Friday, June 16, 2017

Toxicity In The 21st Century


Something that has become painfully clear over the past couple of days since James Hodgkinson went on his shooting rampage is that the whole idea of civil political discourse has been taking hits for quite some time. Hodkinson's rampage began at 7:09 AM. He was publicly identified a couple of hours later. Within minutes of this identification, the internet was flooded with people posting about how he was a Bernie supporter and this was evidence that the left is really the violent side of things and on and on and on.

I don't give a hot damn who this guy supported. He could have been sporting a "Voldemort for President 2016" tattoo on his forehead and would not have changed a single thing. The fact remains that James Hodgkinson was disturbed, and angry, and armed -- something that is becoming ever more prevalent in American society. And the thing is, taking away any one of these three conditions would have caused the entire tragedy to never happen.

His mental disturbance is difficult. It may not have manifested in such a way as to cause anyone to think there was anything wrong, and even if it had it's not something that responds to any kind of quick fix. Mental illness is tricky to diagnose, and difficult to treat, and results are by no means guaranteed so, while he would have benefited from help, there is a very real possibility that it would not have made a difference.

There are those who would argue that he should not have been armed in the first place, and I'm one of them. There is absolutely no legitimate reason in my mind that he should have had access to such a weapon. However, the reality is that we live in a culture that fetishizes guns and violence, and thanks to powerful lobbying groups like the NRA that is not likely to change any time soon (interesting side note: the NRA usually issues some kind of statement after events like this, but because it was one of their own -- Steve Scalise -- who is the highest profile victim, they have been strangely silent. Just sayin'). So the idea that we could have legislated the gun away somehow, while it is still a possibility for the future, would have done nothing to stop this.

That leaves anger. Political anger in this case. James Hodgkinson had been gorging himself from the same all-you-can-eat buffet of manufactured outrage from the Shriek Factories on both the left and the right as the rest of us. Unfortunately in this case, it was enough to send him over the edge. He had been fed a steady diet of "Republicans are all evil liars" for long enough that he had hit a saturation point and decided that the only course of action was to take matters into his own hands.

I'm sick of this shit.

Do I oppose trump? Absolutely. I don't think he's qualified. I believe he is corrupt. I think he is destroying our standing on the world stage. I think his ideas -- from climate change, to economic policy, to immigration, to health care -- are all horrible and cruel. I think he should be removed from office immediately, if not sooner, and that he should take that entire pack of bottom-feeders with which he has surrounded himself with him to whatever fetid, rotting hole in the ground he came from. I also think that Mitch McConnell is a traitor in that he always -- always -- puts party before country. Every. Damned. Time.

However, and here's the important point, I do not, for an instant, believe the same of all their followers. I'm sure there are some of them who are just as revolting, if not worse, than trump is. I am also equally as sure that there are many, if not most, who are kind, thoughtful people who voted for him for what they felt were sound reasons based on his rhetoric on the campaign trail. The fact that they voted for someone who was lying to them all along is not their fault, nor does it make them stupid or gullible in any way. All it means is that trump is really good at lying.

Now, it would be very easy for me to go off on an anti-trump tirade right now, pointing out all of his flaws, and maligning everyone who voted for him. That is not the point of this article, and would actually be a demonstration of the opposite of the point I am trying to make here.

There are plenty of media outlets -- from the Washington Post, to the Wall Street Journal, to NPR, to the BBC, AP, Reuters -- that provide thoughtful, balanced coverage of the current political climate. However, they are getting sucked into the same vortex of stupid that the rest of us are: focusing our energies and attention on the Distractor in Chief instead of paying attention to what matters. And in the process, they are feeding the more extreme outlets -- Breitbart, the Daily Caller, and InfoWars on the right; Occupy Democrats, Huffington Post, and the Palmer Report on the left -- and perpetuating this environment of toxic shriekery. As a result, people are conditioned to see the entire political debate as being a war between extremes, with the thoughtful middle being completely drowned out.

I am a liberal. I make no apologies about that. I disagree with the Republican Party platform on so many points that it's hard to keep up sometimes. However, what I have always striven to do (with varying degrees of success, and sometimes I have failed spectacularly) is to always be absolutely clear that my disagreement is with the politics, not the person.

The trick is to take this approach -- "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I shall defend your right to say it" -- and help others to adopt it. It is only through reasoned debate and compromise that anything is going to get done in this country; our current polarized environment will only continue to produce toxic results.
So, with that in mind, I am asking everyone who reads this to take the following pledge with me.

I will only involve myself in respectful debate. I will always remember the basic humanity of those with whom I disagree. I will not stoop to personal attacks. If attacked, I will not feed into it by responding. I will be open to points from all sides, because someone may present an idea I did not consider. I will not generalize about entire populations by using things like "all liberals" or "all Republicans" unless I can provide objective, verifiable data to back it up.

Above all, I will strive to treat anyone with whom I am debating with courtesy and respect, regardless of how much I may disagree with them.

Please share this with as many people as possible, and let's help start a new movement to change the tone of discourse in America.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Comments On The Alexandria Shooting

James T. Hodgkinson
Early this morning, shortly after 7 AM ET, James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, IL opened fire with what CBS News has described as "an M4 style assault rifle" on a group of Republican Congressmen who were practicing for their annual charity baseball game against the Democrats. Wounded in the attack were Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) as well as Mark Mika, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods who was acting as a coach, Zach Barth, a legislative aide for Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX), and two Capitol Police officers that have not been identified.

I'm not going to go into all the details of the event itself (we have coverage here), but this does raise an important question.

Why is it that when a Muslim does something like this it is immediately classified as an act of terrorism, but when it's a white guy the first reaction is always "it's a mental health problem?"

My thinking is, duh, any time someone is the assailant in a mass shooting it's a mental health problem. That doesn't mean that terrorism and mental health are mutually exclusive.

For example, the San Bernardino event was labeled an act of domestic terrorism. The Pulse nightclub shooting was not. Neither was Charleston, or the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado, or Virginia Tech, or Columbine, or ... well, the list goes on. The pattern seems to be that the media follows this script:
  • If the shooter is a white male, he is described as "a disturbed loner" or some such.
  • If the shooter is a black male, it becomes indicative of black crime in general.
  • If the shooter is Muslim, it's terrorism.

Even if the circumstances were identical for all three events, these classifications are used, almost reflexively. This is just negligence on the part of the news media, and downright irresponsible for people in power to perpetuate the stereotypes.

Not all Muslims are terrorists, just as not all terrorists are Muslim. Any time someone kills innocent people at random, that is domestic terrorism. Black, brown, white, male, female, Republican, Democrat ... it doesn't matter; once they strap on a gun and start shooting people they become terrorists.

In this case, Hodgkinson was a Democrat, a Bernie Sanders supporter, and his Facebook feed was filled with anti-trump rhetoric. Nothing violent that I could see; basically, he was sharing memes about how corrupt the government is, and publicly arguing for trump's immediate impeachment. Not too terribly different from any other liberal on Facebook, actually. There was nothing there that I was able to find in a cursory look that seemed too out of the ordinary. His last post, from July 13, 2017 at 9:01 AM, was this picture:


I have seen this thing pop up many times over the past few years. Prior to the election it was from the right; after that it came from the left. Each time it has been identical. But getting back to the question at hand ...

This was a case of domestic terrorism. That it was perpetrated by a liberal Bernie supporter as opposed to a right-wing KKK sympathizer like Dylan Roof is immaterial. The fact remains that someone brought a gun to a public place with the intent to harm or kill as many people as possible based on a twisted interpretation of an ideology. I'm sure that over the next few days and weeks we will be hearing from his wife, people who knew him, etc. all describing him in terms both kind and unflattering. However, the one thing that I will lay money on that nobody will say is "Yeah, James was a terrorist." Even the plant managers at the Right-Wing Shriek factory (also known as Fox News) will refrain from applying the terrorist label. After all, he's a white guy, and only brown guys are terrorists, right?

And why did this guy have an assault rifle in the first place? This is not the first time this question has been raised, and it's not the first time that a nutjob has brought the woeful shortcomings of gun policy in the United States to the fore, and it certainly won't be the last.

My bet is that nothing will be done about this, and fast. Some will be surprised by this, and will protest "But it was one of their own this time." To which I say, bullshit.

Gabby Giffords, a former Democratic representative from Arizona, was shot in the head in 2011 during a public appearance. At the time many thought it was the incident that would spark real gun law reform in this country, since the victim was a sitting member of Congress.

It didn't. Neither did someone opening fire in an elementary school and killing 20 five and six year old children along with their teachers. Why would we expect anything different to happen this time?

Finally, this has brought out both the best and the worst of people in both the public and private spheres. Ms. Giffords posted the following tweet:
While the majority of replies to this were favorable and supportive, there was a surprising number of them which were downright awful, a sample of which appear below:





Pretty harsh stuff, and indicative of the hatred, paranoia, and division that has become endemic in American politics.

However, it also flows the other way. There is a Facebook post with a link to NPR's reporting on this event, with the following test in the post: "Those extremist Bernie supporters sure are proving to be the worst of the worst"

Fortunately this was followed by  a series of comments, from both the left and the right, saying that the shooter was no more indicative of Bernie supporters than he was of trump supporters, and perhaps this will work as the impetus for a coming together within our political system.

On this, I will let former Representative Gabby Giffords have the last word:

Shooting At Congressional Baseball Practice

A view of the scene from the YMCA across the street
Shots were fired at a baseball practice for members of Congress and their aides early Wednesday morning in the Del Ray section of Alexandria, Virginia. The Chief of Police in Alexandria, VA told Fox News that a call was received at 7:09 AM of an active shooter, and says that the situation is table now and there "is no additional threat."

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) was shot in the hip, and two Capitol Police officers were also wounded in the attack. The suspect is currently in custody, say Alexandria police.

The shooting took place in the 400 block of East Monroe Street in the Del Ray section of Alexandria, Virginia. It is unclear at this time if any other people were injured.

In an interview granted to CNN, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said“Scalise was on second base, and was crawling out, leaving trail of blood.” Reports indicate that Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) took off his belt to use as a tourniquet to stop blood loss.

Ben Childers, who lives near the area, posted a tweet saying "Hey @DelegateMark there was a shooting at the YMCA baseball fields this morning."

This is a breaking story, and we will provide further information as we get it.

UPDATE 2017-06-14 11:44 AM
The Washington Post reports that the shooter has been identified as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, IL. Hodgkinson is the owner of a home inspection business in Illinois, but according to state records his license expired in November 2016 and was not renewed.

In 2006 Hodgkinson was charged with battery and aiding damage to a motor vehicle, according to St. Clair County, IL records, but the charges were dismissed.

Hodgkinson used a rifle similar to an M4 assault rifle, according to CBS News and was reported to have fired upwards of 60 shots before being wounded by police. President Trump tweeted that the gunman had been captured and killed; this has been confirmed by multiple sources.

Hodgkinson's Facebook page consists primarily of anti-Trump posts (calling for his impeachment, etc.) along with some pro-Sanders material. Nothing on this page indicates that he was planning this attack. His last post, from June 13 at 9:01 AM, is a picture from the popular 70s children's cartoon "Schoolhouse Rock."

The Alexandria VA police is saying this is a closed investigation and that there is no more threat to the public. The area around the shooting site is still closed to the public at this time.

UPDATE 2017-06-14 1:09 PM
We have received the following statement from Lindy Li, an undeclared candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania's 6th District, who had friended Hodgkinson on Facebook in the past:

I unfriended the guy years ago because I found him disturbing. Can't unlike it or delete the comment. I've reported it to Facebook. I condemn his actions in the strongest possible terms. One of the reasons why I'm running for Congress is to prevent another Sandy Hook which happened on my birthday
 Despite further requests, Ms. Li did not provide any further comment.

UPDATE 2017-06-14 3:37 PM
We have received the following statement form the FBI with regard to the shooting in Alexandria:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At approximately 7:09 AM today, the Alexandria Police Department responded to the scene at 400 East Monroe Avenue in Alexandria, Virginia. They arrived at 7:12 AM to shots fired in the vicinity of Eugene Simpson Stadium Park, where members of a Congressional baseball team were practicing. Multiple Members of Congress were present on scene, therefore the United States Capitol Police officers were also on scene.

The subject was engaged by law enforcement and shot at approximately 7:14 AM.

Five individuals were transported by Alexandria EMS, Arlington County EMS, and U.S. Park Police helicopter to local hospitals with gunshot wounds. Those transported include a United States Capitol Police officer who is hospitalized and is reported to be in stable condition, a Congressman, one congressional staffer, one lobbyist, and the subject.

A second Congressman sustained minor injuries and was also transported by a medic unit.

One additional United States Capitol Police officer was transported to the hospital in a police cruiser for minor injuries and has been released.

The shooter has been identified by law enforcement as James Hodgkinson, age 66, from Belleville, Illinois. Hodgkinson was taken to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

The FBI is actively investigating Hodgkinson to include his associates, whereabouts, social media impressions, and potential motivations. This is an active investigation that continues to unfold.

The ATF is running a trace on two weapons, to include a rifle and a handgun.

The scene remains an active investigation, where law enforcement, to include the FBI Evidence Response Team, ATF, and Alexandria Police Department, are collecting evidence. In addition, the FBI Springfield and St. Louis Evidence Response Teams are searching the subject’s home in Belleville, Illinois.

Individuals who have information regarding Hodgkinson should call the FBI 24-hour access line at 1-800-CALL-FBI and select option 1.
UPDATE 2017-06-15 2:34 PM
We have received the following statements from Matthew R. Verderosa, Chief of the Alexandria, VA Police Department, and from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Chief Verderosa's statement:


U.S. Capitol Police Response Saved Lives“I want to commend Special Agents Crystal Griner, David Bailey, and Henry Cabrera for their heroic and appropriate response in protecting the Members and others today during their practice for the Congressional baseball game.

“I’m grateful that Special Agent Griner is in good condition in the hospital having been shot in the ankle, and Special Agent Bailey was treated and released having sustained a minor injury during the incident.

“The United States Capitol Police is dedicated to its mission to protect the U.S. Capitol, Members of Congress, staff and the visiting public, and today we saw how our officers’ extensive training and quick response saved lives.

“I would like to thank our partner law enforcement agencies including the FBI, ATF, U.S. Park Police, Virginia State Police and especially the Alexandria Police Department, Alexandria Sheriff‘s Office, and Alexandria Fire Department for their assistance in responding to and investigating this incident.

“The United States Capitol Police will continue to provide a robust and visible presence across the Capitol Complex, and monitor national and world events to provide the level of security required to protect the U.S. Capitol and Members of Congress.”
The statement from the FBI:

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The FBI and our federal, state and local law enforcement partner agencies in Alexandria, Virginia and Belleville, Illinois, continue to investigate yesterday’s shooting at the Eugene Simpson Stadium Park located at 400 East Monroe Avenue in Alexandria, Virginia. The FBI continues to investigate the single shooter, James Hodgkinson, as well as his activities and social media impressions in the months leading up to yesterday’s incident.

The shooter’s weapons recovered at the scene include a 9 mm handgun and a 7.62 caliber rifle. ATF has conducted traces on these weapons and has determined that both were purchased by the shooter from federal firearms licensees. We currently have no evidence to suggest that the purchases were not lawful. The FBI has processed the shooter’s vehicle, a white conversion van, which was parked in the parking lot of the YMCA directly adjacent to the park where the shooting took place. From that vehicle, the FBI has recovered and is processing a cell phone, a computer, and a camera.

While the FBI and our federal, state and local partners continue to investigate and process the scene and evidence, we also continue to encourage the public to come forward with any information on the shooter. The FBI thanks the public for having submitted tips on the shooter.

We continue to seek information on any encounters the public may have had with him in his home state of Illinois or in Alexandria, Virginia, where law enforcement believe he has been staying since March 2017. The FBI’s Seeking Information poster on the shooter can be found at www.fbi.gov and the public can call 1-800- CALL-FBI to report tips, which can remain anonymous.

We ask for the community’s patience as the FBI continues to actively work the scene and complete the shooting trajectory. Local road closures around the scene will remain in place until law enforcement have completed processing the scene, which may continue into part of the weekend, or potentially early next week. The Alexandria Police Department will announce when those road closures are lifted.

Further investigative updates will be shared via press release and posted on www.fbi.gov

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Right To Choose


 
Let's talk about abortion, and a woman's right to choose. This is a subject that routinely generates passionate debate on all sides, yet nobody seems to hear what the other side is saying.I believe the disconnect here, folks, has less to do with the idea of abortion itself, but the role of government in this issue. At the risk of generalizing, let me address this as best I can.

The issue is not that liberals have a callous disregard for the unborn. Rather, they have an understanding that it is a difficult question, but ultimately come down on the side of allowing the woman and her physician, and whoever else she decides to have be a part of the decision, to make this choice on their own. The fundamental concept held by pro-choice activists is that anti-choice activists routinely prioritize the life of the fetus over the life of the mother.

Yes, most anti-choice legislation contains provisions for "except in the cases of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother." However, what they do NOT address are the following issues:

1. The fact that a woman will be pregnant for nine months, and all that entails.
Not one of the anti-abortion bills I have seen contains any provisions for assistance with prenatal care. You'd think that if anti-choice activists were that concerned with the life of the fetus they would offer some assistance in maintaining prenatal health ... but the general tone seems to be "you are not allowed to abort, but fuck you if you need help taking care of the yourself before the child is born. You're on your own."
 
Basically, the line taken by many anti-choice groups seems to be that a human life is sacred until it is born. After that ... well, you're on your own, and you don't deserve any help because you're a moocher and a "taker," and your mother doesn't deserve any sort of assistance because she's a slut anyway.
 
The anti-choice movement has set its sights on Planned Parenthood as the Bringer Of All Evil. They want to cut off funding entirely to this organization, despite the fact that a) abortions only cover roughly 3% of the services provided, and 2) federal money is already prohibited for use to fund abortion. All federal dollars go to activities like prenatal screenings, cancer screenings, general health for low income women (and men as well), and so on. Which brings us to ...

2. Birth control and sex education
In 1992 Bill Clinton, at a campaign stop, said abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." Putting aside Clinton's sketchy reputation and just taking these words at face value, you'd think anti-choice groups wold be all about this. After all, a woman can't get an abortion if she isn't pregnant.

However, since the anti-choice movement is so bound up with religion -- and not just any religion, but fundamentalist Christianity, which is about as tolerant of anything that doesn't hew strictly to  dogma as a garden snail is of salt -- that they refuse to consider the benefits of serious sex education and birth control. Instead, they take the position that the only acceptable form of birth control is abstinence.

Note: I practiced this form of birth control all through high school, although to be fair it wasn't my idea. Just sayin'.

Granted, abstinence is 100% effective, unlike all other non-surgical forms of birth control. Despite the fairy tale about divine conception and a virgin birth, the plain and simpler fact is that women who don't have sex don't get pregnant. The pro-choice crowd absolutely does not dispute this.What is in dispute between the two sides is whether or not abstinence is a practical form of birth control.

Let's be honest, folks. The sex drive -- the drive to procreate and further the species -- is the strongest motivator in all humanity. It is the very reason for our existence. The anti-choice movement takes the position that they can somehow hammer this into submission simply by demanding that people don't do it. Easy on paper, virtually impossible in the long term in practice. Granted, there are some people who remain asexual throughout their entire lives, but they are the exception. Usually what happens when people try to deny this very basic impulse, one that is shared between all living things, is those desires become twisted and deflected. Occasionally in ways that are highly beneficial to society at large -- Issac Newton, for example, died a virgin, but fundamentally changed how we see ourselves in relation to the universe -- but usually the results aren't so felicitous.

People who are denied sex -- not who choose to abstain, but who seek it out and are regularly turned down -- are at higher risk for depression and suicide. Some of them act out in highly inappropriate ways. Priests who take a vow of celibacy who then go on to molest children, for example; no formal studies have been conducted but I would be willing to bet that a significant percentage entered the priesthood in the first place out of the shame they felt for their "deviant" sexual desires, whether it was something as vanilla as being with a woman or as twisted as wanting to fondle young boys.

In an extreme example, we have Elliot Rodger, the attacker in the 2014 Isla Vista shootings. Prior to going on his rampage, he uploaded a video to YouTube entitled "Elliot Rodger's Retribution," in which he railed against women who had rejected him and men who were sexually active. Yes, there were other psychological disturbances at play, obviously, but a fundamental motivator for the guy was that he wasn't getting laid.

Okay, so that is an oversimplification. I admit that. The point remains, though, that sexual frustration played a big role in his attack and the resulting death of six innocent people. And this is the basic point here: by forcing people to deny this very basic biological drive against their well, anti-choicers are inviting unintended consequences.
 
3. Anti-choice demographics
It is interesting that the vast majority of strong anti-choicers fall into two broad demographic groups: males, and post-menopausal women. Males, because despite the advances we have made over the past 100 years we still live in a patriarchal society, one that is dominated by white males in leadership roles at all levels of government. On the anti-choice side, these white males definitely view themselves, consciously or no, as the father figures for all those silly, empty-headed females who don't really know what's good for them, the poor dears. This is how they are able to rationalize publicly the countless pieces of legislation intended to cut off access to abortion as being in favor of women's health. It's not that they are lying, it simply because women are just too gosh darn simple to understand what's going on.

The other big group is post-menopausal women. You know, sweet little old ladies like your grandma, who are only looking out for the unborn baby and the soul of the woman. After all Jesus loves them all, and he wold hate to see anyone do anything stupid like aborting a fetus, because who knows what would happen then?

Not for nothing, but that sounds a lot like something you'd hear from Tony Soprano, not a tiny 75 year old woman. But there ya go. These grandmas are the ones who make the threats.

The one thing these two groups have in common? None of them every have to face the prospect of an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy, so they have no skin in the game.

4. Religion
The anti-choice movement regularly invokes Christianity to make their point, apparently ignoring the millions upon million of women who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, pagan, Druid, Wiccan, atheist ...
 
In a country that is supposed to be secular, with a strict dividing line between religion and government, it is a little puzzling that the anti-choice movement can get away with this. Yet get away with it they do. It is rare that one hears of an anti-choice measure wending its way through some state legislature somewhere (usually Oklahoma or Texas, for some reason) that doesn't have some middle-aged white guy piously opining about how abortion is an affront against God, or citing the bible at some point during floor debate.

Here's the thing: this is not a Christian country.

Let me say it again for those in the back: This is not a Christian nation. We are a secular nation. The Founding Fathers went to great lengths to ensure this, yet lawmakers routinely invoke their mythology in the public square. Religious conservatives shoehorned "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance. For some reason it is considered to be a major gaffe when a president doesn't close a speech with "God bless you, and God bless the United States of America."

News flash: even if God exists, it's a safe bet that he's not worried about the Texas state legislature considering there is a major part of the world in which the residents have taken up bombing the shit out of each other as a hobby.

And another thing: according to the Pew Research Center, roughly 70% of the population in the United States self-identifies as Christian, being broken down as 20.8% Catholic, 25.4% Evangelical Protestant, 14.7% mainline Protestant, and the rest being Mormon, Orthodox Christian, etc. This leaves just under 30% of the population that is not Christian, yet they are routinely forced to accommodate the evangelicals in daily life.

Which brings me to a sore spot with me. Evangelicals are religious bullies. These are the folks behind "religious freedom" laws ... which are about neither religion nor freedom, but are simply a license for people to discriminate against gays/blacks/atheists/Beatles fans under the guise of "religious conviction" -- as in, "I have a religious conviction that says you're scum and it's okay to hate you for a reason that does not actually impact my life in any way, shape, or form." And like most bullies, they aren't satisfied when they finally do get their way, and simply consider the victory as a vindication of their methods and move on to something else with which they can pound people over the head.

The anti-choice movement is no different. They bully legislatures into passing a piece of legislation that says no abortions can be performed after 26 weeks. Okay, fine. It's sorta based on science in that this is considered to be the cutoff for viability of the fetus outside the womb, so we let it slide. However, this only emboldened them, so they began moving the goal posts: 22 weeks based on a physician's estimate of fetal age, then 20 weeks, then 20 weeks from the woman's last menstrual cycle, then 16 weeks ...
 
The latest debacle is from Ohio, where the legislature introduced a bill in December 2016 that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat could be detected ... which is often before a woman is even aware that she's pregnant. As Planned Parenthood said in a statement, "This bill could take away a woman's right to make her own medical decisions before she would have known she had a decision to make."
 
So y'all have put up with my complaining and kvetching on this issue so far, and you are probably wondering (rightly so) "hey, what are ya gonna do about it?" Well, here's my idea:
 
1. Remove restrictions on abortion entirely.
Yes, this is controversial. Yes, the religious right is going to scream bloody murder (no pun intended). But stick with me; it's part of a larger picture.

2. Provide funding to have birth control for lower and middle income women covered at no cost to them by insurance.
Okay, this one is going to be hard to justify on the surface ... but again, part of the larger picture.
 
3. Mandatory sex education in public schools.
This doesn't mean we are teaching kids how to have sex. Trust me, they don't need to be taught, it's innate (see "biological drive" above). What we do need to teach them is how to have sex responsibly. That is, the proper use of birth control. What to do if birth control fails. The value of abstinence, including it's 100% effectiveness when employed properly. The ramifications -- physical, emotional, societal, economic -- of giving birth in your teens, including the psychological effects for a young mother of giving a baby up for adoption.

These three measures are intended to keep abortion safe, legal, and above all rare. The idea isn't to shame women by forcing them to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, or to strongarm them into carrying an unwanted baby to term, but to give people the tools and information to make intelligent, informed choices ... and thus reduce the total number of unwanted pregnancies, which reduces the total number of abortions.
 
Look, in an ideal world every child would be wanted, and loved, and abortion would be entirely unnecessary. We do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world that is messy, and complicated, and has women getting pregnant after a one-night stand, or after a rape, or within the bounds of marriage only to discover that the child has developed a condition that will prevent live birth or any quality of life. In these situations, the only reasonable choice is to allow the woman to make one of the most painful, heart-rending decisions she will ever face without interference.

Please liek and share my page at www.facebook.com/blowhardpundit.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Facebook and Twitter and Blogs, Oh My!


 
According to this article dated June 12, 2017 and bylined by Joe Uchill in The Hill,  Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) introduced legislation that would classify Presidential social media posts as "Presidential records," subject to the same record-keeping requirements as hard-copy memos, executive orders, etc.

The bill, entitled the Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement Act, or the COVFEFE Act, would amend the Presidential Records Act to include social media.

For the record, I agree with this idea, but I also recognize that it starts us down a slippery slope. At point do public records end and privacy for the President begin? For that matter, is the PResident allowed private communications at all, or does even a birthday card to Ivanka fall under the record-keeping requirements?

Granted, in trump's case, the social media thing makes a lot of sense. I mean, the guy exhibits the social media equivalent of uncontrollable explosive diarrhea, tweeting whatever happens to pop into his wittle orange head at any given moment, with no apparent thought to the aftermath.

I mean, he left Sean Spicer with the unenviable task of trying to convince people that "covfefe" was an actual word and that it makes sense on some level, instead of what it was: a typo. An unfinished tweet that got sent by mistake.

Don't get me wrong. I am not defending trump here. The guy is a walking tire fire, the orange personification of a sexually transmitted disease, a gargantuan, empty-headed buffoon who is as likely to launch a nuclear first strike against the Washington Post as he is to brag about his Electoral College victory. But this Act does raise serious questions about where to draw the line when it comes to Presidential privacy concerns.

My personal take is that, because trump does announce things that are, by nature, public (such as challenging James Comey to an under-oath testimony battle, or ranting against the courts for upholding the Constitution when he tries to institute a travel ban ... or, for that matter, bragging about the travel ban in the first place), his tweets should fall nuder the purview of the Presidential Records Act. This is not so much to try to hold him accountable for the batshit crazy things he says -- we've tried that, and he and his cronies simply deny he said what there is a video record of him saying -- as to provide future generations with a cautionary narrative explaining why the United States ceased to exist beginning in 2017 and why it was replaced by a third-rate banana republic run by an obese loudmouth with no clue as to what the hell he is doing.

I personally am in favor of this bill. I realize that Republicans in Congress may very well kill it before it goes anywhere, but at least it starts the conversation.

Republicans Aren't Necessarily Bad. They're Just Drawn That Way.


A common picture of the Republican Party is that of a cabal of big-money plutocrats, rubbing their hands gleefully as they kick starving children into the cold and knock retirees over for the Social Security benefits while lighting cigars with $100 bills. And while this is useful as agitprop, it creates a divide in the discussion of serious issues. Granted, there are some on both sides of the aisle who are craven and corrupt, and unfortunately they also make the most noise.

It also doesn't help that the top figures in the party -- trump and his staff (Spicer, Conway, et al), Ryan, and McConnell -- further this perception with their words and actions, but such is a topic for another day ...


The thing is, though, almost all Republicans are working with the best of intentions. They honestly believe that their proposals and actions are in the best interest of the American people. So why is there such a gulf between Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, trump and normal people?
My opinion? It comes down to a fundamental difference in how progress is measured. The Republican Party measures everything in terms of dollars and cents. This is fine as far as it goes -- it is a completely objective measure, with no wiggle room for interpretation. Something costs what it costs, and revenue is revenue, and the numbers are going to be the numbers whether you like them or not. As a result, for many things this is fine ... but there are aspects of the things the government does that do not translate well into currency. Things like quality of life for a family that can no longer afford health coverage. Or environmental quality. Or lives lost fighting bullshit wars on false pretenses.

The modern Republican Party is, on paper, dedicated to the idea of fiscal responsibility. They believe that deficit spending is fundamentally bad, that social welfare programs impede individual initiative, and (at least, on the far right) that many of the problems faced by marginalized populations -- the poor, people of color, and so on -- are the result of moral failings at the individual level. Proposals presented by the Republicans are centered around the idea of "if ya ain't got the dough, don't spend it." Nowhere is this demonstrated more clearly than in the following statement made by Rep. Mo Brooks on May 1:
“My understanding is that it will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now those are the people—who’ve done things the right way—that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”
On the surface, this seems like a pretty cruel, heartless stance. After all, what Rep. Brooks appears to be saying here is that if someone gets breast cancer, say, then it's their own damned fault for not living a clean life and they deserve to pay more for insurance as a result.

Now, everybody knows this is bullshit, and it's a pretty safe bet that's not what Rep. Brooks meant. My guess is that he was speaking more to the apparent fairness of premium amounts, taking a position that people who need more health care should be paying higher premiums. And while this does seem like a reasonable proposition, it misses the point entirely on how insurance is supposed to work (the people who need less subsidize the people who need more, thus spreading the cost more or less evenly ... but diving into the intricacies of health insurance actuary is way beyond the scope of this article).

This illustrates a higher point, though. Whether it stems from ideology, or the need to maintain viewership across the basic cable spectrum, or just pure salaciousness, we have been trapped in a cycle of "gotchas" for the past several decades. Barack Obama says "So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion ..." as a statement on small-town America's reaction to steady job losses over the prior twenty years, which is clearly evident when the entire quote is used:
"Our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
However, the right-wing shriek factory chose to highlight a specific phrase in a manner designed to generate the most outrage, furthering the narrative of Obama as a Kenyan Muslim terrorist atheist communist dictator, hellbent on taking away everyone's guns and forcing them to adhere to Sharia law (which, let's be fair, almost none of the target audience knew anything about except what they had heard from the right-wing shriek factory in the first place ... and not for nothing, but it is impossible to be a Muslim and an atheist. Just sayin'.).

To be fair, this sort of nonsense happens on the left as well, but again ... a topic for another article ...

The thing is, there are actually very few Republicans who hew strictly to this line. The vast majority of them do not agree with ideological purity at all costs; instead they adopt a stance of "Okay, I have my ideology, you have yours, and there has to be some agreeable middle ground."

For example, as you may have guessed, I am a liberal. Very liberal. Not quite to the anarchist extreme of some, but definitely more than most. One of my best friends is a hard-core conservative Republican. We argue about politics all the time, and rare is the occasion when one of us makes a solid enough argument to change the other's position. Despite this obvious mental deficiency on his part (kidding, and he knows it), he is a wonderful stepfather, a good and decent person, and regularly kicks my ass at pool.

And this is the fundamental point. Republicans are not, by nature, evil. They are not the sort of cartoonish, sinister villains portrayed in the media, any more than liberals are all a bunch of skinny, stoned, granola-munching whiners with acoustic guitars militantly guarding against trigger words. Republicans just have a different viewpoint from Democrats. That's all. They are both still Americans, they both still love this country, they both still respect the Constitution.

Go to any firehouse, police station, military barracks, elementary school, restaurant, grocery store, auto shop. Unless there is only one person there, chances are pretty good that there will be a roughly even split between conservatives and liberals. And I guarantee that the EMT who is driving the ambulance taking you to the hospital doesn't give a hairy rodent's posterior about your political affiliation, the only concern is getting you to the goddam hospital.

This is what we, as a society, are losing sight of lately. It is incumbent upon all of us -- right or left, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal -- to always remember this, and to accept the fundamental humanity of those with differing views, and to allow the respect that is born from this acceptance to be shown. And it has to start with a decision on which media outlet to frequent.

Yes, there are no purely objective sources. Every media outlet has some sort of political leaning. It's only natural, considering they are all people. Where the differences lie is in how this slant is addressed.

Some, like Breitbart and the Daily Wire on the right or Occupy Democrats and the Palmer Report on the left, make no bones about their political leanings. Which is fine, as long as people understand that their content is all opinion, not fact.

Others, like the New York Times and the Washington Post on the left and the Wall Street Journal and Forbes on the right, acknowledge their political stance but strive to keep it from coloring their reporting. Yes, sometimes they are better at it than others, but they all have one common characteristic: when a mistake is made, they cop to it. Publicly. They issue retractions and correct the erroneous information. If there are enough retractions credited to a specific reporter ... well, that reporter is then out of a job.

So I urge everyone reading this -- both of you -- to ask the following questions when considering a news source (not including articles clearly labeled as opinion pieces):
  1. Does this news source use objective language, or are there subjective terms (excluding quotes) used to attempt to sway the reader to a particular way of thinking about an issue? For example, the Daily Wire recently published a story about funding being pulled from a Shakespeare in the Park production of "Julius Caesar" because it depicts the assassination of donald trump. While the story may be true, and it is not at all uncommon for theater companies to adapt Shakespeare to modern settings, the Daily Wire uses language like "objectively despicable contents of this production" to describe the play. Rather than just reporting on the "who, what, where, when" of the issue, the Daily Wire attempts to apply a value judgement to the play, thus robbing the reader of that opportunity.
  2. Can the story be verified by multiple reliable sources? For example, if you see a story in the New York Times, or Forbes, or the BBC, or even the Daily Caller, can you also find reporting on that same topic from another source? This excludes the latest practice in which someone creates content that may or may not be factual and distributes it to like-thinking outlets, who then publish it blindly (basically, what happens here is that the article appears in multiple outlets, with identical or near-identical language).
  3. In the case of erroneous reporting, does the source acknowledge it and issue a retraction? This only applies to factual errors. For example, an article about Ivanka Trump's clothing line that reports on a pair of shoes costing $2,500 when they are actually $250 deserves a correction. An opinion piece stating that they are the butt-ugliest things to come down the pike since the Pontiac Aztek does not.
It is vitally important that we all -- Republican and Democrat alike -- do our due diligence when consuming media. It is only once we emerge from the shriek factories on both the left and right and into the light of day that we can start to find common ground on the issues facing this nation today.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

GOP Hypocrisy 102: Red Meat For The Right


A few months back I wrote a little article, complete with misspellings borne of poor proofreading (my bad), in which I lamented the fact of Republican hypocrisy. The hypocrisy hasn't changed, but I have. I can honestly say:

It doesn't matter.

Not that it isn't important to acknowledge it. It is, and in the most urgent fashion. The reason it doesn't matter is that no Republican will ever acknowledge its existence or do anything to change it. Why should they? It worked wonders in the 2016 election.

For example, in February of 2016 Mitch McConnell (probably the most bitterly partisan member of Congress, and the person who can be counted on to put party ahead of country. Every. Single. Time.) made an announcement within nanoseconds of the death of Antonin Sclaia, saying that the Senate would not be holding any hearings on Obama's Supreme Court nominee because, as he piously put it, “[t]he American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Compare this to his statement on the identical topic from January 4, 2017: “Apparently there’s yet a new standard now, which is to not confirm a Supreme Court nominee at all. [...] I think this is something the American people simply will not tolerate [...] Our hope would be that our Democratic friends would treat President Trump’s nominees in the same way we treated Clinton and Obama.”

(If you mean "obstruct and investigate endlessly" like you guys did for eight years, then that is precisely what is happening, you turkey-necked shitgibbon. But I digress.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I loathe Mitch McConnell with every fiber of my being, and I am firmly convinced he was involved with, if not the mastermind of, Russian interference in the 2016 election, and if he was dragged kicking and screaming across a field of broken glass and into the Potomac River to be sexually assaulted by radioactive turtles I would not have the slightest problem with it. Moving right along ...

There are plenty of examples of such blatant, egregious hypocrisy, but it is pointless to further expose them. Why? Because the Republicans, quite frankly, don't give a flying fuck about consistency of logic, or principles, or appearing to be hypocrites ... at least, not to their base and their donors. The reason for this is that people in Washington -- not limited to the GOP, they're just the best at it -- are able to perform mental gymnastics on any issue that would make Gabby Douglas's jaw drop.

As with anybody in this position, they are highly resistant -- some would say oblivious -- to the inherent contradictory nature of their positions. They are able to pull out all the stops to justify it, from citing obscure regulations from the early days of the country to just making shit up.

And this is why it doesn't matter.

One could spend hours arguing with a Republican why blocking a Supreme Court thing was acceptable in 2016 but not in 2017, or why taking health care away from people in favor of a huge tax cut for the rich is a good idea, or why "Just give him a chance" was an acceptable sentiment in 2017 but not in 2009. You could go for days on Republican statements that we should cut trump some slack because "he's new at this" while simultaneously lambasting President Obama over his inexperience in 2008. It is all futile, because they aren't interested in hearing it.

And this gets to the crux of the problem. It's not hypocrisy per se, it's that the Republican Party has been waging a war on facts for some time now (decades, actually) ... and they have been winning. After all, this is the party that denies climate change is even happening while Superstorm Sandy ravages the mid-Atlantic coast, or denies that trump ever mocked a reporter when there is a video record of it, or that he called Mexicans rapists (which Mike Pence denied during the vice-presidential debate, saying with a straight face "he never said that") even though it was broadcast around the world when he announced in 2015. These are people who were screaming for blood when Obama said, in 2008, that Pennsylvanians cling to their guns and their religion, but dismissed a tape of trump bragging about sexually assaulting someone as "locker room talk."

See, facts don't matter to these people. You can argue until you're blue in the face about climate change, they just don't care. Consider that every climate scientist on the planet who doesn't work for a fossil fuel company, or doesn't have a study funded by one of these interests, agrees not only that it's happening but on the specific details of what's going on ... because it goes against conservative ideology, it's dismissed entirely.

Look at Hillary Clinton's email server. Was it ill-advised for her to use her own email server for official business? Very probably. Was there criminal wrongdoing? No. This was proven in the first investigation, which Republicans viewed as proof that she was a criminal mastermind who was up to something and just really good at hiding it, so therefore it was incumbent upon them to hold another investigation ... with all the fundraising from their base this entailed.

This is the way "Republican logic" works. They reach a conclusion, then work backward from there. The conclusion here is that Hillary Clinton is a criminal, and the investigations were nothing more than a way to attempt to legitimize this belief. Pointing out that no evidence of wrongdoing was ever found -- several times -- has no effect, because that conflicts with the established narrative in the GOP.

(Side note: one thing I found interesting of late was the Republican assertion that investigating the Russian connection was a witch hunt, and that there should be no investigation unless there was real wrongdoing ... ignoring completely the fact that investigations are, by their nature, intended to determine if there was wrongdoing or not.)

And this is where liberals fall down on the job. They assume they are dealing with rational, thinking people. They aren't. These aren't people for whom objective data mean a damn thing. These are people whose only use for objective data is to support their already cemented belief system, and if the data contradict this belief system ... well, the data must be wrong, or biased, or something.

The problem isn't that liberals are trying to make a valid point. It's that, even when they do, nobody wants to hear it. Part of this is that many liberals -- myself included -- can be a little sanctimonious and condescending when making a point, which immediately turns people off. However, the biggest obstacle is that conservatives aren't interested in facts ... they're interested in winning elections. And they've gotten pretty good at it, too.

We are not going to win over conservatives with facts. Facts don't get them excited. Facts very rarely get anyone excited. What we need is to reach them at a visceral level. We need to make an emotional connection with conservative voters, the kind of connection trump made with them in 2016 (albeit without the racist, xenophobic, misogynistic rhetoric). We need to get back to actually communicating -- not talking at them, but listening to them, listening to what is really bothering them, sussing out their hopes and fears, then making the case for how we are going to help them realize these hopes and minimize these fears.

Hillary Clinton missed -- or passed up, or ignored -- a golden opportunity last year when trump started crowing about bringing coal jobs back. Rather than making a glib comment about how there wouldn't be any more coal jobs, she should have taken some time to listen to the people for whom those jobs are important. She should have sympathized with them, made them feel like she was in their corner -- then she could launch into a discussion about how those coal jobs, with their harsh working conditions and high risk of lung disease, would be replaced with jobs in the new energy sector. Jobs that paid comparably to the coal mining jobs of old, but did not have the attendant health risks. Jobs that would move the country forward, not backward. Jobs that were sustainable in the long term.

She failed to do this, and it cost her. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party doesn't seem to have learned from her mistakes. They are cruising along as they always have, courting big-money donors and trying to tack toward the center. The GOP keeps pushing the country further to the right, and the Dems chase after them, trying to find middle ground that just isn't there.

Until the Democrats realize this, until they start reaching people where they live, until they get down in the mud and fight the GOP where they live, they will continue to lose, and lose big, and the Republicans will continue to run roughshod over the middle class and will succeed in their goal of turning the United States of America into an oligarchy, bringing back the robber barons of the Gilded Age ... aka "Make America Great Again" (oh, for a font that clearly displays sarcasm ...).

The time for centrists is over. If the GOP is going to lunge to the right, we need to drag them to the left. This is the only way of reaching the true political center.

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The Problem of the Electoral College

Since the 2016 election, when the current president won the election despite a nearly three million vote deficit in the popular vote, ther...