Posts Tagged ‘Tea Party’

Congolese Child Soldier with “light arms”

[previously published at Examiner.com 7/15/2012]

Wouldn’t it be great if the arms-exporting nations of the world got together to sign an agreement banning the sale of arms to conflict zones, terrorists and murderous dictators?

Of course, the world’s largest exporter of arms, the United States, already has regulations prohibiting the sale of weapons to such people and places, but an international agreement could go a long way in limiting arms trade between nations that have few or no such regulations.

According to William D. Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, because American laws are already in place, such a treaty limiting arms sales would be asking far less of the United States than any other country. Signing the treaty would be “… a very small price to pay for an international agreement that helps keeps arms out of the hands of tyrants, terrorists and aggressor nations,” says Hartung.

With wholesale barbarity in such places as sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq and Syria playing out on the nightly news and the ever-present threat of international terrorism revisiting the United States, you’d think all Americans would support such a treaty — a treaty that would help bar the likes of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Al-Qaeda from the world’s arms bazaar.

Who could possibly oppose such a treaty?

A New Kind of Logic

Who, indeed.

The National Rifle Organization (NRA) is at it again — only this time, the “from my cold, dead fingers” folks are going global.

Despite the fact that the proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty would only regulate the transfer of weapons across international borders and has absolutely nothing to do with gun ownership or sales within the U.S., the NRA and its enforcers in Congress have mounted a campaign against the treaty that is as energetic as it is devoid of sense.

At the U.N. conference negotiating the ATT, NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre, told the conference that the treaty is “an offense to any American who has ever breathed our free air.” You gotta love him.

A letter to President Obama and Sec. of State Clinton signed by 130 NRA cheerleaders in the House of Representatives demanded that the treaty not include any restrictions on small arms or light weapons (you know, the AK-47 and other small arms that do most of the people-shredding around the world). The letter goes on to characterize the treaty as a threat to Americans’ constitutional rights.

Apparently, decades of success at blocking every common sense gun-control law proposed by legislators has taught the NRA to yell, “Constitutional rights,” whenever the words, “gun” and “regulation” appear in the same sentence — whether it applies or not.

When LaPierre accused President Obama of trying to take our guns by NOT proposing any gun control legislation, as LaPierre did in his speech to Florida’s Conservative Political Action Conference in September, I just figured LaPierre was having a bad logic day. After all, Obama, hardly a gun-control crusader, has repealed more gun laws in four years than George W. Bush did in eight — proving everybody can have bad logic days, now and then.

But now, with his full-throated and nonsensical opposition to the ATT, I’m beginning to wonder if LaPierre and the organization that keeps America awash in Saturday night specials and armor-piercing ammo just might be a few rounds short of a full clip.

Exporting Misery

By now we have gotten used to the NRA and its intransigence. We’ve learned to ignore its wild-eyed rhetoric and even LaPierre’s gross disrespect of the President and the presidency. We may even feel a little sorry for those members of the gun set who have bought into the NRA’s self-serving and paranoid fantasy pitting freedom-loving Americans against an evil, despotic government bent on seizing everybody’s guns.

Apparently, we also have learned to live with the 30,000 shooting deaths per year, a figure made possible, at least in part, by lax gun laws and NRA lobbying.

But letting the NRA loose on the rest of the world is just plain mean.

Fearing NRA reprisal, American politicians could very well vote this treaty into history’s dumpster and as a result, put more and more guns into the hands of the world’s bad actors, and, of course, more and more bullets into bodies.

As Americans, we deserve the NRA and the misery caused by the most liberal gun laws on the planet. We are the ones who keep electing politicians that march to the NRA’s tune.

What did the rest of the world do to deserve the NRA?

For a lighter look at the NRA, check out:    “Paranoid and Packing” plus repost of “Double-D Breast Implant Deflects Bullet: NRA Cries Foul”

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[Originally published in Examiner.com]

In a political landscape full of pundit-speak, spin and dancing politicians, it’s often difficult to cast a truly informed vote. So it’s good to know you can still get politics served up straight, bold and unapologetic in Texas.

I’m speaking, of course, about the brand new 2012 platform of the Texas Republican Party. Epic in scope, breathtaking in its lunacy, this platform covers everything from evolution to space exploration and is a clear, unambiguous glimpse into the worldview of today’s Republican Party — a must-read for all who might be thinking of voting in that direction this November.

The Texas GOP platform reminds you that today’s Republican Party is not your father’s Republican Party. It’s not even his father’s Republican Party. As you read it, you’ll feel as if you’re being transported back in time to an age when scientists were considered evil sorcerers, women needed men and/or the government to decide how to manage their lives, and education was something you did to children, rather than for them.

Education

This is how the new GOP believes kids should be taught about theories of evolution and global warming:

“We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is [sic] produced.”

Sounds reasonable enough. But I wonder if it would be OK with Republicans if teachers teach their students that it was, indeed, only after many scientific challenges to both of these theories that scientists accepted them as the likely answers to the questions, “How did we develop as a species?” and “Why is the Earth getting so darned warm?”

Though today’s Republicans are big on challenging evolution and man-made global warming, it seems they don’t want children to challenge much of anything.

“We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

As Texas Christian University professor of economics, John T. Harvey, writes in his excellent piece at Forbes,

“… do they really and truly believe that teachers and school boards across the State of Texas are designing curricula specifically aimed at training children to challenge their parents?”

Actually, there are probably very few people who know exactly what the Texas GOP means about critical thinking “undermining parental authority” but they do manage to interject a little paranoia into the old “father knows best” adage.

Harvey continues:

“Were we to implement such a policy, we’d have to be certain that we had already identified the concepts and values that were ‘correct’ (whatever that really means). Even a cursory reading of their platform makes it very clear that this is precisely what Texas Republicans believe and what those concepts and values are. This begs the question, who is really aiming to force their beliefs on our children, Texas schools or Texas Republicans?”

If kids do have the temerity to think critically in class, though, Texas Republicans know what to do.

“We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas.”

Women

Or how about Republican plans for women — more specifically, women’s bodies?

It may be approved by the FDA, considered safe and effective by the American Medical Association and available at your local Walgreen’s, but Republicans know better.

“We oppose sale and use of the dangerous ‘Morning After Pill’.”

In their ongoing attempt to send abortion back to its back-alley roots, Republicans want to place themselves firmly between women and their doctors.

“We support legislation banning of abortion after 20 weeks gestation due to fetal pain.”

Once again, the GOP knows better than them smart aleck research scientists, who find no scientific evidence to support such legislation.

The platform does make one sensible pronouncement regarding women, however.

“We strongly support women who choose to devote their lives to their families and raising their children.”

It’s just that the platform declares no such support for women who choose to do anything else.

Homosexuality

Americans are gradually warming to the idea that gay and lesbian folk are as good, bad, decent and indecent as we heteros. We are also beginning to recognize the cruelty, impracticality and unfairness of marginalizing this large segment of the American population. But, Republicans see it a bit differently.

“We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable “alternative” lifestyle, in public policy, nor should “family” be redefined to include homosexual “couples.”

Homosexuals have been part of the human family ever since Peking Man found another Peking Man attractive. Not to mention, same-sex attraction occurs in every species, from gut worms to primates. Doesn’t that qualify homosexuality as one of God’s “unchanging truths?”

Anyone thinking about homosexuality with a clear, bias-free mind understands that it is neither a choice nor harmful to society. Who would choose to spend his or her life fighting for rights we straights take for granted? And, can anyone explain to me how on earth I am negatively affected by another person’s fondness for members of his or her own sex?

Voter Beware

There are many more equally nutty views espoused in the platform, including support for returning the dollar to the gold standard, abolishing income tax in favor of a national sales tax, abstinence-only sex-ed, gutting public education and, of course, deregulation, deregulation and more deregulation. But this is what Republicans stand for today. By purging moderates and independent minded conservatives from its ranks, the Republican Party has managed to reduce itself to a thick soup of right wing extremism that even Ronald Reagan would have a hard time recognizing as his beloved Grand Old Party.

It seems every presidential election is hyped as “the most important election in history.” This time, however, it may very well be. And that makes the Texas Republican Party Platform equally important.

Read it, get to know it and then… run screaming back to the Democratic Party. Your nation will thank you.

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As I emerge from my post-election funk, the blood slowly returning to my face, I survey the damage done to the world by Fox News and half a nation gone nuts, and ask the only appropriate question… “WTF?”

We’ve elected to the Senate a guy who publicly condemns the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act; we have put in Congress a passel of people who believe that Obama–the centrist’s centrist–is actually a covert Muslim/Communist bent on world domination, and we’ve emboldened an Alaskan female, secular version of Elmer Gantry into thinking she has a chance at becoming president.

So what on earth is there to be thankful for?

Culture Wars

If you believe, as I do, that the culture war is the 500-pound aardvark in the room–the reason that ostensibly sane voters would elect utterly unqualified people to lead the country, the reason for the Tea Party’s successes, and the reason for the strange disconnect between Americans’ self-interest and their votes, then raise a glass this Thanksgiving for Generation Y,  AKA the “Millennials.”

On almost all the culture war/wedge issues, the current crop of Americans under 30 are trending far more progressive than X-ers or Boomers did when they were pups. When it comes to reproductive choice, acceptance of homosexuality, role of government, the environment and race–this group is turning out to be Pat Buchanan’s worst nightmare.

Nowhere are this generations’ progressive leanings more evident than in its acceptance of homosexuality. According to the 2010 Pew survey, Religion Among the Millennials, 61% believe homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared to 51% of Americans aged 30-49; 48% of ages 50-64 and 35% of those over 65. Though every modern generation of young Americans has increasingly turned its back on bigotry, the Millennials seem to be running from it at light speed.

Staying Power

With this group, the old, “sure, they’re liberal now, but wait until they get older” bromide doesn’t wash. Hard data and the nature of today’s young adulthood suggest that this group’s rejection of socially conservative politics is different than that of earlier generations, and is more likely to last. Additionally, their desire for more government services suggests their progressive leanings may not be limited to social issues.

According to the L.A. Times’ “Walking Away From Church,” young people are leaving their churches at five times that of previous generations, and the number-one stated reason for leaving is the conservative political orientation of their church. It’s not that they are running out to dance with the Devil, mind you–Millennials tend to hold on to their Christian faith–they just can’t stand the us vs. them poison spewing from the pulpit and from older parishioners.

This phenomenon is not lost on the Christian press. Drew Dyck writes in Christianity Today, “…the life-phase argument may no longer pertain. Young adulthood is not what it used to be. For one, it’s much longer. Marriage, career, children—the primary sociological forces that drive adults back to religious commitment—are now delayed until the late 20s, even into the 30s. Returning to the fold after a two- or three-year hiatus is one thing. Coming back after more than a decade is considerably more unlikely.” Though Dyck is probably correct about losing young people for good, he misses the fact that Millennials’ commitment to religion is still very much alive. They’re just taking it away from what they see as non-Christian influences.

Young Americans to the Rescue

So this Thanksgiving, think of your turkey’s  wishbone as the letter “Y” and give thanks for the Millennials. Yes, four years with our new ultra-right House of Representatives will be difficult to stomach, but remember there’s a whole new crop of young folk out there who have refused to drink the conservative Koolaid and will soon be flexing their political muscle. Like a lethal gene diminishing within a family line, the old, intolerant, Calvinistic mentality seems to be heading for well-deserved extinction.

Who knows, after a few years of seeing this new Congress in action, the Millennials might even become politically active (be still my heart). But for now, I’ll be grateful for their votes.

It used to make me crazy that votes cast by uninformed citizens carried as much weight as those cast by folks who at least cared enough to learn something about the candidates and issues on the ballot.  It seemed unfair that a person with no historical reference, someone who couldn’t be bothered to read – or even watch – the news had every bit as much influence in the voting booth as someone who could name one of his state’s senators, knew that the Gettysburg Address was not part of the Constitution and was pretty darned sure we did not fight North Vietnam during World War Two.

There oughta be a voting test, I thought.  Kinda like a DMV driving test—a short, maybe 10-question exam, that would separate the civic numbskulls from the not-numbskulls. Score 7 out of 10, and you get your ballot.  Simple.

But there was a problem. Who would design the test? The temptation to skew the test toward one ideological direction or other is too great to leave the job to some overzealous or corruptible employee of the Registrar of Voters.  In other words, we would have to select the proper test by public referendum—putting us right back where we started. Damn. Democracy is messy.

Eventually, I realized that it really didn’t matter anyway. All the votes based on criteria, like “Hey, this candidate has the same first name as my second cousin” and “Wow, this proposition’s number is my wife’s lucky lotto number!” would cancel each other out, leaving the more reasoned votes to battle for the direction of our glorious democracy.

Or so I thought.

Rebels Without a Clue

How was I to know that fear, anger, a wrecked economy and a rightwing TV network would one day marshal those once unconcerned voters into a potent “throw the bums out” voting bloc called “The Tea Party?”

Though it appears the Tea Party-ers’ new passion for politics has not compelled them to become any more informed than they were before joining the movement, don’t worry; Fox News tells them everything they need to know in short, easy-to-parrot catchphrases. So, instead of directing their anger toward the poodle politicians who continue to sell Americans’ health and standard of living to the highest corporate bidders, they blame Obama, a president who has at least shown some inclination–timid though it may be–to rein in the robber-barons of the insurance, energy, healthcare and banking industries.

Chumped

As the Tea Party screams about socialism and Big Government’s intrusion into the private sector, guess who sits back in their $15,000 ostrich leather recliners, gleefully rubbing their hands together like Snidely Whiplash, salivating in anticipation of the next Tea Party victory—the board members of the very corporations whose gambling, outsourcing and greed created the Great American Mess in the first place; that’s who. Bravely marching on, waving their “Obama is a Communist Nazi” signs, the Tea Party-ers have no idea that they’re actually being led down a Stars and Stripes-festooned chute to a fiscal slaughtering pen.

It’s not that Tea Party candidates or members are any smarter or dumber than your average extremist, war-happy, nativist, homophobic, rightwing Republican. It’s just that I would have hoped a sweet, home-grown candidate like the Tea Party’s newest champion, Christine O’Donnell, might at least see economic matters a bit differently than Establishment Republicans, whose ideas of personal adversity run toward catastrophes like late limo drivers and overcooked chateau briand.

Unlike the upper-crust Republicans who populate Capitol Hill, O’Donnell is a working gal who, like so many Americans, has personally felt the sharp pain of financial insolvency. You’d think that at some point while trying to dig herself out of  IRS liens and threatened home foreclosures, Ms. O’Donnell would have noticed how dramatically the deck has been stacked against working Americans by large  corporations and their handmaidens in Congress. That in her darkest moment of despair she would have been struck by a blinding flash of understanding that a gambled-away economy, stagnant wages, unaffordable healthcare and a disappearing middle class are not the results of over-sized government, but of corporate avarice and power run amok; that Big Government isn’t the problem…Owned Government is.

The Loopy Bunch

“Throw the bums out,” has been the rallying cry of a disgruntled electorate since the founding of our democracy. Members of the Tea Party movement, however, have added  their own unique codicil: “Throw the bums out and replace them with people who are as clueless as we are.”

Case in point: Tea Party favorite and Republican nominee for the New York gubernatorial race, Carl Paladino.  Sure, he’s unbalanced and looks like he could spontaneously combust at any moment, but he also appears to be unbelievably stupid. Did he not see the cameras and lights when he threatened to “take out” New York Post reporter Fredric Dicker? Did he not realize that he would come off looking like a temperamental maître d’ doing a really bad Goodfellas routine? And of all the news organizations on the planet to go after, which does Paladino choose? Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post–trumpet of the Rabid Right, and friend to Paladino’s campaign…until Paladino went thug on them, that is.

In Kentucky there’s the Tea Party-approved,  tousle-haired Rand Paul, publicly voicing his opposition to both the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, while O’Donnell’s past dabblings in witchcraft, and rejection of evolution and masturbation continue to provide insight into the early development of a Tea Party great.

Good lord, I wouldn’t trust these people to park my car!

The Tea Party movement could be a blessing, though. It is already causing wide-spread panic throughout the Republican Party, which is always a good thing. GOP leaders are now forced to answer two difficult questions,  “Do we sign on with these loons and risk losing the few sane people we have left, or do we ignore them and pray that their amazing facility for self-destruction quickly slides them back under the rock?” The first strategy would surely strike terror in the hearts of many Independents, driving them back to the Democrats; but strategy #2 might cause the Crazed Right to stay home on election day — an interesting dilemma.

The Tea Party movement also serves as a kind of national bellwether. If my countrymen are crazy enough to put that crew into Congress, where their votes could actually influence what goes on in my country and my life, I’ll know that it’s time to move to Greenland.


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[originally published by OpEd News]
Actually, there is no pat meaning or definition for the phrase “family values.” Like obscenity, I guess you just know it when you see it. 

Often used by social conservatives to conjure up a mythical America of yesteryear, the phrase evokes an era when everyone’s lawn was green, thick and well manicured, kids were obedient, and “Lassie” had no genitalia—long before liberals turned us into gay, pot-smoking abortionists, before minorities and women got so noisy and before movie stars said naughty words on screen.

Today many Republicans use the term as a weapon against same-sex marriage, legal abortion, the decriminalization of marijuana and a zillion other issues they find unacceptable.

To clarify our terms, I suggest we define “family values” as “valuing the American family.” “Republicans” will mean “the movers and shakers of today’s dynamic GOP.”

Valuing the Family… the Republican Way

To be fair, I think Republicans do value families — but only their own. Everybody else’s family is either trying to stay in the country illegally, getting rich and lazy on welfare, undeserving of a living wage, a terrorist cell, or immorally trying to become a family while being gay.

Though many Democratic leaders share the blame in the Great Stacking of the Deck Against American Families, these Democrats tend to be of the sneaky, corporate shill variety who are often at odds with American families’ wishes and their own party’s positions (see Public Option). Republicans, however, are very open about their willingness to throw the American family under the bus in the name of big business, bigotry, big business, bad judgment and big business.

There is really no reason—or enough room on my hard drive—to go into all of the sordid, headline-grabbing family values hypocrisies of such Republican pillars of wholesomeness as Sen. David “Escort Service” Vitter and Sen. Larry “Strokin’ in the Boys Room” Craigs. Though these indiscretions do highlight the dilemma of a party that professes to love America but can’t tolerate how Americans live, they are not the result of official party policy, as far as I know. Rather, it’s the official, loudly-touted policies of today’s lockstep GOP leadership that amply demonstrate the party’s disregard for the majority of American families.

With the possible exception of a proposed Wendell Willkie postage stamp, every major item on the GOP wish list would either be disadvantageous to most American families or devastating if put into effect.

Here are a few:

Deregulation

As homeless shelters burst at the seams with newly impoverished families, and old folks wonder how on earth they’re going to get through their golden years now that their 401(k)s are in tatters and their homes are worth borscht, Republicans are clamoring to let the Wall Street robber-barons who drove our economy into a ditch continue to speed along with even fewer rules of the road.

Rather than offering to commit public seppuku for creating the Reagan-Gramm deregulation free-for-all that made the Wall Street greed orgy and collapse possible, Republican enablers like Sen. Mitch McConnell and others call Obama a socialist for wanting more governmental oversight of the industry, whining in chorus that such intrusion into the private sector would kill jobs and stifle innovation.

Yeah, we saw the kind of “innovation” Wall Street is capable of.

By the way, whenever you hear a sentence containing any form of the words “job” and “kill” spoken by a Republican, remember who was steering the ship of state when the jobs began to die. You’ve got to admire Republican testicular strength, though—if nothing else—for even mentioning “deregulation” and “jobs” in the same sentence.

Anti-Unionism

For the last thirty years Americans have watched their wages shrivel while CEOs have increasingly taken home salaries and bonuses that would make the Sultan of Brunei blush. According to a University of California Santa Cruz study, the top 20% of households owned 85% of all privately held wealth in 2007—leaving the rest of us 80% to divvy up the remaining 15%.

Oddly enough, it was also during this time that Republican policies, votes and propaganda made it more difficult for workers to unionize. Organized labor has gone from representing one-third of America’s workforce in 1950 to just 11.9% in 2010. In the private sector, union membership is down to a feeble 6.9%. It’s no coincidence that Americans’ earning power accompanied that decline. Where did America’s middle class go? It committed suicide in the voting booth.

Yet Republicans continue to paint unions as enormously powerful bogeymen and have even ramped up their union bashing. Why? As organizations of and for working Americans, unions tend to favor Democrats. Republicans know if they can get rid of unions completely Democrats will lose the financial support and organizational strengths unions have historically given to Democratic politicians and issues. In the end, Republicans would have the support of Big Business and all the votes corporate money can buy while Democrats would be out on the street with a hurdy-gurdy and a monkey.

Incredibly, Republicans have managed to get a surprising number of American workers—low skilled through professional—to swallow this anti-union codswallop. Somehow the right has transformed the image of organized labor from Woody Guthrie rousing a room with his guitar into Vito Corleone spraying the room with a sub-machine gun.

Apparently, relentless Republican attacks on unions made some workers forget where living wages, worker safety, tolerable conditions and decent hours came from in the first place. Those who think these advances for American workers and their families came from the goodness of corporate hearts should be made to write “British Petroleum” 100 times on the blackboard, or at the very least, read this little heart-warmer about two high-level Massey Energy executives and their descent into the Upper Big Branch coalmine immediately after the mine’s deadly explosion. Heroic rescue attempt or an attempt to destroy evidence and rescue themselves from criminal indictments and billions in fines and civil judgments?

Anti-Same-Sex Marriage

By attempting to end these families before they’ve even begun, this Republican position affecting a large number of our countrymen and women may be the hands-down champ of blatant, Republican anti-family-ness. Good lord, fellas, I know this issue whips your Tea Party pals into a white-hot lather, but sometimes, reason, fairness and the U.S. Constitution must win over political expedience…mustn’t it…sometimes?

I really don’t think anyone with the power to reason still believes that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, a  naughty experiment or juicy flaunting of our moral code. No one really thinks that teenagers choose to be slammed into lockers by lettermen clubs, or look happily forward to the day they will tell their parents to “forget about grandchildren from me.”

So, what we have here is a major political party attempting to punish and marginalize a large segment of the American population by trying to prohibit them from doing what comes naturally: fall in love and get married. As gays and lesbians try to lead their lives despite cruel prejudice and religious dogma that holds approximately the same modern relevance as stoning your son to death for being a gluttonous drunkard (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), the Grand Old Party does its level best to keep anti-gay bigotry loud and alive by demanding prior restraint on would-be families with its Marriage Protection Amendment to the Constitution.

Lifting the Assault Weapon Ban

What can anyone say about this Republican wish and its potential effect on American families, other than “Lift the assault weapon ban?

Come November

The Republican Party’s long tradition of siding with big business over the American family continues to chip away at the average American’s earning power and standard of living. However, the damage a Republican controlled Washington could further inflict on American families isn’t limited to economics. When you toss in other family-unfriendly Republican positions on global warming, preemptive and continual war, education, reproductive rights and family planning, and their new jaw-dropper regarding unemployment insurance creating  “lazy” Americans, it’s not too difficult to figure out which party’s policies and worldview promote “family values.”

The truth is, until special interest money is removed from our electoral system, neither party will truly be the champion of the American family. Sadly though, with the Republican majority of the Supreme Court opening the corporate spigots wide with its Citizens United ruling, that heavenly day is likely to be a long, long way down the line.

Forced to choose between the two parties, however, the American family would be wise to go with the Democrats. The Grand Old Party is too darned busy trying to keep people from voting, selling American families to the highest corporate bidders, undermining the Obama presidency at the country’s expense and coming up with new and better ways of converting Americans’ lesser angels of fear and bigotry into political power to even care about how American families are doing.

For a scary trip down the Republican rabbit hole:
2012 Texas Republican Platform: A Frightening Look Inside the New Republican Brai

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The worst PR for the rabid right   (Photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia)

The worst PR for the rabid right (Photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia)

Glenn Beck—An American Original

The wonderful thing about the Glenn Beck show is Beck’s complete lack of self-restraint and good judgment. It’s like watching an Id on amphetamines strangling a defenseless 90-pound weakling Superego every day at 5 o’clock. With no  internal editor counseling Beck against buffoonery and the endless spouting of easily disprovable “facts,” he stands intellectually and morally challenged before the world as the worst PR imaginable for the New Republican Party.

A Few Recent Gems from the Beck Collection:

Regarding the history of race relations, Beck believes things were “moving in the right direction” “…until the lead up to the Civil War.”

According to Beck: Joe McCarthy—the infamously unbalanced red-baiter of the 50s—was right.

Beck has suggested that predator drones would be used by Obama to monitor Tea Parties.

Beck: “We have more in line today with the communist goals of 1963″ than with the Constitution.

Inspiration

Just take a moment to think about Beck’s take on race relations in America during the early to mid 19th century: “…moving in the right direction.” What could he possibly mean by that? Was there less whipping by slave owners? Listening closely to that show’s clip, he seems to be implying that blacks and whites of the late 18th and 19th centuries got along handsomely until politicians started making such a big deal out of slavery. If they just had shut up about that little divisive matter of one human being owning another, things would have been fine.

If you don’t count the Beck faithful, Beck may be the only non-straight-jacketed individual on the planet to find the works of discredited Mormon historian W. Cleon Skousen to be of any value at all, let alone central to his very being. Skousen, the man Beck claims “changed my life,” believed President Eisenhower was a communist agent, and was considered too far right by famed anti-communist FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, who kept a 2,000-page dossier on the guy. An avid supporter of the John Birch Society (famous for warning us about the commie plot known as fluoridated water), and a big believer in one-world conspiracies and end-times dogma, Skousen was marginalized as too radical and loopy by Goldwater Republicans during the sixties, and was treated by his own Mormon Church as an embarrassment. Beck, however, has scraped the mildew off Skousen’s books and papers, and repackaged them as prophesy.

The Right vs. Wrong

These are just tiny glimpses into the astonishing nuttiness of Mr. Beck. His bold incoherence, his open-your-mouth-and-see-what-comes-out approach to philosophical discourse, and his knack for self-promotion are driving more sensible conservatives, like Matthew Continetti of The Weekly Standard, to distraction. Continetti’s piece  in the Standard is as merciless to Beck as anything penned by the left—with a lot more sting.

Continetti has good reason to be concerned. Beck stands as a constant reminder of the hijacking of the Republican Party by those who increasingly waddle over the line between extremist ideology and certifiable.

Keep Beck on the Air

Those boycotting Beck’s sponsors and calling for his dismissal believe Beck’s rhetoric often oozes into hate speech, and has directly or indirectly caused violent behavior by some of his more unstable devotees. When I recall the TV images of some of the folks who attended Beck’s “9.12” gathering in Washington, the accusation isn’t difficult to believe. However, suppressing anyone’s speech, no matter how inflammatory or moronic, is a dangerous thing to do.

The best reason to keep Beck on the tube, though, is his headline-grabbing absurdity. Reasonable conservatives and independents may not watch his show, but the mainstream media—always on the lookout for outrageousness—make sure that such gems as Beck’s  “exposé of FEMA concentration camps” and conviction that George Soros is planning to kill him are always fresh in people’s minds.

As the most visible face of the New Republican (read:Tea) Party, it is imperative that Beck’s latest outrages continue to be fresh in the minds of independents and embarrassed Republicans, especially at voting time.

The isolated cases of alleged Beck-inspired violence wouldn’t hold a candle to what the world would be in for if Beck’s breed of Republicans were ever voted into power.

If you happened to catch Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce this morning on MSNBC, you got a glimpse of just how low America’s political discourse has sunk. Interruptive, combative and utterly boorish, Pearce let loose with a barrage of non-facts that would make Rod Blagojevich blush.

Just a couple of this morning’s Pearce-isms:

According to Pearce, the horde of illegal immigrants crossing our border is composed chiefly of child molesters, drug dealers and rapists (fiendishly masquerading as people looking for work, I guess).

Asked to comment on Mexican president Felipe Calderon’s assertion that America’s addiction to illegal drugs is partly to blame for the violence and racketeering of Mexican cartels, Pearce countered, “Those drugs are illegal; you can’t even get them in the United States.”  Evidently, the narcotraficantes are moving copious amounts of blow and Mexican tar northward just in case Gringos ever do find a way to “get them.”

Say What?

I’m not sure that even Pearce knew what he meant by that last one, but both statements are prime examples of the new “Proudly Dumb” movement galumphing its way into cable news and talk radio.  Just yell louder than your opponent, and make up any darned “fact” you please, no matter how easily disprovable. Oh, and remember to shake your head emphatically while the other guy is speaking. According to Students Against Drunk Drivers (SADD), one-in-six American high school seniors has driven high on reefer during the last year alone –If that ain’t demand, what is?

On this particular morning, however, Pearce didn’t even have an opponent. He was being interviewed by MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer, whose only challenge to Pearce was her seeming inability to make sense of what he was hissing at her. Pearce was in full combat mode, nonetheless.

The Face of SB 1070

To a certain segment of the listening and viewing public, Pearce’s debate style probably seems commanding and effective (much like a well-slammed folding chair across the back of a WWE wrestler seems commanding and effective). To thinking people, however, it comes off as the raving of a guy who is sorely lacking a fundamental understanding of illegal immigration — and manners.

The real losers in Pearce’s performance were supporters of SB1070, Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law. As the author of the legislation, Senator Pearce did for the law’s detractors what no demonstration could ever do. In one 3-minute tantrum, Pearce managed to lend a lot of credence to those who claim the law is mean-spirited, reckless and vindictive.

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Busted unions, privatized social security, deregulation of industry, and now…energy-swilling homes. Is there no stopping the self-destructive behavior of the American middle class conservative?

According to the N.Y. Times, a study published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that political ideology plays a significant role in determining whether a homeowner will respond favorably to voluntary home conservation programs.

The study found that those who vote Republican and donate money to conservative candidates and causes are considerably less likely to give it the old college try when it comes to conserving energy in their homes. Not surprisingly, the study showed that Democrats who donate to environmental groups and get their electricity from renewable sources showed the most improvement. When receiving individual usage feedback, they reduced their energy consumption by about 3%.

On the other hand, the study found Republican households that practice no specific eco-friendly behaviors increased their energy usage by 1% over previous quarters when receiving the same type of feedback.

Overall, households in the conservation program reduced consumption by 2%. The Republican subset, however, actually increased usage by .04%.

In addition to household energy-usage reports, half of the homes studied received tips on how to reduce usage and were rewarded for their efforts with smiley faces printed on the reports. Two smiley faces went to those who used less energy than their neighbors, one smiley face for average use. Instead of smiley faces, those who scored poorly got “ROOM TO IMPROVE” on their reports in bold, black letters. These underachievers also got specific tips on how they might reduce their usage.

Green is for Sissies

Granted, the smiley faces are a bit much, and nobody likes to be scolded. But, you’d think that the grown-up living inside most of us would rise above the condescension, and make an effort to help our ailing planet by reducing personal energy consumption—if not for our children and their children, at least for a substantial reduction in our monthly energy bills.

But, no. Like a naughty, petulant child, our conservative friends demonstrate their rugged individualism and distaste for political correctness by working against the planet and their own financial interests. “No tree-hugging egghead scientist is gonna tell me what to do in my own home,” would be the conservative refrain. “This is America, dammit. Shining cities on a hill shouldn’t have to sacrifice nothin’”

It’s the same mentality evident in a giant, gas-guzzling SUV careening down the street with two American flags on top flapping proudly in the smog. To these folks, the financial pain of 7 miles-per-gallon is well worth the political message they and their condominiums-on-wheels deliver: Green is for sissies!

Widespread Chump-dom

This curious, self-defeating behavior of middle class conservatives isn’t limited to environmental issues. While the middle class shrinks, wages remain stagnant and CEOs receive salaries and bonuses that would make King Midas blush, conservatives bash the only hope the middle class has of getting a fair shake from industry—trade and labor unions.

As the Gulf of Mexico becomes the Black Lagoon and middle class workers in the fishing and tourism businesses of the region stare down the barrel of insolvency, conservatives are calling for more off-shore drilling and less regulation of the oil industry. While middle class folks teeter on the brink of financial collapse due to Wall Street’s fun and games, conservatives insist on less regulation of the banking and insurance industries.

And as more members of the middle class lose their health insurance or are driven to bankruptcy by insurance and pharmaceutical industries run amok, conservatives resist legislation that would force those industries to play nicer, and make our health care system more Hippocratic than plutocratic.

Time after time, members of America’s middle class have been left to pay for unfettered corporate greed with their jobs, higher taxes (for bailouts and corporate under-paying) and their sanity while conservatives line up like rubes at a carnival game for more of the same treatment.

Obviously, they don’t see themselves as dupes. Rather, they believe they are fighting for the invisible hand of the free market. What middle class conservatives refuse to understand is that price and wage fixing, politician purchase and general corporate malfeasance makes a truly free market a pipe dream, leaving the invisible hand with nothing to do but rummage through their pockets.

I suppose this would all be kind of funny if it weren’t for the fact that conservatives aren’t the only ones who suffer the consequences of their self-destructive tendencies.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT, indeed.

Hey Chuck –

Both of your recent forwards read like companion pieces. The New Yorker column shows us how nuts we’ve become, and the Houston Chronicle piece suggests a way—albeit a dangerous way– to sort us all out (I mean, Palin could win, then we’d all have to move to a commune in Norway).

Both are terrific reads.  The Surowiecki piece is terrifyingly accurate, though I think he’s a bit too forgiving of our countrymen.  “The anger is understandable,” he says, but what I find hard to understand is Americans’ refusal to invest even the least bit of intellectual effort to go past the soundbites and slogans to get a better fix on what’s really going on.  I can’t remember who said this, but his perfect answer to “I’m not really into politics ” was, “Oh yeah?  Well, politics is really into you, my friend.”

No wonder we don’t make sense; we don’t have any.  There is a long list of things pundits tend to blame for “The Dumbing Down of America”–TV, bad schools, busy schedules, blah, blah–but the real culprit here is a populace that is content to have reduced its political outlook to three categories: “Things That Save me Money,”  “Things That Piss Me Off” and “Things I Don’t Understand”–with the third category being the dominant influence on the first two. That’s why Tea Party types can call Obama a Nazi and a communist, and not get laughed out of the room.

However, there was an encouraging turn in the mid-2000s (for a discouragingly short period) when people became politicized during Bush’s reign.  He had scared the hell out of them. They began to look up terms like “fascism” and “unitary executive.” Friends who had never had a political thought in their lives began emailing me with their takes on the latest outrages of Bush and crew.  Sadly, many of these political tyros had zero grounding in modern American or world history so they were easy pickings for lunatic, politics-as-entertainment theories, like Bush planned 9/11, etc.  Their enthusiasm continued all the way up to Obama’s election, but then sort of petered out when, I suppose, the next season of American Idol began.  But other political novitiates really began to do their homework, making a real effort to wade through the crap to find out what was actually going on.  I still get email from them–sensible, thoughtful stuff.

There has always been a trace of anti-intellectualism flowing through our American veins, which I suppose began during our revolution against the sesquipedalian, be-wigged, English elite.  But, today, dumb seems to have grown into a movement, or at least an important part of what Surowiecki calls “the new populism.”

Though education does require effort, it is also naturally rewarding.  Evolution has hardwired us to fill our brains with new stuff– unless something gets in the way, like defeatism, hopelessness and good, old apathy.  A documentary called “The American Ruling Class”  suggests much of that hopelessness and defeatism felt by so many “average American Joes” is the result of a concerted effort by the American oligarchy to regain control of the nation from the grassroots movements of the 60s.  I’m not big on conspiracy theories, but so many of this film’s premises–from the successful corporate attack on organized labor in the private sector, to the continuing, destructive status of corporations-as-citizens are convincing enough to make me believe that a lot of the mess we find ourselves wallowing in is no accident.

I better go before this letter gets long.

Too late,

RB