Saturday, January 24, 2015

Does the GOP have ANYONE considering a run who isn't a fraud, a lunatic, a bully, a narcissist, or utterly devoid of compassion?

A foreshadowing of the GOP primary debates?
So I was running through the list of potential candidates for the GOP presidential primaries -- that is, those Republican luminaries who have already indicated that they will, or might, be throwing their hats in the ring...and I can't think of a single one who is not dishonest, insane, a joke, or utterly lacks compassion toward his or her fellow man. Here's the list I've got. Please tell me there's someone I'm missing, some shining star of rationality and humanity to lead the GOP out of the caves they've so happily inhabited these last six years. Because this is a pretty sad list.

- Sarah Palin. I'm not sure I have to say too much about this because, come on, it's Sarah Palin. When Palin first broke onto the political scene, she was an eager, albeit green, politician. My, what six years can do. Since then, Palin has devolved into a sort of Ted Cruz with a drinking problem -- irresistibly drawn to the spotlight, good at the sort of stunts that consistently keep her in the media's spotlight, highly skilled at divide-and-conquer politics, but seemingly incapable of putting forth anything meaningful or useful for the nation.

- Speaking of Ted Cruz. The Junior Senator from Texas who consistently inspires headlines like "5 craziest things Ted Cruz just said at the Values Voters Summit" and "The Eight Craziest Things Ted Cruz Said At Values Voter Summit". And, keep in mind, these were different Values Voters Summits, in different years. The senator who championed a government shutdown. And then blamed Democrats, when it didn't play as well to the public as he thought it would. Future President Cruz? No thanks!

- Scott Walker. Since I mentioned divide-and-conquer politics above, it seems a good time to mention my state's Scott Walker. I've devoted a lot of space on my blog to our governor, who ridicules public workers, attacks unions, is so in love with fetuses that he doesn't think pregnant women have a right-to-life, and has a long history of crooked politics and making favorable deals to donors. And that seems to barely scratch the surface. Suffice it to say, if you're not wealthy, Republican, male, conservatively Christian, straight, and white, you're at best not on Walker's radar -- or, worse yet, the focus of his brand of "small government". Despite assuring Wisconsinites that he would finish his second term if re-elected, as the Magic 8 ball might say, all signs point to "yes", he's running.

- Donald Trump. This one doesn't even need further explanation. Trump has a history of publicly speculating on runs, so this might be just a(nother) bluff. Pretty please?

- Ben Carson. Dr. Ben Carson, the GOP's favorite plagiarist and ISIS-fanboy, thinks God is eying him for a presidential run. On the other hand, he would probably end up one of our most quotable presidents. "It came to me just this afternoon that four score and seven years ago..." "Don't you know, we have nothing to fear but fear itself..."

- Mike Huckabee. In past lives, Huckabee has been a preacher, a politician and a right-wing television personality -- and he seems to be a walking embodiment of the worst aspects of all three. He believes we live in a "humanistic, secular, atheistic, and even antagonistic toward Christian faith" theocracy. He thinks people can just ignore Supreme Court rulings they don't like. And those are just a few of the insane comments he's made in the past week or so.

Visual approximation of Republican presidential
candidate Rick Santorum
- Rick Santorum. Speaking of religious nutjobs, there's Rick Santorum. The guy who thinks the Pope is too liberal and out of touch with the Holy Spirit on reproductive rights. The man whose obsession with gay sex earned him his own place in Urban Dictionary. If you hate birth control and gay people with a consuming passion, or really crave the rise of the sweater vest, Santorum's your guy. Otherwise, probably not so much.

- Mitt Romney. Remember Mr. 47%, who definitely, absolutely, without a doubt was not going to run again? Alas, not necessarily true. Romney might have taken the "third time's the charm" phrase a little too literally, but can we at least hope he lives by "three strikes and you're out"?

- Jeb Bush. Another Bush. Really, do I have to explain? I didn't think so.

- Chris Christie. Christie hasn't officially confirmed his intentions. But it looks like he's on track for a run. Whereas "Cruz" and "crazy" are headline companions you'll see a lot, "Christie" and "bully" are a match made in New Jersey hell. This professional has no problem berating the people he's (supposedly) serving as "idiots" and more. If you want a president who is as likely to stuff you in a locker and swipe your lunch money as listen to your opinion, Christie's your man.

- Carly Fiorina. While conservatives might love her for her opinions that war on women is "shameless, baseless propaganda", and her own shameless rehashing of Benghazi lies, at least one GOP strategists has identified her as a potential secret weapon to defeating Hillary: "The most effective way to criticize a woman is to have another woman do it."

- Rick Perry. I've only got three things to say about Perry: he's a typical anti-woman, anti-education, anti-science, pro-monied interests Republican; he is a man made for the internet age; and...that is...I can't, the third...oops!

- Marco Rubio. Jon Stewart knows that Rubio is a thirsty man, but it seems he's also hungry -- power hungry, at least. The biggest problem with Rubio seems to be his do-anything-for-power attitude. When it's cool to be dumb in the party, Rubio feigns ignorance of science -- although he often struggles to bring himself to outright denial. His positions on immigration are constantly seeming to evolve. He's the kind of candidate who says whatever sounds good at the moment. And then walks it back or re-frames to the next audience.

- Rand Paul. Another prominent Republican who seems to have his eyes on the presidency, Paul is more savvy at appealing to general audiences than many of his colleagues. He, for instance, tries to frame himself in interviews as more-or-less moderate on issues like abortion...while attacking abortion rights and supporting legislation that is anything but. Still, every once in awhile, the inner Republican breaks free...like when he suggested the other day that "over half" of disability claimants are essentially fraudsters. Or how the solution, or a primary part of it, to poverty and violence in poor communities is a spiritual one.

- Bobby Jindal. The biology major who somehow just can't bring himself to have an opinion on evolutionary science...although he wants his kids to learn it. Who can't make up his mind about common core. Who wants to cut education funding so much in Louisiana that even some Republicans are in opposition, saying it'll set the state "back generations". Why? Because (like Scott Walker, in WI, and Chris Christie in NJ) his masterful governing is leaving the state with massive budget shortfalls. Republomics are amazing, aren't they?

- Steve King. While King has been doing a lot to raise speculation, he says he's not running. But he's not ruling a run out, either. King is perhaps most famous for his defense of dog fighting. Which started out crazy, and got even worse, resulting in a follow up rant in which he declared that he thought dog fighting should be legal, since it was legal for a man to rape a child and force her to get an abortion. Which is not only totally wrong, but, well, just a little batshit crazy. Which, really, is a pretty accurate general description of King.

- Allen West. West is another one of the folks God has his eyes on. According to him. West is a friendly guy, whose only downsides are that he likes torturing prisoners. And hates atheists. And Muslims. And women. And...well, you get the point.

This is, I think, a comprehensive list of Republican presidential hopefuls at the moment. I repeat, please tell me I've overlooked someone brilliant and thoughtful, or at least not a selfish, greedy, egotistical, malicious or insane person, because this is just...scary. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ted Cruz encourages GOP to "lighten up", "crack a joke"

In a stunning show of ingratitude to the party that promoted him to the national scene, Ted Cruz criticized the GOP for lacking a sense of humor. Or at least for failing to display it more often.

The junior Senator from the State of Texas was at a South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention this past Sunday, and he seemed -- amid jokes and "an apparent Russian accent" -- to be making a case for the viability of a Cruz presidential run. Which is either a display of extraordinary self-delusion, or his best punchline of the event.

During his talk, Cruz had little good to say about nominating moderate Republicans -- the "mushy middle", as he termed them. Which, it should be noted, still means anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-science and anti-poor; moderate, in the Republican lexicon, has come to mean something just left of Absolute Batshit Crazy -- the spot on the scale that is, it seems, science-denying, government-closing Senator Cruz's goal. But the most interesting comments came when he made his case for why humorless politicians don't make good presidential candidates.
“Would it kill Republicans to crack a joke?” he said. “I actually think for some Republicans it might. You know, lighten up a little. … So many Republicans run a Soviet-style campaign.”  
He proceeded to demonstrate, in a mock Russian accent: “‘This is a Politburo! You do that! You do that! You do that!’ And a lot of young people are like, ‘Forget that!’” 
 Of course, if the uptight politician he had in mind was former (and, possibly, future?) GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Cruz' advice is perhaps more dangerous than anything. The issue with Romney's jokes weren't that there were too few of them, but that they were delivered in awkward fashion, and, well, weren't funny.


But if Cruz thinks Romney's lack of humor gives him an advantage, he should reconsider. It may be true that robots don't tell great jokes, but it's certainly true that jokes don't make great presidential candidates...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Family Values Shocker: pro-life, gun loving Tea Partier Holly Fisher admits cheating on husband

So much for family values. Remember Holly Fisher, the tea party star who found internet fame after several of her photos went viral?


There was the photo of her posed, gun in one hand, Bible in the other, in front of a flag (because "Who would Jesus Kill?") -- the photo that gained even more fame after it was juxtaposed beside an image of terrorist Reem Saleh Al-Riyashi, in a strikingly similar pose. There was the photo of her at Hobby Lobby, wearing a "pro-life" t-shirt, to celebrate the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS ruling that allows companies to limit women's reproductive care options. And a slew of others to go along.

Eventually, this internet fame translated into real fame, and Holly's star seemed to be rising within conservative circles. And then the rumors started that this family values, god-and-guns-Merica-loving icon had actually been cheating on her military vet husband. With, of all people, another member of the patriotic, family-values crowd: Joel Frewa of Tea Party News Network.

Now, Frewa has stepped down from his post in TPNN, and Holly has issued a public statement on her Facebook page that details what she describes as "a loss of faith", leading to the affair.

I’ve been married since I was barely 20, most of that marriage was in the army life. With deployment, kids, career changes, etc. we’ve had our ups and downs, like most couples. In the overwhelming mess of the political spotlight and trying to find myself and where I belong, I actually completely lost myself. I lost my faith in my marriage, I lost my faith in this life that not only I’ve chosen for myself, but a life that I promote. Happy military wife with kids and church and happy, happy, happy. False. My life crumbled. My marriage crumbled. I lost my faith in God. I didn’t know where I was going to go next or what I was going to do. For a very short period in the middle of that, I actually believed my marriage was over and found someone else.
Day after day, actually week after week, throughout the late fall, I found myself just trying to figure out what I needed to do to make myself happy and to get my life back on track. (emphasis added)

Now, to be fair, I don't care who Fisher sleeps with; it's her business. The only person who really has a right to be pissed at her is her husband, and he is standing by her. But the hypocrisy is pretty colossal, coming from a woman who has been so very vocal in trying to push her brand of morality, who has crowed loudly over the loss of women's rights because she sees those rights as contrary to her beliefs...and yet who acts in a fashion that is completely at odds with that moral code that she wants to foist on the rest of us.

But, really, it seems that in the conservative world, conservatives are the only ones who don't actually have to live up to conservative values. When they fail to live up to them -- that is, when someone catches them failing to live up to them (as happened here -- Fisher was at first pretty adamant in her denials) -- well, Jesus stepped in and saved them, it's in the past and they're forgiven. For everyone else, of course, it's damnation and hellfire.

In the end, Fisher and Frewa are just the latest in an ever-increasing list of "family values" hypocrites, who piously push an ideology that they themselves are loath to commit to.

Note: edited to correct Reem Saleh Al-Riyashi's name. The original version of this article identified her as Sherafiyah Lewthwaite.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lemme mansplain this abortion thing

So, honey, you're wondering what's so terrible about abortion? Well lemme mansplain it to ya. Abortion is terrible, horrible, and really bad, because it deprives a man of his right to force his girlfriend, his casual sex partner, the girl he met in a one night stand, to make him a baby that he really doesn't intend to parent. And, you see, if you have an abortion, you might just ruin his life. Like, for reals.

That's pretty much the gist of this production from Heroic Media, a Texas based anti-abortion advocacy group that seems to think abortion really gets down to how it makes a man feel. 




It's so over the top that it feels like parody, but it isn't. (As appalling as it is, it isn't even the worst thing Heroic Media has ever put out – that dubious honor probably goes to its “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb” campaign). Heroic Media actually has a trio of Dudes of Christ (they're all religious leaders or churchgoers) sitting around sharing their feelings, about how sad they are that they allowed their exes to have abortions.

Because her body, their choice.

Some of the lowlights? Well, right out of the gate, there's the straight-faced count from each man of how many abortions he's had.
“I had an abortion.”
“I've had two abortions.”
“I had an abortion.”
I'm seriously having a hard time fathoming the sense of entitlement it must take to declare that a medical procedure another person had was yours. Then, of course, there were the apologies...

John Blandford's was patriarchal concern:
“I'm sorry that women were subjected to such a terrible thing. And no one tried to rescue you.”
Pastor Shane Idleman reminds us how men really aren't a strong enough presence in the anti-abortion movement:
“I'm sorry for men not taking a greater stand in this area.”
And then Daniel Phillips – the guy who “had two abortions” – gets down to the crux of the matter:
“I'm sorry that this is available.”
But, in case you weren't completely convinced yet that abortion really is about the suffering of the man (apparently only years later, when it's convenient to his career), Pastor Idleman's discussion of regret should seal the deal.
The pain of regret is one of the hardest pains to deal with. Because of the constant reminder that we let down God, we let down others and we let down our child.
And there's plenty of sad music, uneasy finger twitching, hand wringing and so on throughout. Because, really, women, you need to think about how this will affect your partner. Yes, he might not want a kid now. He might be “neither here nor there” on abortion when it counts, like Daniel Phillips, but you know what? Years later, after he's “had” a few abortions and then settled down, he might regret it. And did you ever stop to think about that, eh? Did you ever stop to think what forcing an abortion on an unwilling, or willing, man (by ending your own unwanted pregnancy) might do to him? Because what, after all, is a woman's body, if not a man's baby-maker? What, after all, is an abortion, if not a deprivation of a man's rights to force his sex partner to bear him children?


And that, my friends, is abortion, right-wing Christian-mansplained for you. Just in case you needed to know why a woman having the right to decide when and if she'll be pregnant was bad, now you know: a man she's slept with might not approve. And, even if he does at the time, he might change his mind later. So, yeah, case pretty much closed...

Your guide to life, in comic form

Okay, so I know I post a lot from Stephan Pastis' Pearls Before Swine...I swear, I'm not a paid shill. Which probably sounds a lot like what a shill would say, but I'm still not one. But, seriously, these are awesome. All posted to Facebook in the last week or so (although some went to print a long time ago), they seem to put together a pretty good guide to life and the internet. Enjoy.

Pig the Young Earth Creationist, discovers the dirty secret of the internet (no, not porn...):



Rat figures out life:

 
 
And Danny the Donkey figures out the afterlife:


But perhaps my favorite of all is where Rat takes on blogging:


(Needless to say, I don't own the rights to any of these. They're all Stephan Pastis' work/creation, and you can find lots more at his Facebook page.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo attack & murders

I'm not entirely sure what to write in response to the murderous attack by Muslim gunmen on the headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo satirical paper, that killed multiple civilians and police officers.

Anger, disgust, mortification...It's all been said.

I could observe the cowardice of such an act, the transparent fear of fanatics who are so unnerved by criticism that they must silence it, permanently. 

I could note that the usual players are responding in predictable fashion. Fox is upset at Obama (shocking, I know), Salon was deeply troubled by what Richard Dawkins had tweeted after the attack, and the Catholic League's Bill Donohue thinks the cartoonists really had it coming for offending religious sensibilities.

I could point to the absurdity of those like CJ Werleman, when tweeting nonsense like the following:
(Maybe it's me, but cartoonists are a funny target if you're mad at the military/government...)

But I guess the points I feel really drawn to make are these:

+ First and foremost, I would join the swell of condolences to the families and friends of the deceased. The work of defending free speech is as near sacred as anything I can think of, and those who died did so in defense of that cause.
Charlie Hebdo faced years of threats, lawsuits and attacks, culminating in a murderous rampage. Because a pack of fanatics thought that their prophet was so feeble that he would be threatened by a few lines on a page; because a pack of fanatics thought their god was so feeble that he needed them to act in his stead, to punish those who had defamed his prophet.
Whatever people thought of the cartoons before, this final act of depravity illustrates the tragic importance of defending free speech...because there are those who will silence it at any cost.
I hope that the solidarity of freedom loving people, of all (and no) faiths, will be of some comfort in these terrible times.

+ Secondly, I want to note that the gunmen were Muslim, and they openly acted in defense of their beliefs. And so are the many, many people making their voices heard -- in condemnation of this attack. I don't say this to downplay the problems in some Muslim communities that can lead to this sort of radicalization. I'm not going to pretend for one instant that this had nothing to do with Islam. Of course it did, in the same way that the Klu Klux Klan and Westboro Baptist have to do with Christianity. But for all the Knights of Klan, there are millions of Christians -- Christians who range from agreeable, kind-hearted people intent on doing good, to judgmental, acrimonious people bent on self aggrandizing shows of piety: people we may disagree with in varying degrees, but who nonetheless are not trying to harm anyone. The same is true of the Muslim community, and -- even in anger, even in shock -- it is wrong to lose sight of that fact.

+ Finally, I want to emphasize what I alluded to in my first point...freedom of expression is a defining principle of any free state. Speech, even if you feel it is offensive speech, is a right, and it must remain protected.
A few years back, the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo addressed those who would silence them with this cover. The extremists' sentiments have not changed, but got bloodier and more violent.


"Charlie Hebdo must be veiled!"

Whether they win depends on us.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

It's time to acknowledge that tolerance of intolerance kills

Leelah Alcorn died last Sunday. After years of censorship, castigation and rejection of her gender identity by strict Christian parents, Leelah took her own life. At 17, she is dead. What a tragedy.

In her suicide note, posted to Tumblr, Leelah wrote about her home life, and how her parents reacted to learning their son, Joshua, was actually a girl. And it's hard to read:
My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn't receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.

I formed a sort of a 'f*** you' attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that's obviously not what I wanted.

So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I'm surprised I didn't kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent's disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness. (emphasis added)
Leelah's parents have since deleted the note, but it can be found elsewhere online. This is a terrible story, a tragic illustration of the consequences that prioritizing religious beliefs over people can have. Leelah's pain and isolation is palpable through her words, and her desperation far too apparent in her final act: escape from a life of misery.

We hear these stories far too often. Sometimes, as in the death of Lizzie Lowe last month, the families of the deceased -- despite the fervency of their belief -- would actually have chosen their child over their religious beliefs. Sometimes parents don't realize the impact of their homo- or trans- phobia until it's too late. Those are parents who thought they were doing the right thing, and too late realized just how wrong they were. They were perpetrators, but victims too -- victims of an ideology that taught them to hate instead of love, to judge and condemn and guilt instead of building, supporting and cherishing; and all of this, they were told, was love. Too late, they discovered the impact of the lies they'd been sold: that their pastor's, their church's, their community's idea of "love" was utterly destructive.

It's easy to condemn those parents, but it misses the larger problem. They are not guiltless, certainly, but despite the impact of their actions, they weren't people who meant to cause harm. They were sold a package of divine lies that destroyed the life of a person they should have cherished; and, now that it's too late, they recognize that. And have to live with their guilt.

It's harder to muster a sympathetic outlook for parents like Leelah's, who, despite pretty obviously contributing to their child's death, even now, after seeing the impact of their actions, after their own dead child spelled it out so clearly, cling to those beliefs.

Refusing to acknowledge their daughter's identity even in death.
Refusing to acknowledge that her death resulted from their own preference of religious beliefs to their child's happiness, health and even life.
Still preferring those religious beliefs to Leelah.

Leelah's mother, Carla, described her daughter's death thus on Facebook:
He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck. Thank you for the messages and kindness and concern you have sent our way. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts.

Speaking of transgenderism, she told CNN
"We don't support that, religiously," Alcorn's mother told CNN on Wednesday, her voice breaking. "But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy." (emphasis added)
Leelah's father, Doug, similarly clung to an his insistence that Leelah was a boy after all. In an email to WPCO, he wrote:
[subject] Joshua Alcorn and your visit this morning.

...We love our son, Joshua, very much and are devastated by his death. We have no desire to enter into a political storm or debate with people who did not know him. We wish to grieve in private. We harbor no ill will towards anyone. ... I simply do not wish our words to be used against us...(emphasis added)
The Alcorns can pay lip service to how unconditional their love was, but the fact is it wasn't and it isn't. Not even in death can they accept that Leelah's identity. Her last words call out their religious intolerance and denial of her identity...and they still repeat them.

Leelah Alcorn is dead. While strangers mourn her death, her own family insists that there was never a Leelah Alcorn at all. Her death was a tragedy. Her parents' refusal to accept her was and remains a travesty. And the ideology that prompts parents to reject their own children over such a non-issue, to drive them to such lengths and still call it love, is a monstrosity. 

Leelah asked that her death would mean something, that we'd work toward making the world a better, safer place for trans people.The only way we're ever going to get to that place is if we recognize that tolerance of intolerance destroys lives and, yes, even kills. It's not (just) horrible people who don't give a shit about their kids who do this; it's people who really think they're doing the right thing. People who have been brainwashed by ideologies that tell them that another person's life and happiness is worth less than their beliefs.

People have the right to preach hate, but we -- as a society -- need to start calling it what it is. For the sake of those who get caught up without realizing what they're doing, for the sake of those they influence, and most importantly for the sake of people like Leelah.
The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was, they're treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say 'that's f***ed up' and fix it. Fix society.

-- Leelah Alcorn