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Time to Occupy Government

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Conservative lobby group behind push to lower minimum wage, report says (The Guardian)
In 33 U.S. Cities, It’s Illegal to Do the One Thing That Helps the Homeless Most (mic.com)

Just because you don’t hear that many news stories about the Occupy movement these days doesn’t mean that they’re not still active. Although the television-friendly encampments of a few years ago may be gone, the people and energy of Occupy have moved towards grassroots movements to better people’s conditions. These might not make for what television news producers think will get them ratings — they only want to cover the guy who punches a little old lady in the face, not the one who helps her across the street — but it’s still important work, even if few people (outside of those it directly helps) ever hear about it.

There are a couple of very good reasons for liberals to engage in these on-the-ground efforts: First of all, there’s no getting around the fact that the United States right now is, among developed countries, very conservative, and electoral change is a slow process. Even in an absolute pipe dream scenario for liberals, the Green Party could not gain control of both the executive and legislative branches until 2017 at the earliest (which would assume winning literally every Senate race they run both this year and in 2016), and then they’d still have to deal with a very unfriendly Supreme Court even if some of its conservatives stepped down. Given the entrenched positions both the Republican and Democratic parties hold in this country, for the Green Party to win even one seat in Washington in that time would be considered nothing short of a miracle. Electoral success, when and if it does come for liberals, will likely be slow.

That problem dovetails into the other main reason to seek ways to achieve liberal outcomes outside of the government: Too many Americans, and too many people worldwide, are suffering too much at this very moment for liberals not to try to alleviate their suffering by the quickest possible means. For all the talk of rising stock markets and shrinking budget deficits and lower unemployment rates, those numbers obscure the very real pain so many Americans are under right now, to say nothing of what the spread of American corporatism is doing to citizens of other countries. As much as I enjoy the “what-if” mental games of projecting the next two elections (and we’re being positively inundated with it right now thanks to Hillary Clinton’s book tour), every minute spent talking about the 2016 presidential election, or even this year’s midterms, is a minute spent not talking about the very current and very real problems Americans are facing because their unemployment insurance has been cut off, or they can only get part-time work and can’t afford to make their mortgage payments, or they can’t work full time because federal support for their kids’ after-school programme has been cut and they need to go home to supervise their children. There are far too many of these problems, and they are too pressing to leave for 2015 or 2017, so that makes it even more important for conscientious Americans of all political stripes to do what they can, privately, to help those in need.

Unfortunately, conservatives aren’t happy with just cutting off government support to those who need help. A new wave of legislation is now preventing even private Americans from helping each other out, and it’s looking more and more like it will necessitate liberals, despite the odds, getting involved directly in politics at all levels just so they can continue to provide private help to needy Americans.

I may strongly disagree with the conservative notion that public monies shouldn’t be used to provide a basic safety net to our least fortunate citizens (or at least that the net shouldn’t be very big), but I think that point of view does come from a legitimate philosophical concern over the proper role of government. It’s important to have intelligent voices debating these issues in a democracy, so voters have good points of view to consider when they go to the polls. Unfortunately, for too many conservatives the idea of shrinking the safety net is not based in some deep philosophical belief about the size of government, but is merely a convenient excuse to explain their rank selfishness. It doesn’t help that right-wing media actively markets that kind of excuse-making to their listeners.

It’s one thing for conservative lawmakers to use their elected power to chip away at the safety net, even in the face of strong evidence that the safety net needs to be enlarged and not shrunken. (There is a place to argue about the legitimacy of certain election outcomes and the like, but that doesn’t get to the main point of the present debate.) When these lawmakers then go the extra step to curtail how private citizens can help those in need, however, it is not only an incredibly inhumane act to take, but it is a direct impediment to the freedom of citizens of a democracy to act in the way they best see fit. The irony that this new wave of legislation would come from a Republican party that makes so much of “freedom” in their rhetoric, but openly legislates against citizens’ freedoms much of the time, is all too familiar of a refrain. That these restrictions to charity are coming from a Republican party that pathologically wraps itself in the mantle of “Christianity”  is similarly familiar, but still deeply shameful.

The effort to “disappear” homeless people by Republicans — never mind that their own policies are responsible for creating so many homeless people — is yet another example of magickal thinking on their part, that they can avoid a problem simply by making the evidence of that problem disappear. This is one of the greatest strengths of the right-wing media bubble, since it leads to many conservatives simply not knowing of the deleterious effects of conservative policies (and thus ensuring an ever-loyal bloc of voters who can be counted to turn out at every election), but it creates one of the biggest dangers to society at large because it promotes to all citizens the false idea that problems go away if you don’t look at them or think about them, and that can be very dangerous thinking regardless of what ideologies you subscribe to.

Although the effort to stop cities from raising their minimum wage differs somewhat in its form, it comes from the same basic idea.  It should be no surprise that in the wake of the greatest Republican assault on voting rights in a generation, conservative governors are taking away the rights of individual cities, whether by local government action or even popular referendum, to raise the minimum amount of money a resident has the right to earn for their hard work. The $10.10 per hour minimum wage being proposed by President Obama, while certainly an improvement over what we have now, would still result in hundreds of thousands of Americans who work full-time jobs being in poverty. Even raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as some cities have been courageous enough to do, would still leave too many working Americans unable to provide adequately for themselves. Still, in an increasing number of states, their residents are losing the power to provide even this benefit to the workers in their city because conservatives would rather trod on their freedoms than have people keep and use the ability to improve their lot by raising the local minimum wage.

Because so many conservatives are locked into this idea that it is better to keep a permanent underclass of society to hold up as an example of why the government shouldn’t help the needy, despite the economic harm it causes everyone by lowering the number of consumers in the market and increasing crime and incarceration rates (to say nothing of other harms), the movement to legislate against private charity shouldn’t be all that surprising, especially given how shameless so many conservatives have become about their misanthropy. Still, this marks a new epoch in conservatives’ war against the least fortunate Americans, and there’s no reason to believe that they will stop with just attacks on low-wage workers and the homeless.

I briefly toyed with the idea of running for Congress this year before abandoning it. Part of the reason for that was because Ohio Republicans gerrymandered the heck out of the state after the 2010 midterms, and there’s really no chance of anyone unseating the incumbent Republican. (When he sponsored the most anti-net neutrality bill in Congress earlier this year, though, I had second thoughts about that decision.) More to the point, American politics is a cesspool (and that may be putting it mildly), and while we can argue about how much worse it’s gotten in that regard in my lifetime, I don’t think there’s any question that it has gotten worse. Even with the low profile I’d have as a third-party candidate, I would still have to endure such a high volume of crap during my hypothetical run for office that, at the time, I considered that too big of a drawback when I weighed it against all the potential benefits that might come out of my candidacy, and I decided it was better for me to continue to focus my efforts in the private sphere. This is likely the same thought process that has led many other liberals to shun the nasty world of politics and instead focus on non-political ways of achieving their goals.

If conservatives continue to attack the ability of ordinary Americans to help our least fortunate through private means, though, it may mean that some of us will have no choice but to enter the political arena, despite its fetid stench and the personal hardships we’re likely to endure, just to keep those private avenues open for all Americans. The good news is that this will not mean trying to win a large number of executive positions or majorities in city councils or state houses; we only need to win enough seats to stymie this latest round of Republican attacks. The bad news is that it’s still a very uphill fight, particularly given the deep American groupthink that prevents other parties from challenging the Republican/Democratic duopoly.

Changing electoral politics from within is a dirty, dirty job. In order to protect the most unfortunate Americans from having even private means of support cut off from them, though, it’s looking more and more like someone’s going to have to do it, and that someone is us.

Then They Fight You, Then You Win

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The Rise Of The Brony And The Death Of The American Man (horse-news.net)

The first conservative attack on the adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was notable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, it provided the spark that convinced John de Lancie (voice of Discord and, of course, a true geek god for playing Q in Star Trek) to commit to the project that would eventually become the feature documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony. The other thing worth noting, however, is that the conservative commentators who took it upon themselves to laugh at bronies and pegasisters (including Bill Kristol saying that they were the equivalent of terrorists) all admitted that they had never even tried to watch the show. I’m not saying that this was at all surprising, especially coming from a movement that downright lionizes ignorance of anything that doesn’t fit with their microscopically narrow worldview, but it is worth noting.

That first attack was over two years ago, and while the initial media fascination with bronies and pegasisters may have faded, the fanbase certainly hasn’t. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is continuing as strong as ever, and this past season has won back many of the fans who became wary of the turns the show took during season three. Bronies and pegasisters are still here, and instead of getting used to it, conservatives have instead decided to launch a much more serious attack. Gone are the smug, laughing visages of right-wing talking heads, and in their place we have a pseudo-intellectual treatise composed by a writer of  “action novels.” For those who aren’t aware, these are the literary equivalent of Xbox games: Muscle-bound men going around swinging big blades and bigger guns, killing the swarms of enemies that are always surrounding them, to provide fantasy piffle for angry male readers to let them forget for a moment about their shortcomings, if you know what I mean. Anyway, we’ve gotten to the third of Gandhi’s four famous stages of opposition, and since this writer manages to at least keep his tautologies at one degree of remove from his thesis, his screed is as good a leaping-off point as any to move towards the fourth and final stage.

It’s impossible to avoid the fact that this article comes from a website from the heart of the MRM, or men’s rights movement. The site’s own About page lists one of their community’s beliefs as follows: “Women are sluts if they sleep around, but men are not. This fact is due to the biological differences between men and women.” No, I am not making this up. The sheer ignorance of the men’s rights movement was pretty darn laughable up until the UCSB shooting a couple of weeks ago. The lack of media coverage of the pro-MRM response to the shooting — including several men not only lionizing the shooter, but threatening all women with either rape or death — demands its own separate response, but for now it’s important to contextualize this article in terms of the space where it comes from.

In fact, the author (not surprisingly) bases most of his arguments around “necessary social gender rules” and other concepts of alleged “biological reality.” Like I said, the tautologies are removed a bit from the main thesis, which is at least a step up from the usual anti-brony trolling. The author describes in detail how he believes men and women are supposed to act in certain ways to ensure the healthy operation of a society, which is not only a cornerstone of MRM ideology, but conservative thinking in general.  (Earlier this month the Republican Party of Texas endorsed so-called “reparative therapy” to “cure” homosexuals, several years after that ship sank.) Never mind the documented reality of the prevalence of homosexual activity in dozens of species besides ours (but not homophobia), never mind the increasing evidence of gender identity being formed in the brain and not by what’s between everyone’s legs; the only “reality” that matters to these people is what they’ve forced on everyone for centuries on end, and any threat to that “reality” must be stopped dead in its tracks, at all costs.

Somehow, despite being two decades into the anime boom in the United States, the author still trucks out the old saw about cartoons being only suited for children, through implying that adults who watch cartoons are “man-children.” He speaks about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic being “obviously intended for children and females,” making me wonder if he’s actually seen the show and witnessed some of the things the writers add in to nearly every episode to go beyond the show’s “target demographic.” (I suspect, much like the first batch of conservatives who tried these waters, he didn’t actually bother trying to watch the show for any appreciable length of time.) This is nothing new in American animation; ignoring the more sexual cartoons of animation’s nascence, the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons were a practical textbook on how to slip jokes for grown-ups into a cartoon aimed at little kids, and they’re still funny today for that very reason. I have to wonder how much G.I. Joe the author watched as a child, and how that influenced his love of “technical knives.”

The author borrows a common conservative trope by then claiming that bronies’ dedication to a television show makes them “unproductive.” (So what is the difference in that regard, exactly, between a brony and a devotee of, say, Duck Dynasty?) Again, there is basic ignorance here of the incredibly large market that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has created, especially among artists who have helped not just to fill in the niches that Hasbro has failed to fill (show-accurate stuffed ponies, for one), but to create a whole cottage industry for fan-created animations, music, original characters and more. If conservatives truly believed in the good of the free market, they would be applauding all that has happened: A private company created a television show that filled a niche for well-written, positive entertainment that wasn’t being met by others, and that in turn created new markets in and of itself, helping several people find work through filling the needs of the show’s fans. Conservatives don’t really believe in free markets as much as they like to claim, though; they just like using capitalism as an excuse to abuse people they don’t like, and when the market doesn’t allow them to do that then they’re quick to embrace legislation – you know, that bane of the “free market” — to curb those markets they don’t approve of.

Modern conservatives can scream the word “freedom” until their throats are raw, and they can fly all the flags they can fit in their pudgy hands, but the fact is that “freedom” to them means only the freedom to be just like them, and any deviations to their norm are to be eradicated by all means possible. As conservatives have lost the battles on things like same-sex marriage and marijuana legalisation, they have become increasingly desperate to force their ideologies on the rest of us. From the “negotiation is quitting” mentality of the Tea Party to the wave of anti-abortion legislation being rushed through states where Republicans took over after the 2010 midterms, the fear of the modern conservative movement is not only palpable, but also self-defeating. In their craze to be against the reality of things that have happened (birtherism, anyone?) and continue to happen, modern conservatism fails to specify what it is actually for. Playing on people’s anger at the status quo only gets you so far, and when that anger turns, as it inevitably must do when left unchecked, against those whom the majority of people believe don’t deserve that anger, you’re going to turn off the very people you seek to convert to your cause.

The author can claim that men’s failure to act up to ancient gender expectations makes them “unworthy,” but the fact is that more and more people are realizing how pointless, absurd and downright destructive those expectations are. If I enjoy someone’s company, I don’t care if they watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or The 700 Club. Why should I? Why should anyone? He can lump in bronies and pegasisters and otaku and furries and whomever else he wants, and claim that they’re all “impulsive” and “irresponsible” and “wretched,” and that adult men should be concerned with “personal honor” and being a “warrior,” but the fact is that he’s representing a steadily dwindling part of the population. Left to his own devices, I’m sure that the author would find there will never be a shortage of men like him to talk about guns and knives and all that other stuff — likely with the same devotion that bronies and pegasisters talk about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic — but for people like him, it’s not enough that they have their own circle of friends and family who share the same interest. For them, everyone who violates their expectations about sex and gender (and everything else) are enemies that must be removed at all costs.

Ignoring bronies and pegasisters, and the larger movement towards inclusiveness and tolerance, didn’t work for them. Laughing at us failed as well. If this is the best they can do to fight us, I don’t think it’ll be that long until bronies and pegasisters are ultimately victorious.

The House of Bill O’Reilly’s A-Block

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Boehner taps Rep. Trey Gowdy to lead Benghazi select committee (Washington Post)
House votes to hold ex-IRS official in contempt (AP via msn.com)

The possibility of me ever having anything to do with televised news shows is next to none, but it’s a field I study a lot because of the impact that the prime time news shows have not just on politics, but America as a whole. Although hosts provide the “face” of a show, and sometimes do a great deal of work, the bulk of the work is done by the show’s staff. One of the most powerful staff positions you can hold on one of these shows, particularly in terms of influencing the show’s content, is that of the segment producer. In this age of never ever having credits at the end of a news show, these producers don’t often get public credit for the work they do, but it’s important to understand their role in these shows, even if you don’t care for the mechanics of how television shows get made.

As their name suggests, segment producers are responsible for the production of one particular part of the show, starting with the A-block at the start of the show, then the B-block after the first commercial break (or, more often these days, set of commercial breaks), and so on. Segment producers have to do a lot of research to discover good stories for the show to cover, which they then pitch to the show’s host at an early-day meeting. The host then decides which of these stories will be the A-block story, the B-block story, and so on. The segment producers then figure out who the host should interview for the show, book the guest (either someone involved with the story or one of the show’s regular talking heads), interview the guest ahead of time, then write up the interview for the host, who not only knows what questions to ask the guest, but what answers to expect. Unless breaking news is being covered, most of the interviews you see on both news and entertainment shows were actually conducted hours in advance, and what you see on television is essentially a recapitulation of that interview. (One of the reasons James Lipton needs those huge stacks of blue cards on Inside the Actors Studio is because he doesn’t conduct pre-interviews, and what you see on Bravo is cut down from an interview that usually goes on for five or more hours.)

A good segment producer, although they are unlikely to be acknowledged during a show’s broadcast, can do a lot to elevate both the quality and the prestige of a show, so it’s important for a news network to be able to recruit and keep segment producers who can keep providing content for a show night after night. Fox News just hit the segment producer jackpot, because the Republicans in the House of Representatives have clearly decided that their primary task for the foreseeable future is to serve merely as a content producer for the network’s motley menagerie of Angry White Hosts.

It is one of the most damning indictments of the current condition of modern America that we have reached a point where serving as an elected official is seen not as the highest aspiration one can strive towards, but rather as a mere stepping stone to the real seat of political power these days: A talking head on one of these networks, either as a host or a regular guest, and with a few cushy side gigs serving on the boards of political “think tanks.” Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this kind of avarice to be sure, but with the way the right-wing media machine has mushroomed over the past twenty-five years, and with elected Republicans no longer just playing lip service to far-right talkers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, but actually putting their radical ideas into legislation, it was perhaps to be expected that House Republicans would bring the gears of government to a near-halt so they can focus all their energies on providing video clips for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media machine to keep pushing their concocted narratives about the Benghazi attack  and the IRS “scandal.”

Whatever legitimate questions remain to be answered about what happened on 2012.09.11 at the American Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi, they have been lost in far-right fever dreams of President Obama and Hillary Clinton somehow seeing the attack on drone cameras on that fateful night and gleefully smiling as innocent Americans died while they did nothing to save them because, you know, Obama hates America (and so does Hillary). Long after the only “news” story that even vaguely corroborated the “Obama let Americans die” fantasy was thoroughly debunked (and gee, wouldn’t you know, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was giving advice to the reporter, Lara Logan, as she worked on the story), the far-right media machine continues to downplay or ignore the debunking so they can keep their audience’s bloodlust at blindingly high levels. At this point the far-right has been programmed like Pavlovian mice to react with fiery outrage at the very mention of the word Benghazi, so when elected Republicans talk about Benghazi they don’t have to claim that President Obama allowed Americans to die in Benghazi, or Hillary Clinton should have done more to protect the Americans in Benghazi, or Obama’s “real” birth certificate was in the building that burned up in Benghazi, or Benghazi Hillary is Benghazi trying to cover Benghazi something up Benghazi about Benghazi Benghazi Benghazi Whitewater Benghazi Clinton Impeachment Lewinsky Benghazi Benghazi Vince Foster Benghazi. (Why do I get the feeling Fox News is about to call and offer me a copywriting job?) The wet dream “proof Obama hates America” stories are hardwired into conservatives’ brains now, and the word “Benghazi” is a neat little three-syllable trigger to get them all salivating with unbridled rage against those Enemies of Freedom, Obama and Hillary.

Mind you, Republicans are already fundraising off this special committee they just formed to “investigate” what happened in Benghazi. Real classy. Also, throughout Obama’s presidency House Republicans have repeatedly tried to reduce Obama’s requested levels of embassy security funding. Let’s not get into all the embassy attacks that happened during Bush 43′s presidency and the lack of Republican outrage for any of those, or their attempts to stymie Democrats looking into the manipulation of intelligence that led the US into a years-long war in Iraq that resulted in thousands of American troops dying (to say nothing of the tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians), because we’d be here for days sorting all that out. These are facts, and right-wing media has lots of defences at the periphery of its bubble to make sure that no fact gets through to its listeners unless it’s been twisted beyond all recognition into fodder for a conservative talking point. All that matters is the right-wing illusion that the Benghazi attack was proof positive that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton hate America and wanted Americans to die, and that’s been so deeply pounded into the heads of the right-wing base that the word “Benghazi” serves as a trigger for their rage. Now, thanks to the Republicans in the House of Representatives, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and all the rest of them will now have hours of tape of Congresspeople saying the word “Benghazi” every day for as long as this committee meets. (Somehow I have the feeling that it’s going to keep meeting at least through this year’s midterm elections.)

In a similar way, right-wing media seized on the “scandal” at the IRS this past year to hone conservatives’ hatred of all things tax to a razor-sharp point. If you only heard the stories that came out at the start of the scandal, when it came out that conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status were targeted for special scrutiny by the IRS, then you’ve heard the version of the story that is still playing today within the right-wing media bubble. I was as outraged as anyone when that initial story broke (I even wrote about it, surprise surprise, while I was writing about right-wing media trying to distort what happened in Benghazi), but it soon quickly emerged that the IRS targeted liberal groups as well, and even groups promoting open-source software (among others). There’s not been a shred of evidence produced that the Obama Administration had even the slightest thing to do with any of this targeting, but right-wing media still call it “the Obama Administration’s IRS” to subtly imply that Obama was somehow involved in the decision to target the tax-exemption applications of Tea Party groups.

Rather than try to explain why so many political groups applied for 501(c)(4) status from the IRS after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, I’ll let Lawrence O’Donnell do it for me:

All I will add to that video (and I don’t know why O’Donnell didn’t clarify this in the above segment) is that 501(c)(4) status is different from other tax-exempt statuses in that 501(c)(4) groups don’t have to disclose their donors. It should be easy to see why fatcat donors of all stripes would love these groups, because they could donate tens of millions of dollars to these groups so they can saturate the airwaves with advertising without the voting public knowing who bankrolled the ads. Because of the Eisenhower appointee who singlehandedly, and without authority, changed the definition of groups that qualified for 501(c)(4) status, the IRS was put into an impossible position because it needed to determine whether or not groups filing for the status were actual charities or just political fronts, requiring them to make a decision on politics when the IRS was deliberately set up to be as non-political as possible so as not to become a tool of Washington officials to exact revenge on their enemies.

Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the heart of this “scandal” (and quite possibly the most unfairly maligned person in America today), faced with a deluge of these applications, made a common-sense decision to figure out which applicants needed special scrutiny based on political keywords like “Tea Party” and “Occupy.” The conservatives who have been pumping all the hot air into this “scandal” would, at best, want Lerner to simply let anyone who wants 501(c)(4) status have it. At worst they want Lerner fired and the whole IRS abolished in favour of a sales tax (which would raise taxes on the poor to crippling levels and give the rich a huge tax cut), a flat tax (ditto), or no tax at all (might as well rename the country Murdochia). If there is a scandal in any of this, it is how these political organizations — of all stripes, not just the conservative ones — can dare to claim they are charities and force us as taxpayers to foot the bill for their groups through their non-payment of taxes, and how so many Americans think it is acceptable that Americans shouldn’t be able to figure out just who’s paying for those political attack ads that they see on television a gajillion times an hour. (If you thought the saturation of political ads was bad in 2012, just wait until 2016.)

None of this matters in the right-wing media bubble, though. They just stick with “IRS targeted conservative groups” no matter how outdated and incomplete that statement is, and for the past year Representative Darrell Issa has been forcing Lerner to testify at his Congressional hearings ad nauseum, hearings which almost invariably become the A-block story on The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity and get regurgitated by right-wing media until the next hearing.

It was bad enough that House Republicans said earlier this year that they were planning on not passing any major legislation this year, and that they’ve passed even more repeals of Obamacare that they know aren’t going to go anywhere. The endless hearings about the IRS “scandal” were already compelling evidence that Republicans had turned the House of Representatives into nothing more than the second Washington studio of Fox News Channel. With this new select committee on Benghazi, they might as well hang Fox News Channel banners on the walls of the House itself.

Posse Vulpes Volpes

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OK to sell widow’s home over $6 bill, judge rules (AP via Yahoo! News)
After Nevada ranch stand-off, emboldened militias ask: where next? (Reuters)

You know what law I think was a massive government overreach that has devastated America? The 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act. Passed in the aftermath of Bush 43′s reelection, at a time when the national news media was still an obedient lapdog to the Republican Party and their attempts to stifle any kind of dissent to their regime (before the government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina finally started waking some of them up), the act made it significantly harder for everyday Americans to declare personal bankruptcy, allowing banks and other creditors — who were already generating massive profits — to make even more money by liquidating poor Americans who’d fallen on hard times for whatever reason. It was one of the biggest government gifts to giant corporations ever, but it was largely forgotten about almost as soon as it was passed.

These same banks then cratered the world economy in 2008, but when the banks got in trouble, the American government was quick to offer loans and other assistance to make sure that the banks that hadn’t completely failed yet would stay in business, and that the executives most to blame for the collapse would still get their golden parachutes. That wasn’t quite the case for all the Americans who lost their jobs as a result of the collapse, as the same banks were allowed, under the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act, to destroy these people, even when their own machinations (permitted by the government’s idiotic bank deregulations a decade earlier) meant that these banks were often foreclosing on homes which they couldn’t even produce written proof of owning the mortgages on. The lack of reporting on how the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act allowed banks to destroy American families this way in the wake of the economic crash — and make no mistake, banks are still taking advantage of this act in the same way today — is one of the biggest black eyes on the corporatized American news media.

As a general rule, I don’t break the law under any circumstances. Although I am a firm believer in non-violent civil disobedience, and although I believe Thomas Jefferson was right when he said “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so,” I consider it best, under my present circumstances, to obey the law when it is possible for me to do so. (The grey legal area some kink practices fall in may be an exception to that, but if giving someone a consensual spanking is against the law, well, see the Jefferson quote above.) This meant that even as I grew furious at the American government in the Bush 43 years, I still paid every single cent of taxes I owed, because as vehemently as I disagreed with the American government, it was still my government. I gave a great deal of thought to moving to Canada in those dark days after Bush’s reelection, but in the end I decided to tough it out, in the hope that better days would be ahead.

When I first heard of the armed standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch a couple of weeks ago, I was more than a little disturbed. Obviously there is a rank hypocrisy when the same people who’ve been shouting “We are a nation of laws” ad nauseum about immigration are quick to lionize Bundy and his cause, but long before Bundy made himself unpalatable with his racist comments, he’d already proven himself to be a liar (his family did not own that land before it was part of the United States, but bought it in 1948, so his claims of “ancestral rights” are bunk), and the extent to which Fox News openly tried to canonize Bundy — not only filming him majestically riding a horse with an American flag in his hand, but then airing it in dramatic slow-motion — was reminiscent of the network promoting early Tea Party rallies and even lending its on-screen talent to the events.

I didn’t say anything about Bundy as the standoff first broke because I wanted to be sure I got all my facts straight, but it soon became clear that Bundy is engaged in doing something that his supporters claim to abhor when they accuse others of doing it: Expecting to get something from the government for nothing. We could talk about the obvious differences between Bundy and those other people (and Bundy opened the door wide open for that with his own foolish mouth), but keep in mind that Bundy is a relatively wealthy rancher, and that even the million dollars in grazing fees he owes the government would not put him out of business. The social welfare programmes these same conservatives deride not only pay poor Americans a relative pittance in comparison, but even that small amount of money is often the difference between an unlucky American getting back on their feet, or else living on the street.

There is some question as to whether the government went too far when it began to confiscate Bundy’s cattle, but I can still remember the extent to which my local library hounded me over a $1.40 overdue fee when I was a teenager, so I’m having a hard time feeling sympathy for Bundy there. The bigger question here is what else the government could be expected to do when someone willfully breaks the law for about twenty years, despite multiple court cases (including state courts, not just the courts of the federal government Bundy doesn’t want to recognize) consistently ruling that Bundyhad no right to graze his cattle on federally-owned lands for free, what is the government supposed to do? What is it supposed to tell the other ranchers in Nevada who pay the fees to graze their cattle on that same land? How can the government expect any of them to keep paying their fees if it’s going to allow Bundy to keep freeloading?

The case of Eileen Battisti, a widow who now may be thrown out of her home over six dollars — not sixty thousand, not even six hundred, just six dollars — would be tragic enough in and of itself, another case of the ridiculous pro-corporate laws in this lands allowing creditors to destroy people’s lives over absolutely trifling sums of money. Coming on the heels of the Bundy ranch standoff, though, it provides for a very enlightening, and altogether nauseating, look at how conservative politicians and conservative media have warped America. You’re not hearing the same people who rallied to Cliven Bundy’s side protesting the overreach that could cost Battisti her home, and you’re not seeing anyone on television suggest that an armed “militia” should set up a perimeter around Battisti’s property to prevent law enforcement officials from evicting her from her house, just like you didn’t see anyone rushing to protect the scores upon scores of homes that were foreclosed on during the worst of the financial crisis.

So what’s the difference? I’ve thought it through as best as I can, and I’d really like someone to correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears that the difference is that a private entity, not the government, stands to make money by throwing Battisti out on the street. If it’s some private bank or credit agency, no matter how insidious they ma y be, then it’s perfectly okay for them to act however they want, but if it’s the “fed’ral gubmint” who wants money then they should be met with hundreds of guns and intimidated until they back off.

This is key to understanding the true nature of Bundy supporters, who are now openly looking for other excuses to provide “armed resistance” to the federal government and get themselves lionized in right-wing media all over again. They are not a “citizens’ militia.” They are not “freedom fighters.” What they are, plain and simple, is a corporate army, a band of armed thugs being directed by an ideologically-driven media corporation to prevent the enforcement of any laws that corporation doesn’t like, and in a way that the corporation can slickly produce into “news” of “victimized Americans” like Bundy fighting the good fight against the Evil Government. That kind of heavy-handed storytelling makes Amerika look subtle by comparison, but this isn’t some right-winger’s wet dream of a fiction; this is the reality of America today.

This is why the government backing down at the Bundy ranch standoff is so chilling, because it could set the precedent that any time any American doesn’t want to obey a law, all they have to do is get enough of their friends with guns together, and get the right-wing media to come televise their “valiant struggle” against the Evil Government for the country to see like it’s the latest Billy Bob Thornton movie. If we are to allow these congregations of armed Americans to effectively nullify the enforcement of any law they don’t like, without any fear of being arrested or otherwise held accountable, that would not only render our laws essentially inert, but it would also mean the practical end of democracy in America, because the only kind of power that would hold any sway is the power that comes from wielding a gun. If that is what America is going to become, then maybe I’d be better off moving to another country after all.

Finding This Year’s Face of Republican Evil

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Harry Reid To Charles And David Koch: Come At Me, Bros (Huffington Post)

The political calculus for why the sitting president’s party tends to lose seats in midterm elections is fairly simple: Although the old adage saying “all politics is local” isn’t entirely true, it’s certainly true that although the approval rating of Congress as a whole is always dismal, individual members of Congress, especially in their home districts, almost always enjoy much higher approval ratings. If you’re not in the same party as the current president, and you’re campaigning against someone who is, you can undercut their popularity by pointing out they’re in the same party as the President. (Even presidents who have reasonably good popularity ratings still tend to be very divisive; it’s only when their popularity shoots through the roof, like Bush 43′s did in the aftermath of 09.11, that being in the president’s party stops being a liability.)

Despite conservative hullabaloo to the contrary, President Obama’s approval ratings right now aren’t substantially different from most other presidents entering their sixth year in office. That being said, Obama’s hardly popular outside of his base right now, and Democrats always have a harder time in midterm elections because their lower turnouts favour Republican turnout models. Add in the fact that Senate Democrats will be defending their gains from their watershed 2008 year, and all signs point to Democrats having a tremendously uphill climb just to avoid another 2010-style wipeout at the polls.

The last time a sixth-year Democratic president faced a midterm election, though, Democrats actually gained seats in both houses of Congress. 1998 was probably the low point for Bill Clinton’s presidency, as the Monica Lewinsky scandal had stained his legacy just like Clinton (insert ribald joke about that blue dress here). Although the American public was largely disgusted by Clinton’s actions, by November they had grown even more tired of how congressional Republicans were inflating the scandal so much. With one of the architects of the 1994 Republican Revolution, Senator Bob Dole, in retirement after his failed presidential campaign, that left the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, as Democrats’ ideal target. Across the nation, Democrats were able to pin Republican congressional candidates as being in league with Gingrich and the others who were making too big of a deal over President Clinton’s indiscretions, and Democrats were able to gain seats in both houses of Congress. Gingrich relinquished his speakership shortly after the election.

There are two big lessons to take away from the 1998 midterms, one for each major party. For Republicans, the lesson is not to do something so stupid that it turns lots of Americans off of your party at a time when you’re in a good position to benefit from Democrats’ unpopularity. This is why Republicans’ recent announcement that they wouldn’t pass any major legislation for the remainder of the year, as galling as it may be to many of us, is a wise tactical move. When Republicans forced that long government shutdown this past fall, and played another game of chicken with the debt ceiling, public opinion of congressional Republicans as a whole cratered to just 9%. By point of comparison, American support of socialism usually polls around 10-12%. Following that debacle, though, Republicans (albeit not without some kvetching from their far-right) passed a bipartisan two-year budget and an extension of the debt ceiling that runs through the end of 2014, preventing another fustercluck like we had last autumn. They’re basically playing the political equivalent of American football’s “prevent defence” from now until November, giving Democrats some room to move while running down the clock, to preserve the lead they perceive they have right now. We’ll have to wait until November to see if it works or not, but right now it feels like it could very well be a winning strategy. (Given how indoctrinated Americans have been in the notion that “government can’t do anything right” these past thirty-three years, deliberate broad inaction by Congress may actually play well with swing voters. Mind you, “doing nothing” means that House Republicans are still passing “repeal Obamacare” bills ad nauseum.)

For Democrats, the lesson of 1998 is to find an unpopular Republican figurehead to use in order to scare swing voters just like Republicans are currently using President Obama, someone to disparage Republican candidates by implying they’re in cahoots with that figurehead. That’s probably the reason why Democratic groups, and some congressional Democrats like Harry Reid, have been focusing on the Koch brothers so much lately; the Koch brothers’ involvement in politics and right-wing astroturf groups since Obama became president has been widely documented, and they’re relatively easy to plaster with the “out-of-touch old white rich people who want to bankrupt working-class Americans to make more money for themselves and their rich friends” label, a tactic that worked very well when it was used against Mitt Romney in 2012.

Romney, however, couldn’t have done a better job of allowing himself to be stereotyped like that, making repeated missteps that only added to the negative image that Democrats were pinning on him. Whenever you see news stories about the Kochs, though, the brothers are always shown in still photos, because they very deliberately stay out of the media spotlight. While this tactic makes it easier to paint them as the “big money in the shadows,” the great big nasty conservative bogeymen trying to buy democracy out from under America, you can only sell that stereotype to people who follow politics closely enough to know who the Koch brothers are. That’s not really a broad section of the American public (especially a public that’s spending more and more time working just to keep a roof over their heads), and it makes me doubt the wisdom of Democrats trying to make the Kochs a big issue in this year’s midterms.

If the Democrats of 1998 made that year’s election a referendum on Newt Gingrich, could this year’s Democrats do the same with the current Speaker of the House, John Boehner? I doubt it. Yes, Boehner is on television a fair amount, and he’s had moments that would be easy to skewer in campaign commercials, but he’s never been the figurehead that Gingrich was for his party. Gingrich had the prestige of ending Republicans’ forty-year minority status in the House, and he made his reputation before then by being one of the most media-savvy Republicans in Washington, leveraging the benefits of every medium he could get his message on — even that dusty corner of the cable universe called C-SPAN — to get the Republican message out there, becoming a clear and charismatic Republican leader in the process. Boehner, by comparison, has never been that popular even within his own party, and is often depicted as an obstacle to allowing Tea Party Republicans to run roughshod over the party. He’s admitted to having no ambitions beyond his current station, and I don’t think Democrats will have an easy job of making him emblematic of congressional Republicans as a whole, especially with so many charismatic Republicans in the news every week in the leadup to announcing their candidacies for the 2016 presidential election.

Similarly, trying to paint any other elected Republican as the face of the whole party will be undermined by the fact that none of them are in effective positions of leadership like Boehner. There’s certainly no shortage of nationally-known Republicans who would turn off moderate voters with some of the things they’ve said and done — Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Louie Goehmert all come readily to mind — but for voters in purple states, the actions of some congressperson from Texas or Kentucky isn’t really going to mean much to them. Similarly, for all the problems Chris Christie has been having, he’s not even in Washington, which makes it all but impossible to make him an issue in congressional campaigns.

Not that it’s my job to advise Democrats on how to run their campaigns — you couldn’t pay me enough money to do that — but to me, it seems that the Democrats’ best bogeyman for the 2014 election is right-wing media itself. Up until the Tea Party movement, there was at least a small disconnect between the lunatic politics of right-wing media and what elected Republicans actually tried to pass into law, but unless you extend the mainstream of right-wing media out to include the apocalyptic ravings of Glenn Beck and … whatever the hell it is that Infowars guy does, there’s really no difference right now between what Fox News says should happen and what congressional Republicans try to make American law. Not only would Democrats have a “face” of the Bad, Evil Republican to put in their campaign commercials, they’d have several: Sean Hannity and his verbal bullying, Bill O’Reilly and his red-faced ranting, Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut, and the cast of easily-lampoonable talking heads who rotate on all their shows. When elected Republicans and Republican congressional candidates have appeared on split-screens with these hosts,Democrats would be able to realize even more gains.

Democrats have enough of a problem dealing with the sustained unpopularity of Obamacare, but there are several other issues they could use where they have a majority of  voters on their side — they’ve already struck upon raising the minimum wage as one that plays well, even in red states — where not just elected Republicans, but Fox News personalities as well, are on video strongly opposing the majority view. This doesn’t even get into the ridiculousness of things like climate change denial and birtherism. In addition, because Fox News is a corporate entity, I think Democrats would get the same benefits they’d get from focusing on the Koch brothers as a “big corporate evil,” but with the additions of increased public recognition and a wealth of soundbites to play in campaign commercials.

The big potential drawback to this strategy is one I’ve written about before; there is a certain “boy who cried wolf” quality to the Fox News approach, where even the most die-hard opponents of Fox News get tired of hearing about whatever inaccuracy or misanthropy they’re perpetrating now. Asking people if they heard about what someone on Fox News just said, even among politically-active liberals, just gets you a bunch of eyes rolling back in heads and quick attempts to move on to other topics of conversation. If there is a broad national consensus along the lines of “Fox News is full of crap, but what are you gonna do,” then trying to make Fox News a right-wing bogeyman has the potential for backfiring.

I’m not sure that there is a better strategy, though. Until a clear frontrunner for the next Republican presidential candidate emerges — and it looks like that may not happen for a couple of years — there isn’t really an elected Republican who would get good play across the nation as a reason for voters to not vote for other Republicans. To whatever extent the Koch brothers are involved in conservative politics, when you say “Koch brothers” to most Americans, they probably think you’re talking about the guys who invented that soft drink. Turning the right-wing media behemoths into the Bigger Evil Than Obama might not work out, but if Democrats are already facing such steep odds in November, isn’t it worth taking a shot at it now, especially when they’ll have a Republican presidential candidate to campaign against in 2016?