Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The forgotten clown

Last week, a new clown clambered aboard the crowded Republican Clown Bus of candidates for US president, but he was so forgettable that I did. Nearly a week later, I guess I have to say something. The responsibility weighs heavily.

Piyush "Bobby" Jindal officially became a candidate last week, and America was underwhelmed. His official announcement was a bizarre video of him talking to his kids, telling them “we’re” running for president—“we” who, precisely? In the video above, Jon Stewart mocks Jindal’s announcement and first speech as a candidate as only Jon can. Interestingly, almost no Louisiana Republican officials showed up at Jindal’s speech, as a good an indicator as any of how desperately unpopular he is in his own state.

In addition to, so far, being a terrible candidate, Jindal is also a terrible governor (see: “Louisiana Has A Lot Of Problems. This Is How Bobby Jindal Made Them Worse” by Alice Ollstein on ThinkProgress). Naturally, his minders, assuming he has some, will try and spin his record, but you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so if Jindal does well, then his spin doctors could clearly sell anything to anyone.

Among other things, Jindal has postured on LGBT issues, making him one of the most virulently anti-gay candidates (though, obviously, it’s crowded field for that title coveted by the clowns on the Republican Bus). When his state legislature didn’t enshrine anti-gay discrimination in law, Jindal issued an executive order trying to make it law, anyway. He’s BFFs with Tony Duggar Perkins, head bigot of the anti-LGBT hate group, “Family” Research [sic] Council [LOL!], one of the most vicious professional activists in the USA’s wealthy anti-gay industry.

Jindal’s “Response” prayer thing was organised by anti-gay extreme radical David Lane, who is now one of his main advisers. The rally organisers passed out leaflets at the “prayer” rally blaming gays for Hurricane Katrina (clearly going for the rational vote there…), and the event was paid for by the “American” “Family” Association [sic], which is so extreme in its anti-gay bigotry that it often makes the “F”RC look moderate, and sometimes even positively liberal.

I mention all of this to demonstrate that Jindal will go to any extreme (literally…) to pander the far-right religious base of the Republican Party. He has embraced all sorts of extremist and crackpot positions in an effort to win favour with the most radical parts of the party who—let’s be brutally honest here—will never vote for a brown-skinned son of immigrants from India who was raised Hindu and converted to Roman Catholicism as a teenager. And he has a “funny” name, they’ll think, one he’s “trying to hide” by using “Bobby”, they'll say. "He just don't seem right!", they'll declare.

So, if he can’t win over the far-right Christians of his party, what’s the point of pandering to them? Precisely. The man who once said the Republican Party should stop being the “Party of Stupid” has clearly embraced the stupidity (See: “5 Bobby Jindal Moments That Prove His 'Stupid Party' Bona Fides” on AlterNet).

So, Bobby Jindal, who always polls below the margin of error, doesn’t stand even the remotest chance of winning the Republican nomination. But, as with Trump, let's play the game and pretend he’s a real candidate: Bobby Jindal is 44, the youngest Republican clown candidate so far. On Inauguration Day, he’ll be 45 years, 225 days old. The oldest US President, Ronald Reagan, hallowed be his name, was 69 years, 349 days when he was sworn in. He would be the third-youngest president, after Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, and younger than Bill Clinton, currently the third-youngest US President. Bill Clinton won’t be losing his position this election.

I have utter contempt for Jindal because he panders to obviously the most rightwing aspect of his own party and, in so doing, makes life worse for LGBT people and everyone else the Republican Party’s most frothing base hates. There’s one race he might win, though: He’s now in a major contender for being the first Republican clown candidate to drop out.

Today, nearly a week after Jindal announced, there’s still 1 year, 4 months, 10 days until the US presidential election.

Update: The ACLU Foundation of Louisiana, the Forum for Equality Foundation, and six individuals filed suit against Bobby Jindal for his executive order to "shield" government clerks—public employees paid by taxpayers—who don't like gay people and don't want issue marriage licenses to them or officiate at their marriage ceremony. The suit alleges that Jindal acted illegally and beyond his authority as governor. In the past, he's frequently stated directly that he wanted to protect Christians specifically, and not "people of faith" or any other generic, inclusive term. If that was his intention in the executive order, it would be a clear violation of the US Constitution. This lawsuit will endear him to the radical right religious base of the Republican Party, but underscores why he is totally unelectable in November, 2016: Jindal's Christian Dominionism will scare the crap out of everyday Americans.

Another big court ruling

Today the US Supreme Court issued another ruling, one that will turn out to be huge. The ruling in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission may help finally end gerrymandering.

The graphic above was shared on Facebook by AlterNet and sums up Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion for the majority, and at the end is the gist of the matter: “Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

Gerrymandering is the process of drawing the lines of legislative districts in such a way that they benefit one party over another. This is one of those very rare times when, historically, both parties were as bad as each other, but a few years ago the Republican Party spent enormous sums of money (often through their “independent” PACs) to elect Republicans to state legislatures specifically so they could gain control and redraw district lines to ensure they maintained and increased political power, despite fewer and fewer people identifying as Republican.

This is why Republicans control the US House and US Senate: Their gerrymandered Congressional Districts allowed them to seize control of the US House in 2010, and to hold it since. Having lost the presidency twice in a row, their control of the US House gave them the national platform they needed to help them seize control of the US Senate, too, in the 2014 elections.

Republicans also used their gerrymander-created majorities in state legislatures to try and severely restrict voting rights for poor people, minorities, and young people in particular, most of whom traditionally vote Democratic (which is precisely why Republicans wanted to keep them from voting). That’s without even getting into all their anti-worker, anti-middle class, and social issue warring that they did, too.

In Arizona, voters were so frustrated with the gerrymandering that they used the initiative process to transfer the drawing up of district boundaries to an independent commission. Republicans were NOT happy, and fought it every step of the way. Their most immediate concern was that they wanted to draw a map to guarantee one more Republican US Representative with the new Congressional District the state was getting.

All that ended today when the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold the independent commission, with Justice Ginsburg writing the majority opinion [PDF available online].

The non-partisan issue here was, can an independent commission be used to draw district boundaries? The Republicans in control of the Arizona legislature, with no small amount of self-interest, contended that it was their job alone, since they’re elected representatives of the people. Problem is, gerrymandering means they’re not really servants of the people, but of themselves. This same question applied to other states, too.

This ruling affects about one-third of US States that use some form of commission to at least help draw their districts. But it also means that this method can be expanded to other states to help end gerrymandering.

Independent commissions are by no means perfect: Usually, they’re bipartisan, which means that members still potentially serve their parties rather than the people, but often such commissions are balanced between the two parties (as Arizona’s was), which helps a bit. However, imperfect as they are, it is a much better solution than allowing politicians to draw boundaries in order to benefit their self-interest, and that of their parties.

So, today’s ruling is an important step in the electoral reform the USA so desperately needs. It will also help end gerrymandering eventually, but in the short term it will at least help make it easier for advocates to win commissions in other states, and that’s very good news for democracy.

See also: “Supreme Court Rejects Attempt To Make Voter Registration Harder” from ThinkProgess, which also talks about the Court’s voting rights ruling.


A very busy weekend left me with little time to comment on the US Supreme Court ruling establishing 50-state marriage equality. But, then, I’ve largely said what I wanted to in the years leading up to the ruling. Then today I found videos that kind of close things off for me.

The first video, up top, is latest in AFER’s Marriage News Watch series of videos with Matt Baume: “Defending our Marriage Victory Won't Be Easy”. In this video, Matt sums up what the ruling did, and what our adversaries are most likely to do next. Although he talks about some of the difficulties ahead, I nevertheless thought the video was quite positive.

The second video, also from Matt Baume on his own YouTube Channel, offers what we “need to know” about the ruling. Part of it was recorded before the ruling, and that part lays out why the ruling was inevitable, and how the Court has a long history of expanding marriage rights.

In the parts recorded later, Matt expands on some of the things he said in the AFER video above. Taken together, the two videos said much of what I would have said, if I’d had the time.

Finally, a celebratory video: In the video below, YouTuber Raymond Braun goes with fellow YouTubers The Rhodes Bros to the US Supreme Court to experience the moment the decision was announced. There, they also ran into other YouTubers (Links to the various YouTubers are in the video description on YouTube).

Braun also went to Ireland and to video their referendum, and in another video, he talked with Jim Obergefell, whose name will now for remembered, and probably misspelled, alongside that of the Lovings for helping expand marriage rights. Obergefell is in this video, too, and is part of the reason I chose it. Braun is another of the “young dudes” on YouTube that I was talking about last month).

So, there you have it: Most of what I’d probably have said all done for me. Right now, that’s a good thing, because it was a very busy weekend with my husband and his family. See? Marriage equality really is pretty ordinary.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Preparing for the day

Today I went with our niece and her boyfriend to Martha’s Backyard (“The American Store”) to get some authentic American goodies to help celebrate Independence Day this coming Saturday. Yes, I still do that.

When I shared the photo above on Facebook, I added, “You can take the boy out of the USA, but you can't take the USA out of the boy!” and there’s truth in that. No matter where I live, I am the sum of all I’ve experienced in my life, and all my formative years—including early adulthood—were spent in the USA. No matter what, I’ll always be American. Always.

To properly celebrate my birth country’s national day, I needed to get some supplies, things I can’t get at the local supermarket (like, most obviously, all the Coca-Cola products grocery stores stock, for example). In particular, I wanted some decorations. It was a mixed result.

I already have a US flag that I brought with me (of course I did!), but what I really wanted was some bunting. Unfortunately, they were sold out, so I got some other decorations (which I’m not sharing here at the moment, since I may make a YouTube video about the day or, at the very least, I’ll take some photos). I also got a few other bits and pieces we’ll need.

I probably “ought” to be at least somewhat embarrassed that it took our Kiwi niece to remind me that where I’m from, we always talked about a “cook out” where Kiwis would talk about a BBQ. I’m so used to the NZ way of speaking (so “Kiwified”, if you will) that “cook out” sounds bizarre to me now.

But not everything sounds strange, even as I struggle to, first, remember what was part of my own Fourth of July celebrations, and, second, work out what will translate to a winter setting. That’s not as easy as it may seem.

For example, it's cold, so ice cream is dodgy. Watermelon is almost certainly unavailable (I haven’t looked). And some guests want pumpkin pie (Hey! It IS winter here…). Still, burgers and hot dogs are relatively easy to do, so there’s that. But meshing two cultures is never easy at the best of times.

All of this is superficial, really, but it gets at a larger point: I think it’s important for expats to remain connected to the land of their birth, even decades later, and Fourth of July and Thanksgiving are the two most obvious for me. The fact that the Fourth is on a Saturday this year makes it convenient to celebrate—and remember, particularly at a time when the US Supreme Court has delivered so much to celebrate.

“You can take the boy out of the USA, but you can't take the USA out of the boy!” Exactly so.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Love Wins!

There is only one way to look at the US Supreme Court ruling establishing 50-state marriage equality: Love Wins. Love has trumped all the negativity of our adversaries, and proven that love always triumphs over hate. Always.

I well aware that there are plenty of far right folks who are apoplectic, sometimes hilariously so, like declaring they’ll move to Canada, which has had marriage equality for a decade and national healthcare for even longer. And I also know full well that many of those on the far right will remain dangerous adversaries for years to come, and some will be actual enemies. Racism still exists in the USA, and anti-gay bigotry won’t suddenly go away, either.

This is why it’s so important to note that, in fact, everyone won today, including our adversaries. The Supreme Court has be strengthening and expanding marriage for over a century now, and this ruling is just another in a long list. The Court didn’t change the definition of marriage, it affirmed that marriage must be available to all citizens. When the Constitution and fundamental liberty are upheld, ALL Americans win. Eventually most of today’s opponents of marriage equality will come to realise that, even if a few hard core opponents continue to rage from the forgotten backwaters of history as everyone else moves on.

There was a lot of celebration of the ruling today, including from many big companies, and many notable landmarks, most notably, the White House.

The graphic at the top of this post is the White House’s official Facebook profile photo. The White House YouTube Channel includes both President Obama’s remarks and a video with some of the plaintiffs and excerpts of the president’s remarks (both videos are below).

This has been a great day.

Worth quoting: Justice Kennedy

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the final paragraph of his majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Uniquely Nasty: The US Government's War on Gays

The video above, “Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government's War on Gays”, is a documentary about how the federal government persecuted gay people. It talks about some things I’d never heard about before, which makes it a “must see”.

Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News presents the stories of some people who were victimised by their own government, and provides context for those events. It’s divided into three chapters:
  • Chapter 1: The Story of Charles Francis
  • Chapter 2: The Story of Lester Hunt
  • Chapter 3: The Story of Charlie Baker
I hadn’t heard any of their stories before, nor had I seen some of the secret documents the government had created as part of its war on gay people in government. Nor had I heard about how utterly evil some of the allies of infamous Republican US Senator Joe McCarthy were. Of course I knew what a despicable person McCarthy was, but I was unaware of how far his stench had spread in the US Congress, nor how they drove a fellow senator to suicide through their direct actions.

Similarly, I hadn’t heard of heroes like Charlie Baker. I wonder how many people have.

Had I read the right histories, I might have heard some of those stories, but I didn’t. This documentary helps fill in those knowledge gaps that I didn’t even now I had.

One of the biggest promises of the Internet Age is the democratisation of news and information. Neither free-to-air nor even pay-TV news operations are likely to present stories like this, but on the Internet they can be seen—and shared. Yahoo News is also encouraging people to upload their own related documents, which is both in keeping with this democratisation of information ethos, as well as interesting in itself.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s possible to broaden story-telling in news, history, and general information. This documentary helps to fulfil that promise. It also reveals some previously hidden history, which is even better.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The days are getting longer

The June Solstice arrived in New Zealand at 4:39am this morning. I was asleep at the time, and never felt a thing. That’s a little solstice humour (very little…). Seriously, though, I don’t know anyone in NZ who takes any notice of solstices.

The June Solstice marks the Northernmost point the sun reaches, with the North Pole tilted towards the sun at about 23.5 degrees. That tilt—axial tilt, it’s called—is why we have seasons at all.

So, this morning the sun was directly over (relative to the ecliptic plain) the Tropic of Cancer. The sun now “moves south”, and in six months it will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

Northern Hemisphere days now start to get shorter, and Southern Hemisphere Days start to get longer (although barely noticeable for weeks). Then, six months from now, the process will reverse—and a good thing it does, too, because agriculture would be challenging without seasons on both sides of the equator.

It’s not hard to see why our ancestors millennia ago put supernatural or spiritual significance on solstices, given how important seasons were to their survival. It’s less clear to me why some people still do, apart from less developed parts of the world, maybe, or those who observe them for a sense of connection to our distant ancestors. In any case, like I’ve said in the past, I don’t know anyone in New Zealand who takes much notice.

So, solstices, like equinoxes, are part relevant, part irrelevant. The relevant part is that they mark points in the seasons, but in Australasia they’re also irrelevant in the sense that our seasons start on the first of the month the solstices and equinoxes happen.

The graphic up top is a screen grab from timeanddate.com, and shows how they display events like the arrival of a solstice in UTC and another timezone (although I did remove the "current times").

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Father’s Day in some places

It’s Father’s Day in the USA, Canada, and the UK, though it’s months away in this part of the world. Nevertheless, it’s a big thing for many of the folks I know and love back in the USA. So, happy!

The video above is from Upworthy, which—let me be totally honest here—irritates me far more often than not (not the least because they don’t date their posts). Also, most of what they share on Facebook is clearly clickbait.

Be that as it may, Upworthy does have good and interesting things, and this video is one of them. I never got the chance to tell my Dad I was gay—he died before I could even tell myself. So maybe I relate to this video on an entirely different level, about what might have been but never could be.

In any case, the world is so much different now than when I was a kid, and dads are so much cooler. All of this is good for all children, but for gay kids in particular.

Let’s put politics aside, shall we? And let’s just, for a moment, revel in the fact that dads are so much better than they used to be, that they're human beings and not dickheads, mostly, and that’s a very good thing, indeed.

Happy Father’s Day to all the modern dads in the USA (etc.).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Rainy Auckland Winter Day

The video above is a short video I made this evening as an experiment. I wanted to see how easy it was to make a video using iMovie on my iPad. On the whole, it was pretty easy.

I shot some video of the rain this afternoon with an idea that I might make a YouTube video with it. This evening I was playing with my iPad, remembered that it had iMovie on it, and I wondered how hard it would be to use.

The first problem was figuring out how to get my footage onto my iPad. It turns out, my videos don’t automatically share to iCloud (probably a setting I made at some point). So, I uploaded them to Dropbox, then opened Dropbox on my iPad and saved them to my photos on my iPad (often called a “Camera Roll”)

After that, it was just a matter of figuring out how to assemble everything. I expect phone and tablet apps to teach me how to use them as I use them, but sometimes I get stuck. Apart from having to Google how to get video onto my iPad, this time I had very little trouble figuring it out.

However, there were a few things I haven’t figured out yet, like how to shorten the duration of onscreen titles and how to adjust the level of the music track (the levels in the video were automatic; the music was included with iMove, by the way).

If I’d edited the video on the Mac, I’d have no trouble with any of those things, and I would have edited out the camera shake in a couple spots. But I wanted to see what was possible—or, at least, obvious—to do on the iPad. Some day I may shoot some video and want to get it uploaded quickly (interestingly, one of the templates was for CNN’s uploaded videos from amateurs).

So, all in all, it wasn’t too bad, though I’ll use the Mac for editing nearly all the time. Still, it was kind of fun.

This was my second video so far this year, and this video is actually part of the “soft re-launch” of my YouTube Channel. I’m posting similarly short videos up until the actual relaunch, which is coming soon.

And all of that will be shared here on this blog. Of course.

The Technical Stuff:  The video was shot using a 20.3MP Samsung DX 1000, and the still shot of water drops at the beginning and end was shot with an iPhone 5c. The video was edited on an iPad2 using iMovie, a built-in template and built-in music. The final video was saved as a 1080 HD video, then uploaded to YouTube directly from the iPad (which takes a lot longer than from a desktop computer, BTW).

I have no words

I tried, but just couldn’t find any words to comment about the murder of black people inside their church in Charleston, SC, by a racist young white man. It turns out that Jon Stewart (video above) said what I was thinking, too. Pretty much exactly.

See also: The Washington Post has published a transcript of Stewart's monologue.

I also was struck by the clearly pained President Obama (video below), who knew several people in that church, including victims. Today he made some more remarks about the shooting (VIDEO – the link is cued to the point where he begins speaking about it, which lasts 7 or 8 minutes).

I have nothing more to add right now—I have no words.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

I side with no one – yet

I went through the quiz process at I Side With and the results were mixed. I’d expect that so very far away from the US election. Even so, I don’t take this seriously. At all.

You can see for yourself in the graphic at left (click to embiggen) that I “side with” Bernie Sanders 85%, Hillary Clinton 75%, and Martin O’Malley 68%. After that, it’s a huge drop off before the first Republican, Jeb (just don’t say) Bush, at a measly 33%.

There are MAJOR problems with their methodology, as Roger Green pointed out on his post today on the same topic, starting with the false equivalency of positions on various issues. When I took the quiz, I was aware that this could be a problem, so I often chose from the more complicated answers, some of which were frankly bizarre, in my opinion.

I could start by saying it’s unlikely that I’d “agree” with Jeb (just don’t say) Bush even a third of the time, but considering the HUGE leeway in how they evaluate answers from candidates and then compare them to ordinary people, it’s not that surprising. There’s absolutely no way I agree 16% with the Huckster or 13% with Carson, not when I’ve never seen a single issue we agree on (and, the results do say we have “no major issues” where we agree—DUH!).

A second chart of my results (at right—click to embiggen) says who I supposedly agree with more on various issue categories. In this case, it’s all Democrats, of course, so that’s an improvement. But to say I agree more with Martin O’Malley on social issues, for example, seems a wee bit exaggerated to me.

This sort of thing is valuable only as entertainment, a bit like one of those quizzes you see on Facebook, like, “What variety of potato are you?” or whatever. I don’t think any sensible person would take them too seriously.

And yet, it’s certainly true that ideologically I’m closer to Bernie Sanders than I am to Hillary Clinton (as I’ve already said on this blog). In fact, I may be closer than this quiz suggests, considering how wrong it is about me and how much I agree with any of the Republicans, but especially the religious nutjobs on the far right.

More interesting to me was the ideology graph, below:

It is absolutely true that I “support policies that promote social and economic equality”, but that’s not necessarily “strongly left wing”. In fact, many of those who truly are Leftwing would object to me being labelled “strongly left wing” (or, for many of them, even merely “left wing”, truth be known). The point is, this is extremely relative.

What I do find interesting about it, though, is that I’m pretty centrist on the other axis—between Authoritarian and Libertarian (which I don’t think of as opposite points on that axis, but that’s another discussion). I think this does tend to continue to help dispel the myth that everyone on the left is authoritarian (“myth” isn’t quite the right word for what is really merely rightwing propaganda).

This quiz was just a bit of fun, nothing more—certainly nothing meaningful. I took this quiz back in 2012, but I never blogged about it, which probably says a lot about how little I think this merits serious attention.

The reality is that at this point, I side with no one—my support for a Democratic candidate is up for grabs (however, I certainly won’t support any of the announced Republican candidates, end of story). We’ll eventually see how accurate this is—or isn’t.

Still, it IS kind of fun.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

This clown trumps them all

The crowded Republican Clown Bus of candidates for US president has been filled to overflowing with crackpots, cranks, and vanity candidates. Now there’s one who’s all three. The comedy factor just soared.

I have to admit that it’s been quite liberating to say exactly what I think of the candidates as they announce, and the more bizarre the candidate or quixotic the campaign, the more fun it has been. Today, however, will test my ability to engage in more than just mockery.

Donald John Trump said stuff today, which isn’t particularly unusual. One supposes that he talks all day whether anyone is there to listen or not—though he may require his minions to sit and listen to his latest bloviation. Today, though, he said something that made the newsmedia pay attention: He officially announced that he’s a candidate for the Republican nomination for US president, even though he’s made it clear for the past four years, really, that he would be. However, for years he’s also mainly been a big tease (sorry—didn’t mean to use a hairstyling term…), so he’s pretty lucky anyone’s paying attention.

All joking aside, I can’t understand why Trump thinks he’s a serious candidate. He’s rich, sure, but not rich enough to buy the nomination, and apart from Mr. and Mrs. Fringey McFringerson, who on earth does he appeal to? He certainly can’t appeal to enough Republican voters to actually win the nomination; as far right and extremist as Republican primary voters often are, there just aren’t enough of the most fringe Republicans to deliver for Trump. What does he expect to accomplish?

Maybe his plan is to say outrageously and bizarrely stupid things, as he so often does, in order to make the other Republican clowns candidates seem like they’re slightly rational. Actually, that’s too tall an order for anyone.

The list of what’s wrong with Trump is too long to include here. Suffice it to say that he’s a crackpot and a crank, as, for example, his fringe attacks on climate change. He’s also rabidly against immigration reform, and included a tirade against Mexican immigrants in his announcement speech, something that a Republican National Committee spokesperson refused to condemn. In an interview with Good Morning America to be aired tomorrow, Trump talks about his promise to “build a wall” around Mexico, as he said in his announcement, and also how he’ll “make Mexico pay for it”. George Stephanopoulos asks the obvious question, HOW, precisely, would Trump make Mexico pay for it? His answer was that once elected, he just WOULD, because, you know, he just would!! Okay… (See also: “11 bonkers quotes from Donald Trump's campaign announcement”)

Trump has long been a promoter and believer of crackpot conspiracy theories. Most famously, he led a years-long crusade against President Obama, saying he wasn’t a natural born US citizen. Even when a frustrated Obama issued extraordinary proof that he was, something no white president or presidential candidate has ever had to do, Trump still went on about it, desperately trying to get people to buy whatever delusional conspiracy theory he was selling at the time.

It is Trump’s fame, largely from television, that is his biggest strength: People have heard of him. They probably don’t know anything about his politics, but they don’t really know about any of the others, either, polls show. So, as just another clown among may that most people aren’t yet paying any attention to, Trump’s fame will be his biggest asset—well, until people start learning who and what he really is.

But, let's play the game and pretend he’s a real candidate: Donald Trump is 69, and on Inauguration Day he’ll be 70 years, 221days old. Trump is ten days older than George Pataki, making him the oldest Republican clown candidate so far, and the second oldest major party candidate so far (Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders is nearly 5 years older). The oldest US President, Ronald Reagan, hallowed be his name, was 69 years, 349 days when he was sworn in.

Like most rational people, I just can’t take Trump seriously, but the Democratic Party had fun with that (the image at the top of this post is what they posted to Twitter today). In a media statement, Democratic National Committee National Press Secretary Holly Shulman said:
“Today, Donald Trump became the second major Republican candidate to announce for president in two days. He adds some much-needed seriousness that has previously been lacking from the GOP field, and we look forward to hearing more about his ideas for the nation.“
Yes, they’re mocking Trump, maybe even brilliantly, but there’s also a bit of hopeful thinking in there: If Trump does well enough, he’ll be included in debates and that will ensure that those debates are an even bigger circus than they promise to be without him. It would make them much more entertaining, that’s certain.

So, it turns out I mostly mocked Trump. Oops. That’s because I have such contempt for him that I just can’t be bothered pointing out everything he’s wrong about. Actually, let’s just simplify this: Trump is wrong about everything. There—sorted!

There’s still 1 year, 4 months, and 23 days until the US presidential election.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A clown with one name

As entertaining as the Republican Clown Bus of candidates for president has been so far, we now have a serious clown. One who, pundits constantly tell us, is the real deal, the one who can win the White House. No, he’s just another clown—AND another Bush.

John Ellis “Jeb” (just don’t say) Bush today finally announced that he’s a candidate for the Republican nomination for president. Surprise! No, this time for real! Not like that time last month he accidentally said he was running, no, this time he really, really means it!

Jeb Bush is 62, and on Inauguration Day he’ll be 63 years, 345 days old. This makes his age more or less average among Republican clowns candidates, maybe toward the younger end. The oldest US President, Ronald Reagan, hallowed be his name, was 69 years, 349 days when he was sworn in.

Jeb (just don’t say) Bush delayed his announcement for months so he could raise more money for his super PAC, quite possibly violating federal election law by engaging in illegal coordination—not that you’d know much about that because the US TV news networks didn’t bother to cover that story. Bygones! Jeb—who apparently wants his last name to be an exclamation mark—is now really running.

Just don’t talk about the (Bush) wars.

The reason that Jeb (just don’t say) Bush wants to be just “Jeb!” is that, you know, his brother—kinda not popular. Started two wars, including an invasion based on lies. He tortured people. He spied on innocent Americans. He helped the rich at home. He divided Americans like they hadn’t been in decades. In short, he pretty generally screwed up the country. Yeah, if I were related to George Bush, I’d probably choose “!” as my last name, too.

But Jeb (just don’t say) Bush has plenty of his own problems. First, he hasn’t run for anything since 2002, which is a generation in political terms. Voters who turn 18 by election Day 2016 were four years old the last time Jeb (just don’t say) Bush ran for anything. He has to introduce himself beyond the puffed-up pundits to be taken seriously—he has to talk to all those people who ONLY know of him as another Bush.

For someone who’s supposed to be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Jeb (just don’t say) Bush has been pretty awful so far.

Jeb (just don’t say) Bush is no moderate, despite what pundits like to suggest. He has a long anti-gay record (see also: “Jeb Bush's Worst Comments About Gay People”). Most recently, he’s embraced the newest cause célèbre of the radical right anti-gay industry, “religious freedom”, specifically arguing that people should be free to discriminate against LGBT people if they claim it was because of their supposed “religious freedom”. He also declared that he wants to bring the "Christian voice" to the White House, by which he means aggressively fundamentalist “Christian”, of course.

It even turns out that the man that Jeb (just don’t say) Bush said was his favourite author hates democracy and thinks that the ultra rich should seize power. And THAT is the person that Jeb (just don’t say) Bush says influenced him the most?! Sheesh!

When Jeb (just don’t say) Bush announced today, there were immigration protesters, and he “went off script” to sort of answer them. Vox, writing glowingly of the event, said, “The moment was remarkable… that it happened at all,” and went on to note that what he said was “actually similar to the tone he's taken with voters at campaign events who've come at him from the right on immigration.” Huh! Who’d have guessed that?!

I know that I’ve grown cynical after decades of shitty American politics, but come on! This was a fake, a set-up, a stunt. Campaign announcements are the most closely choreographed events there are, so it’s highly improbable that immigration rights protesters would get in, and very convenient that it allowed Jeb (just don’t say) Bush to repeat one of the few things he differs with the other Republican clowns candidates on. And why would they pick Bush and not some of the stridently anti-immigration candidates? Has ANY news media cooing over this story even bothered to check to see what, if anything, happened to the alleged protesters? I couldn’t find any evidence that they did.

And this gets to the second biggest of all the problems facing Jeb (just don’t say) Bush: He will say anything to get elected, and he will pander to anyone. I honestly don’t know what he actually believes, if anything, because he chops and changes so much, issuing a statement, walking it back, then saying something different again later on. It’s impossible to trust anything he says or does.

Obviously, Jeb!’s biggest problem is that he’s a Bush, something that’s a much bigger deal than the fact that Hillary is a Clinton. Jeb (just don’t say) Bush is the son and brother of US presidents, and three of them in less than 25 years is asking a lot of tolerance from American voters, especially when they booted the first one out after only one term and the second one left office pretty nearly universally disliked. The public’s largely forgotten about old man Bush, but George? The memory of his disastrous years in the White House is still too fresh, and too raw—and if it’s not, you can bet that should Jeb (just don’t say) Bush win his party’s nomination, every Democrat will remind voters that Jeb (just don’t say) Bush’s last name is NOT an exclamation point. With luck, though, maybe his ultimate defeat can be summed up by one.

There’s still 1 year, 4 months, and 24 days until the US presidential election.

Photo of Jeb Bush by Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Have they earned it?

Today The New Zealand Herald released its annual survey of the salaries of CEOs of New Zealand companies and NZ-listed divisions of foreign companies. If we want to understand the root cause of New Zealand’s rising inequality, that list is Exhibit A.

The Herald found that last year NZ CEOs saw their average pay increase by 10% at a time when the average increase for ordinary workers was 3%, with many workers gleeful at receiving a 1% increase, and plenty of others, particularly at the lower end of the pay scale, receiving no increase at all.

Apologists for this discrepancy always say that part of the pay that a CEO receives is usually tied to performance of the company. Yet ordinary workers seldom get such “performance incentives”, as if the CEO single-handedly increased profits without any help at all from the lowest paid workers.

And the gap between the top and bottom is staggering. New Zealand recently had a protracted and public battle over Zero Hour Contracts, in which workers are contractually bound to be available for full-time hours, but they are guaranteed none. When they have no hours, they have no pay, and they can’t get a second job for when their main job gives them no hours without risking being fired.

The battle against Zero Hour Contracts in the fast food industry was won because of the organising of the Unite Union and the publicity of the now-defunct Campbell Live public affairs programme on TV3. It seems highly unlikely that the fast food industry would have abandoned Zero Hour Contracts without all that pressure.

Which is why this is so galling: in 2014, Restaurant Brands’ CEO was paid $700,000. That works out to about $336 an hour for a 40-hour week. Many of the lowest paid workers are Restaurant Brands will be paid minimum wage, and that amount depends on their age and whether they’re just starting out in work. But let’s take the highest rate: The current adult minimum wage (before tax) for employees aged 16 or over are is $14.75 per hour (for US readers, today that works out to US$ 10.285 per hour, but this is a case when the exchange rate isn’t really relevant). So, the CEO of Restaurant Brands, while his company was fighting to keep Zero Hour Contracts, was being paid nearly twenty-three times what the lowest paid worker was getting. That’s telling.

Whenever the impact of the huge gap between the top and the bottom is raised, the top earners and their allies in the National/Act Party always accuse critics of engaging in “class warfare”, which is ironic: There is class warfare going on, but it’s the top few percent waging economic war against everyone else.

Even so, as the NZ Labour Party’s Finance Spokesperson, Grant Robertson, said, “No one begrudges people who do difficult, complex and time consuming jobs being paid a decent salary, but salaries and salary increases for Chief Executives have now reached absurd levels.” And that’s exactly it: It’s not that they’re paid a lot, it’s the fact they’re paid an absurdly high amount when compared to ordinary workers.

“These CEO pay figures show how normalised such extreme inequality has become. It shouldn’t be like this,” the NZ Green Party’s industrial relations spokesperson Denise Roche said. “Pay rates for ordinary workers have not kept up with productivity increases in recent years, which means workers aren’t getting fairly rewarded for the wealth they help to create.”

Council of Trade Unions secretary Sam Huggard explained why that matters: “Low wages in New Zealand is a huge part of the story of inequality. The excessive gap between ordinary workers and those at the very top of the economic pile is making things worse.”

“When the economy isn’t working for everyone, it isn’t working at all,” the Greens’ Roche said. Labour’s Robertson said, “When the CEO of a major bank earns 120 times that of the lowest level employee there is something very wrong and very unfair.”

How do we fix it? The Greens are repeating their call that publicly listed companies be legally required to report the ratio between their highest and lowest paid workers, which is one measure of whether a CEO’s pay is obscene or not.

Labour’s Robertson suggested some more of what’s needed:
“It’s high time to think about some measures to manage this widening gap. We need to raise the incomes of all New Zealanders. We need more transparency around pay setting for Chief Executives, and a role for shareholders and workers in how that pay is set. There is also reason to investigate other options, including whether a legislated limit for the ratio of CEO to worker pay is required, as was proposed in Switzerland.

“Fundamentally dealing with inequality in New Zealand means lifting wages and investing in creating higher paying jobs. But it also means ensuring that the benefits of work and a growing economy are fairly shared. That’s the Kiwi way, and we should not lose sight of the values that have helped define our nation.”
This year’s list includes 11 CEOs paid $2 million or more, the highest number since the paper started the survey a decade ago. Unless I missed it, I didn’t see any women listed among the top-paid CEOs in New Zealand.

Personally, I don’t believe that high salaries paid to CEOs can be justified on any level—certainly not morally, but also not ethically or even economically—when there’s such a huge gap between the top and the bottom. The lowest paid workers spend a far higher percentage of their incomes than do the rich, so a company paying its lowest workers badly and its highest paid obscenely, is being self-defeating—and pretty stupid.

We need to re-balance this particular ledger sheet so that everyone—those at the top and the much larger number of workers who helped them get there—can share in the benefits of a growing economy. Just don’t expect to see anything done about it any time soon.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Age of Mean

There’s only one thing more boring than Internet fights: Someone else’s Internet fights. So, I won’t tell you about one I got caught up in last week, except briefly, as an example. Internet fights are only one example of our new Age of Mean.

The Internet is a wonderful invention, capable of delivering knowledge about anything we might ever want to know about, as well as entertainment from games, video, music, right through to the obvious porn and cat photos. But I think it’s also encouraged the development of a coarser, more self-centred society, something I think of as the Age of Mean.

I was exposed to this on Facebook last week when I challenged the casual homophobia of people commenting on the Page of a company that sells a grammar checking programme. Seriously. The Facebook Page posts all sorts of stuff about grammar, books, writing, and authors, and in the context of the last three, they posted a couple things celebrating LGBT Pride Month. The second post in particular drew the attacks.

Some of the complaints were tired and boring (“where’s straight pride month?”), but many were declarations that they were “unliking” the page (well, that’s what they meant; many of them were unaware that’s what one does: They thought the page moderators had to “remove” them). Some of them, however, went on to lecture us all about awful and disgusting LGBT people are, and how us gay folks are “shoving it down their throats” (bigots seldom say anything original).

There’s one thing about all this that’s unusual: It was on Facebook. We see comments like that every single day on mainstream news sites whenever LGBT topics are mentioned, however bland and boring they may be, but those commenters hide behind the anonymity of nicknames. We don’t even know if the comments are real or made by some sick bastard who gets his (it’s usually a male) jollies from riling up and upsetting people.

But on Facebook, most people use their real name—identities that are checkable for anyone who’s so inclined. So, when people say horrible things on Facebook—and they do all the time—it’s the virtual equivalent of saying it loudly in the middle of a shopping mall or something.

Why would anyone do that? Why would they say hateful things “out loud”, publicly, in a way that can be linked directly with their real identities? Have we really descended so low that boorishness is now acceptable behaviour?

I think we have.

The Internet Age encouraged this with its reliance on fake names and fake identities that allowed people to be horrible to other people without consequence of any kind (apart, maybe, from being banned from a site. Like they cared). But the fact that people are now willing to publicly own their bigotry suggests we’ve moved to a whole new level of awful.

Over the years, I’ve known plenty of conservatives, even some religious conservatives. While few have been actual friends, I’ve had cordial relations with them all (including, at one point, a fundamentalist preacher who was a next door neighbour). PEOPLE can find ways to coexist, but when reduced to pixels on a screen, it seems, we cannot.

I have seen far too many times that, for example, rightwing Christians have moved from negativity to fiery outrage in one jump, and only because a LGBT person (or an atheist) has dared to stand up to them. It doesn’t matter how muted the response, or how respectful the language, people on the far right in particular see dissent as attack and respond with all the fury they can possibly muster. And then they add some more.

We’re also seeing this grumpy self-centeredness spread to real life, as we see people openly saying things like, if people can’t afford a house, they need a better job (that was a government minister in Australia). We hear people say, if people are poor and struggling, it’s because they drink, smoke, gamble, are lazy—anything other than the fact the system is stacked against them.

We also hear people unquestioningly and blindly buying into politicians’ declaration that “we all” have to do with less, that “we” can’t afford good government services, so “we” have to accept reduced services and less infrastructure maintenance. This happens in many countries. And that’s without even getting into the fact WE accept that WE have to put up with all this so that the rich can have more and more and more tax cuts. We LOVE giving our money to the rich, apparently, even as WE get less and less in return.

Maybe there’s a clue in all that. Everyday people have to give up more and more and get less and less, and it makes them resentful, bitter, and angry (usually without acknowledging the true cause of the misery). So, maybe all that gives people a hair trigger. Maybe all the negativity we have to deal with in life makes us more negative as a consequence. Maybe on the Internet we’re merely having a perpetually bad day. It doesn’t have to be that way!

We need to stop and rethink what we say and do—not just on the Internet, but it’s a good place to start. Before we post a comment, we must ask ourselves: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? (which was NOT from the Buddha, by the way). I have often failed at one or two, never all three. But maybe that mantra, combined with remembering the graphic above, can help me avoid getting into future futile Internet fights.

We may be in the Age of Mean, but we can easily fix it if we choose to—IF we choose to.

The well-known cartoon at the top of this post, "Duty Calls," is by cartoonist xkcd. Publication is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Taking on the cynical myth

The video above features Alan Colmes taking on rightwing crackpot Todd Starnes and his constant promotion of the cynical myth of Christian “persecution”. Starnes gave it his best shot, but…

Starnes is a serial liar, saying things that are absolutely not true, or spinning things in such a way that they may as well be an outright lie. Blogger Joe.My.God. (where I found this video—I don’t actually watch Fox, of course) frequently quotes Starnes verbatim, which is as good a place as any to find evidence of how little regard Starnes has for the truth or for facts: He’s all about the spin.

Colmes, on the other hand, called Starnes on a few of his outrageous claims, and also pointed out how US and state governments are overwhelmingly dominated by Christians. Faced with that fact, Starnes tried to spin his way out—and failed miserably to do so. In fact, any time Colmes presented Starnes with a fact that challenged Starnes’ myth promotion, Starnes tried to spin the facts.

Still, Starnes is a capable media operator, which is why he’s used on Fox in the first place, and it’s also why people might believe his bovine excrement. As a side note, I don’t often see Alan Colmes, but this was by far the best I’ve ever seen him do. In the past, I thought he was so awful that he was of no use to our side; maybe I was wrong about him.

In any case, I know it’s somewhat jarring to see me posting a video from Fox “News”, a channel about which I have absolutely nothing good to say. However, as important as it is to keep challenging the far-right’s cynical myth of Christian “persecution”, it’s also important to make sure the mainstream knows that the myth IS being challenged, and without such videos, people like me would never know it was happening on Fox.

This issue is not going away. After the US Supreme Court rules on marriage equality, it's certain to become the focus of the rhetoric from the USA’s radical rightwing as they seek to enshrine their anti-LGBT bigotry into law. We need to be ready to take them on when that happens.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

This commercial will destroy civilisation

Be warned: If you watch the ad in the video above, you’ll be helping to destroy civilisation by letting the tide of moral decay sweep across the USA. You will also be destroying parenthood. Yippee!

Yesterday, I mocked Franklin Graham for being such a dimwit that he can’t even get his anti-gay boycotts right. The ad above is what caused him to decide to “boycott everything gay” as a way to “fight the tide of moral decay that is being crammed down our throats by big business, the media, and the gay & lesbian community.” As we all know, he was a little too quick of the mark there, and picked a pro-LGBT bank. Oops.

Now we have prominent anti-gay bigot Tony Perkins of the anti-gay hate group “Family” Research [sic] Council [LOL] adding his 2 shillings worth (ol’ Tony’s a wee bit behind the times…). In two Tweets (via Joe.My.God.) he said the bank was “promoting intentionally fatherless w/no thought of the consequences of fatherlessness”. In full froth mode, he went on that maybe the bank “can tell us which parent is unnecessary for a child—a mother or a father?” That Tony is such a joker! Wait, he’s serious?!

Okay, here’s the thing: IT’S AN AD! If the USA’s far-right “Christian” radicals get this upset about a sweet little ad, they must have incredibly short anger triggers (apparently, about one minute…). Tony said the ad is promoting “fatherlessness”, which is odd: I always thought that banks were in the business of promoting, you know, banking. My mistake. I do wonder, though, if he realises that special needs children—including deaf and blind kids—are the hardest to place in adoptive homes.

What the ad actually depicts are two parents who are so committed to the job of being good parents that they learn sign language to communicate with a child who needs, and does not have, parents. Seems pretty obvious that those two parents would be a better option than no parent at all, but clearly the only option that Tony accepts is for the child to remain unadopted.

And Frank declaring that this sweet little ad is part of a “tide of moral decay” is seriously stupid. In fact, it’s so stupid that it’s likely to induce severe eye-rolls in normal people, causing them to see the back of their own heads.

The funniest part in all this is that the ad is six weeks old! But now the radical-right anti-gay industry is clutching their pearls over it? What took them so long? Or is this part of their effort to gin up “evidence” for their totally faked myth of how Christians are being “persecuted”?

Frank and Tony aren’t really stupid men—well, not as stupid as I make them sound in my mockery. They’re actually savvy far-right political activists pushing an extreme rightwing social agenda that mainstream society has already left behind. The only way they can hope to gain support for their dream of enshrining their anti-gay bigotry in law is if they can convince mainstream people that they’re somehow being “oppressed”. By an ad. And that’s why they’re shitting all over what is just a sweet ad for a bank.

And that’s fine with me, actually. Every time they launch into one of these anti-gay crusades it reminds mainstream Americans of how shallow, petty, mean-spirited, nasty, aggressive, and extremist the USA’s radical anti-gay industry really is. In the long run, that’s a good thing.

And that’s no joke.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Targeted message

The video above is an ad—indirect, but an ad nevertheless. I’m sharing it because I like the message and think it’s well-made—and also because the video’s driving the radical right round the bend. Again.

The ad is for Target and indirectly promotes their #takepride online store. It’s indirect because the video doesn’t provide a weblink or even the name of the sponsor, apart from including the modified Target logo at the end.

The indirect nature of the video makes it less crass, I think, than some ads targeting LGBT consumers and our straight friends and family. Nevertheless, I know that some people find all such marketing to be crass no matter what, and many of those same people complain about how “commercial” Pride Parades have become. I see things differently, but that's beside the point.

Yes, I’m sure Target hopes to make money from its marketing. But it’s also taking heat from the frothing extremists among the USA’s radical right “Christians”. When I visited, the comments on the YouTube video were dominated, as anyone could predict, by loud judgmental religious zealots preaching hatred (literally) as well as their fake version of “love” (in which they say they love us so much they have to call us all sorts of vile, despicable things in order to “save” us). I’m sure they’re lovely people, and fine Christians (in their minds only, of course…).

Many of the anti-gay folks promised to boycott Target, which makes me wonder: Is it possible to have levels of boycott? Because religious extremists have promised to boycott Target many times—like, for example, every year at this time. So, do they un-boycott so they can re-boycott every year? Or is it like karate, and there are degrees of boycottingness: Higher degrees the more you re-pledge to re-boycott something you’ve pledged to boycott many times already. We need to be clear about such things.

In all seriousness, the video is well-made and carries a good message. The fact that it drives our good friends among radical right “Christians” apoplectic is just a bonus, as is the opportunity to mock their arrogant, self-righteous boycotty prickishness. Clearly a win/win.

Unintentional comedians

When the far-right anti-gay industry says or does something stupid (several times every day), it often makes us laugh. It’s usually their stupidity, but sometimes it’s at how utterly clueless they are. One of the radical right’s big leaders has demonstrated this ably.

Franklin Graham, son of the famous old time evangelist, is stridently anti-gay and has worked to make the ministry bearing his father’s name into a force for opposing the civil and human rights of LGBT people. This has made him in a joke on several occasions, but never more so than now.

After seeing an ad for Wells Fargo Bank that had the audacity to include LGBT people, Graham declared that he would, basically, “boycott everything gay”, as blogger Joe Jervis put it. That in itself was hilarious because Graham made his pronouncement on Facebook, one of the many large corporations that are strongly pro-LGBT, especially on marriage equality.

For that matter, Franklin also uses the very pro-LGBT Twitter, and has a channel on the strongly pro-LGBT YouTube, but Franklin has not yet closed his Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube accounts. Guess that for Franklin, when it comes to having to “stop doing business with those who promote sin and stand against Almighty God’s laws and His standards,” it’s do as he says, not as he does.

Funny as his hypocrisy is, he also did something really stupid.

He declared he was moving all the accounts of the ministry named for his father to another bank, BB&T, based in North Carolina. As Right Wing Watch put it:
"Graham may not have done much research, as BB&T has received an 80 percent score in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and this year is the sponsor of the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade, along with the chief sponsor of Miami Beach Gay Pride’s ‘Legacy Couples’ program, which celebrates same-sex couples in ‘committed relationships of 10 years or longer’.”

In a statement about the Legacy Couples project, BB&T said:
“We also support the individuals and organizations that broaden our perspectives and strengthen the diverse fabric of our communities. That’s why BB&T is proud to be a part of this day of pride and celebration of the 2015 Legacy Couples.”

All mocking aside, as I’ve said many times, I fully support the right of people or groups to boycott whoever they want for whatever reason they want—political, religious, cultural, aesthetic—their reason doesn’t matter, but their freedom to make that choice does. That doesn’t mean I won’t point out the hypocrisy or stupidity of the radical right launching yet another of its many thousands of boycotts against anything even remotely supportive of marriage equality or friendly to LGBT people, nor will it keep me from mocking the radical right when they screw it up hilariously.

In this case, Franklin hates LGBT people and our human rights so much that he wanted to boycott a company that supports us. Fine. That’s his choice and he’s free to make it. But I’m also free to mock him for choosing a LGBT-friendly company for his boycott stunt, and I’m also free to point out his hypocrisy in making this boycott declaration on pro-LGBT and pro-marriage equality Facebook.

Everyone has the freedom to believe and say what they want. They do NOT, however, have the right to be free from criticism and mockery. If they don’t want to be mocked, maybe they could just stop doing or saying such mockery-worthy things. But I don’t expect that to happen: Our friends on the radical right are way too often unintentional comedians.

 All of which is fine. I can always use a good laugh.

The graphic at the top of this post is from the Facebook Page of Mrs. Betty Bowers, America's Best Christian™. I first used it in a post last year.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The cynical myth

There’s a very popular rightwing myth in the USA that sometimes amuses me, but more often confuses me. Sure, they believe a great many things that aren’t true, but why do they keep believing in the “Christian persecution” myth?

Let’s get this out of the way up front: There is NO persecution of Christians in the USA. This isn’t a debatable point about which reasonable people might disagree, because first there would have to be evidence on both sides of the debate, and there isn’t: Those claiming the supposed “persecution” have zero evidence—none. That’s why it’s a myth. This is, by the way, a knowable thing, and facts, being facts, are always checkable.

Sure, the radical right has been losing the fight against marriage equality, but that fact changes absolutely nothing. If anything, the US states that now have marriage equality have found that the ONLY thing that’s changed is that same-gender couples can marry, just like their heterosexual friends and family members can. But losing a political fight isn’t “persecution”, it’s merely losing a political fight. Nothing more.

And “persecution” doesn’t mean those few cases in which religious people who wanted to discriminate against LGBT people found out that doing so violated a duly passed and enacted law—the same law that protects religious people from discrimination. Those few cases show only that no one is above the law—it's not persecution.

So where does this fantasy about “Christian persecution” come from? It comes from less than holy people.

In the video up top, Bill Maher takes on this myth and connects some of the political dots. And, yes, I’m aware that a lot of people, Left and Right, hate Maher for political reasons. I’d remind those who hate him of the aphorism, even a stopped watch is right twice a day. And boy, is Maher right on this.

The video gets at the heart of why this myth is being promoted: Politics.

The reality is that Republican politicians need some big, scary conspiracy to rile up their base to raise money and votes for their campaigns. I don’t know if any of them believe the nonsense they spout, but I don’t think they do. Instead, I’m sure it’s merely cynical politics, something they’re happy to use and exploit for their own ends.

The Republican politicians, though, are building on the mythmaking of their radical religious activists in Republican Party-aligned groups—nearly all of whom put the word “family” in their name to disguise what they’re really up to. Those Republican Party groups have been spreading this idiotic nonsense for a long time now, and their motivation is really no less cynical than the candidates in the political wing.

Fundamentalist Christian activists are using the myth as a scare tactic to raise money. Most—probably all—of the folks running those groups would be unable to get a job doing something that benefits society, rather than fomenting conflict and division. By scaring the hell—so to speak—out of their donor list, they can raise millions and avoid having to get a real job.

These groups also want to use this myth as a way to gain and hold political power. Among other things, they plan on exploiting the myth as a way to win passage of laws legalising and enshrining discrimination against LGBT people, not just in marriage, but also in employment and housing, too.

So, what we have is an absolute myth, something that, as Bill Maher pointed out, is totally non-sensical to anyone who bothers to look up the facts. The myth is being exploited by cynical Republican and Republican Party-aligned politicians as a way to raise money and votes and activists to continue to keep society divided, because doing so is their only way to remain in power.

Yes, the silly notion of “Christian persecution” in the USA is an utter myth—of course it is. But the reason it persists is the same as always: Crude, cynical, pandering, partisan politics. The sooner we’re rid of this idiotic bullshit, the better for us all.

As they sow, they reap

TV3’s ratings for its daily 3 News programme have plummeted since they cancelled Campbell Live. I’m one of the many viewers who have abandoned TV3, and it’s their own fault: They should have expected this. Not like they actually care what viewers think, of course.

I used to watch 3 News because it was a lead-in to Campbell Live, but with that show killed off, there's no reason to watch 3 News any more, and I usually don't. Instead, I either watch One News, then immediately turn the channel to ANY other channel (other than One or TV3) at 7pm, or the TV's not on at all.

I do sometimes watch Prime News at 5:30pm, but that’s made by TV3, so it's kind of like TV3 beat itself. It still promotes MediaWorks programming, just like 3 News, so I doubt they’ll be too upset at being beaten by a programme they make.

As for Sunday evening, I'm not stupid enough that I actually buy MediaWork’s corporate spin: Cutting both the news and the current affairs shows to 30 minutes each (which is like 20 minutes after commercials come out) is NOT any sort of “win” for viewers—it merely cuts costs for the company, nothing more. I never watch either brief mini-programme on TV3.

If this trend continues, TV3 will cancel their evening news programme and replace it with a re-screening of the 5:30pm broadcast of Prime News at like, 2am or something. After all, prime time is MUCH better spent showing re-runs of “Dancing with the X-Factor Stars Kitchen Rules On The Block” episodes from three years ago.

For me, it's NOT 3.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Audience appeal

There’s one inescapable fact about this blog: People like me to talk about US politics. Every time I do, every indicator goes up. And when I don’t, they don’t. Simple, really. And I ignore it.

I love politics of every kind, as long-term readers well know. You also know that I’m not married to my opinions, but to truth as best I can divine and interpret it. Which is a fancy way of saying I’m right until I decide I’m wrong (though I don’t often talk about being wrong, of course).

I have a special passion for US politics, since I studied it at university and engaged in politics at the local level for the first decade or so afterward, and starting again in recent years. In the USA, it was LGBT activism, while here in NZ it’s electoral politics. I’ve told stories about a lot of that on this blog.

But to be brutally honest, I have absolutely no idea why people check out my political posts. Do they agree with me? Do they disagree? Or, is it simply that they’re curious? Page-load statistics—one of the few audience measurement tools there are for websites, including blogs—can’t tell me why people stop by, not by a long shot.

Whatever the reason folks come here, whenever I talk about US politics, my page-loads go up, my Facebook “reach” (whatever that is) goes up, and so do indicators of all sorts. When I talk about non-political stuff—even core topics, like life in NZ or being an expat—those numbers tank.

This suggests that I should “stick to my knitting” and focus on US politics. But, unfortunately, I’ve never been one to do what I “should” do, so I go on talking about what interests me at the moment, as I always have. I guess it’s fortunate for page-load numbers that US politics interests me as much as it does.

I am what I am, and what interests me interests me. I make no excuses for either. But it does suggest that if I wanted to make money from this blog, I’m going about it all wrong. Oops.

Because of that, I doubt I’ll ever make money from this blog, nor anything else I do online. That’s not why I do it: I do it because I want to have my say, because I truly enjoy interacting with others, and because the best option is always more speech, not less. If one day that settles into an “income stream”, as the media companies call it, well and good, but that’s not my motivator.

Me, I’m here for the cake.

Postscript: I had a look at my most recent posts, and those that weren’t about US politics had, on average, less than 64% of the average page views of ones that were about US politics. Even a quasi-political post about something here in NZ, one that I specifically promoted on social media (which I don't normally do for the US politics posts), was still considerably lower than any post about US politics.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Yet another clown 2

Yet another far right anti-gay religious zealot has entered the Republican Clown Bus of candidates for president—so what? Well, this one IS different: He’s the first-ever person under felony criminal indictment to announce a presidential candidacy.

James Richard “Rick” Perry is a loon, plain and simple. He amply proved that the last time he ran, 2012, when he created the impression he couldn’t possibly walk and chew gum at the same time. Everything he did in that campaign was a disaster, and he quickly sank from contention.

Now, he wants a do-over. I guess he thinks the USA didn’t get enough of his brand of crazy last time.

And Perry IS crazy—batshit crazy (no offense intended—to chiropteran excrement, that is). He believes that practically everything the Federal Government does is “unconstitutional”: Social Security, Medicare and all other health programmes, the federal Clean Air Act, laws protecting workers, and more. He also thinks voters shouldn’t be able to vote for their own US Senators, and that taxing investment income should be unconstitutional because, yay to our billionaire overlords!

Perry clearly has never read, or cannot understand, the US Constitution. To be fair, most Republican clowns candidates are in the same boat. But for Rick, it’s not just about making sure everyday Americans are treated like serfs, it’s also about Big Money, especially, of course, Big Oil Money.

Perry said that—dog forbid—if he became president, on day one he’d wave his magic wand and make the Keystone XL pipeline construction begin. By his command. No need for pesky democracy—the billionaires want more money!

Perry is a disaster on pretty much every issue imaginable, not the least his extreme zeal for executing prisoners, even ones that could have been innocent and even if they were mentally disabled. What a nice guy that Rick is! And such a credit to Christianity, eh?

Of course, like every other Republican (except, partially, Pataki), he’s rabidly anti-gay. Obviously he’s against marriage equality—duh!—but he also defended the Texas law that made homosexuality a crime. He’s compared homosexuality to alcoholism, and he thinks gay people should simply choose abstinence. See also: “Let's Look At Rick Perry's Worst Comments About Gay People”.

Rick is also vindictive, having often used his power as governor to punish opponents and critics. Add that to the fact he’s bigoted, a christofascist, and stupid, and he’d be an utter disaster as president.

Perry is 65, which means on Inauguration Day he’ll be 66 years, 323 days old. This makes his age more or less average among Republican clowns candidates. The oldest US President, Ronald Reagan, hallowed be his name, was 69 years, 349 days when he was sworn in.

Believe it or not, this post is dramatically toned down. I have nothing but contempt for Rick Perryyou should have seen the original version! Put more simply and with less rancour, Rick must never be allowed anywhere near Washington, DC—except maybe as a tourist.

But hey, he was such a great candidate last time, maybe we should all start placing bets on how long he lasts this time.

There’s still 1 year, 5 months, and 4 days until the US presidential election.

Photo of Rick Perry in 2012 by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

And another Democrat

Yesterday, another of the longest of longshots entered the race for the Democratic nomination for US President. Still, small though his chances may be, he might not be the first to drop out. That’s something, anyway.

Lincoln Davenport Chafee announced his candidacy yesterday, and added all sorts of oddities to the race. Chaffee was a Republican US Senator from Rhode Island who lost his bid for re-election in 2006. He then ran for governor of his state as an Independent, then became a Democrat. So, he and Bernie Sanders are two candidates for the Democratic nomination who have a past as NOT Democrats. That’s pretty weird.

When he was a Republican US Senator, he was probably the last moderate Republican in the US Senate—maybe in all of Congress. He was the only Republican US Senator to vote against the invasion of Iraq, and he was a frequent critic of the Bush Administration. So, even as a Republican he was a bit different, to say the least.

Lincoln Chafee at his announcement (Source: Facebook).
Apparently, Chafee is the first-ever person from Rhode Island to run for president. That’s more interesting than actually freaky, but still. Of course, his connections to politics—and Republican politics—in Rhode Island are deep and long. As his rather posh name might suggest, he’s from an aristocratic Rhode Island family.

Chafee is 62, placing him third by age among Democratic candidates. On Inauguration Day, he’ll be 63 years, 301 days old. The oldest US President, Ronald Reagan, was 69 years, 349 days when he was sworn in.

Chafee is a social liberal, and signed Rhode Island’s marriage equality bill into law while he was governor of that state. But his support goes back years before that. He has moderate to liberal positions on a number of issues, but the media fixated on refusal to rule out talks with ISIS/ISIL, and that he called for the USA to adopt the metric system. On the face of it, I can’t disagree with either.

I think that Chafee’s biggest obstacle, as it is for so many running for either party’s nomination, is that people will say, “WHO?!” if asked about him. Familiarity may breed contempt, as frontrunners inevitably prove, but lack of familiarity breeds dismissiveness.

Still, Chafee is not any of the other announced Democratic candidates. If a Democrat doesn’t like Hillary, is scared of Sanders, and finds O’Malley boring, well, Chafee’s an option. None of the Democratic candidates so far are “bad”, after all. They may have different priorities and positions on issues, but—unlike the Republicans—none of them are horrible.

Chafee’s best hope, probably, is to wait to be seen as a compromise candidate should Hillary falter and Bernie fail to launch. That’s assuming O’Malley doesn’t grab the mantel first, of course.

I often wonder how many of these longshot candidates (either party) are actually running for vice president: They’re proving their appeal to voters, building name recognition and a fanbase (and donor list…), so that make put them in a better position to be selected by the eventual nominee. I’m not suggesting that Chafee (or anyone else) is doing that—how would I know?—but it is at least a possibility.

At any rate, the Democrats have a nice, sensible sedan to carry their candidates, unlike the crowded double-decker bus the Republicans have. Since the “worst” Democratic announced candidate is better the “best” announced Republican candidate, our side clearly is the luckiest at the moment.

That’s a very good thing, indeed.

Related: “Where they stand: Chafee on some issues of 2016 campaign” (AP)

When Chaffee announced, there was still 1 year, 5 months, and 5 days until the US presidential election.