When I posted about the Google doodle controversy yesterday, I missed what was the funniest point: the rightwingtards were all up in arms in part because many of them thought the doodle was in honor of Hugo Chavez, not Cesar Chavez. Oh well, what’s the difference? They’re both brown. And so Republican Latino outreach continues apace.
I got to wondering though, what with the portability of Easter, has it ever fallen on April 1? What if the original Easter was just an April Fool’s joke? If the post from yesterday doesn’t send me to hell, surely this latest musing will.
In the spirit of the day, I offer you this, which has been hanging around in My Pictures for quite some time now:
Happy April Fool’s Day!
In the week since the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary, we’ve heard a lot of crazy ideas (as we do in the wake of every mass shooting) about how best to protect innocent unarmed civilians from nutters with guns. Today we’ll be hearing from the NRA, whose position we already know will be that “guns don’t kill people; crazy people with guns kill people.” A true statement, but one that doesn’t solve or even suggest a solution, which would have to involve keeping the most lethal weapons out of the hands of crazy people, which is a bridge too far for the NRA.*
There’s a genuine conflict here: we do have a constitutional amendment guaranteeing people the right to own guns. Clearly we aren’t going to be able to declare all of them illegal and force people to hand all of them over. Even if we could, I don’t think I would favor it – there are millions of hunters in the country and many millions more who are responsible gun owners, who keep their weapons secure and own them only for home protection. In many cases, this is an imagined need, but nonetheless it’s one that’s not entirely unreasonable and it’s a right that goes all the way back to British common law, which makes it a bit hard to argue against from a legal standpoint.
By and large, hunters and the owners of well-secured guns kept for home protection aren’t the problem. They also aren’t the ones buying semi-automatic weapons. Let’s be honest: a semi-automatic rifle or handgun is an offensive weapon designed for military use, and as such, is not an appropriate weapon to allow anyone and everyone to own. There’s a contingent of crazy that insists that one of the things the Founders had in mind when drafting the Second Amendment was keeping citizens armed in case of the need to overthrow a tyrannical government. Again, there may be truth in this – the Founders themselves had only recently thrown off a government they considered to be tyrannical, though its offenses and predations fell far short of the tyrannies we’ve seen enacted over and over again in the modern world.
Consider the context: the Founders lived in a time where the most powerful personal weapon was a muzzle-loader, which could fire off one shot every couple of minutes, or perhaps once per minute if the guy handling it was particularly adept at re-loading. It was an age where parity in firepower was possible - a group of average citizens, all armed with muzzle-loaders, would, with the exception of cannons, be as well-armed as an organized military of the same numbers.
That parity is not possible these days and indeed hasn’t been for a century or more. It goes without saying that it wouldn’t be desirable, either. We can’t very well allow every citizen the right to own and keep any variety of weapons, including but not limited to hand grenades, shoulder-fired rocket launchers, or nuclear warheads. Those are all “arms” as well, and somehow we’re able to agree that not everyone should have them and that there are no legal uses for them outside of a battlefield.
So why the hangup when it comes to semi-automatic weapons? They aren’t used for hunting, and for home protection you don’t need something that can fire off 30 – 100 rounds per minute. In fact, while handguns are the weapons most often chosen for home protection purposes, for most people, a shotgun would be a better choice, owing to less need for accurate aim (and really, just playing a recording of a shotgun being pumped would be enough to persuade all criminals aside from psychopaths to clear the premises immediately).
Once we’ve ruled out hunting and home protection, the semi-automatic’s sole use is unavoidable: it is an offensive weapon, not intended for personal defense so much as for killing the other guy. Given that murder remains illegal, it’s insane to insist that a weapon designed solely for killing multiple human beings in a minute or less should be readily available and legal to own for an average citizen. About the only purpose I’ve heard gun enthusiasts advance for which these types of weapons might have even a borderline legitimacy is that they are “fun to shoot.” Perhaps so, but the Second Amendment isn’t concerned with your personal enjoyment of any particular weapon; as such, I’d have to say that the right of crowds of citizens to not be slaughtered greatly outweighs any “fun” an enthusiast might experience in firing one of these weapons at a shooting range or elsewhere. People who have a burning desire to handle these types of weapons have the option of joining the military; outside of that, they don’t need to be handling them.
As for those who persist in clinging to the idea that they have a “right” to own these types of weapons in the event that the evil gubmint gets too oppressive what with the seat-belts and the motorcycle helmet and the required food labeling laws and so forth, add them to the mental health registry: their belief that they could, with a semi-automatic weapon, fight off the fighter jets, targeted missiles, tanks, and other weaponry in our awesome military arsenal should the need arise, clearly marks them out as both paranoid and delusional; they are precisely the type of people who should NOT be running around with powerful, rapid-fire weapons.
Here’s the thing: the Second Amendment says you have the right to own and keep a gun. It doesn’t say what type of gun, and none of the guns in production today could have been anticipated by the Founders. If pistols were available in the late 1700′s, they had only recently come on the scene; certainly there was no gun at the time capable of firing more than one shot without being re-loaded. The Second Amendment could be interpreted as the right to own a more modernized version of the single-shot firearms available when the Amendment was drafted, and nothing else – if we had a sane majority on the Supreme Court or in our political discourse. Instead, we’ll probably spend the next weeks, months, and perhaps even years listening to ridiculous suggestions about how we can turn every public space into an armed camp to “protect” us against armed lunatics who should never have access to weapons in the first place, instead of dealing with the issue of having too many, too powerful, guns floating around. Already ruled out is the idea for a real ban on semi-automatics such as the one used in last Friday’s shooting; we are told that even a ban on future sales of these weapons would do nothing to take care of the estimated 8 million of them already in citizens’ hands. In other words, a buy-back program coupled with hefty fines for anyone caught with one after the deadline for turning them in, as was successful in Australia, is off the table. We don’t know what number of murdered children would be required in order to even begin a serious political discussion about taking this very reasonable step, but the correct answer to the question is obviously ”> 20.”
I’m not going to belabor the transparent insanity of the suggestions being put forward by those who value cold hard steel more than young children’s lives, but I will briefly recount them. First there’s the camp who believes that the answer to mass shootings is more guns. According to these fine patriots, if all of us were packing heat, some citizen-Rambo would pick off the crazy guy with the gun before the body count gets too high. Never mind that never, not even once, has an armed civilian stopped a mass shooting by taking out the gunman. There have been a few times in low-profile cases where an off-duty policeman, former Marine, or other individual with career training in handling firearms stepped in and stopped a bad guy; there are about as many similar cases in which the would-be hero either almost shot the wrong guy or determined that an innocent bystander would be at risk if he took the shot. In other words, thanks to these guys not being average civilians with guns, the gunman was stopped without harm to innocent parties. Substituting the average citizen into these scenarios, most of whom have had nothing like the extensive training of police or members of the military, the likelihood in these scenarios is that even more people would get shot in the crossfire, law enforcement arriving on scene might mistake the hero for the bad guy, and so on and so forth. That’s all true, but beside the point, which is: your right to own a weapon designed for offensive purposes does not trump MY right to not live in the Wild West or an armed camp. There’s nothing in the Second Amendment to suggest that it trumps the express goal of the overall document, which I will remind the brethren, is to:
“…insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…”
I feel that continuing to indulge the fetishes of a fringe group of maladapted, insecure and fearful people endangers or denies all of the above goals to the great majority of people in this country.
Then there are the proposals to turn schools into windowless bunkers patrolled by pistol-packing teachers and other school personnel. This one is interesting primarily because it’s being advanced by the same folks who insist teachers are a bunch of overpaid incompetent boobs – but you can count on them to handle a gun around your kids every day!
We’ve heard again how “an armed society is a polite society,” for all values of “polite” which equal “being afraid to say anything out of fear that the gun-toting Cletus at the next table in the bar might disagree.”
The final, the piece de resistance of dumbassitude, goes to one Megan McArdle, formerly of The Atlantic, now decamped to The Daily Beast (Tina Brown sure knows how to pick them, doesn’t she?), who suggested that we should teach children in this situation to rush the shooter. Because, according to Megs, it will unbalance him and throw him off if a bunch of people, even small ones, are running at him from different directions. It’s also a sneaky way of blaming the victims – in this case six- and seven-year olds – for failing to save themselves when a guy who had no business with any type of gun managed to get his hands on a very powerful – and legal – one.
That’s an awful lot of flailing FAIL to go through to arrive at the conclusion that the only thing that CAN’T be part of the problem is the gun itself, despite the fact that in these mass shootings, the gun is a tool performing the function for which it was designed, and that function is an illegal act for civilians.
We don’t have to put up with this crap. We can insist on reasonable gun laws which both protect the rights of sportsmen and people to be secure in their homes while recognizing that some weapons have no place in civilian society. We can insist on background checks for any sale or trade of arms at any venue. We can insist that gun buyers be required to register their weapons, and that they demonstrate that they’ve completed some sort of training on safe handling and keeping of firearms, in order for those weapons to be legal. We can insist on not just a ban, but a buy-back program designed to get most of the most lethal weapons out of circulation. We can insist on a law that imposes heavy fines upon people found to have those types of weapons after a specific buy-back deadline. It won’t get them all off the street, but getting 75 – 90% of them would be a good start. Sure, criminals will continue to get these types of weapons – but it’s not criminals who have been shooting up our congressional meet-and-greets, our movie theaters, our houses of worship, our malls, and our schools. Criminals use guns primarily to help them obtain money or other goods illegally – they aren’t interested in shooting little kids, or really anyone else, unless it furthers that goal. Crime is down overall, while mass shootings are up, and none of the gunmen in these cases have been hard-core criminals. If these types can’t get their weapons legally, they’re not likely to get them at all.
Finally, we can insist that the right of the majority for domestic tranquility trumps the right of a vocal minority to own a tool for which there is no constructive legal purpose.
In closing, I’ll note that I lived a full third of my life in a home that was a virtual arsenal of guns. My father was an avid collector – mostly of military-issue guns from WWI and WWII – and other military paraphernalia. He didn’t have any semi-automatics, because he was more a collector than a “mah gun gives me POWER” fetishist. I have no idea how many guns Dad had, but when they were auctioned after his death almost 20 years ago, they went for over $75,000. In short, it was a lot of guns. He wasn’t a hunter and he rarely took out any of the guns and fired them. He did occasionally target practice at a gun range or other safe location, and for a time, he headed up a group for teenagers wanting to learn target shooting. The entire time I lived in the same house with him, I never saw a gun lying around unattended. In fact, I never saw a gun unless he had it out and was in the same room with it. If I had seen one out, I already knew that I wasn’t to touch it. I learned how to shoot, but also knew I was never to have a gun in my hand unless my Dad was there and had handed it to me.
But the guns were a constant menace anyway. When we lived in Georgia, he stored his collection in an attic space that was fairly easy for him to access, and which he kept securely locked. After the move to Arkansas, he had no appropriate place in the house to store them, and so for the last 15 years of his life, they were packed away in crates that took up one end of the family room. We were instructed from a very young age to never tell anyone about Dad’s guns. They weren’t even insured, because Dad didn’t want anyone knowing about all of them. His fear was more about robbery than government. So I grew up surrounded by an arsenal, which didn’t make me feel any safer; we were far more likely to be murdered by gun thieves than by anything else.
After Dad died, the guns worried me even more, because now my Mom was alone in the house with a commodity eagerly sought-after by criminals. She contacted an auctioneer with some expertise in weapons, and within a year of my Dad’s death, the collection was auctioned off in Illinois. It provided a great sense of relief to all of us.
Just a few years after my Dad’s death, a gun collector in a town about 40 miles away went missing with his wife and young daughter at the same time his gun collection went missing. Some months later, the family’s bodies were discovered in their vehicle, submerged in an abandoned flooded gravel pit. The crime was eventually traced to white supremacist Chevy Kehoe, after his infamous shoot-out with Ohio police. Proceeds from the theft went to fund terrorist activities, including bombing a government building. Just a few months after Dad’s death, there was another robbery in a town only 75 miles away. No one was murdered in that theft, but the proceeds from it went to fund the Oklahoma City bombing. The trail of violence and terror from the flood of guns in this country doesn’t end with the guns themselves.
Before Dad’s collection went to auction, Mom offered each of us the chance to select anything we’d like to have. I didn’t choose anything. Even one gun in close proximity would make me feel less secure than not having one.
*The NRA held its non-apologia before I was finished drafting this post; as expected, the guns aren’t the problem. It’s the mentally ill; better to compile a list of them than to stigmatize people who want to own deadly weapons by forcing them to register them. Video games are the problem; that’s why all those kids are dead.
Mom and I had a discussion a few days following the Sandy Hook shootings. She said this event was finally going to change things; I was less sanguine. But something about that press conference felt like a Schiavo Moment. At one point, LaPierre is actually advocating for armed volunteers to police our schools. The insurance premiums to cover the risks associated with having armed non-employees on school property when children are present…well, he didn’t offer any advice on where schools should go for the millions of dollars that would be required for that, should anyone be stupid enough to take such a dumbshit idea seriously and try to implement it.
Enough is enough. It’s time, and well past the point, for us to stop allowing the radical, the paranoid and the profiteers to dictate what our policy will be. They can only get away with it again if we don’t speak up and demand that they accept responsibility, and the limits to freedom that it sometimes requires in the real world.
As those who know me have long known, and as most others have guessed from my nom de blog, I am a denizen of the great state of Arkansas, the butt of our national jokes and general, all-purpose whipping boy. Trust me, a lot of that is deserved – look at our state rankings in education, health care, income, and any number of other measures, and it quickly becomes obvious that we don’t have our shit together.
But one thing has long irked me, and that’s the tendency of bloggers and others in the more-liberal-than-thou coastal areas to tar our state with the same reactionary brush they apply (correctly) to Texas, Mississippi, and other god-forsaken places. While it’s true that Arkansas shares some regrettable traits with these places, including racism, general ignorance, and hyper-fundamentalist religiosity, it has a populist streak not found in those areas. Note that I said “populist”, not “progressive.” It’s merely coincidental that some of the things that happen here politically look like the latter to outsiders; they without exception are the result of the former.
Thanks to that widespread misunderstanding, for the past month national publications have ballyhooed Arkansas’ status as “the first Southern state” to put medical marijuana to the vote. It’s true; the Compassionate Care Act will appear on our Nov. 6 ballot. But the first mistake in this media meme is the assumption that Arkansas is part of a monolithic South, which it isn’t and never has been; error the second is in assuming that the development in any way indicates that progressivism is gaining purchase in Arkansas or in other areas of the old Confederacy.
The fact is, the initiative almost didn’t make it to the ballot as a result of several rejections of the ballot title language by the state’s Attorney General, an initial insufficient number of valid voter signatures on petitions, and a late Supreme Court challenge after the other hurdles had been cleared. Along the way, state lawmakers weighed in with the opinion that the measure was proof of the need to “reform” the initiative process – a concern that none of them voiced in regard to a casino amendment put forward by a private individual which, had it made it to the ballot and passed, would have allowed said individual to write into the state constitution a monopoly for herself on all casinos in the state, as well as set her own preferred tax rate, free from the interference of meddling officials actually elected by the people of the state. It’s good to know our elected representatives have their priorities straight.
The court challenge came, as might have been predicted, from one of several religious political groups operating in Arkansas who see their mission as making sure that the rest of us don’t do anything that they believe might make God mad; apparently their belief is that God gets pissed when people with debilitating illnesses experience less pain and discomfort. God gave them that illness – they should welcome it! It is His divine plan that the only relief should come from billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies.
The court challenge has actually been the most entertaining part of the whole story so far. Jerry Cox, head of the Family Council and someone I know from personal experience to be a less-than-honest operator, announced his group’s intent to challenge the initiative, under the pretext that the ballot title didn’t explain to voters all the problems that states which have passed medical marijuana laws have experienced as a result. I, who am not an attorney, thought “wow, that’s some weak sauce; that can’t be what he’s planning on arguing to the court, because they don’t care about that – they only care about whether or not the ballot title accurately describes what the law will do.” I assumed there was some other argument with actual legal grounding that would be made; as it happens, I was wrong. In a very unusual move, the Court announced that they didn’t want to hear oral arguments from either side; I interpreted that as being an indication that either they didn’t intend to give Jerry Cox a soapbox or they intended to bend intepretation of the law to the breaking point in order to toss the initiative from the ballot. As it turns out, it was the former reason – the court handed down their ruling on Thursday and noted that the ballot title language was “free of partisan coloring,” which was exactly what Cox and the Family Council were arguing was the reason it should be rejected – because it didn’t make their argument for them in the ballot title wording.
So now, it’s on to the election. My prediction? I think it’s going to pass. The only polling done on the issue was back in May or June; at that time, 47% indicated support vs. 46% who were against. As I joked to my sister, half the people in the state have a family member or friend who’s farming in the national forest, which in and of itself should be enough to put it over the top. But in all seriousness, while that may be a small factor, the bigger reason is that people here simply don’t like being told what to do by outsiders. The Attorney General’s insistence that the ballot title language include a reminder that marijuana is still illegal under federal law will, if anything, persuade some voters to vote in favor of the initiative. The old bootlegger vs. federal revenooers attitude is still alive and thriving in large pockets of the state. That attitude is a double-edged sword, to be sure: it’s the same one that gave rise to the Central High crisis of 1957. But it continues to exert an influence that makes the state politically schizophrenic and impossible to pin down.
The other reason I think this will pass is purely anecdotal – over the past several months, in general conversation with several people who I would not expect to be supportive of the initiative, I’ve been surprised time and again when they not only bring up the issue but volunteer that they’re planning on voting in favor of it. These are mostly people over the age of 50, some of whom are regular church-going folks, which leads me to believe that if the undercurrent of support is that strong in this group, it’s going to pass.
Which means that after November, this will be a state in which same-sex marriage is prohibited by the state constitution, while medical marijiuana is legal – putting us a mere couple of years behind California, politically-culturally-speaking. This will surprise no one who knows anything at all about the state – we sent the first woman to the US Senate way back in the 1930′s, then several decades later produced the fine specimen of a state legislator who coined the term “barefoot and pregnant.” Obama is currently polling at about 35% here, while at the same time we have the only governor in the region – a Democrat re-elected in the Teabagger high-water-mark year of 2010 by a landslide - who has embraced the Medicaid expansion under his health care plan.
So the next time you’re tempted to lump us in with the lunatics in Texas, Mississippi, or Oklahoma, just….don’t. We’re an island of sanity in comparison to the reactionary ignoramuses who surround us. That’s a frightening thought, but we do get things right sometimes, though it’s for different reasons than you might expect.
Recently an amateur artist tried her hand at restoring a century-old painting on a church column in Spain. The pictures below show the results of her attempt:
Over the years, the work began to deteriorate, as shown in the second image. According to the Centre de Estudios Borjanos, the unnamed amateur artist (without permission from the church, needless to say) thought she could improve the work and set to work with paints and brushes. The third picture is the result.
But wait…here comes the good part:
The BBC Europe correspondent described the painting’s current state as resembling “a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic.”
This reminded me of a classic from back in my college days, a book called Thrift Store Paintings by Jim Shaw. Thanks to Shaw’s deadpan descriptive titling of the works, I was able to find the book again on amazon, by googling the memorable title of one of the works, seen below:These works are bad, but at least they’re fun. I would consider hanging some of these in my house. Not so for our third subject, the Thomas Kinkade of the teabagger set, Jon McNaughton:
This is titled The Empowered Man, because as you can see, Joe Sixpack has just wrestled the sacred Constitution from the evil clutches of Black Hitler, as previous socialist presidents look on in alarm, while True Patriots™ (standing behind the man on his right, natch) applaud. This is from what McNaughton calls his “Patriotic” gallery; noted art expert Sean Hannity claims to be a collector of these fine works, which include others showing Black Hitler setting the Constitution on fire, standing on the Constitution, being showered with money while an audience in chains looks on, and etc. Dude’s about as subtle as a sledge hammer; in one painting he’s got Kim Jong Il standing in the background behind the Kenyan Usurper. His technical painting ability surpasses that of the two previous subjects, but not by all that much – check out the kneeling, praying man in the image above. I think that’s supposed to be James Madison, but it looks more like
Newt Gingrich Antonin Scalia in a wig to me, or maybe some TV preacher. Also note how he’s placed Dubya in with all the socialists (though he has given him the bloat appropriate for a guy who’s back on the sauce).
His other stuff ain’t much better. He reveals himself to be a member of the Kinkade school with his “cottages” collection and his “temples” collection (yes, he is a Mormon). Maybe on Kolob this shit is recognized as fine art, but here on Earth, it’s just shit, and the people who buy it deserve to be fleeced even more than the people who bought Thomas Kinkade’s hobbit fantasy crap. At least Kinkade redeemed himself somewhat by pissing on Winnie the Pooh at Disneyland. It just makes me happy knowing that Sean Hannity is one of the rubes he’s fleeced, though of course Hannity lacks the self-awareness to recognize he revealed himself as a hayseed by publicly proclaiming his enthusiasm for this crap.
I’ll take hairy monkeys in ill-fitting tunics any day.
New TV series, Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, premieres on TLC (The “Learning” Channel) this week:
One wonders what we’re supposed to be “learning” from this “learning channel” – or as George W. Bush once said, “Is our children learning?” If they’re watching TLC, apparently they’re learning about rednecks. Other current offerings on the channel include “I’m Pregnant at the Same Time as My Teen,” and “American Gypsies.” Not too long ago, TLC was the midgets and fat people channel, now they’re going full-on white trash. About the only good thing I can find to say about this is: thank god these people aren’t from Arkansas; the Duggars (another TLC “learning” opportunity) are enough of an embarrassment for one state. Sad to say, Beth and Lyta, but these fine specimens are your own – they hail from the great state of Georgia.
Don’t you love how the clip says, “you’ve met Honey Boo-Boo; now meet her family!” Really? Do we HAVE to? I think I could have lived out the rest of my days without seeing a bunch of derping rednecks playing with their belly fat for the cameras.
Another thing from the video clip above that is amusing, in a sick sort of way, is the argument they have about whether or not they’re rednecks. One of the girls claims they’re not because “we have our TEEF don’t we” (protip: if you call them TEEF, you might be a redneck), but as you can see in the photo below, no, they not only don’t have all their TEEF, they don’t have all their TEETH, either. Check out dad “Sugar Bear” in the lower right corner – he seems to be missing a few in the front:
From the blessedly limited amount of “research” I’ve done on the topic, apparently “Sugar Bear” is a chalk miner. I did not know such a profession existed, though I suppose it’s an appropriately Dickensian occupation for the husband of a 400 pound “Coupon Queen” who enters her child into beauty pageants and dopes her up with a mixture of Mountain Dew and Red Bull to give her an energy boost before she goes on stage.
Seriously folks, it’s all over but the crying. America had a good run and we should just content ourselves with having made it through almost 250 years before the whole thing fell apart.
As if things weren’t already bad enough, what with most people not being able to figure out who he really is, and those who have deciding that they don’t like him and people making fun of him on the internets with things like this:
…now comes word that, after the Bataan Death-March which this year’s GOP nominating contest has become, following a divisive and dispirited convention in which Dog-on-Car battles Man-on-Dog to the preordained Pyrrhic victory, both he and Republicans in general face an astounding 55 point gap* with the President and the Democrats among Hispanic/Latino voters. Add that to the pre-existing gap with women, which has grown into a chasm in the midst of a quixotic national slut-shaming campaign by conservatives (slut = any woman who ever has, or has ever had, sex – or thought about it) and it all adds up to no way this guy can win, probably not even with the assist of the most aggressive attempts to stop the wrong people from voting that we’ve seen since the days of Jim Crow and unlimited superPAC funds.
In a way, you almost have to pity Romney. He seems like he’s not a horrible guy, just one who’s very out-of-touch with the daily realities and concerns of people who aren’t quarter-billionaires. Unfortunately, the only principle he seems to be able to hold firm is that he should be the president, and this opens him to a world of ridicule. There’s just something unseemly about a guy with that much wealth debasing himself with awkward greetings of “Mornin’, y’all” and visibly insincere paens to “cheesy grits” (note, Mitt – they’re cheese grits, not “cheesy” grits).
Even in a Republican party not gone insane, Mitt would still be a less-than-compelling candidate. But he has the misfortune of having his turn come up at a time when the party faithful will accept nothing less than barking lunacy in a candidate, and to his discredit, he’s tried to accomodate – which has earned him a slight plurality in the nomination race. The Beatles were right all those years ago – money can’t buy you love, but it can certainly insulate you from those who don’t love you – if only you’ll let it.
On second thought, maybe Romney’s as crazy as the rest of the bunch – he’s sought this out, when he could just be hanging out around the pool at his 11,000 sf seaside mansion, playing with his grandkids and secure in the knowledge that his fortune will keep them wealthy to the end of their lives. Instead, he spends his time on the road, sleeping in motels and probably eating fairly crappy road food, to pander to people who don’t really like him under the pretense of being a fellow Wal-Mart shopper.
In the larger sense, Romney’s tragedy is the tragedy of the Republican party.** As I noted elsewhere, back in the Reagan era, Evil drove the conservative bus; Stupid just paid for the gas. That’s completely reversed now; Stupid is driving the bus, and it’s being funded by Evil in the form of the Koch brothers and folks like Sheldon Adelson, Gingrich’s pimp daddy. Reagan had to pretend to be smarter than he was to win; Romney has to pretend to be dumber than he is to secure the nomination. I remember thinking back at the beginning of the whole teabagging thing about Churchill’s quote: “Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.” I thought then that encouraging the expression of sheer id the party had appealed to for the past 30 years was probably not a very good idea; but encourage it they did. It now appears that the 2012 election will be one where we witness the tigers feeding upon the entrails of their former riders.
One can always hope, anyway.
*This is a Fox News poll, so it doesn’t have any of that icky liberal media bias on it.
**For all values of “tragedy” which fit the Mel Brooks definition (paraphrased): “Comedy is when you fall down a flight of stairs and break your neck. Tragedy is when I stub my toe.”
This comes courtesy of John Cole at Balloon Juice. I don’t recommend watching the whole thing, but there is one bit that’s almost inspired in its lunacy at about 10:30 into the clip. This comes from the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Oklahoma – a state which, I have long averred, would be where God would stick the tube should He decide in His infinite wisdom to give the United States an enema.
Of course, I was reminded of this:
Not surprising that Oklahoma bellies right up to the part of Texas featured in True Stories; folks in more enlightened lands might not have realized it when the movie was made back in the late ’80′s, but it was a very accurate representation of that part of the country. In the 25 years since, the views of the majority of people in this area have not moderated; if anything, they’ve only grown more extreme. Oklahoma and west Texas rival South Carolina for the title of most reactionary area of the country.
A Socialist, Anti-Family Political Movement That Encourages Women To Leave Their Husbands, Kill Their Children, Practice Witchcraft, Destroy Capitalism And Become Lesbians*
Yes, this image is a few years old, but it’s timely:
…thanks to barking-mad Indiana state legislator (Republican, of course) Bob Morris, who in a letter to other Indiana Republican legislators, urged that they not support a resolution honoring the 100th anniversary of the Scouts.
“Many parents are abandoning the Girl Scouts because they promote homosexual lifestyles,” Morris’ letter reads. “In fact, the Girl Scouts education seminar girls are directed to study the example of role models. Of the 50 role models listed, only three have a briefly-mentioned religious background — all the rest are feminists, lesbians, or Communists.”
He also wrote that the fact that first lady Michelle Obama is honorary president should give lawmakers pause and that “abundant evidence proves that the agenda of Planned Parenthood includes sexualizing young girls through the Girl Scouts, which is quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood.”
I’d like to thank Bob Morris and Cerberus at Sadly, No! for giving me an excuse to post this image, which has been hanging around in My Pictures for quite some time.
*Title courtesy of Pat Robertson, from 1992 Iowa fundraising letter opposing a state equal-rights amendment.
So the results are in from the primary voting for America’s Most Racist Party™ in America’s Most Racist State™, and not surprisingly, the candidate making the most openly racist appeals won.
I got into quite the online discussion last night with someone insisting that we should fear Gingrich more than Romney. I disagree; while Romney really isn’t liked by most everyone, he’s not loathed the way Gingrich is in most places. I noted that I wouldn’t be surprised if turnout was up yesterday in South Carolina, given what was offered on the menu – appeals to states’ rights (Paul), appeals to stick-up-the-ass faux religiosity (Santorum), and not-even-veiled appeals to racial bigotry (Gingrich). You’d expect such a smorgasbord to really draw them out of the woodwork in the most reactionary state in the country, and it turns out this is exactly what happened – turnout was around 602,000, compared with 445,000 in 2008. But let’s look where those “extra” votes went – Romney improved his 2008 showing by about 100,000 votes, which still put him far back into second place. Gingrich bested him by about 70,000. Both scored more votes than winner John McCain did in 2008.
So what does it all mean? Well, I don’t think it’s all that complicated, really. I think what it means is that in the most reactionary state in the country, a lot of voters are motivated not by who they think is most likely to win a head-to-head matchup with the president, but by who they think is most likely to call him “ni**er” to his face, and Newt won that contest walking away. I’m sure the magic underwear didn’t help Romney any with the snake-handling crowd, either.
Should we be worried about this? Not particularly, I think. Turnouts in both Iowa and New Hampshire were about even with the apathetic turnout in 2008, probably because the concentration of crazy in those states simply isn’t nearly as high as in South Carolina. Sure, Newt may race-bait his way to further victories in primaries in the states of the old Confederacy, but that shit doesn’t play elsewhere. Add to it the man’s history of shooting himself in the foot at the worst possible moment, and this is definitely the guy we’d prefer to go up against in the general election. Because while Romney isn’t really liked, he’s not overtly offensive to many in the mushy middle. Gingrich, on the other hand, seems to think it’s his life mission to be as offensive as possible to as many as possible. And can you imagine evangelicals turning out in droves to support this guy in the general election? I mean, we know from experience that they will be instructed from the pulpit to “fall in line” once the nominee is chosen, no matter how unpalatable to the brethren that choice may be. But I can imagine quite a few of those folks just deciding to quietly sit at home on election day rather than going to the effort to show up and pull the lever for a serial adulterer whose fidelity to any particular church has been no better than his fidelity to his multiple spouses.
So, while it’s true that the crazy isn’t confined to the south, what’s needed to harness it varies a great deal around the country. God-botherers in the Midwest aren’t going to be motivated by code phrases like “food stamp president” in the way southern wingnuts will be, and Newt doesn’t have the religious fundamentalist chops to appeal to those folks the way he appeals to the bufords in South Carolina.
Go Newt! Whether you win the nomination or not, your continuing presence in the race can only help in delivering victory to Obama in November.
Who knew that all it would take to get some participation up in here would be for me to go AWOL for a month? Whatever the reason, I’m glad to see another of the Weird Sisters dropping a few pearls here. I’m actually worried that I won’t be able to top the kink of a Christmas decoration depicting a guy whipping another guy, but on my word, I will try… O yes, I will try. Just not in this post.
No, this post concerns something near and dear to my heart, and to Beth’s as well: our awesome US Postal Service, which like all else that serves the overall public good rather than just one small wealthy slice of the public, is under attack from various morons, ninnies, and lying assholes these days.
Under category the last, we find this bit of toxic effluvia issuing from the pen of one George F. Will (you know what the F stands for) and appearing in the pages of the used-to-be-a-newspaper, The Washington Post. It’s essentially an ideological hit piece, and at turns, both a comically clueless and willfully dishonest paen to the concept that only activities which return a profit are a) worthwhile or b) efficient.
Let’s tackle “willfully dishonest” first.
Will starts by citing big scary numbers about USPS’ “red ink”, while carefully omitting the fact that it can all be attributed to one cause: the departing Bush Congress in late 2006 gave one final flip of the bird to the American public and passed a mandate requiring the post office to fund employee benefits 75 years into the future from revenues over the next 10 years. Yes, the USPS is currently funding benefits for workers it won’t even be hiring for another 25 or 30 years, and if not for this one purposely created problem, the post office would have shown a small profit for every year since 2006.
Will then spews out a bunch of factoids about the percentage USPS, UPS, and FedEx respectively spend on labor costs to try to demonstrate that USPS’ labor costs are out of control thanks to the evils of unionization. Of course, he faithfully omits that he counts the pre-funding of benefits USPS is forced by Congress to pay now as part of the USPS’ percentage of current labor costs. Using this tactic, he claims that 80% of USPS revenue goes to labor costs; the actual figure is 60% when Will’s dishonest accounting is thrown out. This compares to 53% labor cost for UPS and 32% for FedEx – that last figure being hardly surprising, since the non-unionized FedEx has quite a few employees earning the princely sum of $8.50 per hour, which may explain why, even though the volume of mail I’ve sent/received via FedEx is much less than 10% of what I’ve sent/received via the USPS, FedEx managed to lose or misdeliver my packages with such regularity that I stopped using their service 10 years ago.
But I digress. The big issue here is that “percentage of revenues devoted to labor costs” is a dishonest measure of efficiency to begin with. Will waves it around as though it’s the end-all, be-all, which is understandable given that the cause of his butthurt is the idea that the people who handle our mail are paid living wages because they’re unionized. Will wants to pretend that if they weren’t, the post office’s financial problems would disappear and we would also get better service. But “labor costs” considered in a vacuum are meaningless; you’d expect that a business with twice as many employees as another business would have higher labor costs, for example, and this is why Will uses the “percentage of revenue” dodge. Again, though, that’s not a measure of “efficiency.”
For comparison, I did what Will would have done if he were other than a dishonest hack, and compared USPS’ revenues, size of workforce, and daily delivery volume with that of UPS and FedEx, then calculated how much each costs in terms of deliveries to separate, unique addresses. It’s not an exact comparison, because for UPS and FedEx I can’t locate data for “delivery locations” but only for number of letters/packages delivered daily. Here’s what I found:
FedEx has annual revenues of $40 billion and a workforce of 290,000 to deliver 3.5 million letters/parcels per day. If we assume that each of those 3.5 million pieces are going to a different address, FedEx’s per-location cost works out to $44.82. Keep in mind that this is the conservative figure; if FedEx is dropping multiple packages at locations, this means that their cost per delivery location is actually higher.
UPS has annual revenues of $49.5 billion and a workforce of 340,000 (inside the US) and delivers 15 million parcels per day in the US. For that maximum possible 15 million delivery locations, this works out to $12.50 per delivery location.
USPS has annual revenues of $67 billion and 574,000 employees and delivers to 142 million delivery locations per day, at a cost of $1.86 per delivery location.
If we look at it from a standpoint of labor cost per delivery location – which we should, because otherwise we’re comparing apples to oranges – FedEx’s labor cost per delivery location is an astounding $14.34 and UPS’ is $6.63, or more, compared to a USPS labor cost of $1.12 per delivery location, thus proving that private business is a lot more efficient at hoovering money out of people’s pockets for performing essentially the same functions as evil government non-profit enterprises. Which, after all, is what Will REALLY means whenever he waxes on about the glorious “efficiency” of private business.
Now, to be fair, both UPS and FedEx operate on a different model than USPS – it does cost more to move things cross-country and deliver overnight, just as it costs more to move large and heavy parcels. But the fact remains that neither of them are able to cover the ground USPS does for 6 – 13 times the labor cost.
Will also throws around claims of how great privatized mail systems are working in other countries. I looked into that as well, and found that most of the countries that conservatives claim have privatized their mail systems simply haven’t. What they’ve done is lift the government monopoly on first class mail, allowing private carriers to compete in providing first class mail service. This is true of both the UK and Sweden. Other countries conservatives claim have privatized have only partially done so, as in Germany, whose service is 69% private. The only example I came up with for a fully-privatized postal system is the Netherlands, where you can send a first class letter from one side of the country all the way to the other side 100 miles away for only 50% more than what we pay for first-class postage from Miami, Florida to Nome, Alaska (first class postage rate for the Netherlands is $.62).
So if a privatized mail system in a country smaller than most US states and more densely populated than any other on earth costs almost 50% more than what we pay, how would a privatization of our mail service compare? There aren’t any vast, sparsely populated areas in the Netherlands which are more expensive to serve like we have here. A private system can only work in the US if it’s mandated to cover unprofitable routes as well; otherwise you end up with companies cherry-picking the areas that cost the least to serve and so yield the highest profits, and either neglecting the less profitable or unprofitable areas completely or charging exorbitantly for service in those areas. This is why both UPS and FedEx send about 25% of their shipments via USPS for “last mile” delivery – because the post office is already going down that rural route in Wyoming, and it’s uneconomical for UPS or FedEx to go there themselves.
Here we come to the comical in Will’s hit piece, where he suggests that Wal-Mart could take over the role of the local post office. Because as we all know, if there’s anything more appealing than standing in line at the post office, it has to be going to Wal-Mart and standing in a line there.
All of the preceding ignores that the entire USPS deficit for the current year could be solved with a $.03 increase in first class rates or by a lower first class increase coupled with a bulk rate increase. The seemingly insurmountable projected deficit of $14.5 billion forecast for 2012 would raise first class rates another $.09 – that’s if we did nothing else – no repeal on the benefit pre-funding farce, no increases on bulk rate, no closing of distribution facilities or community post offices, no cut-back to 5 day delivery. Taken together, if the post office addressed the deficits with only an increase in first class rates, we would be paying $.56 instead of the current $.44. That’s a large increase percentage-wise, but hell…at $.56 for delivery in 5 days or less to any address in the US, that’s still a hell of a bargain – and it’s less than almost any other first-world country pays for first class mail currently. Note that it’s still less that what the Dutch pay in their fully privatized system to serve their postage-stamp-sized country. At $.56, our cost for first class mail service would still be less than every country I looked at other than Brazil (at $.39, the only country currently cheaper than the US for mail service), Poland ($.46), New Zealand ($.47), Israel ($.46) the Czech Republic ($.53) and Mexico ($.52). All the other European countries, Canada, Japan, and Australia are already charging more than what we’d have to charge to keep our system just as it currently is.
So it is indeed discouraging to hear the discussion I heard on NPR day before yesterday, in which NO ONE bothered to point out any of the above facts, but instead both host and guests just solemnly intoned that “the USPS is broken,” “mail service is a dinosaur,” “they haven’t kept up with the times,” and etc. None of that is true. What is true is that with falling volume on first-class mail, there is no doubt that some tweaks need to be made. But don’t let anyone fool you – none of them would require cutting back delivery to 3 days per week, or closing mail distribution centers in remote areas, resulting in delivery slowdowns of 2 days or more. Those things aren’t necessary if the post office is allowed to do what any other business would do in the same situation – raise prices.
I fear this is all too late. What will come next is the gutting of the postal service – as the mail is slowed down and deliveries per week are cut back, the morons who elected the morons who created the problem will conclude that the morons they elected are correct – government can’t do anything right, because look at the post office. It costs more than it used to and we’re getting less in return. Unfortunately, being morons, they will conclude that the answer is to turn the whole enterprise over to some private company, who will likely provide even worse service for double – or more – the price we pay now. Imagine Comcast in charge of delivering your mail, and you get an idea of just how bad it could be. And then there’s the issue of legally certified mail, ballots sent by mail, and other things of that type. I’m sure Koch Brothers Delivery Services, Inc. will make sure those ballots are handled correctly. Of course, they’ll also be paying employees a sub-living wage to maintain profit share, which will further ensure that we’re getting the best possible service. And then, all will be right with the world and George Effing Will will finally be happy, as some worthy investor is profiting from a service where the revenues used to go to support the lazy layabouts who delivered our mail, and their families.