillating case is that of U.S. Congressman Mark Souder of Indiana, a fierce protector of traditional family values (with all the usual anti-gay riffs), who just resigned from office.
Not only did he have sex with a staffer, but he even sat for a video interview with her touting the virtues of abstinence. He probably feels that his guilt is mitigated because, unlike Rev. George Rekers, he sinned with a woman. After all, people have standards.
The Palins deserve credit that Bristol went ahead and gave birth to the child, which is now being raised as a member of the family. Regardless of what certain parties might allege, nobody is “pro-abortion.”
Fortunately for the Palins, and unlike many families with unwed teenage mothers, they have plenty of resources to give the kid every possible advantage. I’m sure Bristol will prove to be an exemplary mother.
It’s unseemly, though, that she now plans to hit the road as an exemplar of empowerment and teenage chastity. As far as living with the consequences of one’s youthful errors, hers is by far the exceptional case, and it would be tragic if easily influenced children took the wrong message from her life story.
It isn’t as though she needs the money.
Long ago, when I was taking art in college, there was a movement sweeping the creative landscape called “Conceptual Art.”
It had nothing to do with technique, skill or talent with visual media. It was all theoretical, and probed the very essence of what “art” was.
An example: A very shapely, scantily clad woman walked through New York’s Greenwich Village and filmed the reactions of men who passed her.
The “art” lay in the behavior of the viewers. It was supposed to make people examine themselves and their world in a different way…to question their own concept of their environment. Blah, blah.
Anyway, I see this business over whether Elena Kagan is gay or not as a piece of conceptual art. I could care less whom she finds attractive; the only thing that matters to me is whether she can sling it back at Scalia as fast and as hard as he dishes it out.
But the reaction of the public is fascinating, particularly that of the White House. Everybody’s walking on eggshells, trying not to mention the Unmentionable. For if they do, they’re admitting it makes a difference.
Those to whom it matters don’t talk about it openly either, because they know that⎯if true⎯it’s much more damaging as a whispering campaign than as an established issue to be discussed in the public forum.
We have the whole summer to sit back and watch everyone cover themselves with glory or shame on this one.
The only bill that the Florida Legislature is required by law to pass every session is the state budget. That august body, however, never fails to produce a few self-generated doozies on the side.
Figuring that 114 specialty car tags were already enough, the legislature had actually placed a moratorium on future plates in a past session, but this one was special: It celebrated Hispanic heritage in an election year.
We’re talking about millions of potential voters here, so we might as well just toss the rules in the basura.
I have nothing against “Hispanic Achievers,” as the legend on the new tag reads. Lord knows Florida has plenty of them. But I fear it unintentionally creates a whole class of newly aggrieved minorities, to wit: Polish Achievers, Micronesian Achievers and Achievers from the Maldives, to cite but a few.
They did show enough sense to water down the original slogan from "Hispanics Discovered Florida," to "Since 1513 helping communities prosper.” The original wording implied that all the Indians living here before Ponce de Leon came along were just sitting around, waiting to be legitimized by white Europeans.
And then there’s the illustration of the sailing vessel, which looks suspiciously like the Santa Maria. Unless I’m mistaken, she was captained by an Italian Achiever.
At least they left the Maltese Cross emblems off the sails. Their inclusion would, no doubt, have engendered a round of lawsuits from the ACLU.
Knowing the leanings of this legislature, it was probably an oversight.
If the past is any indicator, we’re in for a poison-pen version of “This Is Your Life,” where every utterance ever made by Elena Kagan will be unearthed, deconstructed and evaluated for its damaging potential.
And that ain't all.
Just this morning, not twelve hours after the definitive leak that Ms. Kagan was to be President Obama’s nominee to fill the coming vacancy on the Supreme Court bench, the Internet honchos at my paper informed us that “Kagan and lesbian” was the No. 1 search term on Google.
The hunt for damning personal shortcomings will be especially thorough in this case, because Ms. Kagan has never been a judge. Her lack of a paper trail frustrates those who would destroy her candidacy in hopes of handing President Obama a defeat right before the midterm elections.
If Ms. Kagan is in fact a lesbian, one has to wonder why this matters any more than being a heterosexual when it comes to interpreting the Constitution and deciding matters of law.
There will, of course, be a whispering campaign larded with what Chicago’s original Mayor Daley used to call “insinuendo.” It will be ugly and stomach-turning, but I’m sure Ms. Kagan knows what’s in store for her. If she can weather this, Antonin Scalia will seem like a pussycat by comparison.
A nation is within its rights to preserve the integrity of its borders in the face of intruders. A people are entitled to preserve their culture, their language, and especially to prosper from the fruit of their labors without a tide of uninvited foreigners coming in and, through sheer force of numbers, overwhelming the existing populace.
Just ask the Indians.
Because our nation either lacks the means or the political will to make our borders truly impermeable, the job of weeding out the unwanted has been left to individual states, like Arizona. In desperation, these states are more likely to look to their self-interest than to observe the niceties of the Bill of Rights.
Maybe from a fed-up Arizonan’s point of view, their new, draconian laws make sense. From a distance, they look inhumane, demeaning, xenophobic, racist and actually kind of scary to anyone who values the rights and protections guaranteed to us under the Constitution.
Chances are that in their zeal to rid their state of illegal aliens, Arizona law enforcement authorities will unintentionally sweep a number of innocent American citizens into their dragnet.
Unlike Europeans, Americans are not in the habit of carrying national identity papers around with them proving their citizenship. What will happen under this new regime is that “probable cause” will be applied to those who happen to look, for example, like their Mexican ancestors.
Those of, say, Danish extraction are more likely to be bypassed.
One’s looks are not a sound foundation upon which to base laws. As a nation founded on principles, we can do better.
Cartoonist's note: This being Take Your Child To Work Day, I had the assistance of two delightful young ladies, Krista and Baylee, in the drawing of today's pictorial offering.
If big government is our beef, then what is more bloated, more out-of-control, more emblematic of the drain on our resources than Social Security?
Even the name sounds vaguely subversive. It bears the aroma of one of those un-American, welfare state European imports⎯like Danish pastry, French fries, frankfurters, English muffins, pepperoni pizza. One could go on, but the point is made.
To compound the insult, Washington doesn’t even give the average freedom-loving American a choice in the matter.
Anybody who wants to make a decent living is forced to participate in the Social Security system…a lot like that communistic Obamacare that Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and their collectivist fellow travelers just passed against the wishes of the majority.
Not only should we tell Washington what to do with its Social Security money, the old folks ought to pay for their own health care, too.
Medicare…now, there’s another huge bureaucracy gobbling up tax money that we should be allowed to keep for ourselves.
Let the free market take care of ’em. It’s the American way. Besides, it’s right there in the Constitution.
So maybe the declaration of Confederate History Month was just the Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell using code to assert that his state was not about to knuckle under to the overlordship of the federal government (particularly when it came to reforming health care for its citizens).
After all, the Confederacy, so they say, was all about the preservation of “states’ rights"-- which in turn was code for preserving the South’s “peculiar institution” of slavery.
You don’t need to be a cryptologist to detect the tone-deafness here, particularly when the man sitting in the White House is African-American. That’s assuming the governor was only being insensitive, and not intentionally sending a more pointed message that resonated merrily in the ears of his more extreme constituents.
Florida “celebrates” Confederate history, too⎯which is a little presumptuous since the state, before air conditioning was invented, was mostly swamp and didn’t count for much.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you are about to extol the virtues of a period in history that remains an open wound to a large percentage of the general population, maybe it’s best to just do it behind closed doors. Go ahead and be proud, but be private about it.
Before my usual claque of commentators gets its nose out of joint, I will acknowledge that the type of behavior alluded to in this cartoon is practiced by both extremes of the political spectrum. It is inappropriate--and unhelpful--no matter who is doing it.
We happen to have a Democratic president and Senate right now, so the protesting of whomever is nominated to fill Justice Stevens' seat will be the province of Conservatives.
I think it was John McCain who said, "Elections mean something." It is the constitutional prerogative of the president to present a nominee in the event of a court vacancy, and it is the Senate's job to decide whether that person is qualified.
It made sense to the Founding Fathers. What wouldn't make sense to them are the ideological hoops we make the nominees run through, thanks to our poisonous political atmosphere, and the attempts to discredit them by digging through their pasts to find out if they talked back to their kindergarten teacher during recess.
One of these days, Justice Scalia, Roberts, Alito or Thomas will want to retire. Chances are he'll wait until a Republican president is in office to do so. This is as it should be.
Then, it will be the Liberals' turn to make a public display of their unreasonableness, which they will do without a doubt.
Many decades ago, when I was growing up in LA, the West Hollywood area was already developing a reputation for being gay-friendly, and that was before being openly gay was even cool.
Subsequently, West Hollywood incorporated itself, and⎯unless I’m mistaken⎯became the first town in the country to boast an openly gay majority on its city council.
Which is why I’m all the more shocked... shocked… that the Republican National Committee or anyone associated with it would come within miles of this Sodom on the West Coast, not to mention seek out entertainment at a nightclub(!) known for its montages of depravity. To make matters even worse, I’ll bet the performers were Democrats.
Hubba, hubba. Maybe this is why they call themselves the Grand Old Party.
When a conflagration erupts, who is most to blame—the person who brings the can of gasoline, or the one who hands him the match?
There has always been a restive undercurrent in this country, the rugged individualists who feel that any government encroachment into their lives is too much.
What is different now is that cynical, self-serving politicians are stoking the fears and anger of these people and inciting them to perform acts of violence against an imagined threat.
You want to talk takeover? How about the Supreme Court case of Bush v. Gore in 2000, when the justices⎯in a five-to-four vote⎯arbitrarily decided to stop the vote counting and declare George W. Bush the winner?
Maybe my memory is faulty, but I don’t recall anyone making death threats against Chief Justice Rehnquist at the time. I would say that that act was far more injurious to our individual liberties than the health care reform vote.
The malcontents should just suck it up and wait until November to vote the scoundrels out. That’s what real democracy is about. It isn’t about “taking back” your country by force or intimidation if you don’t like the way Congress is voting.
As for the inciters, they may be sorry someday that they ever unleashed this angry animal. It could turn around and bite them right in their craven behinds.
The Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, the Long March, the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square…they’re small dumplings compared to the bloodbath that now looms on the Middle Kingdom’s horizon.
Does the Chinese government really want to take on Google?
You’d think the oldest civilization on Earth would have developed a more finely-tuned survival instinct by now. The worldwide spread of Google’s infotentacles enables its CEO to strangle the economies of entire nations by simply blocking searches of, to, and from them, should he so desire.
The sheer numbers of China’s population, long feared by other nations as a self-renewing source of manpower in the event of war, would become its Achilles’ heel as teeming masses bumped blindly into one another, unable to search terms, peruse photos of scantily-clad movie stars, or perform other basic Internet functions.
And they would seek a scapegoat. Who better to blame than the government that deprived them of their supreme navigation tool in a spasm of self-protective pique? Civil unrest would be a euphemistic term for the resulting carnage.
Talk about a clash of Titans. Let’s grab the popcorn, sit back, and watch Great Wall of Cards come tumbling down.
Maybe what Jefferson should have said was, “Occasionally the tree of Liberty must be watered with the iced latte of Patriots and Tyrants.”
Starbuck’s does seem an odd place to be exercising one’s inalienable right to openly tote a pistola into a public place, as some activists are doing in states where this is allowed.
Why Starbuck’s? Is the company associated with those hippy-dippy tree-hugging Northwest collectivists, just because the little insulation bands around its cups are made out of recycled paper? Maybe they use fluoridated water in their brew.
And why has open-carry suddenly become so chic? My guess is that strapping on a gun is a concrete way to resist that cottony, bloblike government encroachment that many people feel, but can’t quite get their trigger finger around.
Certain folks sense the incremental attacks on their liberty more acutely than others, the way some feel great pain from a pinprick while others hardly miss a step.
I don't have a beef with the government, but as long as I don’t get between the sharpshooters and the barista when they decide they’ve been shortchanged, I say let them safeguard my liberties if they want to.
The Founding Fathers, writing in an age when single-shot muskets were all the rage, may not have known to what lengths their precious Second Amendment was destined to be stretched.
There has been a spate of legislation recently that enshrines the red-blooded American's right to bear an arm just about anywhere. As to whether it's wise to do so, the Founding Fathers sagely kept their own counsel.
One of the core arguments used by gun advocates is that when guns are regulated, only outlaws will carry guns. If everyone packs heat, then everyone is protected thanks to a kind of mutual assured destruction doctrine.
To take this to its logical conclusion, then, let's say (just as an example) that a female professor in Alabama goes berserk and starts shooting up her class. One of her students, thanks to permissive gun laws, is packing a rod and starts to shoot back. Another student walking down the hall hears the commotion, looks through the classroom door to witness a pitched gun battle underway between teacher and student, and draws his own cannon.
Who do you think he's going to shoot at first before asking questions later?
Maybe it was just some smart-aleck kids who got bored when the batteries in their cell phones ran down. Heck, they couldn't even spell "Heil" right.
This does not mitigate the fact that what they did was a hate crime, which is heinous by nature, regardless of its degree. More important, even, is what we as a community do about it when one is committed.
Civilization and order owe their continued existence to a complex web of mutual agreements, trust and the assumption that we will abide by a certain code in the way we act toward others. If violations of that code are allowed to go unaddressed, the edges of confidence in institutions begin to fray, and--humans being what they are--we are tempted to revert to the tribalism that is our natural state of self-protection.
The stigmatization of hate crimes is one of those places where self-interest and the interest of the whole of society find common cause. This is why organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League are equally vociferous in condemning acts of hatred against Muslim- and African-Americans as they are in condemning those against Jews.
Whenever intolerance toward anyone is tolerated, we all lose something as a community. This principle must be taught to those who don't comprehend it, over and over again.
It has taken Barack Obama a long time from campaign promise to implementation on this one, and you have to wonder what he's still afraid of.
Today, Defense Secretary Bob Gates indicated that there will be a year of study before this woefully anachronistic policy can be sent to the oblivion it deserves.
We've had fifteen years to study it, so what's left to find out?
There are two clear arguments against delaying matters any further: First, if Obama is worried about political fallout from declaring the policy dead as of now (You're the Commander in Chief, for crying out loud--act like one), the so-called damage has already been done by simply declaring he will end it.
Second, if he's trying to ease the "traditionalists" (to use a kind word) into accepting gays in their midst, there's no better way to get them to work together than to just rip off the band-aid. Gradually introducing them to each other isn't going to make any difference. After all, the sky didn't fall when Truman integrated the services.
The biggest sea-change in our culture on this issue has occurred because so many families have a member who has "come out" within the last couple of decades. That's when people began to realize that gays are just human beings who happen to be gay.
Way back in the 1960's, I read a sci-fi story about a scientist, far in the future, who comes in to the Pentagon to talk to the Joint Chiefs about this ground-breaking weapon he's developed.
He requests a piece of paper and a pencil, and asks them to throw any numbers they want at him. Using only the pencil and paper, he multiplies and does long division for them, providing the answers within a few seconds.
The military types whip out their pocket calculators to validate his findings, and by golly, the scientist has come up with the right answer every time.
They immediately swear the man to secrecy and classify his "weapon", for fear an enemy might take advantage by jamming all the electronic impulses in the world, yet still be able to make those strategic mathematical calculations without the aid of devices.
Here's something nobody has thought of, as far as I know: Remember the book burnings in Nazi Germany in the 1930's? Once we're all dutifully reading on our Kindles, all a dictator will have to do to control our sources of information is to edit the streaming feed.
So much more efficient, and it spares us the greenhouse gases, too.
We've already dealt with the holiday greetings issue; a variant is the Religious Symbols in Public Spaces brouhaha.
Any of these controversies, which return with depressing regularity every year, could be resolved with a little openness of thought and consideration for one's neighbors, but unfortunately neither of these qualities characterizes life in our subtropical paradise. As one of my comment-posters put it the other day, "here in South Florida I'm just grateful to see social interaction that doesn't involve someone getting the finger."
One still has to be taken aback by the tone-deafness of the city of Delray Beach, which neglected to place a menorah alongside its "holiday tree" in Old School Square. The city manager even cited a legal argument that displaying a menorah would leave a loophole for fringe groups to demand that their symbols be included.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a menorah, like a "holiday tree," is not a religious symbol, which renders that argument invalid. I think most reasonable people would agree that both are indeed religious symbols, but even so, who cares? Either put them all up, or don't display any of them.
The harm done to any group of citizens that has been left out of the mix is a far worse affront to the public than a city simply staying out of the religious display business altogether.
’Tis the season to be overly sensitive.
Here in South Florida, where collections of cultures and creeds live in uncomfortable proximity, the holiday season is an annual endurance test fraught with politically-incorrect pitfalls.
Every December, various groups have major holidays that happen to fall close to one another.
In our zeal not to offend anyone by offering the wrong salutation, we have reverted to the default phrase, “Happy Holidays,” which in its insipidness displays not only insincerity, but also an implicit fear of our differences.
I live in a neighborhood that has a high proportion of Jewish residents. When one of my neighbors wishes me “Happy Hanukkah,” I accept it with the same cheer as I would “Merry Christmas.”
Why? Because I know it comes from the heart. It’s all about the giver offering something of value--goodwill--to the recipient. Who am I to quibble about the brand?
I suggest everyone wish each other the happy returns of the season in the manner that best suits the giver’s core identity. That way, your listener will know you’re serious.
There is a famous Sanskrit saying that goes something like this: “There is one Truth. Wise men call it by many names.” The key word here is “wise.” Those who--because of their own limitations--are unable to grasp that concept will decide that they’d rather be offended than honored.
It's reminiscent of the bad old days of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the John Birch Society and the blacklist of the 1950's.
Now the Republican Party will require potential 2010 candidates to fill out an "ideological purity" form, in which they must correctly score on at least eight out of ten answers on topics such as abortion, gay marriage and taxes, if they are to qualify for national party campaign funds.
Of course, the party has a right to do this--but is it politically sound reasoning? As the GOP circles the wagons more and more tightly around its conservative core, it may develop into an effective force for anointing candidates to win primaries, but in the general election, it will be relinquishing the vast swath of moderate turf--turf most Americans feel comfortable occupying--to the Democrats.
In recent times, the Democratic Party has been more of a "big tent," embracing members from across the idealogical spectrum, including moderate conservatives who, fifty years ago, would have fallen into the "Rockefeller Republican" camp.
Since retaining or augmenting majorities in both houses of Congress is the name of the game, one has to wonder if the GOP has some kind of death wish. Maybe it simply has no credible leaders at the moment, except for the bloviators who make a living by being extremist.
While we're all tut-tutting about what a lowlife slimeball Richard Heene is for allegedly concocting a hoax involving his six-year-old son ("Falcon"...it's as though he'd been planning this thing from the kid's birth) in order to enrich himself, let's remember the circumstances that even made the scheme possible.
"Reality" shows succeed or fail based upon whether they are able to adequately satisfy our inner voyeur.
We watch Jon & Kate, Wife Swap and Supernanny because (a) our lives are so dull that we hungrily substitute someone else's experiences for our own, and/or (b) it makes us feel superior to watch people whose lives are relatively out of control when ours are not.
Or maybe it's (c) something else. I'm sure an irate fan of the genre will enlighten me.
Anyway, there's money to be made if you can just come up with the right gimmick. You have to admit Heene was on to something, if only it hadn't fallen apart when the !@#$%^ kid broke from the script and admitted the whole thing was being done for the show.
Since fame and infamy are equally valid currency in the bank of public interest these days, the Heene family is not necessarily out of the money. The important thing is that we all know who they are now, and we find them fascinating. Ironically, the uncovering of the hoax might even give them clout to demand a bigger piece of the action.
For all we know, the kid was coached to admit the "truth." A hoax within a hoax. Bra-VO!
The Obama administration has made it abundantly clear that it's a whole lot easier to make rash promises as a candidate than it is to actually run a country.
When George W. Bush uttered the pathetic, plaintive statement in a 2004 campaign debate that
"It's HAAAARD!" being president, you could almost see his arms flailing.
Balancing the competing priorities of America's constituencies, especially if they number among one's supporters, has to be among the tougher tasks of any chief executive.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups, having campaigned their hearts out to get Barack Obama elected, are rightfully miffed that their man has relegated their issues to the back burner. Democrats seem to do this with the GLBT crowd, the same way Republicans pay lip service to social conservatives when they need to get elected.
From Obama's viewpoint, he's using every ounce of his capital to get health care reform passed, and while he is surely sympathetic to gays, he feels he would so squander his clout if he took a side foray into that minefield that in the end, he'd get nothing accomplished. Remember what happened to Bill Clinton and Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Sure it makes political sense from a coldly analytical perspective, but cold analysis wasn't what Obama was delivering in those roof-raising speeches about "This Is Our Time!"
And, as every cynical White House has said since the dawn of the republic when the base feels dissed: "Where else are they gonna go?"