Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Premature Adulation

Did the GOP peak too early? That is the question that begs to be answered.

Don't look now, but recent polling indicates that the momentum Republicans had going for them only a few months ago appears to be abating. November can't get here fast enough for them.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll had some very interesting results. Almost without exception questions that mentioned Obama showed a clear edge for Republicans. However, when the questions posed pitted Democrats against Republicans, the overwhelming majority of them favored Democrats, some of them by wide margins.

Even worse for the GOP is another recent poll showing that support for the Affordable Care Act seems to be increasing among independents. Back in December 2013, independents favored repeal by 12 points; as of April, those very same independents favored implementing and fixing the law by 7 points. That's a 19 point swing in five months. Making it more problematic for Republicans is that this poll was taken in battleground states, the ones they need to retake the Senate.

The message couldn't be clearer. Voters, particularly independent voters, have moved on.  The Republican base can huff and puff all they want, the repeal spiel isn't selling anymore. That might explain why some House Republicans - among them Speaker John Boehner - are shifting gears politically. The word repeal, why not entirely stricken from the GOP vocabulary, has certainly been redacted a bit. In less than six months, they've gone from repeal, to repeal and replace, to just replace.

While not yet ready to cry uncle with respect to Obamacare, the shift in strategy by the GOP is seen by some as an acknowledgement that even they know the law is here to stay. Call them intransigent, call them myopic, call them backwards, but know this much: they can read poll numbers, especially in swing states.

True, if you compare polls taken in April four years ago to ones taken just this month, they are eerily familiar. There is, however, one very important difference. In 2010, Democratic approval numbers were plummeting and Republicans were ascending.  They rode the ensuing tsunami into one of the most one-sided midterm elections ever.  Just the opposite appears to be happening this year. Republicans seem to have peaked already, while Democrats appear to be catching their second wind.

No matter how you slice it, this isn't 2010; not by a long shot. If the GOP is to retake the Senate, they're going to have to do something they haven't done in six years: come up with a message that doesn't begin and end with repealing Obamacare.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Party leadership can shift gears and change all the messaging it wants, but its fortunes will still rise and fall on the quality of its candidates. Lest we forget, the last two times the GOP set its sights on control of the Senate, it was undermined by the likes of Christine O'Donnell, Sharon Angle, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. Were it not for its own self-inflicted wounds, Republicans might very well be in majority in both chambers of Congress. If history ends up repeating itself this year, the GOP can kiss the Senate goodbye.

According to Real Clear Politics, if the election were held today, Democrats would hold onto their majority, 51-49, by basically holding serve in North Carolina and Arkansas, and picking off Kentucky. Even if Mitch McConnell manages to hang on, Democrats will still control the Senate by virtue of the fact that Joe Biden would be the tie-breaking vote. Keep in mind that even with all the mojo on their side in 2010, the best Republicans could do was pick up six seats.

As things stand now, it's anybody's ball game. With the election just over six months away, a lot can happen. But this much is certain. If the GOP doesn't come up with a viable message to take to the voters this fall, they will go 0 for 3 in their quest.

With 2016 and Hillary Clinton only two years away, this may be the last opportunity Republicans have of wielding any meaningful power for quite some time.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Why the word "Racist" freaks white people out

Over the last few years white people, especially white men, have been hearing an awful lot about their overt and covert racism towards blacks and, to put it mildly, it hasn't gone over too well.

It's all bullshit, they say. The few instances that do crop out are blown totally out of proportion by the liberal, elite, white-hating, lame-stream media. What about the instances of black on white racism that they say exist in droves? You know, those instances where the white kid doesn't get into the college of his choice because the black kid did or the white junior executive loses that promotion he thought he deserved to a black colleague or all those instances where blacks call whites crackers. Haven't seen them? Well, trust me, they're out there.

It must be terrible being a white guy having to deal with all that persecution. To be honest, I don't know how we manage to survive these days. I mean, what is the world coming to when all those automatic privileges we thought we were entitled to aren't so, well, automatic? Seems like only yesterday - 44 years, to be precise - that blacks made only 60.9% the median income of whites. As of 2011, that number climbed all the way up to 61.7%. Wow! At this rate, black income will equal white income in about a millennium, give or take a couple of decades.

Oh, lawdy, lawdy!

Seriously, sometimes I think I'm trapped in some past episode of The Twilight Zone. I wonder what white men must be smoking these days to even think such nonsense, let alone speak it out loud. But the facts are undeniable: racism against blacks is alive and well and no matter how hard they deny it, whites can no more escape from it then they can change color. Not that they'd want to, mind you.

And therein lies the rub. I haven't heard one of these geniuses come out and say they would trade places with their black counterparts. Not one. Even they know they're full of shit. Yet being full of shit hasn't stopped the disgusting displays of blatant racism.

The latest example came courtesy of Cliven Bundy, who had some, shall we say, enlightening things to say about "Negroes." Bet you didn't know that blacks would be better off as slaves picking cotton. I mean it's so much better than killing their babies and going to jail. The comments were so atrocious that even Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly ran for the hills in the opposite direction. You know you're out there when those two want nothing to do with you.

Think Bundy is just an aberration? Think again. He has plenty of company. Granted most racists aren't nearly as obvious or stupid as Bundy - for one thing they don't use words like Negro - but don't think for a moment that they don't share at least some, if not all, of his sentiments. Seething deep within this group is an overriding feeling that blacks are way too - oh let's just get it out of the way and say it - uppity. They simply don't know their place. It was one thing for them to have a piece, albeit a small piece, of the American dream, but running the show?

Yeah, right!

A number of years ago, I wrote a letter to President Obama about this very issue.

"Like most political pundits, we all figured that the true test of the nation was whether we were mature and advanced enough to elect an African American to the office of President. What we did not count on was that the real test would not come until you actually assumed the office. It was at that moment that we as a nation came face to face with an even uglier truth about ourselves: that there were certain elements in our society that simply could not accept being governed by a black man, especially a black man who is the chief executive of the country. They are mad as hell and they aren’t shy about strutting their racism."

I once compared Obama to Jackie Robinson, a comparison that drew the ire of some of my friends on the Left. They felt betrayed by Obama's willingness to compromise with his political opponents. I must confess, I was one of those critics. I felt he was, and is to a certain extent, a lousy negotiator and way too accommodating. The heathcare law was a prime example. It could've been considerably better had he taken a lead role in the negotiations. Perhaps we might've gotten either the single payer or public option we wanted had he been tougher. Who knows. Hindsight is always 20 / 20.

The more I think about it, though, comparing Obama to Robinson doesn't begin to get at the heart of the matter. Robinson, after his rookie year, at least began to be accepted by his white brethren. In time, they even came to admire and respect him. Obama has earned none of that from his critics. The man might just as well be Lucifer incarnate for all they know or care. If anything, their hatred towards him has only intensified. Their reaction to his reelection in 2012 was practically apoplectic. They couldn't believe he had won. Mitt Romney was supposed to be their savior: the man - the white man - who would restore balance to the universe; their universe, mind you.

You see the real problem with America lies in its power structure. For most of its history, it was tilted almost exclusively towards whites, particularly white men. It was one thing for a black man to hit a baseball or sink a basket or throw - er, catch - a touchdown pass; it was quite another for a black man to call the plays or make out the lineup card. Over the last sixty or so years, blacks have been stars of the show, but seldom have they run it. Like women, they are all but non-existent in upper management. And don't even get me started on ownership. Yeah, I know all about Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. All that means is that if you have enough green in your bank account, your blackness doesn't matter. How many African Americans do you suppose will ever get that close to wielding that kind of power? The kind of power that white people have enjoyed for centuries?

In my opinion, this is what is driving the recent rise in racism in America these days. A good many whites are starting to feel African Americans breathing down their necks and they don't like it one bit. Their world is turning upside down. The hegemony that whites took for granted is slowing coming to an end and that frightens many of them.

The litany of voter suppression laws springing up in many southern states has been portrayed by its proponents as nothing more than dealing with "potential" voter fraud. Funny how this concern over the integrity of the voting process only emerged when a black man got elected to the White House. I don't seem to recall any protestations during the Bush, or even the Clinton years.

But then I'm just generalizing, like most libs do. Discrimination is a thing of the past. The Supreme Court said so, so it must be true. And I suppose I was just imagining all those Confederate flags and pictures of Obama looking like some witch doctor from deepest, darkest Africa. Just like I was overreacting to the outrage that many white people had when they saw Obama with his feet up on the Oval office desk. All they were doing was defending the honor and integrity of the office. Forget that Bush, Clinton and even Reagan did the same thing. And let's not forget the row that ensued when a Marine was "forced" to hold an umbrella for Obama during a press conference. Who does he think he is, anyway, the President?


Let's face it, they've called him a liar, a Kenyan, a socialist, a fascist (that was a good one), everything but a nigger. Oh, what am I saying, they've called him that too. Not all of them, mind you, but enough of them.

This isn't some minor issue being blown out of proportion; it's a moral crisis that is threatening the very fabric of our society. Slavery has always been America's original sin. While it may have officially ended more than 150 years ago, we still haven't dealt with its ramifications. Issues like states' rights and stand your ground laws are nothing more than a smokescreen for the underlying problem. Don't believe me? Then explain how it can be that George Zimmerman is a free man while Marissa Alexander is facing a life sentence for basically doing the same thing: standing their ground.* If that doesn't work for you, then explain why it is that African Americans, who make up only 12.6% of the U.S. population, comprise 39.4% of its prison population.

Whites can freak out all they want, but the truth is they can't run away from the obvious. A good many of them are racists. That is simply a fact. I grew up in one of the whitest neighborhoods on Long Island. As I once wrote, if you were black in that neck of the woods, you were obviously lost; either that or you were driving someone home from Shea Stadium.  Don't tell me racism doesn't exist. I've heard the "N" word more times than I care to admit, usually from people who assumed I shared their bigotry just because I was white. I didn't know whether to loathe them or feel sorry for them or both.

The reason whites have such a hard time hearing the word racism is because it hits them where they live.  Even those who abhor it, know people who practice it; some of them in their own families. There was a time in this country where being a "nigger lover" was considered worse than being black. You may have had no choice over the color of your skin, but siding with blacks, that was a different story. The Ku Klux Klan didn't rise to prominence in a vacuum. It was, in many ways, as much a part of our cultural heritage as Betsy Ross and apple pie.

Until white America finally breaks its denial and acknowledges the 800 pound gorilla in the room, we will never truly grow up as a nation. Statements like "we've come a long way since the '60s" or "reverse discrimination is now the real problem," won't solve anything. It will only enable those forces that feed the fire of bigotry to continue their stranglehold over the rest of us.

That's the problem with unresolved rage. It never really goes away. It just continues to fester until it finally erupts like a volcano into violence. The country witnessed such violence in the late 1960s. Do not think for a moment it can't happen again.

Those who ignore history are destined to relive it.

* A post script, if I may. While it is true, as some have pointed out to me, that the Zimmerman and Alexander cases are different in that Zimmerman's team never asserted a stand your ground defense while Alexander's team did, the point I was attempting to make - perhaps not effectively enough - was the double standard within the criminal justice system.  Also, Alexander did not actually harm anyone, whereas Zimmerman's actions resulted in the death of an innocent young man.

The bottom line is that blacks are far more likely to be found guilty in criminal trials than whites. All things being equal, white defendants stand a much better chance of prevailing than their black counterparts. That is simply a fact.

Link: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/18473-black-white-income-differences-whats-happened

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Political Correctness, Paranoia and North Korea

In my last piece, I took former Republican Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to task for saying the following: "I'm beginning to think there's more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States." The comment rightly earned Huckabee top billing for the monthly Idiots' Delight award.

Well not everyone was pleased by my selection. A back and forth ensued between myself and a friend who suggested that without taking the "entirety" of the speech into consideration, I had no idea what the context was. Hence, I may have been misjudging him.

Well the closest I could come to his "entire" speech was a link I found at Real Clear Politics, which is just shy of two minutes. I have watched it several times and can now safely conclude that not only is Huckabee an idiot for comparing the United States to North Korea, he also suffers from paranoia.

Over the last few years, the Right has had this fixation that somehow, just because the country has shifted to the left, that their right to express themselves is being threatened. You hear it all the time from Fox News and virtually every AM radio talk-show host. The mainstream media has a liberal bias and anyone who disagrees with it is ridiculed and dismissed.

Now I certainly have no love affair for the mainstream media in this country; if anything they are more inept than liberally biased. The fact that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert accomplish more in one hour than CNN does in 24 is scandalous.  But there is no evidence that they or anyone else has "suppressed" anyone's speech.

North Korea is a country that routinely imprisons and/or kills many of its citizens for the "crime" of expressing an opinion contrary to the government's. Its leader, Kim Jong-un, actually had his uncle executed. The United States certainly has many problems but, so far as I know, no one is being carted off to an interment camp for criticizing the government. There is no way anyone could mistake both countries without being completely out of their mind. I did not take Mike Huckabee out of context; if anything, I might've given him too much credit.

But I did want to address something Huckabee spoke about that another conservative, Ross Douthat, wrote a piece about: political correctness. In it, Douthat cites the forced resignation of Mozilla's CEO Brendan Eich and Brandeis University's decision to withdraw the honorary degree it promised human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali over their views on Marriage and Islam respectively as proof that those who fail to "conform to left-wing ideas of the good, beautiful and true," are singled out. Such "moral defects" contradict the supposed "commitment to 'free expression' or 'diversity'” of a pluralistic society.

Okay, I get it. Douthat is a conservative who doesn't like what he calls the "bias against social conservatives." But, surprisingly for me, I found myself nodding my head in agreement, most notably when he talks about the "self-deception" that exists within the corporate, academic and journalistic communities that "promise diversity but only as the Left defines it."

To be honest, he has a point. The Left does tend to get "dogmatic," as Douthat put it. This has resulted in a rise in political correctness that is above and beyond any reasonable metric. It is one thing to properly call out overt displays of racism and sexism; it is quite another to overreact to views that run contrary to its core beliefs. While both Mozilla and Brandeis University are well within their rights to take the actions they took, it hardly bodes well for the nation when legitimate forms of expression are punished.  

A truly pluralistic society is one which does not fear differing viewpoints, but rather welcomes and nurtures them. To do otherwise is to betray the values it purports to stand for. This is where Mike Huckabee jumped the rails, so to speak. He could've said something like this,

"It's getting to the point where some people are afraid to speak their minds. They constantly walk on eggshells, wondering who they will set off next. That isn't the America I know and love. In order for a society to be healthy, everyone must be free to express their opinions without fear of retribution.  As Evelyn Beatrice Hall said, 'Though I disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.'"

Had Huckabee chosen those words in his speech, I would've gladly given him a pass. Hell, I probably would've applauded. But he didn't say that. Instead he chose to stoke the fears of his base, as so many of his fellow colleagues have done, and, in so doing, threw the baby out with the bathwater. And, for that, he justly got what he deserved.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Idiots' Delight

Unlike last month's piece, which was devoted exclusively to Don Lemon's impersonation of a tabloid journalist, this month's award will be equally divided among three, make that four, worthy recipients. I know it gets old saying this but stupid never seems to be in short supply.

So, as they say, let's have at it.

Mike Huckabee for saying that there's more freedom in North Korea sometimes than in the United States. Whatever credibility Huckabee once had went the way of the dinosaur  a long time ago.  But when I hear something as asinine as this coming from a supposedly thoughtful man, I can only conclude that the man has suffered a brain aneurysm. Or maybe he just wasn't that "thoughtful" in the first place.

How stupid do you have to be to say out loud, with a straight face, that a country that routinely kills its citizens has more freedoms than America? I'd say pretty fucking stupid. Either Huckabee actually believes this drivel or he doesn't and he's counting on the gullibility of the minions who comprise his audience to swallow it whole. Based on what I've been able to deduce by watching his show on Fox News, that isn't all that hard to do. Most of these low-grade morons have no idea where North Korea is, much less the atrocities it commits on a daily basis.

Jim DeMint for insisting that "big government" had nothing to do with ending slavery. Well, as you might expect, the revisionist historians are at it again. First it was the ridiculous notion that FDR had nothing to do with ending the Great Depression. The market place would've taken care of it had he not interfered, which makes about as much sense as suggesting that parachutes get in the way of gravity.

Then came the nonsensical concept that the Civil Rights Act was an overreach by the federal government. Once more we heard that the private sector would've eventually gotten around to ending discrimination. Never mind that there is no evidence to support that claim or that there was zero interest anywhere in the deep South for doing away with segregation. If you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth to some.

And now Jim DeMint has taken this perverse logic all the way back to the 19th century by insisting that the big, bad federal government played no role whatsoever in ending slavery.
Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government.
It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.

Apparently it hasn't dawned on DeMint that Lincoln was the chief executive of that very same federal government; or that it was the Union Army that invaded the Confederate states and forced their surrender; or that the majority of the "people" that ideologues like him keep citing actually supported slavery (especially in DeMint's home state of South Carolina, which was the first Southern state to secede); or that the Constitution that DeMint credits for freeing the slaves, actually counted them as three fifths of a white person.  Oh, and as a side bar, William Wilberforce was English and died thirty years before Lincoln freed the slaves.

And then we have this obsession by Republicans to claim Lincoln as one of their own; "the very first Republican," as DeMint referred to him. But the sad truth is that Republicans like Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt or even Dwight Eisenhower would be outcasts in today's GOP. They would have no place at the table and would, in all likelihood, be called RINOs, Republicans in name only. People like DeMint would not have it any other way. And, worse, he knows it all too well.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin for signing a bill into law that prohibits counties and cities from raising their minimum wage. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Governor Fallin, who has been an outspoken critic of Washington telling the states what they can or can't do, basically just did the same to every local elected official in her state. Irony abounds.

The bill she signed into law would prevent Oklahoma City from increasing its minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, even if its citizens support it. For someone who says she believes in the will of the people, Fallin apparently has no problem telling them where to go.

States' rights, my ass. 

Dianne Feinstein for her comments on the C.I.A.'s use of torture. While I appreciate the fact that Feinstein spoke out on the subject, some of the words she chose struck me as rather self serving and hypocritical.

"The purpose of this review was to uncover the facts behind this secret program, and the results were shocking. The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen. This is not what Americans do."

This is not what Americans do? Begging your pardon, Senator, but this is precisely what Americans do and have done for almost two centuries. From the brutality of slavery, to the apartheid and genocide of the indigenous population, to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the United States has had a long and checkered past when it comes to its treatment of people it finds less than desirable. Why should it surprise anyone that we would torture an enemy combatant?

Yes, it is a stain on our history, but the bigger stain is believing, as Feinstein does, that we somehow hold a moral high ground when it comes to this subject.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Alternate Realities, continued...

Continuing with our alternate reality theme, I completely forgot about the number one issue plaguing the minds of our far-right dullards: VOTER FRAUD!

Yes, as you know all too well, the Right has been insisting for years - or at least as long as a black man has been president - that elections were being stolen/decided by voter fraud. How else can you explain so many people voting for a Marxist, Kenyan-born, white-hating American apologist? It has to be fraud.

Despite the fact that there has been no definitive proof that voter fraud exists, Republicans keep passing draconian voter suppression laws in various swing states like Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. North Carolina's is among the most restrictive in the country.

Well now the wing nuts appear to have some genuine red meat with which to chew on. A story out of Raleigh, North Carolina by local TV station WRAL is reporting problems with that state's voter registration rolls that have some screaming "FRAUD."

The piece reports that state election officials are investigating thousands of cases where voters appear to have been eligible to vote in more than one state and dozens who supposedly voted after they died. The report shows that "155,692 registered North Carolina voters whose first and last names, dates of birth and final four Social Security number digits match voters registered in other states but who most recently registered or voted elsewhere." However, the state could offer no proof that these voters voted twice; only that their names appear on more than one state's voter rolls. The most likely explanation is that these were voters who moved yet failed to notify their former state of their new residence.

As if that wasn't bad enough, North Carolina conducted a "10-year death audit" and discovered over 13,000 deceased voters whose names hadn't been purged form the state's voter rolls. However, only 81 of them died before an election in which they voted. And, of those 81, 30 legally cast absentee ballots before they died. Again the state could not definitely say whether those remaining 50 votes were the result of someone else casting a vote in their place or a precinct worker who simply made an error and wrote down the wrong name.

At any rate, the real problem in North Carolina, as well as other states, concerns voter registration and NOT actual voting. This story makes clear that there are major issues with respect to each state's voter rolls that should be addressed and could be very simply. By adopting a federal election system in which each state shares its information with the rest and laws are standardized and uniformly enforced across the board, duplicate voters - be they recently moved or deceased - could be purged far more effectively from voter rolls. It also would eliminate the possibility of another occurrence of the nightmare that took place in Florida in 2000. So far as I know, that was the only instance of voter fraud that determined the outcome of an election. And the country has been dealing with the ramifications of it for over a decade.

Not one of the Voter suppression laws currently on the books addresses any of these problems. In fact, they completely ignore them. These laws have but one purpose: to disenfranchise voters who are more likely to vote Democratic, namely minorities, poor people, the elderly and college students.

Fixing the problems that plague the nation's voter registration rolls should be a top priority for Republicans and Democrats alike. Chasing red herrings won't cure a blessed thing.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Case for Alternate Realities

I remember a particular episode on Star Trek (the original series) called "The Alternate Factor," where Kirk and Spock tangle with an alien by the name of Lazarus who keeps exchanging places with another Lazarus in an alternate universe. One Lazarus is calm, rational, lucid and with a firm grip on reality; the other hysterical, irrational, mad and delusional.

As I go over the top news stories of the week - indeed the major issues of the last year - and I watch with horror the reaction by far-right conservatives, it's occurred to me that there might be something to this alternate universe thing after all. Whoever coined the phrase truth is stranger than fiction never met this group.

Yesterday at Fort Hood, another senseless shooting claimed more innocent lives. This is the second time in less than five years this base has been visited by such violence. Within hours of the massacre GOP representative Mike McCaul was on Fox News suggesting that personnel on military bases should be able to carry concealed weapons, because, as any "sensible" person knows, the problem with gun violence is there aren't enough of them. Remember what Wayne LaPierre said: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Unless of course you're Sarah Palin; then it's a good guy with a nuke. I swear these people won't be satisfied until we have the capability of creating another sun. Oh, wait, we do. Never mind.

But while one madman was going on his shooting rampage in Texas, earlier in the day in Washington, five more gutted what was left of the American political system. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down limits to campaign contributions.  The decision was heralded by the usual "corporations are people" brigade as a victory for freedom. Hurray!

Just a couple days before that, the IPCC (the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released its latest report on global warming. The conclusions of these scientists were anything but optimistic. Unless drastic measures are taken soon, global temperatures will rise 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century along with corresponding sea levels. The report also predicts an increase in food shortages, natural disasters and risk of wars. Even more alarming was the revelation that these effects might be irreversible.

As you might expect, it didn't take long for the global warming deniers to find their own group of "scientists" to dispute the IPCC's findings. Their conclusion? Everything is just honky dory. Nothing to see here. Just go about your business. Global warming is nothing but a hoax, and even if it isn't, mankind's not responsible for it. Case closed.

And, speaking of deniers, the Creationists have been all over Neil deGrasse Tyson, the narrator of Carl Sagan's legendary documentary series Cosmos, demanding equal time to present their side of what they think is an actual debate. What set them off?  Well it seems old Neil had the audacity to state that the age of the universe is 13.8 billion years. Adding insult to injury, he went out of his way to rip those who keep insisting it's only 6,500 years old.

To prove his point, deGrasse Tyson used something Creationists seem to have a hard time grappling with: facts. He pointed out that a light year is the distance light travels in one solar year. So if a star is 6,500 light years away, it would take 6,500 years for its light to reach us; if a star is a million light years away, it would take a million years for its light to reach us. So if your whole theory of the origins of the universe rests upon said universe being only 6,500 years old, then how do you explain the fact that we can see stars that are millions of light years away? Don't hold your breath waiting for an answer that makes sense; Creationists don't have one. They never did.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't include the story of the week: Obamacare. The Administration released its figures and it turns out the number of people who enrolled in the ACA, either through the federal or state exchanges, is just over seven million. Despite the nightmarish start involving the website issues and the slow progress of enrollment in the first couple of months, the Administration did in fact reach its goal.

Unless you're one of the bubble people who hail from the alternate universe. In that event, there were only 858 thousand who enrolled in Obamacare. Where did the 858 thousand number come from? That's the number of people who supposedly have paid their premiums and who didn't already have insurance plans, according to the Daily Mail, who cited a Rand Corporation study.

The Rand study? Good luck finding it - I tried and couldn't. Supposedly only the L.A. Times has seen it. But that hasn't stopped the bubble people from believing it and spreading it around like fertilizer. Like the Benghazi and I.R.S. "scandals," proof is not only unnecessary; it's unwelcome. After all, why destroy a good fantasy over something as trivial as facts?

So, let's see if I can sum up the alternate universe stances on the major issues. We need more guns to deter gun violence; there's absolutely nothing wrong with our political system that more money can't help; global warming is a myth; science is overrated; Obamacare is a train wreck; Benghazi is a coverup and the I.R.S. is out to get conservative groups.

Well, I'm glad that's settled. There's just one last question remaining.

What of Lazarus?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Just What the Hell Is a Moderate Anyway?

I've been thinking a lot about that question, along with the origins of the universe and whether the Mets will ever win another World Series in my lifetime. I've decided that the answer to the second question is way beyond my pay grade and, regarding the third, as long as the Wilpons continue to own the team, the answer is a resounding no.

But that first question continues to bug me. You hear the term moderate a lot among political pundits. Usually, it refers to Republicans who aren't part of the far Right, a particularly rare and endangered species these days. Among Democrats, the term most often used is centrist. Bill Clinton was a centrist Democrat.

Problem is I can't think of a single "moderate" Republican. For me, the term is an oxymoron. It's tempting to refer to Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford and George H.W. Bush as moderate Republicans. But they're really not. All right, maybe Eisenhower, but Nixon, Ford and Bush, no way. They're what my old man used to say were traditional, mainstream Republicans. They believed in low taxes, traditional family values and a strong military. In my book, that's a conservative. Now these same Republicans are called moderates. The far Right uses another term: RINO, Republican In Name Only. That's a laugh riot.

What happened? How did the Party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt go so far off the rails?

I'm not quite sure what happened or when, but, somehow, the traditional, old-guard, establishment conservative Republicans were replaced by a new wave of Tea Party, conservative Republicans. The latter wanted no part of the former; in fact they considered them sellouts. Words like tolerance and compromise were four-letter words. The new wave wasn't interested in peaceful coexistence; it wanted nothing less than total capitulation. It was their way or the highway.

The Republican Party has drifted so far to the right that Bob Dole, its 1996 presidential nominee, publicly doubted whether Ronald Reagan would be welcomed in it. On a Fox News' interview, he said the current GOP should be "closed for repairs" over its unwillingness to negotiate with Democrats.

Bruce Bartlett knows a thing or two about the Republican Party. The former supply-sider turned Keynesian served in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses. He's been one of the fiercest critics of today's GOP.  In an interview on CNN, he called Texas governor Rick Perry an "idiot" for saying that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's decision to stimulate the economy through quantitative easing was "almost treasonous." Over the last four years, Bartlett has written numerous op-eds in which he has exposed the shenanigans of the Tea Party Republicans, whom he calls "wankers."

But while Bartlett's jabs might seem amusing, the threat this movement poses is very real.  A piece that appeared in RedState in July, 2010 should've serve as a harbinger of things to come. It was aptly titled, "Tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction."

It starts off with a brief description of the difference between a democracy and a republic. "Democracy is mob rule. Republics have a constitution that restricts the whims of the majority and protects the rights of the minority." Okay, so far so good. If you paid any attention to your high school American history, you probably nodded your head in agreement.

But from there on the piece deteriorates into a self-serving, self-indulgent justification of a narrow and warped ideology whose aim isn't "protecting" the rights of the minority, but rather trumpeting them over the majority. The central theme can best be summed up thusly:

"How do we deal with our progressive countrymen? The answer is obvious: we fight them."

Those are not the words of freedom-loving patriots; they are the words of people who detest and fear freedom. Real freedom means accepting outcomes that don't always go your way. Sometimes, the other side wins. Like it or not, you have to live and work with other people, even those you don't agree with. Why? Because everyone has a right to their own convictions. You can't simply force yours onto them. That's not freedom; it's tyranny. Real tyranny, not the fake tyranny people like Mark Levin spew on about.

Tolerance is not a virtue of a man without conviction; it's an acknowledgement that no man's convictions are better than the other. The world is a lot bigger and more inclusive than some would have us believe. And no matter how hard they might try, time marches onward. Those who can't or won't keep up will be left behind.