Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Just Desserts, Indeed

Jeff Darcy,

Yesterday was big, there's no denying it. Democrat Doug Jones winning a Senate seat in Ala-frickin-bama was, six months ago, about as likely a prospect as Justin Bieber releasing a prog rock concept album, or Sarah Palin saying anything that makes sense1. Yet, with a combination of credible claims of sexual assault levied against Republican Roy Moore, and Moore's own eccentric behavior (showing up at a rally wearing an old West sheriff's outfit, complete with six-gun, as if he was Yosemite Sam or something) and past history of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and religious zealotry, Alabama elected a Democrat to serve in the Senate for the first time in 25 years2.

There is much rejoicing over this in the online world today. People are giddy over the prospect of a decreased the Republican majority in the Senate. They are eagerly anticipating the turnover of the Senate in 20183. They are viewing this as a sign of hope for turning over the House of Representatives in 20184. Mitch McConnell has already poked his head out of his shell and seen his shadow, which means that Doug Jones will not be sworn in as Senator until after the tax vote has been taken (you know, 'cuz ol' Turtle Boy is like that), and the online world is already screaming at him to just do his job and stop being such an asshole, already5.

And to top it all off, Moore isn't conceding, saying the count was too close (a spread of 20,175 out of 1,344,406 votes, or 1.54%). To be fair, it is a close vote (the difference between the two is less than the 22,819 write-in votes, for example), but it is well outside the bounds of the 0.5% that would trigger an automatic recount. Also to be fair, Moore has the right to a recount if it is outside that range, but he must bear the expense of conducting such a recount.

This is all well and good, as far as it goes, but there is a very important point that is not getting the attention it deserves. The fact that the vote was this close illustrates the blind partisanship that is being fostered in our political climate today.

Take a look at the candidates. On the one hand, there's Doug Jones, who successfully prosecuted the Birmingham church bombings, and who has a very good record as a United States attorney, and who was so untarnished that, even going by the rather loose "editorial standards6" at Breitbart, they were unable to dig up anything to make him look bad. I mean, they guy makes an Eagle Scout look like Charles Manson.

On the other hand, there's Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual assault of teen-aged girls, who publicly stated that families were somehow better off when slavery was still a thing, who has defied Supreme Court orders to remove the Ten Commandments from public grounds and to honor requests for marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and who claims he's not a racist because "my attorney's a Jew."

What this says, then, is that for 650,436 people in Alabama, a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, religious zealot who was accused of molesting children was somehow a better choice than a Democrat.

Some would chalk this up to Doug Jones' pro-choice stance in a state that is avowedly opposed to abortion rights, but that is only part of it. The reality is that we have been so thoroughly demonizing opponents in this country that it has become virtually impossible for people to even consider talking to someone from the other side. Democrats are all liberal snowflakes, hellbent on bending the masses to their will and forcing them to have publicly funded abortions. Republicans are all plutocratic thugs who, quite frankly, don't give a hot damn about anyone who doesn't contribute at least $75,000 a year to their re-election campaigns and who simply want to kill all the poor people.

Obviously, neither of these characterizations are true, but the fact remains that they have been so ingrained in the minds of the electorate, such a fundamental part of our political discourse, that to even suggest to a Republican that a Democrat might have a good idea on any given issue (or vice-versa) elicits much the same reaction you would get if you tried to remind people that Adolf Hitler did actively support the development of the Volkswagen and therefore wasn't all bad.

Yesterday was a good day for Democrats, indeed. They just need to remember that they can't always count on having a loudmouthed, bigoted sexual predator for an opponent, and carry that knowledge forward into 2018.

I gotta lie down.

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1For those of you who tend to take things too literally and therefore miss the whole concept of "sarcasm," let me explain: Justin Bieber is barely a musician at all so the idea of him entering the world of prog rock is absurd, to say the least, and Sarah Palin is a gibbering idiot who, quite frankly, can't be trusted with even a butter knife. Moving on ...

2The last one was Richard Shelby in 1992, who later defected to the GOP. The last time Alabama elected a Democrat who stayed a Democrat was in 1978.

3Let's face it. Barring anything unusual, this is likely to happen.

4Less likely, but still possible. If history is any indicator, it will probably happen: Bill Clinton lost the House in 1994, George W. Bush lost it in 2002, Barack Obama lost it in 2010. Not a definitive trend by any means, but definitely suggestive of the notion that Congress flips to the party that is out of power in the first midterm after a new President is installed.

5Not bloody likely, considering that this tactic worked so well last year after Justice Antonin Scalia died and he held up a Supreme Court pick for almost a year, but whatever.

6Breitbart has the same level of standards concerning their content that R Kelly has for his respect for women. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Egad. Just ... Egad.

So I posted an article in which I tried to dispassionately delineate the differences between perception and reality vis-a-vis liberals and conservatives. For example, I stated that not all liberals are atheists, and not all conservatives are money-grubbing plutocrats. I think I did a fairly good job of stripping away the caricatures of both sides as portrayed by the other and getting to the basics of what each side actually stands for.

Apparently I did not do as well as I thought. In one of the Facebook groups of which I am a member, there are a couple of guys who are the arbiters of all that is good, and decent, and who are the sole judges as to the level of objectivity anyone brings to the table. And woe be unto anyone who dares dispute their authority, for they shall reap the whirlwind.

(For the benefit of these "authorities," who clearly have a problem understanding things, that was a literary device known as sarcasm, in which the surface meaning is pretty much the opposite of the actual intent.)

I would like to point out at this point that I am not going to divulge the identities of these brainstems, because the level of mockery they would be subjected to is, I'm pretty sure, a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Moving right along ...

Anyway, these two idiots decided that the article was yet another example of the "hatred on the left." Never mind that it was not critical of anything, or that it did not overtly take one side or the other. In their minds -- such that they are, anyway -- because I didn't immediately fall to my knees to genuflect at the Really Big, Amazing Altar of trump, The Biggest Altar, Really, People Are Always Saying How It's The Best, Believe Me, then the entire article must therefore have been a liberal hatchet job intended to disparage the fine name of conservatism the world over.

So they commented. And I responded. And they responded to my response. I responded again, and then realized that I would probably get better results by arguing with a tree stump -- and it could be argued that the tree stump would have given more coherent responses. But I'll let you judge for yourself ...

So, with all that being said, I am going to give them exactly that of which they say I am guilty: a lengthy, invective-ridden, spittle-flecked diatribe against trump, the Republicans, and conservatism in general. That way they can get their rocks off decrying my "lack of objectivity" (an idiot accusation for an opinion blog ... just sayin'), and the people in the Facebook group who know who they are can roundly pelt them with mockery and derision. Let's begin, shall we?

The level of stupid that comes from the Republican Party, and trumpeters in particular, is staggering. So much so that if stupidity had mass, trump never would have gotten elected because the dumbassery at one of his rallies would have collapsed in on itself until it was a black hole of idiocy, a "moron singularity," if you will, and taken every single one of the knuckle-draggers who supported him with it.

The thing is, the Republicans know they can't win on the merits of their platform, which is why they resort to various dirty tricks:
  • Voter ID laws to address a problem of in-person voter fraud that doesn't exist, and which -- purely as a matter of coincidence, I'm sure -- affect primarily Democrats.
  • Gerrymandering House districts to gain a majority in that chamber even though registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans across the country (for example, in the 2012 Congressional elections in Pennsylvania, Republicans won 13 out of the 18 House seats -- 72% -- despite only garnering 48.6% of the vote statewide).
  • Colluding with Russia to alter the 2016 election. That's right, I said it. I think Mitch McConnell was in on it from the beginning because, let's face it, trump and his gang of idiots aren't bright enough to locate Russia on a map -- even though it's the biggest country in the world.
If a real, fair, and honest election were held in 2016 instead of Crazy Vlad's Puppet Show, trump would still be in Trump Tower, cheating contractors, lusting after his daughter, and scarfing down Big Macs until the turgid sludge that serves as his bloodstream completely coagulates and his carcass is trucked out of the building and dumped in the East River.

In 2018, I predict that Turtle Boy McConnell and Eddie Munst -- I mean, Paul Ryan -- are both going to lose their majorities because, in the past ten months, they have shown the Republican Party matches P. J. O'Rourke's description in "A Parliament of Whores" perfectly: "The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it." The GOP has the White House. It has a very solid majority in the House. It has a majority in the Senate -- slim, but with Closet-Case Pence as the tiebreaker they do have a little breathing room. Yet they have not been able to advance any significant legislation at all. And people are starting to take notice.

When your side is behind the wheel and you can't even get the car out of the driveway without killing all the neighbors' pets, it's a pretty good sign that you aren't to be trusted with anything more dangerous than a burnt match. This is why, in 2018, y'all are going down. Hard.

And I will laugh, and dance, and sing, and gloat shamelessly. I gotta lie down.

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The Bickering Needs To Stop

Today I want to discuss the difference between "liberal" and "conservative" in the context of modern American politics. There are a lot of epithets flying in both directions, so I would like to try to dispel some of the misconceptions about both groups.

To begin with, I am not going to be dealing with the extremes at either end of the spectrum. Far-right white nationalists, far left anarchists ... these are smaller subsets of the broader "conservative" and "liberal" labels respectively, and are often so removed from mainstream thought that they deserve to be handled separately. Moving on ...


Liberals are delicate little flowers who are easily offended by ... well, everything.


The truth of the matter is that liberals are not that easily offended. If they were, they would be huddled in the fetal position the world over after the relentless attacks by many on the far right.

What liberals are concerned about in this context is accuracy of speech. It's not that they were particularly offended by the term "Indian," for example, it's just that native peoples aren't from India and the nomenclature should be adjusted to reflect this (the fact that Native Americans themselves were offended by the old term, while a very important consideration, is not germane to this argument).


Conservatives are rigid, unfeeling monsters.


Conservatives are not necessarily rigid. Most are capable of great flexibility in thought. However, they do tend to live up to the promise of the root of the label (to conserve, meaning to preserve). Often this puts them at odds with modern society ... for example, a conservative who values "traditional" marriage highly naturally is going to be concerned over allowing gay marriage.

On the other hand, a true conservative is one who hews more closely to a libertarian philosophy (boiled down, basically it means "let me live my life the way I see fit and leave me the hell alone") than the modern definition of conservatism (which, in recent years, has become more about resisting anything done by liberals).


Liberals are all looking for handouts.


Liberals do believe welfare should be used as a means of getting a leg up. However, they do not espouse welfare as a way of life. The main concern here is that everyone be given an equal opportunity to succeed, not (as many in right wing media claim) that everyone be guaranteed success.


Conservatives are racists.


There is actually some internal logical consistency to this claim. Conservatives, as a group, tend to glorify the "good old days," and to promote ideas that may seem antiquated to some. Given this tendency, and the fact that racism (while still very prevalent) has been in a more or less steady decline since the era of Jim Crow, it makes sense to make the claim that people who favor older ideas also favor racism ... after all, it is also an older idea.

The reality, though, is that many conservatives are not overtly racist. Sure, they may be covertly racist (keeping their racist views to themselves), or even subconsciously racist (not limited to conservatives, by the way ... but a topic for a different column), but by and large conservatives view racism the way most liberals do: as a sad, sordid, tragic part of our history that (unfortunately) we still need to work toward eradicating fully.


Liberals are atheists who hate Christians and love Muslims.


Relatively few liberals are atheists (I happen to count myself among that number, FYI). Of those, I have only met a couple who actively hate religion, and they were both assholes anyway. The vast majority of atheists take the view that religion is fine for some, but not for them, and as long as people respect those boundaries then everyone will get along fine.

However, the majority of liberals do affiliate with a religion, and of those most are Christians.


Conservatives are all bible-thumping zealots.


Yes, there are some intolerant religious extremists among conservatives. However, they are fairly few and far between; most of them take the same view as liberals do: I have my religion, you have yours (or lack thereof), and as long as you don't crowd me about it we'll get along fine.

The problem is that the Kim Davises and Franklin Grahams of the world are much more visible, thus fueling the perception that they represent all of conservatism instead of the far-right nutjob fringe.


Liberals are all socialists.


The truth is that liberals acknowledge that a) the United States is already very socialistic in some ways (Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, infrastructure spending, emergency services, etc.) and b) there are some aspects of socialism that can be implemented to be of benefit to all without stifling free enterprise. However, they are not, as many on the right would claim, devout Marxists who advocate marching in the streets and shrieking "Das Kapital" at the top of their lungs.

Conversely ...


Conservatives are cruelly greedy and money-hungry.


Yes, conservatives largely favor capitalism (as do liberals, for the most part). No, they do not favor unfettered capitalism, which is what we had during the Gilded Age (late 19th and early 20th centuries). Conservatives do not advocate for a return to the era of robber barons, child labor, monopolistic practices, and Tammany Hall. In actuality the conservative viewpoint on this topic is that capitalism should be left alone to innovate, but sensible regulation and oversight is needed to prevent the sort of rampant speculation and corruption that led to the Great Depression.

Both sides have their good and bad points. Both sides are guilty of distorting the statements and views of the opposing ideology as a way to score political points, and of blowing minor events out of proportion -- again, to score political points. Neither side is particularly adept at actually listening to the opposing point of view ... which is something we need to work on, and fast, if we want to get this country back on a stable footing.

We need to get to a place where conservatives can accept that kneeling during the anthem is kinda what the whole "free speech" thing is about. We need to get to a place where liberals can accept that religious objections to the moral quagmire of abortion right are as valid as scientific viewpoints in favor of them.

Above all, we need to start talking to each other, instead of yelling at each other.

I gotta lie down.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Hey Pat. Miss Me?

Dear Senator Toomey,

Hiya! It's me ... your absolutely favorite constituent. I know it's been quite a while since you heard from me, and I can only the imagine the heartbreak you must have felt when you stopped getting my letters. And I really wish I was writing under better circumstances, my darling, but .... well, you just keep stepping in it, man.

This time around it's the Tax Lies -- er, Plan -- being put forth by the GOP. You have made claims like "a family of four making $70K gets an addition ~$1500 in their pocket." and "A single parent making $41K gets their tax bill cut by more than half -- more than $1K."

You're lying.

This plan not only guts the poor and middle class, it is a huge -- and I mean hay-UGE -- giveaway to the top 1%. Y'all give them breaks like reducing the pass-through rate, reducing the corporate tax rate, and eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax ... and all of these giveaways (and more) are being paid for by those at the lower end. Eliminating state and local tax deductions. Capping the mortgage interest deduction. Reducing the marginal tax rate at the top. And so much more ...

And you are trying to sell this to the American people as somehow being in their best interests by invoking the ghost of Regan and trickle-down economics and relying on this tired old notion that shoving the benefits to the top of the economic ladder will cause them to tumble down in a cascade of corporate largess, a veritable pinata of economic good fortune. I mean, forget for the moment that it has been shown time and again over the past forty years that this doesn't work, and we won't mention the increasing income inequality on this country and how, the last time things were this bad, we were on the verge of falling off the worst economic cliff in human history, and I absolutely will not highlight the apparent correlation between big Republican donors and those who will benefit the most by this bill.

Look, I'm going to make it very simple for you, since you are evidently unwilling to listen to thoughtful, nuanced arguments and prefer to rely on bumper sticker platitudes. And, since you have already announced that you will not be seeking re-election (probably because it has become painfully obvious over the past several months that you would lose, and lose in an embarrassingly enormous fashion), I can only hope that you will do the right thing and actually vote for your constituents.

For once.


David A. Naples
The Blowhard Pundit

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Wednesday, November 08, 2017

No More Walk Of Shame

Dear Republicans,

Last November you got drunk and, thinking it would be kinda funny (and, naturally, not thinking about the consequences of your actions), went home with donald trump. It was fun at the time ... he charmed you, he made you feel special, he said all the things you wanted to hear. You vaguely remember thinking that this was The One, the guy who was going to fix all your problems and make everything that you didn't like fade into nonexistence.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon was cut short when you discovered that all of his promises, all of those wonderful things he told you, were nothing but lies intended to get you into bed. You realized that he never really cared for you, you were just another conquest ... and once he had reached that summit, he lost interest in you.

In January of this year the sun came up, and you began to regret your decision, knowing that, although trump is a smooth talker1, he was unlikely to follow through on anything he said. And thus commenced the nine-and-half-month-long Walk of Shame -- bedraggled hair, streaked mascara, shoes in your hands, wondering what in the world ever possessed you to make such a bad decision, and frantically calling your best friend to apologize for ditching them the night before.

On November 7, 2017 that inexplicable fascination with such an obvious dirtbag, that ill-advised union, was finally annulled. It took a lot of effort, and he kept trying to draw you back in, but you began to realize that there are two broad categories of people in this world: people like trump, to whom you are nothing but a number on a balance sheet, and people to whom you are truly valued as a person -- not for any material gain or based on what you can do for them, but simply based on your intrinsic worth as a human being.

Election Day 2017 on the surface is fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things: a couple of governor's races (New Jersey and Virginia), local elections in many states, the Virginia House of Delegates, etc. However, as an indicator of the future political tone in the United States, it's looking very strongly like you are beginning to realize that you made some really bad choices in 2016 and you might be thinking about a mea culpa.

Just so you know, I will always accept your apology. Look, I get it. I've been suckered before by snake oil salesmen. They're smooth. They're glib. They are oddly appealing in a way you can't quite identify. It happens to everybody. I am here to reassure you that I will always welcome you back with open arms. I will sympathize with the betrayal you must feel. I will commiserate with you about trump and everyone like him being a lying scumbag.

Above all, I will have your back when you decide to publicly acknowledge your mistake, and I will provide support and encouragement. I will help you in trying to repair the damage he has done to you by standing by you when you do speak out against him.

I am here for you.



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1Okay, he's an illiterate moron, but just roll with it for the sake of the analogy. Sheesh.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

It's Just Too Much

It's happened again.

Some white guy, presumably with some kind of axe to grind about something, decided the best way to deal with the situation was to open fire with high-powered weapons on a crowd. As a result, 26 are dead, 20 are injured, and this incident will go down in history as the deadliest single mass shooting in Texas history to date. And it has only been about a month since the last mass shooting, which was the single deadliest mass shooting in American history (for a while, anyway. That title previously was reserved for the Pulse nightclub shooting in which 49 people died. That had occurred just under 16 months prior. The way things are going, this gruesome milestone will probably only stand for another year or so at most, anyway).

We live in a country where there are enough guns in circulation to provide every man, woman, child, and more than a few dogs (but not cats. Can't trust those bastards with anything) with a firearm, and we would still have a shit ton of them left over (just in case, y'know). And despite horrifying attacks -- Mandalay Bay, in which nearly 600 people were injured or killed while being trapped in an open field with 20,000 of their closest friends, or Newtown, in which 20 five and six year olds and six of their teachers were brutally gunned down in an elementary school, or Charleston, where people in a bible study class welcomed a stranger in their midst who then turned on them and opened fire, and the list goes on for a depressingly long time -- not once have we even come close to addressing the issue at the heart of all this: guns, the American obsession with them, and the ludicrously easy access to them.

The right is already screeching about how guns laws won't work because "killers will just get them illegally", "it's not a gun problem, it's a mental health problem," "guns don't kill people, people kill people," "more people die in automobile accidents than by gunfire. Does that mean we outlaw cars?" and "it's a Constitutional right to own a gun" (it's not, but I'll touch on that in a bit). These are all bullshit arguments intended to deflect away from the real issue: too many guns, and it's too easy to get them. But let's break it down a bit.

"Killers will just get them illegally."
This is a favorite argument against gun control legislation: it won't be 100% effective. The problem with this line of "reasoning" (for lack of a better word) is that no legislation is 100% effective. For example, it is illegal to shoot people, yet people get shot. Does that mean we just say the hell with it and declare open season? If this thinking was applied to automotive design, no car would have seat belts because they are entirely ineffective against injury in a car that has been driven off of a 1,000 foot cliff (presumable by Wile E. Coyote).

"It's not a gun problem, it's a mental health problem."
Here's the thing, Sparky: it's both. The two aren't mutually exclusive. Someone who perpetrates a mass shooting is, by definition, at least a little off. However, this begs the question: why are we making it easier for these people to get guns? Granted, a background check alone would not have stopped the Vegas shooter, as I believe his criminal record over his entire life consisted of a single parking ticket or something like that, but the guy in Texas had been dishonorably discharged from the military for domestic abuse against his wife and child, and sensible regulations would have prevented his acquiring an AR-15 (the same weapon used in Newtown) in the first place.

"Guns don't kill people. People kill people."
While this may be linguistically correct, the reality is that the shooter in Texas would have done a lot less damage if he didn't have a gun. If he had charged into the building, shrieking and waving a scimitar, it's a safe bet he would have been tackled by some beefy ex-high-school jock and pummeled into submission before the 911 call was even finished.

"More people are killed by car accidents than by guns. Does that mean we outlaw cars?"
The sheer volume of stupid contained in this is just staggering. Yes, in absolute numbers, more people are killed in automobile accidents than by gunfire. However, the difference -- the key difference -- is that guns are designed to injure and kill, while cars are designed as transportation and only injure and kill when used improperly (driving under the influence, inattentiveness, obvious safety defects, that sort of thing). And, as it turns out, we have laws against the improper use of an automobile. Imagine that.

Right about now some right-winger will triumphantly crow "The Constitution does not protect my right to own an automobile. But ...

The Constitution protects my right to own a gun."
No, it doesn't. In Heller v. District of Columbia (2008), the Supreme Court struck down a Washington DC ordinance that prohibited individuals from keeping firearms in the home. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, pontificated at length about the meaning of the words "keep" and "bear" in the context of the Second Amendment, but not once did he mention ownership.

When it comes to property -- guns, lawnmowers, TV sets, a box of Lucky Charms -- there are three verbs to bear in mind: "keep," "bear," and "own." To "keep" an object in this context means "to have in your possession, to maintain physical control over the property." To "bear" an object means "to direct its use, or lack thereof." To "own" an object means "to have legal control over the property, and to have the legal ability to transfer title of the property to another entity." Scalia covered "keep" and "bear" in great detail, but not once did he touch on "own."

To give an example from my own life: in 2008, my then-14-year-old nephew called me asking about a drum set he was thinking about buying, wanting to know if the advertised price was a good deal. Since I had a drum set identical to what he was looking at sitting in my basement gathering dust, I offered to let him take it for no charge with the understanding that, if I ever asked for it back, it would be returned.

In this instance he "keeps" the drums in that they are in his possession, and he does the maintenance needed to keep them in good condition (he's doing an excellent job of that, too ... way to go, bud!). He "bears" the drums in that he is the one who plays them. However, they're still my goddam drums, and I have the right to sell them out from under him if I so choose (I won't do that, but that is purely my choice).

Based on this reasoning, Scalia did not protect the right of individuals to own a firearm, only to have and use them. Under Scalia's own logic, regulation of gun ownership is perfectly legitimate.

This notion that a Constitutional right to firearms is absolute when no other protected right in the Constitution has this property is just ludicrous. For example, the freedom of speech protected in the First Amendment is not absolute -- if it were, there would be no libel laws, truth-in-advertising laws, etc. The right of habeus corpus is not absolute; it has been suspended on multiple occasions. The right to vote is not absolute in that there are several restrictions: a voter must be a citizen, must be of a certain age, must not have a felony conviction, etc. Yet the National Rifle Association, aka the Evil Empire (a term that also applies to the New York Yankees, by the way) routinely uses the argument that the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms is absolute, and throws millions of dollars at members of Congress to try to keep it that way.

Look, let's face it. For the vast majority of people, owning a gun is a serious responsibility, one that is not to be taken lightly. These people view guns as weapons, things that are designed to cause harm, and treat the with the care and respect that is due such a powerful tool. However, there is a smaller group of people for whom guns are surrogates for their winkies, and who viewed "Die Hard" as a documentary. It is against this group of people that we have to protect ourselves.

The idea that the Constitution prevents us from regulating guns is, simply put, suicidal. Either we start enacting some real gun control legislation, or we may as well start digging the graves now.

I gotta lie down.

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Come At Me, Bro

So the latest stunt from Ron DeSantis and the Floriduh GOP -- and that's all they are is stunts -- is SB 1316, a particularly odious and...