Saturday, February 28, 2015

Scott Walker v. the World

"If I can take on 1000 protesters, I can do the same across the world." -- Scott Walker, CPAC 2015

Scott Walker just may end up with one of the shortest presidential campaigns ever.  Mark Salter called Walker "kind of a dumb ass" for equating his anti-union crusade in Wisconsin with his approach to ISIS.  Even Rick Perry thought Walker had crossed the line, noting that the union workers "are Americans."  This was criticism from within his ranks, imagine how well such sentiments will play across the nation.

The governor of Wisconsin was one of many presidential wannabes trying to light a fire at what has become the Republican super event of the season, the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC for short.  It brings out the best and the worst in the Grand Old Party, vying for corporate sponsorship as well as the hearts and minds of the conservative electorate.

Sean Hannity vowed to give every presidential hopeful access to his show, but apparently Chris Christie said no thanks. This befuddled Sean Boy, who went on The Five to tell everyone in the Fox viewing audience what a poor sport Governor Christie is.  It seems everyone wants to be a "king maker" these days, and Sean likes to gloat over how much influence his show has on the conservative electorate.  Even Jeb Bush agreed to sit down with him for a worthless Q&A segment.  Poor Jeb was booed for the most part by the deeply conservative crowd that had no time for immigration reform or the common core curriculum, both of which Jeb stands behind.

Meanwhile, the Republicans were forced to eat crow as their attempt to attach riders to the Homeland Security funding bill failed miserably, with John Boehner looking more ineffectual than ever.  Boehner has a week to gather the remains of his party and join with the Democrats to pass full funding after narrowly avoiding a last minute shutdown of government.

One of the reasons the Republicans get into these messes is because Ted Cruz enjoys nothing more than torpedoing any spending bill with a filibuster.  His attempts to thwart Congress have ended in failure each time, but no matter, the conservative electorate loves him.  He's "a fighter, not a talker."   However, Teddie had to answer some questions about his citizenship, raised by none other than Donald Trump, who wondered out loud how a guy born in Canada to a Cuban father can be a "natural born" American.

This early campaigning might all go for not as Dr. Ben Carson thinks the Obama administration may very well call off the 2016 election.  I found this gem posted by one of my conservative friends on facebook.  Wouldn't that be a hoot.  Four more years of Obama by executive decree!

Yep, when all else fails raise the spectre of an Obama dictatorship.  This will no doubt mobilize the right wing conservative base, who long ago abandoned reason for fear.  This is why Walker brings up ISIS, and tries to equate his anti-union policies with that of fighting radical Islam.  For him, like many conservatives, it has become a matter of us vs. them, and them has become an ever broader group that includes everyone outside their conservative "bubble."

The only problem is that there are a lot more of "them" than there is of "us" in this scenario and this kind of talk only further pushes the GOP to the fringe of the political spectrum.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Long Goodbye

After 16 years of giving us the best faux news in the business, Jon Stewart has decided to sign off.  It seems he has had it with the real news networks, Fox in particular, unleashing a torrent of less than truthful clips after Megyn Kelly questioned his "dishonest editing."  The funny thing is that Fox and other conservative outlets seem to be treating Stewart's imminent departure as a kind of victory, as if he was the only formidable opponent the liberal vanguard had in its assault on the conservative establishment's "fair and balanced" reporting.

Of course, attacking Stewart for his "journalistic integrity" helps take some of the heat off Baba O'Reilly, who has been hit right and left on his reporting claims over the last 3 decades.  I was surprised to learn that Big Bill actually worked at CBS at one time, and reported from Argentina on the Falklands War way back in 1982.   He sure was a handsome devil.   Baba stretched the truth a little bit in his accounts of that time, but apparently is not held to the same scrutiny as Jon Stewart.

This has long been the most amusing part in Fox's love-hate relationship with Jon Stewart.  The Daily Show is a comedy news program,  Yet, Fox pundits spend as much time deriding Jon Stewart as he does them.  Not so long ago, Sean Hannity seemed to have a personal vendetta against Jon, after Sean got "bitch-slapped" by Stewart over his unquestioning support of Cliven Bundy.  Sean devoted several segments in response, further digging a hole for himself.

But, Jon has his friends at Fox, notably Judge Napolitano, who has appeared on The Daily Show numerous times, relishing these experiences.  One of the best pieces was The Weakest Lincoln with Jessica Williams dressed in drag for the occasion.  Napolitano has long been an outspoken Lincoln critic.

It is tough losing Stephen Colbert and now Jon Stewart.  These guys along with their impressive supporting casts have turned the news media on its ear.  I first tuned into Jon in 2004, when he was covering the presidential election that year.  It was the best coverage of a campaign since Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.   Colbert was Stewart's sideman at the time.

However, the time had to come.  It is amazing these two kept their programs so fresh after so many seasons, but then there seems no shortage of material.  I'm surprised Jon didn't stick around to do one more election year, as this one is shaping up to be a real doozy, judging by what we saw at the Freedom Summit in Iowa.

John Oliver and Larry Wilmore will have to carry the mantle, as there seems no one willing to replace Jon Stewart, although I imagine the Comedy Channel will create some program to fill the slot.  Jessica Williams would be my choice.  She has been wonderful on The Daily Show these past three years.   I don't want to have to wait ten years to see her in the role.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Birdman Triumphs

Between Emma Stone's crotch shot and Sean Penn's green card joke, there was the stuporous event we have come to call the Oscars.  Every year, the Academy deems it necessary to bore everyone with a 3+ hour award ceremony, but everyone who is anyone always shows up for the annual fashion show.  Neil Patrick Harris did his best to keep the show rolling.  He strolled out in his underwear, a la the title character of Birdman, to the amusement of everyone, and made the yearly poke at Oprah.

Lady Gaga paid a tribute to The Sound of Music.  Why not Pink Martini, who teamed up with the Von Trapp family, and did a beautiful tribute album in Dream a Little Dream this year?  Anyway, I heard she put on a good show.

John Legend and Common joined forces for a rousing rendition of Glory, from Selma.  The song won the only Oscar for the movie about Martin Luther King, Jr's key march during the Civil Rights movement.  It had to be the high point of this otherwise banal evening.

There were complaints going into the Oscars that none of the actors from Selma were nominated for awards.  I thought David Oyelowo gave a wonderful performance.  Otherwise, I thought Selma a bit too earnest, presenting a heroic MLK, when Ava DuVernay could have stripped away some of the layers of history and given us a more intimate portrait of the man.  I was pleased to see that the film touched my daughter deeply, who couldn't understand how people could do that to each other.

Ten movies were nominated for Best Picture.  It came down to four however: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood and Selma. Each had its vocal supporters.  I was quietly rooting for Grand Hotel Budapest but was happy to see Birdman come away with the top prize.  It may have been an "actors movie" but was so well done that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu took best director and best original screenplay as well, much to the chagrin of the American Sniper contingent, which made its displeasure known.

I didn't see anything wrong with Sean Penn's green card joke, but in 2005 he got teed off at Chris Rock's jab at Jude Law and felt the need to defend his buddy.  I guess he too has to be more careful what he says in public, although Inarritu was not offended, having directed Penn in 21 Grams.

I was glad to see Inarritu take a lighter approach in Birdman.  His movies have been so deathly serious that it was great to see his comic side, albeit dark comic side.  I thought the acting was superb and was hoping Emma Stone would win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, but alas she got beat out by Patricia Arquette in Boyhood.   She's my least favorite of the Arquette siblings.

Julianne Moore finally got her Oscar.  I guess you have to play someone with a disability to have any shot at the award these days.  Meryl Streep literally jumped out of her seat when Moore was announced.  I did too as Julianne was long, long overdue.

This year's Oscars may not have had the diversity some persons were looking for, but for the most part the best talents won.  If Inarritu doesn't have a green card, he should get one now, as I imagine he will be in very hot demand in Hollywood.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Shame Game

Or much ado about nothing

OK, Lindsey, these are our talking points

John McCain expressed his "shame" in the way Obama is leading the country, part of what appears to be the renewed Republican gambit that the President has failed America.  Lindsey Graham wouldn't go as far as Mackie and Rudy, but he too expressed his dismay with Obama's policies.  Mackie, being a tireless Cold Warrior, is mostly upset with the way things are playing out in Europe in the battle over Ukraine.  Lindsey is upset that not enough is being done to stem the great "Islamic" threat.

Yep, it seems if you aren't leading this country into war with full battle armor then you are not a leader.  Mackie would have us do battle with Putin, or at least supply Ukraine with much needed military ordnance.  He condemns France and Germany for appeasing Russia, and Obama for sitting idly by while this is taking place.  However, it wasn't that long ago that we advocated carving up a country, the former Yugoslavia, and have been facing the recriminations from it ever since.

Meanwhile, Lindsey seems mostly upset that Obama won't call IS for what it is, the Islamic State, believing that this rebellious movement is intent in establishing a "worldwide caliphate" determined "to convert or kill every Christian and Jew and vegetarian in their way."  I didn't know the would-be "caliphate" is against vegetarianism.  It doesn't seem to matter that virtually the entire Muslim world condemns the actions of IS, Lindsey sees the rebels as part and parcel of the same religion.  He wants a perpetual war against this "extremism" much like we fought against the Soviet Union and the spread of communism during the Cold War.

The shame of it is these two used to represent voices of moderation in the Republican party and showed a willingness to work across the aisle on compromise bills.  Today they offer the same bellicose responses as anyone in the Tea-Party-infused GOP, unable to distinguish from hyperbole and reality.  If they did, they would be responding to Obama's policies, which have been very harsh toward Russia, and recognize IS as a clear and present danger.  The President currently has a war powers resolution sitting before Congress that would allow him to use force against IS, and the administration is now considering arming Ukraine, given the continued encroachment of Russian-backed rebels in the Eastern half of the state.  As it is, the US and NATO have mobilized forces into the region.

Rather than express all this shame and dismay, maybe the Republicans should try working with the President these next two years.  It has grown very tiresome seeing the GOP continually negating his policies, which more often than not are in line with their stated positions.  Unfortunately, they prefer to play to a conservative base informed almost entirely by rabid right-wing talk radio and television.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Was Jefferson a "Closet Muslim?"

That is what his political opponents accused him of being when he ran for President in 1800.  Jefferson was accused of many other things as well, including miscegenation, in what was a highly contested election that saw him and Aaron Burr evenly split in electoral votes, which Burr could have challenged in Congress but chose not to.

Jefferson's Qu'ran has gotten quite a bit of attention in recent years, notably when Keith Ellison chose to take his oath of office on the Qu'ran in 2007.  Of course many evangelicals were curious why Jefferson had a Qu'ran, so their resident historian, David Barton, came up with the specious claim that he bought one in the 1780s in an effort to better understand his enemy in the conflicts taking place off the Barbary Coast.  Barton has since been forced to amend his comments.

Jefferson had purchased a Qu'ran back in 1765, the same year he passed his bar exam.  He was apparently curious if there was room for tolerance of Muslims in an emerging Democratic society, which John Locke had advocated in Great Britain.  Denise Spellberg tackled the subject in her recent book, Thomas Jefferson's Qu'ran.  Ms. Spellberg is an associate professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Texas.

She got into a bit of hot water a few years ago, when she actively pushed for Random House to not publish a racy romance novel entitled The Jewel of Medina.  Abbas Milani covers the subject in his review of Spellberg's book.  She had published a book on A'isha Bint Abi Bakr, and asked to write a review since A'isha was the subject of the novel.  Spellberg considered the romance a "deliberate misinterpretation of history," and alerted members of the Muslim community to the book.  As a result, Random House took a pass, but Beaufort Books picked it up the title and the novel became a brief flash point, with none other than Salman Rushdie defending its publication and castigating Spellberg for her attempts at censorship.

Milani argues that Jefferson wouldn't have bothered with a book like The Jewel of Medina, as he made no effort to stop the publication of books that offended his sensibility.  After all, Deism was seen in an equally bad light by most Protestants who firmly believed in the Holy Trinity.  The net result is that Spellberg called more attention to this "bad romance" than it deserved, with Sherry Jones relishing the attention the book received.

But, that's all water on the bridge.  Spellberg has recovered from that incident and has now tackled the subject of Islam in early America.  Jefferson's Qu'ran is more a jumping off point for a study of the religious attitudes at the time and how the Founding Fathers responded to these attitudes.  Apparently, Jefferson and Washington discussed whether Muslims had a place in American society.  Spellberg notes with irony that they were blithely unaware of the number of Muslims they had as slaves, including one slave Fatimer, which Spellberg felt was obviously derived from Fatima.

The book has piqued my curiosity.  If others are interested we can make Thomas Jefferson's Qu'ran the subject of our long dormant reading group.  Any takers?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Trouble with Uncle Rudy

We all have one of those aging uncles who spouts off whatever damn fool notion comes into his head, but we protect him because he is part of the family.  That seems to be the case with Uncle Rudy, who offered up one of his most outrageous comments at a private GOP dinner in New York.  

It is hard to believe that 8 short years ago, Rudy Giuliani was being seriously considered as a presidential candidate.  Eric Schultz, deputy press secretary for the White House, said Giuliani floated a similar statement back in 2007, but it pretty much went under the radar screen.  Not this time.

It would be easy enough to excuse Uncle Rudy if he was in an old folks home, but he is still very much a part of the Republican establishment, called on to give speeches at fundraisers like this one.  For a brief moment, he was "America's mayor."  Health problems sidelined him from the US Senate race in 2000, but the attention he received following 911 made him a national celebrity.  He eventually stepped down as mayor, defeated his prostate cancer and became a regular at Fox News, where he is free to say pretty much whatever pops into his head without any questions asked.  However, you know Uncle Rudy has to ask himself over and over again what might have been had he run against Hillary Clinton in 2000 and won.

The network has formed a protective circle around him, as has the GOP in general.  But, you can bet if any Democrat had questioned George W. Bush's patriotism, he (or she) would have been unmercifully skewered.  Instead, Fox Nation features the epic rant on its website, boasting of how Uncle Rudy "destroyed" Obama.

It seems "love" is an unquestioning support of "American exceptionalism," and the Judeo-Christian values it is purportedly based upon.  This has become a "holy trinity" for the GOP, with Mike Huckabee recently launching a very similar attack against Obama for not standing up for Jews, Christians and America.

The "birther" argument may have faded into the background, but Republicans still don't consider Obama a true blue American.  This latest round of Obama bashing comes on the heels of the remarks he made at the National Prayer Breakfast.  Also underlying these latest vitriolic attacks is the White House reaction to Netanyahu's upcoming speech before a joint session of Congress.

In the addled minds of Uncle Rudy and Huck, Obama doesn't stand up for Judeo-Christian-American values. Rather, he apologizes for our past transgressions.  A big no-no, especially when confronting such a repugnant evil as the Islamic State (IS).  Lost in all this overblown rhetoric is that the Obama administration has asked Congress for a war powers resolution to fight IS, albeit limited to air strikes, and that the White House has not abandoned Israel in any way shape or form.  Just ask the Palestinians, who have repeatedly had their UN bid for statehood squashed by an American veto.

It is much easier to paint Obama as a closet Muslim who doesn't have the best interests of the United States in mind than it is to deal with the harsh realities of events unfolding around the world in any meaningful way.

The reason why Uncle Rudy is not being chastised by the conservative press is because it stands behind everything he says.  To them, Obama remains an outsider, living in "Bubbleville," as Uncle Huck calls it, unable to understand, much less embrace, the true meaning of patriotism and faith that they firmly believe underlies this country.  You have to ask yourself, who is living in a "bubble?"

Friday, February 20, 2015

Revenge of the Orthogonians, Part II

The Anti-Madayln Majority

Given all the anti-intellectualism on display in the Republican Party, you wouldn't think that Ted Cruz, Ben Sasse and a host of other Republicans under 50 have Ivy League educations.  Ben Sasse, the recently elected Senator from Nebraska, has a whole wall of degrees, including a Ph.D. in History from Yale.  His paper, The Anti-Madalyn Majority, won the Theron Rockwell Field award for best dissertation.  He predicates the Reagan Revolution in 1980 on the 1962 and 1963 Supreme Court decisions striking down public prayer and Bible reading in public schools, spearheaded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair, a renown atheist of the time.

Obviously, Ben Sasse went to great pains to make his point and can make a persuasive argument in the ivy-shrouded halls of academia.  He achieved this milestone in 2004, having spent the better part of 15 years in one college or another.  Quite a contrast to Scott Walker, who dropped out of Marquette one semester shy of four years, apparently because he was short on credits to graduate on time.

Ben is an ardent Christian like Walker and Ted Cruz.  He has devoted an extensive amount of time since his prize-winning dissertation to Christian causes, although he found time to briefly serve in the US Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush (a Yale graduate and Harvard MBA) and served as chief of staff to US Representative Jeff Fortenberry (Georgetown, LSU, Franciscan University of Steubenville).  But, he seemed to love academia most, serving as a part-time assistant professor at UT-Austin, and in 2009 the President of Midland University in his home state of Nebraska (culled from his wiki page, which he probably wrote himself).

You might call him an evangelical intellectual.  You certainly wouldn't want to challenge him on his views, as he has had a considerable amount of time shaping them, preparing formidable arguments, and in colloquial terms, could no doubt "tear you a new asshole" if you tried to debate him.

Ben and Ted went into the Ivy League universities and beat them at their own games.  Ted graduated from Harvard magna cum laude in 1995 and was editor of the Harvard Law Review.  He had previously graduated cum laude from Princeton and was a champion debater.  Alan Dershowitz described his brilliance as "off the charts."  Marco Rubio also has an impressive education, cum laude from the University of Miami Law School.  As does, Paul Rand, who graduated from Duke University School of Medicine (similarly culled from wiki).

 So, what's to fear of academia?

Apparently, quite a bit, as these young turks are seen as the exception not the rule in academia, bucking the mainstream "liberal" establishment like evangelicals bearing their large crosses against the flow of human traffic on Mardi Gras night on Bourbon Street.  To be fair, Rand Paul is more in the Libertarian strain of Republican politics than the Evangelical strain, which currently is dominant.

You really can't call any of these persons "orthogonians," since they all excelled in university, and seemed to relish their time there.  Yet, they appear to have adopted the "orthogonian" mentality since entering politics.

Square is in.  Round is out, especially round with a pointy head, generally associated with effete intellectuals.  The Republicans have long embraced the "everyman" persona, and most of its party members seem to identify themselves with squares.  They can sniff out a round person trying to make himself look square, which is why Scott Walker seems to have gotten the jump on these "pretenders."  He's a square peg snuggly fit in a square hole.

Look at Ted or Marco or Rand try to appeal to the "everyman" in their party!  It is usually not a pretty sight.  Marco was so nervous in his 2013 SOTU response that he had to reach for a glass of water.  Ted recently flubbed his response to the President's SOTU address as well.  Rand has also stumbled during impromtu moments making one question whether he has the "right stuff" to mount a challenge for the GOP presidential nomination during the grueling primaries ahead.

Scott Walker is an "everyman," at least in the Republican sense of the word.  Dropping out of college is not seen as a liability, but rather a strength, because he recognized it was a fool's errand.  He could get where he wanted to be without a diploma, much less one of those fancy papers from an Ivy League university.

Ben Sasse is a possible exception.  This guy knows how to play both sides of the coin and has the potential to become a very popular figure in the GOP.  He appears to have relatively honest convictions, unlike Ted or Marco or even Rand.  You never know which side of an issue he is going to take.  All those years in academia hasn't seemed to turn off the Teabaggers, because Ben was fighting their fight at Yale, showing a bunch of secular left professors the real meaning of the "Moral Majority," even if most Teabaggers have no idea who Madalyn Murray O'Hair was.

Revenge of the Orthogonians, Part I

The Next Generation

Public education now finds itself under a withering attack from the Right at all levels, with Scott Walker emerging as the "poster boy" of this latest round of anti-intellectualism.  Not surprising, since while enrolled at Marquette University, he seemed mostly interested in student government.  Classes were apparently a bit of a bore.

Friends hailed the way he would go out of his way to help them, including one woman who said Walker drove her to the hospital on four occasions to deal with minor injuries.  However, his political rivals in the student council compared him to Niedermeyer from Animal House.  He barely got past French, found political science boring, and dropped out of college after suffering a humiliating defeat for student body president.  

He apparently intended to return to college and finish his degree, but his political ambitions soon got the better of him, as he quickly ascended the ranks in the Wisconsin state legislature.  Like Richard Nixon, it seems the "abuse" he suffered in college for being a square was the motivation he needed to launch his political career.

Naturally, Democrats are attacking Walker's lack of a college diploma, but they would be well advised to drop it, as Harry Truman also didn't have a college degree and he secured a second term as President, which many thought he had no chance of winning.  Everyone loves the underdog, and now Walker finds himself cast in that role, finding an ample number of persons to defend him, including Donald Trump, who used the incident to attack Obama.

Walker himself fired off a "zinger" at Obama, claiming the President has done a "lousy job" despite degrees from Columbia and Harvard.  Shades of his run for Marquette student body president again, in which he repeatedly smeared his opponents, including slogans sprayed on snow banks in water and food color.

Sadly, Scott Walker can get away with his attack against academia, which includes another round of budget cuts aimed at the University of Wisconsin, to justify all the tax cuts he has given the state since assuming the top job in 2009.  Public schools in general have come under attack, with many conservatives questioning their role in American public life.   Oklahoma legislatures are actually mulling over a bill that would ban AP History in the state, after the ridiculous bruhaha they generated last year over the advanced placement curriculum that was being "imposed" by national officials.  Apparently, history like science is all relative.

We've already seen the battle over evolution being taught in public schools.  Walker was asked point blank at a London trade event if he believed in evolution, and his answer was, "I think God created the Earth.  I think science and faith aren't incompatible."  No doubt, making sure not to anger the Tea Party, which has made him its latest religious conservative darling.

Walker may not have finished college, but he is not dumb.  You get the sense he studied Nixon, who created the Orthogonian Club at Whittier College in California to battle the "Franklins," who were the big men on campus.  Nixon was probably the most adept at cashing in on the "politics of resentment," using his bitter experiences to propel him to national office.  Friends say Walker is a nice guy, but opponents have found out otherwise in his highly publicized battles against unions.  

Back in the 80s, we had the "Revenge of the Nerds," college drop-outs who jump started the technological revolution in Silicon Valley, giving us the home computer where anyone can pick up an on-line degree these days with a few simple courses over the Internet.  Bill Gates was treated to an honorary law degree in 2007, for his massive philanthropic work with the financial success of Microsoft.

I don't think Marquette will bestow the same honor on Scott Walker, who has gone out of his way to make public education into the "bad guy" in state politics, slashing budgets by cutting into state education pension funds, as well as other state services.  As far as Scott Walker and many other conservatives are concerned, "we don't need no (public) education."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Up in Smoke

For those who thought William Bennett had retired to the Cayman Islands, he's back and as surly as ever, castigating Americans for their renewed fascination with pot.  The former drug czar has come out with a book, co-authored by Robert A. White, telling us of all the overlooked dangers of cannabis.  Going to Pot is not likely to become a bestseller, but I'm sure it will be referenced by Baba O'Reilly and others on Fox News, who have likewise spoken out strongly against the legalization of marijuana.  This review by Jacob Sullum is all you will probably want to read of the book, as it sounds loaded with the kind of specious data one has come to expect from right wing conservatives.

The funny thing is that William and Robert find themselves outside the Libertarian strain of their own political party, which also calls for the legalization of pot.  Ron Paul crossed party lines back in 2011, co-authorizing a bill with Barney Frank that would have allowed states to introduce their own legislation regarding marijuana.  Turns out states didn't need a new amendment to the Constitution to do so, which of course is what infuriates Bennett the most.

It is hard to really understand this crusade of Bennett, other than he felt he was being missed and needed to reassert himself on a familiar topic.  As Drug Czar under George H.W. Bush, he was a big advocate of zero tolerance when it came to any kind of drug. This meant you could have your car or boat or house confiscated if caught with even the smallest amount of an illegal substance. Fortunately, this policy was eventually declared unconstitutional.    However, he left a horrible legacy that is still being felt today with the huge number of incarcerations for drug-related crimes, most of which are for simple possession.

Even if states can't bring themselves to legalize pot, many have decriminalized pot, and recently Bill DeBlasio decided to curb arrests of small-scale marijuana possession in New York City, much to the chagrin of the police commissioner, who vowed to continue making arrests, if for no other reason than spite.  That seems the only reason for Bill Bennett to write a book like this as well, as research continually points toward the decriminalization of marijuana, with the new Surgeon General admitting marijuana "can be helpful," although he still cautioned against its use.

There are much greater things to worry about, like our ever-eroding individual rights in many states, than there is about pot, but sadly Bill still doesn't get it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A President looks for his place in history

It's that time in a president's tenure that his legacy starts to be evaluated.  New York magazine asked 53 prominent historians to weigh in on Barack Obama.  Gordon Wood called it a fool's errand and didn't participate, but most others did.  Obama generally got high marks, although a few questioned his legacy.  As of 2011, President Obama sat in the second quartile at #14.  No other formal survey has been done since then.

One of the more pithy comments was by Samuel Moyn, who said, "the energies he conjured will not reappear soon and are less likely to do so because he summoned them for so ordinary and predictable a set of policies."  Those sentiments were echoed by Stephen Kinzer and others.  Jeffrey Tulis went so far as to say, "Obama has no public philosophy, save a commitment to pragmatism -- a kind of anti-public philosophy."  But, Stephen Walt saw this as a good thing, saying that Obama "helped put the presidency back on a human scale."

Race was given a lot of consideration.  Many saw this a transformative moment in American politics.  Andrew Bacevich compared it to Kennedy's victory for Catholics, in that it removed a barrier, but has not substantively affected the status of Blacks in America.

Conservatives probably won't be too happy with the opinions expressed, as those historians on the Right offered even-handed assessments.   For whatever reason, conservatives have chosen to treat him as a failure, even though he has done much more to maintain the status quo than he has to transform politics as we know it.  Even the Affordable Care Act, considered his signature act, was an amalgam of conservative ideas, meant to bring Republicans to the table.  Instead, they chose to line up against it, determined, it seems, to make Obama a failed president.

Any assessment of the President has to be taken in context with Republicans in Congress that largely chose to work against him.  He was forced to make executive orders in order to keep the country moving.  The recovery was largely predicated on his ability to work with Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve to provide the economic stimuli.   He has also faced resistance among federal judges, as seen recently when a Texas federal judge blocked the President's immigration orders.

He has been able to make his stamp on federal judicial appointments across the country, but was unable to shift the balance in the Supreme Court.  As a result, he has been put in a position to repeatedly fend off state challenges to the ACA, and a number of his executive orders, which have been taken all the way up to the USSC.  It doesn't look like any of the conservative judges will step down in the next two years, but he has given the court a much more feminine face with the appointments of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

I think historians in the future will take this combative environment into consideration.  Obama has been playing the "long game" ever since he came to the Oval Office.  Andrew Sullivan called attention to this during the 2012 election.  It is likely that Obama will leave a far greater legacy than we currently imagine.

If nothing else, he has returned a "normalcy" to the White House, and put a "giant roadblock in the rightward movement" in this country, as Jeffrey Alexander noted.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Tree Grows in Detroit

I found myself writing a paper on urban farming in Detroit and attempts to incorporate these initiatives into a comprehensive land-use plan.  What appears to have started out as good intentions is morphing into a land grab as a company that calls itself Hantz Farms recently acquired approximately 170 acres of former residential property for $500,000, ostensibly to create a tree farm.

John Hantz is a Detroit resident who made his money off hedge funds and is now looking to invest some of that money back into the city.  He got a nice write-up in Fortune magazine about his long range vision for the city including elaborate urban farming centers.  He said he was willing to put down $30 million of his own money to attract investors, but it is going to take awhile for his "pilot project" to come to fruition.

When Dave Bing became mayor in 2009, he promised to work with the people to bring back the city from one of the worst municipal fiscal crises in American history.  Detroit's infamous bankruptcy made headlines around the world.  The automakers got bailouts, but the city was left to struggle on its own to pull itself out of the red.  Bing was notably frustrated, as there wasn't much he could do except strike deals with local businessmen, which led to projects like Hantz Woodlands.

Bing called it "repurposing," as he tried to consolidate residents in the city, so that land development groups like Hantz could buy up large swathes of property.  This should have been a red flag for anyone, and many of the city residents weren't buying the "Detroit Works" program that Bing initiated.  Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady chronicle this period in their 2012 documentary, Detropia.

There were any number of real farming initiatives underway, notably in the neighborhood of Brightmoor, which had become the epicenter of "guerilla farming," as Mark Spitznagel called it.  He's another Detroit resident who made his money in hedge funds, but unlike Hantz actually got involved with the local community in Brightmoor, funding projects and tried to range feed a few goats in the overgrown city blocks, which pundits have called an "urban prairie"  Spitznagel was taking advantage of the Michigan Right to Farm laws, which were extended to Detroit in the wake of the 2008 crisis, but he hadn't applied for a city permit so the new mayor, Mike Duggan, shut him down.

Such initiatives are not new to Detroit.  Back in 1894, Hazen Pingree launched his "potato patch plan," allowing poor residents to grow food on small plots to help make ends meet during the recession.  Pingree was a social liberal and his plan was mocked by local conservatives, but its success inspired other cities to do the same.

At 70, Bing chose not to run for re-election in 2013.  It was probably a wise move as his austerity measures hadn't gone over very well with the public, and now Detroit has its first white mayor in decades.  Presumably "nonpartisan" like his predecessor, Duggan has championed urban farming, at least in concept.  He is the one who helped Hantz finally get the permits he needed to start his tree farm, but apparently goats are out.  To be fair it was Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, who had initially approved the land deal.

It is hard to say which direction Detroit will go, but it is clear that guys like Hantz are sitting on very lucrative property and that trees are just a way of meeting the requirements of the new land use plan.   Spitznagel, a Libertarian, is not giving up without a fight though, so it will be interesting to see how these competing visions resolve themselves.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mardi Gras Mambo

The Lenten season is soon upon, which means there is one last chance to kick out the jams this Fat Tuesday, wherever you may be.

In college, six of us got together and rented a motor home and drove to New Orleans for the big event.  Mardi Gras coincided with Spring Break so we had the whole week.  I had made some t-shirts to celebrate the occasion, bringing a dozen or so along to share with Kappa Sigs at the Tulane chapter house where we parked the Winnebago.  It was a week of debauchery highlighted by a night at Tipatina's listening to the Neville Brothers, with special guest the Rebirth Brass Band, eating crayfish etouffee between sets.  The Kappa Sigs weren't too interested in the shirts, but we found some lovely ladies who were, letting us enjoy a few cheap thrills.  Ah, those were the days!

It is an odd celebration, especially with all those ghoulish Mardi Gras floats and the way mothers will claw each other's eyes out for the beads and other trinkets the krewe members toss out, draping the beads around their small children.  We wanted no part of that.  We had a jug of vodka and orange juice that we shared between us, and made our way down to the French Quarter.

The image I remember most was some evangelicals purposely dragging huge crosses against the stream of pedestrians on Bourbon St, enduring the abuse that came with it.  I guess they knew what was coming at midnight, which took us by surprise.  Platoons of cops on horseback, motorbike and eventually on foot with baton clubs in hand, kicking everyone off the streets as Ash Wednesday descended upon the Big Easy.  At first we thought it was a joke, but when we saw those batons start being used, we quickly made our way down the allies and back over to the Garden District.  The only problem with those fold-out beds is that we were too drunk to pull them out, and just ended up crashing on the sofas of the chapter house.

The Carnival dates back to medieval Europe.  It made its way to America with the first French settlers.  The first secret society was established in Mobile in 1703, but New Orleans stole the show and made it into their own in the 1730s.  The secret societies transformed into krewes, riding in on their garish floats.

New Orleans had long been a bit of a pirate town.  Blacks had more social mobility than they had in other parts of the antebellum South, but it wasn't until after the Civil War that they formed their own krewes like the Zulus, who have since been upstaged by the "Mardi Gras Indian Nation," which includes the Wild Tchoupitoulas and the Wild Magnolias.  My Indian Red goes back at least as far as 1947, but it was Dr. John who made the song famous.  It references quite a few of the tribes.

We never got inside one of the private parties, not that we expected to.  You could see the well healed krewes come out on their balconies on Bourbon St. from time to time to look down on the teeming mass below and toss out a few beads.  The plastic white pearls were the most coveted.  You really had to marvel at what some persons would do to get them.

It's all kind of a fog now, but I like to drift back, especially to that night at Tipitina's, and hear the Neville Brothers reprise the Mardi Gras Mambo, originally sung by Art Neville and the Hawketts.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Of Love and Bondage

Maybe Fifty Shades of Grey is a sly reference to the perpetually gray skies of Seattle?  I don't know because I don't plan to read the book or see the movie, but was curious why a British writer decided to set her "bondage" romances in my hometown.   Seems the only reason is because she was attracted to the Twilight series, set in Forks, Washington, and had her characters take a ferry ride across the Puget Sound from the Olympic peninsula to the Emerald City.

It was bad enough we had to endure the popular success of Sleepless in Seattle.  As a friend who worked at Starbucks once told me, "we aren't in the business of selling coffee, we sell milk."  That pretty much sums up books and movies like this.

If nothing else, the "Grey Chronicles" testify to the perseverance of "print-on-demand writers" who fill your e-mail boxes with requests to review their novels in an effort to boost sales for their e-books on amazon, also located in Seattle.  E.L. James published her first novel through a virtual publisher based in Australia, completing a trifecta of English-speaking nations.  Her books have been universally panned, including Maureen Dowd who doesn't normally write book reviews.  It doesn't matter, readers love them.  So much so that sales have topped 100 million in 52 languages, including Lithuanian.

With a built-in audience like that, it was little wonder that there was a bidding war for the rights to the series, making Ms. James an even richer lady, well on her way of achieving a bank account to rival that of Stephenie Meyer, whose Twilight series finally appears tapped out.  However, the movie didn't fair any better with the critics at the Berlin Film Festival, where it premiered last week.  That, of course, had no bearing at the box office, raking in over $250 million internationally during the Valentine's Day weekend.

Most amusing was the abuse Russell Wilson got via Twitter for liking the movie.  Seems he has a very ardent base of Christian fans who don't appreciate the sado-masochism that propels the novels.  However, the movie seems to draw more from the clips available at Agent Provocateur than anything else.  Apparently "DangeRuss" doesn't seem to mind, although it might dent his appeal among evangelical millennials.

Seattle has a fairly active porn industry.  What else to do when kept inside most of the day?  So, there is certainly room for an S&M movie set in the rainy city.  But, this isn't so much porn, or even soft porn, but rather a dramedy of sorts built around a kinky idea meant to tickle the libido, while not provoking too many of those guilty pleasures.  We get a young Dakota Johnson, daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, having her coming out party much like that Miley Cyrus had a couple years back at the Video Music Awards, only Dakota's entrance is considered a tad more tasteful in a plunging Yves St. Laurent gown.

As Woody Allen would say, "life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television," or in this case lingerie ads.  There is clearly something I'm missing as I struggle to pen my own novel (I promise not to send review requests), as I just can't imagine what draws readers to books like this.  The only thing I can think is that somehow these romances fill a void.  It doesn't matter whether they are well written or not, as long as readers can project their own fantasies through the protagonists.  I guess Anne Rice got the ball rolling with her Vampire Interviews, which Maureen references.  It seems  E.L. James is appealing to the same bored housewives with her "mommy porn."

The interesting thing are the literary allusions.  From one review I read, Christian Grey gets the romance kicked off by sending his love interest a first edition copy of Tess of the D'Urbervilles.  If you have to look up the price you obviously can't afford it.  Fortunately for Ana, she doesn't meet the same fate as Tess.  After all, this is the 21st century.  The reference no doubt spiked sales of Thomas Hardy's classic work, so all is not lost.

Are we really that bored that we fall for contemporary novels like this?  Is there any room for real literature except as idle references?  Anyway, arguing with success is a futile effort.  I just hope the flame will die down pretty quickly and someone will have something better to write about Seattle.


As usual this went through several edits.  My apologies for the misspellings and getting the Vampire title wrong.  I didn't read it either, although have been repeatedly told it is quite good.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bad News for Jackie Robinson West

What's the world coming to when Little League baseball gets rocked by a "scandal" of this magnitude?   The Rev. Jesse Jackson has to step in to try to reverse a decision to strip Jackie Robinson West, representing the Great Lakes Region, of its national title?  It's enough to break your heart.

Of course, President Obama gets dragged into it too, as last year he honored his hometown team at the White House.  He still stands behind the kids, although questions the adults who apparently recruited players outside the prescribed boundaries of the community.

Jackie Robinson West is not the first Little League team to have its title stripped.  The LL has very explicit rules when it comes to a team's boundaries, not just the age limit. The state of Illinois had questioned the residency of some of the team's players last year, but the latest complaint was lodged by the Las Vegas chapter of the Little League, whose team, Mountain Ridge, is now the US champion by default.

A South Korean team beat JRW in the World series title game.  Mountain Ridge lost to a Japanese team in the consolation game.  The games are bracketed so that world teams play each other in one bracket, while American teams play each other in another bracket.  Seems kind of unfair, but the Little League is an American invention so I guess it can set its own rules.

I remember Bad News Bears from the 70s, which made a mockery of the game.  In the third installment, Tony Curtis takes over for Walter Matthau, flying the team to Japan to play the reigning world champs.  The last episode was so bad it got a zero rating in Rotten Tomatoes.  The Bears were recast in 2005 with Billy Bob Thornton as the irascible coach, Morris Buttermaker.

However, this is serious business, and the League doesn't take infractions lightly.  Not even the President of the United States has the confidence to intercede on the behalf of his hometown team, so the Rev. Jesse Jackson is stepping into the breech.  As the reverend pointed out, this need to verify residency at a time many states are calling voter rolls into question is not very good timing, but the League doesn't seem overly worried about public relations.  It is the sanctity of the "community-based" game they are trying to protect.  What would Jackie Robinson have to say about this?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Golden Horde

IS has come to resemble the Golden Horde, at least in the media imagination, as its marauding bands coalesce together under one banner.   More than one noted politician sees IS as a great threat to the United States, admonishing the President for not going "on the offensive against ISIS."  I suppose this is why the right wing took such offense to Obama drawing a comparison between the "Islamic State," as these masked marauders call themselves, and the Crusaders, which claimed to represent Christian values in their fight to reclaim the Holy Lands.

Actually, there is a difference.  The Crusaders had the blessing of the Pope, whereas IS would be pretty hard pressed to find any support among Muslim nations and clerics, especially in the wake of their gruesome killing of a Jordanian pilot.  Even IS recognizes this as a serious PR blunder, as it appears to have united the Arab world against them.

It wasn't that long ago that you would see Blacks lynched and even burned alive in the South by the KKK for having the audacity to stand up for their civil rights.  Yet, it was decades before an anti-lynching bill was ratified by Congress and the White House.  This homegrown "religious order" firmly believed it was carrying out its actions in the name of Christianity and spread throughout the South and Midwest.  Here again, religious conservatives don't want to be reminded of their past.

Neoconservatives like David Brooks think otherwise, showing admiration for Obama's speech and believing the whole outcry against the President's comments "falsely manufactured." 

Indeed, it seems most stories are falsely manufactured these days, largely to agitate the viewing audience much like those "Muslim" rogues in WWE "wrestling" that fans loved to hate.  They've been around for quite a while, but the latest incarnation Muhammad Hassan seemed to have a little more complexity than past Muslim "bad guys," although his promising career came to an abrupt end with a graphic staged depiction of radical violence on the same night as the terrorist bombings in London in 2005.  

This isn't much different than the way the news media stokes fear of a radical Muslim takeover, not just of the Middle East but of Europe and the United States as well.  We are fed violent images meant to anger us and inflame our emotions.  It also helps serve IS, which wants widespread circulation of its executions, essentially turning its assault into an all too real "reality show."  

It's a good thing they didn't have television back in the 14th century.  However, the marauding "horde" did the next best thing -- leaving the butchered bodies strewn on the ground, or piled in heaps to remind others of the fate that awaited them if they crossed the wrong path.

There appears to be an utter lack of perspective in mainstream media today and this is a very worrisome thing.  The general audience feeds on images rather than on an understanding of events.  Pundits use these events as whipping posts to foment their contempt for political rivals and existential threats, much the same WWE wrestlers get into shouting matches before they take to the ring.

Here we are seven centuries removed from the first Mongol invasion and the Crusades and we still think pretty much along the same lines.  Sadly, the media is all too willing to reinforce these grotesque stereotypes.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Art of Misremembering the Past

Brian Williams has recently come under fire for "misremembering" an event that he alleged took place 12 years ago.  In the past this would have been long enough not to encounter too much scrutiny.  After all, we all invent bits and pieces of ourselves to give our lives a little more substance.  But, claiming you came under fire while "embedded" in the Iraq War is a bit of a whopper, and one that you better be able to back up.

The folks at Fox News are having a field day with the story, even though their reporting team has repeatedly come under fire for its own fabrications, but this is more a case of misleading the public with questionable news stories, substituting "truthiness" for actual fact.  Case in point, the recent claims by self-prescribed "terror experts" that large swathes of Paris and all of Manchester, England, are "no-go zones" for non-Muslims.

To its credit, Fox apologized for these misrepresentations, and Brian Williams did the only manly thing he could do in the face of so much criticism, take a leave of absence.  He apparently also exaggerated his experiences during Hurricane Katrina.  American journalism still likes to pride itself on its integrity, so every once in awhile we get these highly public apologies and leaves of absence to show television news media is still accountable.

The idea of objective reporting is relatively new.  During the early revolutionary days of the country, partisanship was so strong that rival interests had their own newspapers, in which they fomented their opinions, regardless of facts to the contrary.  What we now call "agit-prop," or propaganda meant to agitate the public.  It really wasn't until the early 20th century that major newspapers attempted to provide objective coverage of events.  Yet, William Randolph Hearst,with his substantial newspaper holdings, remained one of the most ardent media agitators well into the last century.  Rupert Murdoch is a 21st century Hearst, doing much the same thing with his far-flung media empire, and has been called on the mat repeatedly for his questionable tactics to get the inside scoop, usually for politically motivated reasons.

Every newspaper and news station has an editorial staff that chooses what to run on any given day, slanting the "news" in one direction or another.  The media sets a "narrative" for an unfolding event, such as the midterm elections, framing their stories in a certain way that favor one political interest or another.  Was there really a need for all those Ebola stories leading up to the November general elections, especially when the "story" was virtually dropped the week after the elections?

We also see the complete devotion to an unfolding event to the exclusion of virtually everything else.   The news media fixation on events like Benghazi and Charlie Hebdo and the way they choose to frame these events echoes our partisan past moreso than it does a presumably objective present.   We have become so transfixed with Islamic radicalism that many Americans believe we are fighting a "pernicious evil" in Islam, not a radical sliver.  This isn't much different than the "terror" the United States imagined in the so-called Barbary Coast, that led us into a protracted war with Berber Muslim states that only served to further inflame hostilities in the early 19th century.

In other words, Jihadism is nothing new.  The United States has confronted it numerous times but alas hasn't made much effort to put it in perspective.  To Thomas Jefferson's credit, he bought a copy of the Qu'ran in 1765 (he would have only been 22), ostensibly to gain a better understanding of Islam, but it is doubtful he actually read it.

According to Denise Spellberg, Jefferson and Washington tried to imagine a time when Muslims might actually come to settle in the United States, and what would be the consequences of such a mixed population.  It is hard to imagine there weren't Muslims among the many slaves in America, but their religious beliefs, like everything else, had been severely repressed.  Washington apparently had a slave named Fatimer, which Spellberg felt was derived from Fatima.

The Barbary pirates clearly tested Jefferson's patience, as have other audacious acts of violence over the years.  President Obama tried to put the latest IS acts in perspective, by saying that the current Jihadists aren't much different than the Medieval Crusaders, who waged war against the Sultanate of Egypt and Syria to reclaim Jerasulem.  All though, Saladin allowed Jews and Christians to worship in the holy city as long as they paid taxes to to the Sultanate.  Naturally, Obama's comparison was lost on religious conservatives.  He was trying to say that these extremist acts don't define either religion, but apparently to many Americans they do.

This is what led us into the Iraq War,which Brian Williams so fondly recalled.  Wars are a rite of passage not just for soldiers but apparently for journalists as well.    Maybe we inflate these irreconcilable differences for no other reason than to wage war, so that soldiers and journalists can test their mettle? This would help explain why the media is so quick to inflame animosities to the point of conflict.  It's kind of the tail wagging the dog, which goes back to Machiavelli and before as a way for states to justify their territorial ambitions, or draw attention away from other dubious activities.

Unfortunately, in Brian's case he just wanted to make himself look like he actually experienced war to give an edge to his reporting.  Just like he wanted us all too think he was right there in flooded New Orleans.  This added touch of verisimilitude helps drive a story home, but you better find someone to corroborate it, who won't recant his story afterward.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Hangover, Part V

The Tea Party's newest act

There's kind of a hangover after the Super Bowl that is hard to get past, especially when your favorite team is the one that came out on the short end of the stick.  I suppose that's what Democrats feel like as they watch the Republicans take over Congress and try to place their stamp on it.  If only we hadn't botched that last month leading up to the elections (moan), we could have at least held onto the Senate.  Instead, we have to deal with the likes of Thom Tillis, Joni Ernst, David Perdue and Shelly Moore Capito, all Teabaggers at heart, determined to undo everything the Democrats have done the past 6 years.

Fortunately, it's not so easy to overturn legislation and challenge the President's executive orders, which has greatly frustrated Ted Cruz.  He felt the Republicans should have held Loretta Lynch hostage over the President's immigration reform, especially after she said she would support it.  But, Orrin Hatch felt his party shouldn't lose sight of getting rid of Eric Holder, and there is nothing on the surface that worries him about Lynch.

John Boehner can keep doing things the way he has done the last four years.  All you need is a straight up and down vote in the House, and the GOP has a significant majority to carry any bill they so choose.  Not so easy in the Senate, where Mitch needs 60 votes to carry a bill and 67 to override a presidential veto, meaning he needs no less than 12 Democrats to block the President.  All Boehner has to say to his Senate counterpart is "Good Luck!"

It's tough to get any legislation passed when you don't have everyone on the same page, and Boehner is going to find himself running into similar problems if he wants to work out compromise bills.  The TP caucus isn't going to give an inch.  They feel they have a mandate to openly defy the President, and will do so by "any means necessary," a phrase that gets tossed around much too often these days.

Cruz and his new TP friends feel they should use every trick in the book to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which now includes an alternative plan, cobbled together by a handful of GOP operatives, as they have come to realize that Americans want expanded health care, not less health care.  It's pretty much a "trojan horse," made to look like they have the best interest of the people in mind, when in reality they want to undo much of the ACA by taxing health care plans as you would income.

I really don't get this steadfast resistance to the ACA, other than the spite carried over from the last two presidential defeats.  Most states now have health insurance exchanges, including several red states.  A projected 10 million persons are expected to have coverage this year, thanks in large part to the subsidies.

The Republicans are challenging these subsidies.  By their narrow interpretation of the ACA, only those persons who purchased their insurance through a state exchange should be eligible for subsidies, not those through the federal exchange.  Since many red states refused to introduce their own exchanges, the federal government was the only option many persons had for affordable insurance, taking advantage of the subsidies.  You would think Republicans would herald this as it means employers will be left to pick up less of the tab when it comes to the next phase of the ACA when employer mandates kick in.

Sadly, there is now a significant percentage of Republican Congresspersons whose only purpose appears to be to dismantle federal government as we know it.  They may not carry the Tea Party banner, but they subscribe to this anti-government mentality, hoping to dissolve Congress and the President of much of their authority.  Although they claim to be upholding the Constitution, what they want is a return to the Articles of Confederation when authority was principally vested in the states.

Like everything else, they want to take this country back to Colonial days, which they hold onto as a much simpler idea of America.  Their views are grounded less in history than they are in religious dogma, recasting the founding fathers into Biblical patriarchs, even Thomas Paine, who was notoriously anti-religious.  They have managed to project their alternative view of history all over the media, predominantly on the Internet, where evangelical historians offer their divinely-inspired interpretations of the past.

With the Republicans, we are always moving backward, never forward.  In their mind everything was better in the past, whether they are religious conservatives or neo-conservatives.  If they could they would raise Ronald Reagan from the dead to lead this nation once again, as in their minds he represented the vital link between the patriarchs, er founding fathers, and the present.  Unable to do so, they look for the next best thing in the current generation of conservative governors, with Scott Walker as the current "it" candidate.

All the Democrats can do until 2016 is filibuster every bill the Republicans propose in the Senate, and hope that Americans will see the Republicans for what they are next time around.  The irony is it didn't have to be this way.  If the Democrats had stood behind the Affordable Care Act, Medicare Expansion, Immigration Reform and the President, they probably could have turned many of the close elections in their favor.  Instead, they chose to descend to the lowest common denominator and lost.  As a result, they are forced to play defense for the next two years.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

No Glenn, you are not Galileo

It seems that Glenn Beck believes in zero population growth, judging by his recent comments on vaccinations, at least in the United States where the population is expected to grow by 70 million in the next 15 years.  Worldwide, the population is expected to grow by 1.5 billion by 2030, which some have dubbed the "perfect storm" due to the unsustainable nature of such a population.

Glenn, however, takes it one step further.  He thinks "anti-vaxxers" are being persecuted, just like Galileo was centuries ago, by state governments that mandate vaccinations for measles, polio and other communicable diseases before entering school.  After the recent outbreak of measles in California, linked to Disneyland, it seems that these mandates are warranted, but dear Glenn feels vaccinations should be voluntary.

The problem here is that many parents refuse to vaccinate their kids on religious grounds, and some states allow this.  They feel a belief in God is all the prophylactic you need.  That would be fine, if you could confine contagious diseases like measles to a select group, but since these kids mingle with other kids and adults, they spread their diseases just like everyone else.  Measles are not necessarily life threatening for American children, but can be for adults.  How far do you want to take this matter of choice?

All this came up again when President Obama urged parents to vaccinate their children in his Super Bowl interview.  Beck has been railing against state requirements for years, calling out flu shots (which are not mandatory) in 2009.  He and his conservative brethren continually spread fears of some sinister motive behind these vaccinations, or at the very least dire side effects to these vaccines such as neurological damage.

Galileo is not amused
This is the very opposite of Galileo, who tried to enlighten Europeans with a new understanding of the universe, only to be branded a heretic by the church.  It took over 400 years for the church to pardon the Renaissance astronomer for his audacious theory of heliocentrism, which had been first proposed by Aristarchus of Samos in the third century BC.

Prophylactics, usually associated with condoms, have been around for centuries, and not just for venereal diseases.  Edward Jenner discovered a vaccine for small pox in 1796, by giving the less dangerous cow pox to children to make them immune to the much more deadly disease.  He had apparently been influenced by a milk maid who said she would never get small pox because she had cow pox.

The elimination of small pox is perhaps the greatest achievement in medical history.  Tens of millions of persons died from small pox, notably Native Americans who had no natural immunity to the disease which the Europeans brought over with them, and was still causing a horrifying number of deaths well into the 20th century before the UN embarked on a vaccination program that officially eradicated the disease in 1977.  Polio is also virtually non-existent thanks to a similar vaccination program pioneered by Jonas Salk.  No reasonable person would argue against such vaccinations, given the horrific nature of these two diseases.

But, somehow measles are OK.  We've all had it, right, what could be the harm?  In 2013 alone there were more than 145,000 deaths worldwide associated with measles, mostly in small children.  This despite 84 per cent of the world's children receiving measles vaccines by their first birthday.  You would think this would be reason alone to vaccinate all children.

Yet, "anti-vaxxers" point to a horribly misleading statistic that measles vaccines have killed more children in America than has measles itself in the past 10 years.  The main reason we have so few deaths as a result of measles is that there are ways to treat measles when it is first diagnosed, whereas children in many developing countries don't have this access to quality health care.

You remember all that angst last October over Ebola in America?  Well, an Amish missionary was suspected of being the culprit of a breakout of measles in Ohio, which went largely unreported.

Given that evangelical missionaries like to go overseas to convert the masses, taking their children in tow, there is the very real likelihood that they could pass measles onto unsuspecting children in developing countries, much as was the case with small pox when Europeans came to the Americas in the 16th century.

Beck tries to play both sides, saying that he supports vaccines but at the same time applauding "anti-vaxxers" who stand their ground against the government, and get religious exceptions.  These are the same persons, mind you, who believe women shouldn't have a choice when it comes to carrying their "babies" to second term.

Since there is no explicit Biblical reference regarding vaccines, I guess Beck considers this an open call.  It isn't.  I had measles as a child and it was a big deal.  I suffered through it, grounded at home for two weeks.  The measles vaccination had only recently been introduced (1963), and there was much concern over it.  Given that WHO estimates that over 15 million deaths were avoided due to measles vaccines since 2000, I think that is reason enough to make measles vaccination mandatory.