Category Archives: Politics

The Left, the Right, and Inbetween

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Wouldn’t you know it. I was rousted from my fall blogging slumber by the lie machine that is Fox News.

“Hold on, just a minute there, young man,” you say, astutely judging both my gender and general age range. “Just because you’re a liberal-commie-pinko-MSNBC-watchin’-athiest doesn’t mean you have to constantly degrade the fine people who are fighting the good fight over there at Fox News.”

To that, I say it’s time for a little lesson on how exactly Fox News spins their web of biased deceit.

Just this past week, Fox News used this chart in their newscast. I would imagine it raised the ire of many a Fox News viewer.

Fox_welfare-jobs-ff-1

“That’s what I’m talking about,” you declare. “Look at it. That’s exactly what’s wrong with this damned country, right there in one chart! Why, it makes me want to go out and buy more gold from that nice Glenn Beck fella! Our Founding Fathers didn’t storm Normandy Beach in order to sign the Constitution just so a bunch of lazy, shifty welfare blood-suckers could take all the hard-earned money from those of us with our noses to the grindstone!”

But here’s the problem. When you deal primarily in rage and hate, you soon lose the ability to reason and to look at things with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Lie #1 — Scale

At first glance, it looks like there is a huge difference between those two bars. But look at how short the 101.7 million bar is. Now look at what a big difference an extra 7 million makes on the other bar. Yeah, out here in the real world, those numbers really aren’t very far apart at all.

Lie #2 — Source

Admittedly, to judge the source, you have to know something about how the census bureau collects data. As Media Matters points out, that 108.6 million figure is from participation in means-tested programs. That means it includes everyone in a household in which one or more people receive government benefits.  Thus, if there are 5 people in your household and 1 gets benefits, all five of you would go into that 108.6 million figure, even if four of you have full-time jobs. Conversely (and conveniently for Fox’s bias), the “people with a full-time job” figure only includes individuals with a job. Thus, if a household of five people is supported by one person with a job, only the one person is counted in the 101.7 figure.

Plus, many of those counted in the welfare number are children (as much as half), the disabled, or the elderly — people whom we wouldn’t expect to be holding down a full-time job. But Fox News sure expects that. Moochers.

Lie #3 — Non-exclusiveness

These are not mutually exclusive groups, as the graph would suggest. There are plenty of people– more and more these days — who work full-time, minimum-wage jobs at McDonald’s or WalMart or Taco Bell who also depend on assistance such as food stamps, rent assistance, or other forms of aid.

The people at Fox News are many things, but stupid is not among them. They know all these things. But they really don’t care if a graph can help them to stigmatize poor people and gin up support for gutting the safety net.

And while they are welcome to their political bent and opinions, the big problem here is that this kind of thing is passed off as hard news, fact, truth, fair and balanced. When it’s not. It’s not even close.

Of course, this type of post is probably just a waste of time. For most of you, I’m just preaching to the choir and saying things you already know. For others of you, I’m just taking pot shots at people who are doing God’s work. This was just one instance. Why get worked up about it?

fox graph

Only Fox can survey 120% of the American public. No wonder they thought Romney won the election.

Here’s one telling you how much Obama has raised the price of gas.

fox gas

“Damn that Obama!” Of course, they are hoping you don’t notice that the time period between Last Year and Last Week is equal to the time between Last Week and Current. But what is not so easy to see is what happened in between those points. Here is the same data as plotted on the green line by AAA, the source.

AAA

That’s totally the same thing, right?

People used to depend on the news to tell the truth and put things into a proper context. Now, we really just want the news to tell us what we want to hear and to blame those we want to blame.

Thus, I say, our country’s dysfunction and polarization is not entirely Congress’ fault. In fact, here’s the result of my study…

funny graph

Numbers iz hard.

The loneliest metaphor

planet2A planet has been found. Don’t you love it when we discover a new planet? This lonely sphere has the catchy name PSO J318.5-22. It looks cool (at least according to these artist’s renderings) and has some interesting qualities that would make it a great metaphor for something. If only there were some prominent news story for which this little guy could serve as a useful metaphor. Here are some of its qualities…

→ It has no host star, no orbit, no path. It’s just wandering out there through space. Scientists call these bodies “rogue planets.”

→ Scientists believe that this one was probably kicked out of a star system at some time.

→ It’s made up of mostly gas, or hot air.

→ It’s now drifting out there, all alone. As one researcher said, “It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone. I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do.”

→ It will be easy to study in the coming years because researchers won’t have to contend with the brightness of a nearby star.

planet1→ It was found by scientists who were studying and searching for failed stars, or brown dwarfs.

→ This one was discovered because it was very red. Redder than even the reddest known brown dwarfs. IT IS VERY RED, PEOPLE!

→ According to the London Daily Mail (I swear I did not doctor this): “It’s movement isn’t structured, scientists do not understand how it formed and they are baffled by what — if anything — controls it.”

Wandering without a path, rogue-like. Rejected by more respected galaxies. Made up of hot air. Out of control. Redder than red. Unencumbered by brightness. Nowhere close to a star.

Oh science. Will you never cease to amaze us with your life lessons and wisdom?

Hey, maybe we can end that government shutdown thing by wishing upon a star, if only we had one.

The party of presidential assassination

I’m starting to think that the Republicans have it out for the president. “Duh!” you say. Wait, I’m not talking about Obama. I’m talking about the White House. I’m talking about the office of the presidency. I’m beginning to think that Republicans are throwing in the towel regarding ever again winning a national election. Now, they seem to be all about neutering the oval office and ruling the country from the safe confines of the House of Representatives.

gop votersAfter the last failed attempt at the presidency, the GOP did some soul searching. They had just lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 national elections. Their exhaustive study, optimistically called the Growth and Opportunity Project, came up with two major lessons the GOP had to learn if it ever wanted back in the White House:

1) “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

2) “[A]mong the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

Initially, they were all excited about making the prescribed changes. There was eager talk about immigration reform and of efforts to reach out to women and minorities. Now, with midterms in the cross hairs, these prescriptions are lying trampled in the streets like New Orleans on Ash Wednesday. Instead, they have doubled down on becoming the party of white men for white men, serving the needs of white men. First, they killed immigration reform. Next, they successfully gutted the Voting Rights Act and passed legislation across the country severely curtailing women’s access to reproductive healthcare. Finally, House Republicans delinked the farm bill from the food stamp program in order to more easily hollow out federal nutrition assistance, all while lavishing farmers and corporate ag interests with huge subsidies.

Now they’ve set their sites on the crown jewel: Obamacare. They firmly believe the law is unpopular. They ignore the fact that a good portion of those against it are those from the Left who prefer a single-payer system. They also ignore the fact that it depends on how the question is asked. If you ask about the actual parts of the law, things like access to preventative screening, no denials for preexisting conditions, and such, it is extremely popular. It only becomes unpopular when you call it Obamacare or ask people if they are “for or against an egregious expansion of government power into their healthcare.” Still, there is no getting around the fact that the law is especially unpopular amongst white men .

But make no mistake, this D.C. showdown is about more than just Obamacare. It’s far more insidious than that. This seems to be a Republican attempt to completely disempower the office of this president and of all future presidents. The GOP knows that if they can use the country’s financial purse strings to bring a president to his knees and negotiate away unpopular initiatives (even if they’ve been voted on by the people, passed as law, and upheld by the Supreme Court), they can basically rule the country from their safe and secure gerrymandered districts.

That’s why this stalemate is about much more than just trying to kick-start a negotiation about Obamacare. It’s essentially a Tea Party coup, an attempt to grab the reins of power without having to compromise a single principle by appealing to voters or working on legislation.

GOP messageOf course, it’s also doomed to failure. It’s doomed because their rabid base is an ever shrinking section of pie. It’s doomed because at some point, they will begin to devour their own, as coups are want to do. They will devour their own because their aging base is also becoming more and more dependent on government through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and disability payments. Solidly red states use way more of these programs than blue states do. It’s also doomed because the GOP is mortgaging their future in the thin hopes of winning the next election. If this trend didn’t change after two Obama victories, I don’t see it ever changing.

hostage_1_500_350The Republicans have a hostage they really don’t want to kill. They have nothing else to offer the president. They certainly aren’t going to offer policy issues like gun control, immigration reform, or tax increases in exchange for Obamacare deimplimentation. (Not that Obama would agree to that.) Thus, their only play is to kill the hostage, which will severely impact their own base, even if their base hasn’t made the connection yet.

The GOP is about to slow-motion implode. It would be enjoyable to watch if people weren’t already suffering as a result.

Friendly fire in the hole!

No, I didn’t blow up the old blog. It’s just a little tattered from lack of use lately.

Dr-Stangelove-001But from the “I can’t believe this isn’t a bigger story” file, I recently read about how we almost blew up North Carolina. And while I suspect that there are some who wouldn’t mind seeing them wiped off the map today — what with their recent legislative agenda aimed at suppressing the rights of voters, women, and the poor — I think we can agree that nuking them into oblivion seems a little harsh.

But back in January 1961, just 3 days after JFK’s inaugural address, and a little more than a year before yours truly burst upon this mortal coil, a B-52 bomber began to break up over the tar heel state. As a result, two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro. Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT. If you’re keeping score at home, that is 260 times more powerful than the bomb at Hiroshima. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout would have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city – putting millions of lives at risk.

One of the Goldsboro bombs.

One of the Goldsboro bombs

The released bombs performed exactly as designed. Their parachutes engaged and their triggers were activated. Three of the four safety mechanisms designed to prevent unintended detonation failed. When the bomb hit the ground, a firing signal was sent to the nuclear core of the device and it was only the fourth fail-safe, a low-voltage switch, that prevented a big boom.

We know this not because the government felt that enough time had passed for them to fess up and do the right thing, but because investigative journalist Eric Schlosser filed a request to release the files under the Freedom of Information Act. As a result of the requests, he discovered that at least 700 “significant” accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded between 1950 and 1968 alone. Imagine what’s in the files that have not been released yet.

Thus, not only is the U.S. the only country to have used nuclear weapons against a foreign foe, but now we also know that nobody has ever come closer to nuking the U.S. than we have ourselves, thank you very much.

For the record, the government claims that at no time was the U.S. public ever in danger from any of these events. Ooooooookay.

So what do you think? Is this valuable information to have, even though it was more than 50 years ago? Or is ignorance bliss, and maybe it would be better not to know stuff like this, since what good does it do us now? Surely the military never makes mistakes like that anymore, right?

And surely our own government wouldn’t have any more ideas about blowing up our own country and economy, right congressional Republicans?

It was Riggs’ed

Forty years ago, I may have been only 11, but I vividly remember watching a cultural phenomenon play out on the small screen. It was reality TV long before anyone knew what that was. It was the Battle of the Sexes between tennis great Billie Jean King and some Woody Allen-looking geezer I’d never heard of before… Bobby Riggs. Riggs was a hustler in the mode of Don King, Donald Trump, and P. T. Barnum. Billie Jean King seemed like the innocent rube who wanted to make a statement for women’s rights but found herself caught up in a pro wrestling-style ruse.

Remember, it was 1973. Watergate was in full bloom. An oil crisis in October would plunge the nation into a two-year recession. The Vietnam War was limping home to a disastrous end, despite our relentless carpet bombing of most of Southeast Asia. Protests were springing up across the nation. And Women’s Lib was, for many, a rude intruder onto the national stage. In many ways, the country needed a light-weight distraction. We needed a circus. And we got one.

The Battle of the Sexes was actually two matches. Bobby Riggs was a legitimate tennis star at one time, ranked No. 1 in the world in 1946 and 1947. By age 55, however, he was more of a country club tennis and golf hustler, betting people he could beat them by giving himself handicaps such as using a frying pan as a racquet or playing all 18 holes with only one club.

Billie Jean King was simply trying to promote women’s tennis in any way she could. She was a 5-time Wimbledon champion by that point, and still “in the closet” sexually. As a sport, tennis was just beginning to gain the popularity it would enjoy in the late 1970s when Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, and Ivan Lendl would turn it into must-see TV. But it wasn’t quite there in 1973.

sexes_display_imageRiggs came out of retirement to challenge the world’s greatest female players to a match, claiming that the female game was inferior and that a top female player could not beat him, even at the age of 55. Billie Jean King turned down the challenge but Margaret Court accepted. In May 1973, Riggs easily defeated Court in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1. Sports Illustrated called it “the Mother’s Day massacre.” King couldn’t remain on the sidelines anymore. She took up the fallen banner of her gender and agreed to play Riggs that September.

TV ate it up. I’m pretty sure that Howard Cosell did the broadcast from the Astrodome. Rocky was still three years off, but it was like the scene of the first match between Rocky and Apollo Creed. King came in looking like Cleopatra, and carted about by a cadre of buff boys.

Billie Jean King

Not to be outdone, Riggs was hoisted by a group of young women dubbed his “Bosom Buddies” –  with the appropriate corporate sponsorship, of course. Is Sugar Daddy still a thing? I think not. Probably because it was horrible and had last-candy-eaten-status in the Halloween bag.

riggs carried

it was like a heavy-weight fight. Tennis… in the Astrodome… celebrities in the audience, broadcast to a national audience. It was crazy.

battle of the sexes

King beat Riggs, 6–4, 6–3, 6–3 for the $100,000 winner-take-all prize.

sexes3

Now, ESPN claims the whole thing was fixed. My first response to this revelation was “Well, of course it was.” Then, I was all “Wait… what?”

The story is that Riggs was in deep to the mob for more than six figures. He proposed a deal to them. He’d challenge two of the biggest stars from women’s tennis. He’d win the first match and lose the second. The mob could bet the other way on both matches. They’d win big and forgive Riggs’ debt. Many tennis insiders have suspected this for years. They say that Riggs’ game was strangely absent against King. Usually a master server, he missed on half of his first serves. Larry Riggs, Bobby’s son, remembers being shocked that his father never practiced before the match and even gained 15 pounds by partying in Beverly Hills.

King denies this, of course. She says she’s played people who tanked. She knows what that looks like and that’s not what Bobby did. She also denies that Riggs ever hung out with mobsters. But what’s she going to say? If this is true, I don’t believe she was in on it. She was trying to make a serious statement and wouldn’t have gone along with it. For her to admit this would make her victory empty and show that in the end, she was played by Riggs just like everyone else.

King winsSo it doesn’t surprise me if, indeed, the fix was in. But I am amazed that Riggs pulled it off. That he snookered ABC, Sports Illustrated, professional tennis, and the entire nation in his con. In the end, King got her trophy and Riggs paid off his gambling debts. I’d like to believe that that’s what happened. it makes for an even greater legend. It’s all circumstantial of course, since Riggs took his secrets to the grave in 1995.

Meanwhile, in 2013, we vent faux outrage over athletes on PEDs or a 20-year-old former childhood TV star embarrassing herself at the VMAs on a channel that peddles teenage moms and no longer has anything to do with music or videos. Meanwhile, our students are saddled with life-long financial debt, politicians are threatening to shut down the government over a healthcare bill, and missiles are poised to start raining down on Syria for gassing their own people.

It’s too bad. We sure could use an innocent sideshow like that today. Hey Michael Jordan! You’re probably into the mob for a pretty penny. Why not come back and take on some WNBA stars? Naw. It just wouldn’t be the same, today. Not with Top Chef, Project Runway, Cake Boss, and Duck Dynasty. Nobody would even notice.

Something smells

As you can probably tell, I’m in the midst of the end-of-summer doldrums. I have no kids to drop off at college or get ready to go back to school. Thus, it’s just that weird period where summer is over but no one has told the weatherman. Football and my beloved Fall temperatures are a few weeks off yet. This September will feature something new for Pittsburgh: baseball relevance. The Pirates seem like they have turned onto Liberty Ave. in the marathon that is the 162-game baseball season. With only 35 games left, they are 8 wins away from their first winning season in 21 years, and 10.5 games ahead of the Diamondbacks for a playoff spot. Not even the Three Stooges could screw this one up. (See me tempting the fates there?) But those things, too, are a few weeks off.

corpseI think it was apropos that the big attraction in Pittsburgh this week was the rare and sudden blooming of the corpse flower at the Phipps Conservatory. I don’t care if it only blooms once a decade. I took a pass at joining the hordes of people who plunked down $15 to go see the phallic flower that smells like rotting flesh. Only at the end of August could something like that become the city’s star attraction. Feed me, Seymour! If I wanted to pay $15 to see something stink, I would have taken somebody to see R.I.P.D. At least that way, I would have gotten some popcorn out of the deal.

Funny, it’s the same thing I thought when I read about UPS blaming Obamacare for dropping health coverage of employee spouses. Actually, the story isn’t bad as it seems. The exclusion is only for spouses who have jobs that offer their own health coverage. Those spouses just aren’t going to be able to choose the UPS plan if it’s better than their company plan. No one here is being denied health coverage.

But still, I thought, Hmmm. Something stinks. Hey, at least it didn’t cost me $15. I suspect that there are going to be a lot of businesses in the next few years that take advantage of Obamacare implementation by doing something they’ve wanted to do for a long time… drop or decrease expensive healthcare benefits. In the past, the company would have taken a hit and morale would have plunged. Now, they can just blame Obama… and save a bundle along the way. Oh, they might pay a penalty if they employ more than 50 people, but I’ll bet the penalty is cheaper than healthcare coverage for employees and their spouses.

Hey, these struggling corporations need the money. As a percentage of national income, corporate profits in the third quarter of 2012 (during the national disaster of an Obama presidency) stood at 14.2 percent, the largest share at any time since 1950. Meanwhile, the portion of income that went to employees fell to 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966. Productivity is up. Unemployment is down. It’s just that the profits are not trickling down to the workers. Something is trickling, all right; it’s just not wages.

Meanwhile, Republicans are said to be meeting daily during the recess to scheme of ways to scuttle Obamacare before people actually begin enjoying the coverage next year. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Time’s a wasting. This fall is going to be a cage match. Maybe Republicans would be more cooperative if Obama had proposed the plan of their candidate for the president in 2012… wait, oh yeah…

endwelfareJust a reminder that the stink of politics will be blooming again this fall. There will be fights over debt ceilings, Obamacare, voter suppression, immigration, food stamps, women’s rights, surveillance, and much more. Unfortunately, this is a constantly blooming stink plant. And it will probably cost us more than $15.

There, I just talked myself into enjoying the quiet of late August, as well as the sweet aroma of Congressional recess.

christianleft

 

 

Three score and three years ago.

This post is partly a Sunday stroll through history, and partly a love letter to my city…

I find it remarkable what the city of Pittsburgh has done in the past 60 years. Like Detroit, the industry that supported it collapsed in short order. It decimated both the city’s work force and tax base.

In 1950, Pittsburgh’s population was just over 676,000 (1.5 mil. in the metro area). It was the 12th largest city in the U.S. Sure, the air was smoky and the rivers resembled an open sewer, but in 1946, Mayor David Lawrence began to enforce the Smoke Control Ordinance of 1941 because he knew that smoke abatement was crucial for the city’s future economic development. This was not a popular move. Smoky bituminous coal was much less expensive than smokeless fuels. Italian-American organizations vigorously protested the move, because enforcement raised the cost of living of working class families and threatened the jobs of their relatives in nearby bituminous coal mines. Still, here was the point in 1950.

1950point

By 1953, many of those buildings near the point would be gone to make room for the construction of Gateway Center.

Today, Pittsburgh’s population is 307,000 (2.6 million in the metro area). We are No. 61 in the nation, slightly smaller than Corpus Christi, Texas, but bigger than Lexington, Kentucky. But we’re #20 in the U.S. in metro population.

And here’s our glamor shot just 63 years later…

2013point

Interestingly, the only building in both shots is the Ft. Pitt Block House, one of the first buildings ever built here. (Small brick building by the evergreens.) While we’re at it, here’s the point and Ft. Pitt in 1776.

1776 point

Those settlers on Mt. Washington are trying to decide where to put the sports stadium.

Now, after sixty years of steady decline, the city’s population has actually increased in the past two years. Why did Pittsburgh not go the way of Detroit? Part of it is due to our many vibrant universities, which bring in bright minds (students and faculty), keep the arts alive, and produce grads who stick around. Also, Pittsburgh never experienced the near complete white flight that Detroit did. A hearty and resilient group stuck it out through the tough times and worked with all the residents to reinvent the city. I know a few of them, who call themselves “urban pioneers.” They tell stories of having dinner parties on tables made of a door on a saw horse as they rehabbed properties while still maintaining a sense of community. They never gave up on Pittsburgh through some very lean and scary years, and today they are reaping the benefits of renaissance.

I love the spirit of Pittsburgh.

The great Republican wars of 2013

megaphone-manI heard something the other day that made me wonder if part of the reason for the breakdown of political discourse in this country is partially due to advancements in technology.

I’m old enough to remember how politics worked in the 70s and 80s, as opposed to how it doesn’t work now. I can barely remember who our representative was in the 70s. I think it was a man or a woman named Fawell — actually there was both a man (Harris) and his sister-in-law (Beverly). Other than the fact that they were conservative Republicans (it was DuPage County, Illinois, after all), I can’t remember what they looked like, sounded like, or where they stood on the issues. They were names on campaign signs every six years. And they didn’t even have to campaign because they were never challenged in primaries and Democrats didn’t stand a chance in that district.

I’m pretty sure that other than party leadership, most members of the House were fairly anonymous in those days. Think about it. There was no cable news and only three broadcast channels. The only way to get into the headlines was for really negative reasons. The only way to communicate to your constituents was to put out an old-school newsletter (typeset, printed, and snail mailed) or go back to your district and talk with them in person. That was pretty much it.

Today, everything has changed. Just as the Internet has given voice to nobodies everywhere — like yours truly — today’s politician can get his face, voice, and issues in front of constituents on a daily basis through email, texts, Twitter, and Facebook. They can send out electronic newsletters. They can make YouTube videos. Fringe groups of voters can set up Websites to push their issues and demonize those who don’t vote their way. Cable news eagerly interviews virtually anybody who has anything outlandish to say.

I guess that’s a good thing, but one thing’s for sure: the megaphone of old has turned into a cacophony.

While I’m sure this is helpful in building name recognition, educating voters on issues, and raising money and status, I’ll bet it’s way harder for the party leaders to maintain control of the party’s message than it was in Tip O’Neill’s or LBJ’s day. Herding cats is the image that comes to mind.

elephantsWhich brings us to the sectarian hell scape that has become the Republican party. What they are experiencing recently is not a civil war. That would suggest something neat and tidy with only two sides. This is more like Baghdad or Kabul. This is a wild sectarian scramble for the very heart and soul of the party. If you’re a Democrat, all you can really do is make some popcorn and pull up a chair.

People vs. Politics

paul.christieThe biggest war right now is an outstanding cage match between wealthy pretty boy Senator Rand Paul and New Jersey tough guy Chris Christie. Paul wants to take all that Hurricane Sandy money and (cut spending? No, not really) spend it on defense. The American military budget… you know, the one that is larger than the military budgets of the next 13 nations COMBINED!

This is the classic “theory vs. practice” debate between a governor who must GOVERN and a millionaire Republican Senator from a state that only elects Republicans. Christie is the one guy in the Republican party who might appeal to moderates. He’s the popular fiscal conservative governor of a deeply blue state, for Pete’s sake. He has met with real live people who lost everything when Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey shores last fall. He has the “empathy bone,” a bone missing on far too many Republicans. Paul, on the other hand, is one of many GOP lawmakers who are driven by extreme ideology without ever have to curry favor from the people they are screwing. Hell, in Kentucky, Paul doesn’t even meet them on election day.

Healthcare

Many representatives are still bent on repealing Obamacare. With all the perks of modern technology, they can constantly bombard their base with evidence of how they are fighting the good fight… now send me a donation. Repeal is a dead issue, of course. It will never go anywhere. Even if the GOP wins the Senate, the President would never sign such a law. It’s a moot point. Now, obstinate Republicans are threatening to once again shut down the government in order to defund it.

Opposing them are saner voices like Tom Coburn and Richard Burr, who called the shutdown issue “the dumbst idea I’ve ever heard of.” (And he’s been in Congress since 1995!) Bob Corker called it a “silly effort.” Even Karl Rove said that Republicans “must resist a game of chicken with the president.” They know that shutting down the government would be a GOP head wound in the all-important mid-term elections next year. Tea Party stalwarts are threatening to “primary” any member of the party who does not sign on to the repeal effort. Stay tuned.

Immigration

The GOP simply cannot get out of their own way on this one. Did they not get the memo that in July sweeps, the Spanish language network Univision became the number one watched network in this country? ¡Ay, caramba!

On one side, Karl Rove, Roger Ailes, Sean Hannity, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and the RNC have all come out for the passage of immigration reform. Last Friday, more than 100 Republican donors sent a letter to House Republicans, urging them to pass it. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio — marquee member of the immigration Gang of Eight — says he won’t even lobby party leaders to pass it.

king-on-colbertBut thanks to social media and technology, we can hear all those things that used to stay in their heads, or at least in smoke-filled backrooms. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert suggested al Qaeda terrorists were trying to cross the border, having been trained to “act like Hispanic.” Iowa Rep. Steve King claimed last week that for every one young undocumented immigrant who was a valedictorian, there were 100 who were drug mules with calves as big a cantaloupes. Sure, House leadership condemned the comments. Boehner called the comments “wrong.” Cantor said they were “inexcusable.” Rep. Trey Gowdy said they were “reprehensible.” But when Gowdy was asked how to keep guys like King from saying what they really thought, Gowdy responded honestly: “You can’t.”

You might as well try to stop a teenager from posting something offensive or embarrassing. It’s not gonna happen.

Similar skirmishes are going on over the Farm Bill, Benghazi, and a host of women’s issues. There’s even a battle in Wyoming, where Dick Cheney’s daughter LIz is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Enzi — and Liz is about as “Wyoming” as a Maryland crab cake.

Half the party seems to be rushing for the nearest microphone, blog, or Website to tell their constituents (and, in turn, the rest of the nation) about their latest crazy, nonsensical thought, while the other half of the party slams their heads on their desks, wishing they would just shut the hell up.

chris-christie-These days, it’s no longer Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; it’s more like Lord of the Flies. I would think these are debates worth having for the good of the future of the GOP, but only if the better angels of their nature win the day. Who woulda thunk that Chris Christie would epitomize those better angels?

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The Good

I almost put 11-year-old Nada al-Ahdal in the bad, because she is bad ass. While most 11-year-olds are playing with friends and sighing over One Direction, Nada is fleeing her family so they won’t give her away in marriage. And Miss Thing goes off on what she thinks about the practice.

I hope she gets a chance at a decent life.

She’s definitely the good today.

The Bad

Ryan-Braun2

He has a face you just want to smack.

In 2011, Brewers’ outfielder Ryan Braun was accused of taking performance enhancing drugs. His urine sample was off the charts. Braun took the high road and blamed the poor guy whose job it was to pick up urine samples and deliver them to the lab. Turns out the guy stored Brauns’ sample in his fridge overnight and took it in the next day, which was against regulations. So the sample was tainted and Braun was let off the hook. The poor delivery man was dragged across national headlines and disgraced. Braun held a press conference, and said,

If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally I’d be the first one to step up and say, ‘I did it.’ By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life I’ve taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart, and I would bet my life that this substance never entered by body at any point.

Would be the first one to step up and admit it…

Takes responsibility for his actions…

Would bet his life…

This week, Ryan Braun lost that bet and was suspended for the rest of the year. Not that it matters. Last year, he was the NL MVP. This year, he’s on the disabled list of the worst team in the Central Division of the NL. Still, this lying ego-maniac can now kiss the Hall of Fame good-bye, and will probably turn back into the .260 hitter he was meant to be. Sorry, Arizona Diamondbacks, whom he torched in the 2011 playoffs while steroids were pumping through his veins. Sorry, delivery guy, whose life he ruined by spewing his lies.

I never liked Ryan Braun. He always seemed like that kid on the rival Little League team who owned your team and never let you forget it.

Today, Braun faced the music, as if he had a choice in the matter, and admitted what he had been lying about for so long.

As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.

No, Ryan. A mistake is when you turn around numbers in an address. This was ingesting illegal substances and then, lying about it through your teeth. That’s not really a “mistake.” It was fraud, scum bag. Braun seems infatuated with the notion that we thought he was perfect. No, that was only believed by a guy named Ryan Braun. Don’t worry your perfectly coiffed head about it, Ryan. We really don’t think you are perfect. And whether or not he’s willing to accept the consequences, he will be receiving the consequences. Sometimes karma is a beautiful thing.

The Ugly

wienerCarlos Dangerous. No, really, that is the name that Anthony Weiner used to send sexually explicit photos and texts to much younger women. Even after he resigned from Congress and held his mea culpa press conferences.

Carlos Dangerous. Really.

Today, his wife did the perp walk with him to the podium. I don’t know what disgusted her more: what Weiner had done, or that she had to stand there next to Carlos Dangerous.

I only hope he wore one of those Mexican wrestling masks while he did it.

Seriously, progressive New York. What’s it going to take for you to bury this guy in the polls. There’s no way you are going to let this guy be the next mayor, right? Just tell me that you’re not that stupid. If for no other reason than you want a guy to lead your city who has more imagination than coming up with Carlos Dangerous.

My racist self

trayvon-btmp-shep-compToday, several Pittsburgh bloggers are posting their thoughts about the many issues surrounding the Trayvon Martin case.  And while it would be easy to point fingers at juries and lawyers and cops and pundits and politicians, not to mention to the two young men, themselves, I thought I would focus more on myself. Specifically, my own subtle brand of racism.

I’m a white, educated professional. I’m past 50 years old. I consider myself a rather progressive Democrat. I am for the vigorous application of Civil Rights legislation, voting protection, the end of racial profiling, and addressing all varieties of economic or social injustices that target black America. And yet, I also recognize that something deep within my being elicits a negative, knee-jerk reaction when I encounter a black person. It’s a reaction I can almost instantly resist and overcome, but it is there, nonetheless.

I’ve spent the last several days trying to determine where this stems from. I will state, flat out, that I have never been accosted, assaulted, or in any other way wronged by a black person, so it doesn’t come from some past trauma or offense. Just the opposite. Although the number of black friends, or even acquaintances, in my life has only numbered a handful (well below 5 percent), they have almost always been positive, enriching experiences.

Without psycho-analyzing myself too deeply, I can only assume that my unease comes from both fear of the unknown and the social conditioning I have been subjected to during my half-century on earth. I grew up in a privileged, predominantly white suburb of Chicago — a city long known as one of the nation’s most segregated. Growing up, outside of a few “Cosby families” in our town, the black population of Chicago mostly resided (as they still do) in the city and collar suburbs. The usual way I experienced them was by driving through blighted neighborhoods, where we would lock our doors as we passed by. I’d see the graffiti, winos, and “bums” from the window of the commuter train as it sped predominately white business people through Chicago’s west side. Chicago-West-Side-Race-Riots–-1968-24Although I was only 6, I have vague memories of my father coming home from his job in the city during the race riots after Martin Luther King’s shooting. His train passed through the smoke from the fires that were set. When playing sports in high school, there was only one school for which we received a police escort when we visited: Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois. It was the only “black school” in our conference. Doc Rivers and his team beat us at basketball by about 80 points.

The message was delivered. The black areas of Chicago were decayed, destitute, and, above all, dangerous. They were areas to be avoided, if at all possible.

darth-vaderI also don’t think I can discount the subtle ways in which lessons of color are taught in our society. Good guys wear white; bad guys wear black. The disappointing offspring is the “black sheep” of the family. The good witch, the handsome prince, and the crusading knight all wear white; monsters, criminals, evil-doers, and the Oakland Raiders wear black. It all plays a part.

The first time in my life I received a counter narrative to my fears and attitudes was when Roots aired on TV in 1977. I was 15 and it was an education. Nowhere in school had I really learned about slavery or the black experience. Oh, it was included as a reason for the Civil War, but to see it portrayed by names and faces, and to connect the dots with scenes of free and happy Africans being swept up in nets, really impacted me. It was the first time I began to realize that the playing field of life was not level.

I was naively unaware of the fact that 100 years after slavery ended, blacks still couldn’t swim in our swimming pools, drink from our fountains, date our women, or move into a home on our street (well, not without meetings being held).

My brand of racism is not born out of hate or tradition, but out of fear and a white-knuckled grip on maintaining a way of life. Shortly after college, our family had gathered for Thanksgiving Day and were watching one of the NFL games on TV. Going into a commercial break, they cut to a video message previously recorded at the home of one of the players, with his family wishing America a Happy Thanksgiving. It was a black player and his blond, white wife. As soon as she saw it, my grandmother issued a very honest and unfiltered, “Ohhhh, noooo.” When pressed about her reaction, she asked, “Don’t you think Bryant Gumble wishes he were white?” I smiled, and said, “I don’t think so. He seems to be doing pretty well as it is.”

None of this came out of hate or aggression. My grandmother lived in Iowa, the only state with more pigs than people. She had very little experience with black people. But I think she sensed that things were changing. The neatly constructed barriers of civil society were being breached. The future was uncertain.

All of this is a part of me. I can’t wish it away. I know, because I’ve tried. Many would say that this is just “white guilt.” Could be. Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the country to admit that such a thing exists, and it exists for a reason. But I’d like to believe that it is more a case of empathy. It’s looking at my fellow man and trying to put myself in his shoes. That doesn’t come naturally.

RacistButsAll I can do is consciously engage in a life-long attempt at reconditioning. Reconditioning comes from taking the time to learn and understand a history that is different from my own. It comes from taking action to work against systems of injustice (i.e. work in the Allegheny County Jail, support political initiatives, etc.). And it comes from eagerly fostering relationships with people of color, which is harder than it seems because much of America still lives such segregated lives.

I also know that I’m not the only one. This is a big part of America’s troubled soul. And many of her citizens don’t try quite so hard to overcome and suppress it. Racism is easy to slip into, just like laziness, gluttony, greed, envy, and selfishness. It takes work to root it out.

That is why what President Obama said last week about the context of racial relations was so important. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only recently realized that black families have to have “the talk” with the young men of their families. Not the “sex talk,” but the “here’s what you do when confronted by the police” talk. I never received that talk. I’ve only recently become aware of the rates in which black men are incarcerated, and how the severity and length of sentences differ for whites and blacks. I’ve only recently become aware of what it must be like to be black and be viewed with suspicion almost constantly. I’ve only recently become aware of how some black people feel the need to talk and act “white” in order to fit in and not offend. I am so naive.

The Supreme Court may think, or wish, that racism is over, and thus, the need for Civil Rights protections has passed. That just shows how out of touch with reality they are, or choose to be. Electing a black president doesn’t mean things all good now. Many of those who walked across the Selma bridge are still alive. So are some of the people who beat them. Maybe we shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the backs quite yet. Blacks may not feel free to say it, but they know: laws like “Stand Your Ground” are there only to protect white people, property, and privilege. It’s not there for them. In fact, the ways in which such laws are applied can enable modern-day lynchings. Can you imagine if the Klan had had Stand Your Ground laws? Ah, progress….

No doubt, we have come a long way. But cases like Trayvon Martin’s show that we still have a long way to go. And maybe it’s time to realize that despite our progress, racism will always exist, sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle. Like laziness, gluttony, greed, envy, and selfishness, it never goes away. It can only be overcome. So let’s stop acting like we’ve solved this and acknowledge that it’s always lurking somewhere.

Boy, was this not fun to write. How about you? Am I the only one?

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