Saturday, March 01, 2014

I sing the body mechanical

By Capt. Fogg

"America's love affair with the automobile" used to be the most noticeably overused cliche in the the American idiom and indeed, starting with the 20th century few things transformed private life and personal liberty like the automobile. Few things contributed so much to economic growth. From the end of  WWII and through the 1960's everything was about cars. If you're one of the dwindling part of the population who remembers first hand, I don't have to explain. You'll remember the car culture and you'll remember how it made the USA run. Our youth was about the freedom cars brought. The status of our families was displayed in the driveway and our introduction to love had a lot to do with the freedom of the road and the secluded areas it led to. It's gone. It's strip malls and plastic signs and Japanese designs. It's people locked safely inside, staring at little screens.

What would have happened to Jack Kerouac, who would have heard of Ken Kesey if this had been a nation where people gleefully chose some soulless transportation appliance chosen for cheapness and that simply took you places safely and economically without your participation? Where do you find America, how do you get there but on the road? Why even have a road if we can live in a hive?

I can't understand the mania for taking away our cars, for looking forward eagerly to cars that differ from subway cars only in the passenger capacity -- that run on electronic rails? Safety and economy and the vision of  a future without back roads, the crunch of gravel, the wind in your hair on summer nights, the smell of gumbo in road houses you pass as the V-twin rumbles between your knees or the V8 sings as you change down from 6 to 5 to pass that Toyota safetybox with blacked out windows and the "Star Safety System" and the airbags. I sing the body mechanical -- the music of the night and of freedom. The poetry of machines.

Soulless appliance, we don't know how it works and don't care -- a place to wait and text message and facebook and link to LinkedIn and watch American idol as the soulless matrix sucks the life out of you in perfect safety. What the hell has happened to us? Are we really heir to the termites, the moles -- timid troglodytes living in plastic tubes and breathing filtered air -- too timid to take control?

Pardon me, I'm making myself sick. It's a beautiful Saturday and in the garage, my new Harley gleams, a symphony in blue -- and route 714 waits, just over the bridge, leading west out to the big lake under miles of  trees, arched over the asphalt like a cathedral knave and the air smells the way most of you have never smelled it. South along 441, along the levee, the live oaks and Spanish moss and fish camps and orchards and road houses and kids that still wave from front lawns as you ride by. America, I'm still here, and I still remember. Of thee I still sing.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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The Peach Kings: "Be Around" and "Fisherman"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

My latest musical discovery is The Peach Kings, the wonderful L.A. duo of Paige McClain Wood and Steven Trezevant Dies. They describe their sound as "a mixture somewhere between Portishead and Led Zeppelin, The Kills and Nancy Sinatra, The Cramps and Roy Orbison," and, well, yes. They're great. Definitely check them out.

I actually found them at Vimeo, where their video for "Be Around," from their 2014 EP Mojo Thunder, was recently a Staff Pick. Here it is:

The Peach Kings - "Be Around" from Paul Trillo on Vimeo.

And here they are performing "Fisherman," from their 2012 EP Handsome Moves:

Peach Kings - "Fisherman" from Jam in the Van on Vimeo.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

Hitler, Newton, and Barnum

By Capt. Fogg

I. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. 

That's true for things above the level where quantum physics makes hash of such laws, but for things which are not things but lies, it has no bearing. Promoters of things for which there is no evidence whatever and promoters of lies, hoaxes, and propaganda rely on the fact that no external force will impede, delay, or arrest the appointed rounds of lies while truth often demands too much of us. Every day a new crop of gullible witlings and angry little twits is born to be deluded. Call it Barnum's Law.

I saw this once again the other day. It's been defaming anyone with any intention and a great number of people without the intention of  modifying the national policies on private ownership of firearms.

One might expect that anyone trying to equate Hitler with liberal philosophy isn't dealing with words as we generally accept them and is using definitions of terms like "liberal" that steer us away from rational dialogue and into the corral to be fleeced, and like all humans those who don't like liberals and don't want any interference with gun ownership will simply latch on to anything that seems internally cohesive in some blurry way without further question. We're all guilty of it to one degree or another, but in this case it's more likely to be questioned by the people it's directed against and, guess what, there isn't a germ of truth to it. There is no evidence that Hitler ever said it and the history of post-WWI German gun laws contradicts it. Hitler in fact made guns much more available (except to Jews) in 1938. The Weimar Republic required registration but that was only some time after the victorious allies forbade Germans to have guns at all. Someone made this up, probably during the Clinton years, and no opposing force has been able to stop it. Facts don't matter. Barnum's Law prevails.

Fact is never the test of belief. If it were, this thing wouldn't keep appearing all over the place. I've been seeing it for years and so far it seems more ridiculous every day, but as long as the need for Obama to be scandalous exceeds the supply of scandals, it might as well be a perpetual motion machine.

There's as little evidence that it will cease to orbit and burn up in the atmosphere as there is for any actual scandal to have occurred, but it doesn't matter in a nation where half of us are so greedy for scandal, desperate for outrage, and hungry for something, anything to anchor our prejudice and feed our greedy need to feel superior by knowing things we don't care enough about to research.

So sure, Hitler will always have said what he didn't say and the Obama scandal will always be quickly approaching and your God and your Guns and your freedom to ignore decency, the law, and the tenets of both Capitalism and Christianity will continue to make a stink that no fact will diminish and no test of logic impair.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Somebody has issues

By Mustang Bobby

It's Freud 101 that people who talk all the time about something they say they hate are secretly longing for it. So it must be that Tea Party leader Judson Phillips has a huge, uh, interest in what gay people do when they’re not living their lives like everyone else:

"Tyranny is on the march," Phillips declares in a piece on the TPN website that he also emailed to members of the group, adding that business owners who are not allowed to discriminate against gays and lesbians are "slaves" to the "great liberal state," aided by "French Republicans" like Brewer.

"The left and the homosexual lobby are both pushing slavery using the Orwellian concepts of 'tolerance' and 'inclusiveness,'" he writes.

Phillips then wonders if business owners will be forced to "create a cake for a homosexual wedding that has a giant phallic symbol on it," "create pastries for a homosexual wedding in the shape of genitallia [sic]," or "photograph a homosexual wedding where the participants decide they want to be nude or engage in sexual behavior."

Why in the world would any balanced person hear about a same-sex wedding and immediately jump to a fevered vision of a wedding cake with a giant penis on it?

A word of advice to Mr. Phillips: Google and get it over with. You and the rest of us who are tired of hearing about your hormonally-charged love/hate relationship with gayness will be glad you did.

(Cross-posted at Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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On the Hustings

(New York Times): "Outrage over sexist remarks turns into a political fund-raising tool"

(Sacramento Bee): "California Gov. Jerry Brown to run for reelection"

(New York Times): "Post-filibuster, Obama faces new anger over judicial choices"

(Real Clear Politics): "Biden to Democrats: Don't apologize in 2014"

(Los Angeles Times): "In Florida stop, hints of a 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign"


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Camp's budget another giveaway to rich

By Frank Moraes

Dave Camp has a new federal budget reform proposal (pdf) that is making a lot of liberals weepwith joy. This is simply the result of how the Republican Party has gamed the system. After decades of absolutely unreasonable proposals like thePaul Ryan budget, when someone comes along with a budget that isn't completely delusional, liberals stand up and applaud.

Camp is a typical Republican piece of work. You can look at his positions and right down the list he is pure: anti-choicer, climate change denier, Social Security privatizer. And he's been pushing for more welfare "reform" because he's afraid single mothers aren't working hard enough. Remember in Republicanland, it is only important for rich mothers to stay at home and raise the kids.

As noted, the budget is not all bad. It gets rid of the carried interest loophole. It also imposes a fee on big banks for the government's implicit too-big-to-fail insurance. And after finding that he just could not make the numbers in his budget add up with his preferred top marginal tax rate of 25%, he changed it to 35%. So those things are okay, but I would hardly call them good. The carried interest loophole is a travesty, but it is not big: just $2 billion per year. Weshould charge the big banks for their safety net (however, breaking them up would be better), but as Dean Baker points out, Camp's fee is an order of magnitude less than what the banks are getting in return. As for admitting that he couldn't make the 25% tax rate work, that isn't saying much on its face and as we will see, it doesn't actually say anything at all.

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A.M. Headlines

(ABC News): "After five years, Tea Party still itching to tangle with its own"

(New York Times): "Mt. Gox files for bankruptcy"

(Washington Post): "After veto in Arizona, conservatives vow to fight for religious liberties"

(CNN Politics): "Obama unveils 'My Brothers Keepers,' opens up about his dad, drugs and race"

(CNN Money): "S&P 500 finishes at record closing high"


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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Veto by not vetoing

By Carl

Jan Brewer was really between a rock and a hard case this week, with the passage of SB1062, which I refer to as the Jim Peacock Law. I’m surprised how deftly she manuevered around it:
In her veto message, Brewer addressed not just SB 1062 but other issues confronting the state, obliquely chiding the Legislature for not focusing on pressing issues.

Brewer reminded lawmakers that she had said earlier that her main priorities were passing a responsible budget and fixing a problem plaguing the state’s child protective services system.

“Instead, this is the first policy bill to cross my desk,” she said.

She went on to say that the bill “could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want. Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value; so is non-discrimination. Going forward, let’s turn the ugliness of the debate over Senate Bill 1062 into a renewed search for respect and understanding among all Arizonans and Americans.”

The text of her message (pdf) is revealing. She doesn’t veto it on moral grounds at all. Indeed, the text suggests that she sides with the people who feel it’s a violation of their religion to serve “their kind,” but basically tells the legislature “Go back and try again, and next time, don’t make it so blatantly hateful.”

She heard about it from business leaders, in particular the NFL (imagine an openly gay football player being denied service in a Phoenix restaurant during the Super Bowl) and even Andy Borowitz captured the spirit of the “OMG!”, headlining a post, “Arizona Confronting Awkward Realization That Gay People Have Money, Buy Stuff.”

So yes, be happy she vetoed the bill. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It was an adept political move, raising the art of the possible to a new height in Arizona, but it does not make the Arizona government suddenly saintly.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Second Amendment wacko Rand Paul says guns don't pose a public health threat when, of course, they do

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Think Progress:

On Wednesday -- two years to the day after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin -- Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) placed a hold on President Barack Obama's nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, over Murthy's view that gun violence represents a significant public health threat.

"In his efforts to curtail Second Amendment rights, Dr. Murthy has continually referred to guns as a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence," wrote Paul in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. 

Oh, really?

Paul is actually out of step with most physicians. The idea that gun violence is a danger to public health is utterly uncontroversial among doctors' groups, academic institutions that focus on public health, and children's safety advocates. Although Paul criticizes Murthy's position that physicians and pediatricians should ask patients about the presence of guns in their households, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a resolution in 2011 officially opposing any law that bars doctors from having open conversations about gun safety and the risks of having firearms in a household with their patients.

In fact, just yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued new guidelines recommending that households with children who are diagnosed with depression should remove guns and ammunition from their homes entirely.

And it may even be worse that we know:

[G]un violence may actually be an even bigger public health problem than current studies indicate. That's because the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), pushed through a package of legislation in 1996 imposing a virtual freeze on federal funding for gun violence-related research. President Obama ended that ban in the wake of Sandy Hook -- but experts say there's still far too little funding appropriated by Congress to entice more detailed research in the area.

Paul likes to stress his "physician" bona fides when discussing such matters, but of course he's a right-wing ideologue first and foremost. Saying that guns don't post a public health threat and shouldn't be treated as such, and therefore that a highly qualified nominee for Surgeon General deserves his "hold" (and how stupid is it that a single senator with a radical agenda can do that?), simply disqualifies him from, and proves he isn't capable of given his ideological and partisan blinders, intelligent rational discussion.

Just ask the relatives of the victims of Columbine, Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook... and just pay some fucking attention to what's going on day after bloody day all across a violent and deadly America.

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On marriage equality, federal judge rules that Texas must be pulled out of the medieval shithole it inhabits

By Michael J.W. Stickings


Texas on Wednesday became the latest state to have a federal judge strike down its same-sex marriage ban, thanks to a sweeping decision holding that its current prohibition has no "legitimate governmental purpose."

The ruling, by San Antonio-based Judge Orlando Garcia, will not take effect immediately: Its enforcement has been stayed while the case works its way through the appeal process, meaning same-sex couples in Texas cannot get married for the time being.

Still, gay rights supporters and activists believe the judgment -- because of what it says, how it follows similar rulings in other states and where it happened, in one of the most conservative states in the country -- has special significance.

Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa called Wednesday "a historic day for the LGBT community and the state of Texas," while the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's head predicted the ruling "hastens the day when all loving couples who simply want the ability to share the benefits and responsibilities of marriage can."

For all the courageous progressives who are there, fighting to make their home better, Texas is one of those retrograde states where the adoption of marriage equality will take time and meet an enormous backlash from the Republicans who run things.

For now, public opinion in Texas is generally against marriage equality. That may change, and likely will, over time, but rights are rights regardless of public opinion and that's where, like it or not, these rulings are necessary, the federal judiciary stepping in to strike down discriminatory state laws, just as was necessary during the civil rights era when both legislatures and public opinion were resistant, to say the least, to change.

I'm not sure just how "historic" yesterday was for Texas, but this ruling, coming in one of the reddest of red states, is certainly a huge step in the right direction.

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A.M. Headlines

(TPM): "It's dead: Brewer vetoes anti-gay bill"

(Los Angeles Times): "Arizona's SB 1062 is vetoed as leagues make their position clear"

(Dallas News): "Federal judge voids Texas’ gay marriage ban, though he delays order from taking effect immediately"

(Politico): "Republicans take on Wall Street"

(New York Times): "Obesity rate for young children plummets 43% in a decade"


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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoes "religious freedom" hate bill for purely self-interested political reasons following corporate/NFL outcry and only after taking an inordinate amount of time to decide not to endorse bigotry

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A veto is better than no veto, but the title of this post pretty much sums it up.

She didn't do anything heroic, anything courageous. Not even close.

The fact is, this discrimination-enabling Jim Crow bill, SB 1062, aroused an enormous outcry in Arizona and across the country, including from major corporations like Apple and Intel, the NFL (which is set to host Super Bowl LXIX there next year -- the NFL actually moved the 1993 Super Bowl from Arizona after the state rejected the MLK holiday), and Republicans like Arizona Sen. John McCain and even a few of those who voted for the bill. And while she probably supports its spirit, she clearly decided that she had to veto it to avoid further political trouble, and of course to protect the state from itself economically.

Remember: Republicans wrote this bill, voted for this bill, and by and large still want this bill, or something like it, to become law.

There was a victory over bigotry and discrimination in Arizona today, but Republicans are waging their war on multiple fronts and are making headway in a number of states, including Georgia and Kansas.

This is no time to back down. All of us who are determined to beat back this assault on civil and human rights must remain as vigilant as ever.

There must be no rest until Republicans and their extremist ideology and agenda are thoroughly defeated.

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Even Florida Gov. Rick Scott would veto Arizona's hate bill

By Michael J.W. Stickings 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is a right-wing extremist and hyper-partisan Republican, and there are many, many reasons not to like him. But even he objects to Arizona's "religious freedom" hate bill targeting gays and lesbians but essentially legalizing discrimination against anyone for any "religious" reason:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is now saying he would veto a controversial Arizona bill that lets businesses discriminate against LGBT people after dodging the question this morning on MSNBC.

"I don't want to tell Governor Brewer what to do, she can do what's best for her state. From my understanding of that bill, I would veto it in Florida because it seems unnecessary," Scott said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.


"In Florida we are focused on economic growth, and not on things that divide us. We are for freedom here in Florida. And we want everyone to come here, create jobs, and live in freedom, and that includes religious liberty," Scott continued in his statement.

"I am very much opposed to forcing anyone to violate their conscience or their religious beliefs, and of course, I'm very much opposed to discrimination. As a society, we need to spend more time learning to love and tolerate each other, and less time trying to win arguments in courts of law," he said.

Well, fine, nicely put, though of course sometimes you have to try to win arguments in court, like when, for example, you're pursuing marriage equality or otherwise trying to roll back generations of bigotry and discrimination.

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Georgia Republicans aim to take the lead on the anti-gay front

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A few Arizona Republicans may be having second thoughts about their anti-gay bill, but Georgia Republicans aren't about to cave in to, you know, equal rights and common decency, nor to deny themselves the opportunity to erect their very own barricade of bigotry:

A bill moving swiftly through the Georgia House of Representatives would allow business owners who believe homosexuality is a sin to openly discriminate against gay Americans by denying them employment or banning them from restaurants and hotels.

The proposal, dubbed the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, would allow any individual or for-profit company to ignore Georgia laws -- including anti-discrimination and civil rights laws -- that "indirectly constrain" exercise of religion. Atlanta, for example, prohibits discrimination against LGBT residents seeking housing, employment, and public accommodations. But the state bill could trump Atlanta's protections.

The Georgia bill, which was introduced last week and was scheduled to be heard in subcommittee Monday afternoon, was sponsored by six state representatives (some of them Democrats). A similar bill has been introduced in the state Senate.

The Georgia House bill's text is largely identical to controversial legislation that passed in Arizona last week.

Yup, those weak-assed Arizona Republicans. In Georgia, they don't have such reservations, it would seem. And note that what these two states are proposing is broader than what has emerged elsewhere:

Unlike similar bills introduced in Kansas, Tennessee, and South Dakota, the Georgia and Arizona bills do not explicitly target same-sex couples. But that difference could make the impact of the Georgia and Arizona bills even broader. Legal experts, including Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, warn that Georgia and Arizona's religious-freedom bills are so sweeping that they open the door for discrimination against not only gay people, but other groups as well.

In other words, if this sort of legislation passes, basically your hatred is all good, legally speaking, as long as you hide behind the protection of "religious freedom." You hate gays? It's just your faith! You hate Muslims? Hey, it's just your religion. And it's not like "religion" has a long history of tolerance. So it's pretty easy to imagine anyone being able to justify discrimination of any kind simply by using the "religious freedom" excuse.

In other words, the very essence of America is under assault from within, by anti-Enlightenment conservatives, almost entirely Republican, who see the country not as a bastion of constitutional liberty but as an expression of religious bigotry. It is deeply and profoundly anti-American, this politico-religious movement, and it is on the march in state after state. It must not be allowed to succeed.

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Dear Leader (and Chief Republican Bigot) Rush says Brewer is being "bullied" into vetoing Arizona's hate bill

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It appears that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer will soon veto the "religious freedom" (i.e., hate) bill the state legislature passed last week, SB 1062. She may or may not support the bill personally -- as a Republican extremist she probably supports this Republican bill -- but there has been growing pressure on her to veto it, including from a few Republican legislators who voted for the bill but have been having second thoughts, while the bill has become a national issue, perhaps the most prominent of the various state efforts to authorize anti-gay discrimination, directing a great deal of criticism at her state.

Dear Leader Rush said today that Brewer is being "bullied" into vetoing the bill "by the homosexual lobby in Arizona and elsewhere. She’s being bullied by the nationwide drive-by media, she's being bullied by certain elements of corporate America in order to advance the gay agenda." This is, as is usual from him, incredibly stupid. And, of course, bigoted.

First, it's not like Brewer has no say in the matter and will just kowtow to public and media pressure. She has every right to sign the bill into law but of course she also has every right to consider what is truly in the best interests of her state, and it's significant that some in her own party have changed their minds and are now advising her to veto it.

Second, there is no "homosexual lobby" as he thinks there is. There is a movement to advance gay rights and marriage equality, but this is no more or no less a lobby than any other political movement, and it's actually an extremely diverse one -- and one so large, it would seem, that it includes the national media and much of corporate America alongside activists and others who just happen to care about human and civil rights, which is actually, as we're seeing more and more, the vast majority of the American people. There is also no "gay agenda" as he thinks there is. The fight for equal rights, for fairness under the law, is hardly some nefarious agenda. But of course Rush probably would have accused Martin Luther King of having a "black agenda" just for saying that children shouldn't be judged by the color of their skin.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Progressive Music Classics: "Something Bad" by The Fatima Mansions

By Marc McDonald

(Ed. note: Here's another installment of Marc's ongoing series. For the full series, check out his site. -- MJWS)

These days, I think pretty much everyone outside of the Rush/Drudge/Fox crowd now accepts that George W. Bush's eight years in the White House were a true disaster for the American nation, as well as for the world.

Bush's two terms were so awful that it's easy to forget just how bad his father's term in office was, as well. So while the memories are still fresh of how GWB was an arrogant, incompetent little prick and a warmonger, it's important to remember that Bush senior wasn't a whole lot better. Clearly, the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

Bush senior's time in office back in the early 1990s was truly a miserable period. After eight agonizing years of Reagan, it was almost too much to bear.

It was a dark and sinister era in many ways. It was a time well summed up by the 1992 song, "Something Bad" by the Irish band, The Fatima Mansions.

Led by Cathal Coughlan, The Fatima Mansions were (ironically) named after a crumbling housing estate in Dublin. Coughlan was gifted with a wonderful voice. He had a knack for lyrics that could lure you in with their beauty -- and then, when you least suspected it, come at you like a sudden switchblade with deeply disturbing imagery.

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On the Hustings

(Associated Press): "Bill Clinton takes 2014 surrogate role for Dems; appears Tuesday in Kentucky with Grimes"

(Gallup): ""Americans' views of Romney little changed since election"

(Rasmussen Reports): "Election 2014: West Virginia Senate: Capito (R) 49%, Tennant (D) 35%"

(Monmouth University): "Christie dragged further under the bridge"

(New York Times): "G.O.P. leaders draw re-election challenges from the right"


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Will Congress ban gays from the NFL?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, it's come to this:

Washington lobbyist Jack Burkman on Monday said he is preparing legislation that would ban gay athletes from joining the National Football League.

Burkman in a statement said he has garnered political support for the bill, though his statement didn't mention any specific lawmakers who are behind it.

"We are losing our decency as a nation," Burkman said in a statement. "Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man. That's a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country. What in the world has this nation come to?"

Burkman said he came up with the idea after college football star Michael Sam publicly revealed he is gay a few weeks ago. If drafted, Sam would be the first openly gay player in the NFL...

"If the NFL has no morals and no values, then Congress must find values for it," Burkman said.

You know what, I really hope this ends up being debated in Congress and put to a vote. Let's find out who's for it. Let's force Republicans to vote their bigotry or cower in fear of political retribution. And let's not just hear from politicians but from, well, everyone, including conservatives who side with Burkman. Everyone should take a side so that we know exactly who the bigots are, who the hateful homophobes are -- with sitting on the fence counting as siding with the bigots and homophobes, no excuses allowed.

This guy is clearly, and has a long record of being, a right-wing piece of shit. But let him have his day. Let him expose himself in full public glare for what he truly is, and let all those who agree with him to raise their arms so that we may condemn them to the extremist fringe and their views to the dustbin of history.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: (Virginia State Senator) Steve Martin

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(It's really a shame you share first and last names with this fucking idiot pictured below, really funny Steve Martin of movies like The Jerk and L.A. Story fame.)

HuffPo reports on the antics of yet another woman-oppressing Republican jackass:

A pregnant woman is just a "host" that should not have the right to end her pregnancy, Virginia State Sen. Steve Martin (R) wrote in a Facebook rant defending his anti-abortion views.

Martin, the former chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, wrote a lengthy post about his opinions on women's bodies on his Facebook wall last week in response to a critical Valentine's Day card he received from reproductive rights advocates.

"I don't expect to be in the room or will I do anything to prevent you from obtaining a contraceptive," Martin wrote. "However, once a child does exist in your womb, I'm not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child's host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn't want it." Martin then changed his post on Monday afternoon to refer to the woman as the "bearer of the child" instead of the "host."

Martin voted for Virginia's mandatory ultrasound bill and supported a fetal personhood bill, which would ban all abortions and could affect the legality of some forms of contraception.

If only this Steve Martin were an outlier in the Republican Party, maybe he could be written off as a fringe-inhabiting extremist disconnected from mainstream Republican thinking.

But of course he's not an outlier, just, as in this case, a little less cautious with his words than most of the rest of his ilk.

Remind me again why any woman, or any man who cares about women, would vote Republican?

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A few Arizona Republicans sort of change their minds over anti-gay bill

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yes, sort of:

Three Republican senators who voted for Senate Bill 1062 say they made a bad decision in a rushed process and are now asking Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the right to refuse service bill.

"We feel it was a solution in search of a problem," Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, said in an impromptu news conference outside the state Senate. He was joined by Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott.

The two, along with Senate Majority Whip Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, sent Brewer a letter Monday morning asking for a veto.

"While our sincere intent in voting for this bill was to create a shield for all citizens' religious liberties, the bill has instead been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance," the three wrote. "These allegations are causing our state immeasurable harm."

Pierce and Worsley said the bill was moved along very quickly, not giving them enough time to convince fellow lawmakers to vote against it. Besides, Pierce said, they didn't want to "tear apart" the GOP caucus, which was sharply divided last year over Brewer's push for Medicaid expansion.

But the reaction from constituents to the business community reinforced their discomfort with their "yes" votes, they said, leading to the call for a veto.

It's great that these three legislators are now against the bill, and maybe this high-profile turnaround will influence the governor's decision in a good way to veto the damn thing, but do you see what's going on here?

Worsley, Pierce, and Driggs aren't necessarily against the spirit of the bill, against what they see as its intent. They just wanted to protect religious freedom; it's the bill's opponents who are mistake, who just don't get it, because it's not about intolerance at all. They're worried that the bill's opponents are now making the state look bad; it's the bill's opponents who are causing "immeasurable harm." And they're concerned that their party could be harmed by this kerfuffle. Oh, and their constituents, both individuals and businesses, the latter of which drives Republican thinking, have spoken up against it, and of course they have their political careers to think about.

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A.M. Headlines

(New York Times): "Holder sees way to curb bans on gay marriage"

(Time): "Jindal breaches White House protocol to take shots at Obama"

(AP): "Governors: Obamacare here to stay"

(ABC News): "Congress skeptical about plan to shrink military"

(Politico): "Who will replace Piers Morgan at CNN?"


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Monday, February 24, 2014

Harold Ramis (1944-2014)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Harold Ramis -- actor, writer, director, comedic genius -- died early this morning from complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare blood vessel disease. He was 69.

There are others who can speak more eloquently to his life and career than I can. All I want to say here is that he was hilarious, a towering giant of comedy at the very center of the comedy world of my childhood and early adulthood.

He was Egon Spengler, after all, in one of the greatest and most influential comedies ever made, one of the essential films of the '80s, perhaps the first film comedy I ever loved, and still love to this day, Ghostbusters. He was also Russell Ziskey in Stripes, another of my favorite comedies. Among other movies, he co-wrote and directed Caddyshack and Vacation, two of the most significant comedies of the '80s. And before that he co-wrote a rather famous movie called Animal House.

And then there was Groundhog Day. He directed and co-wrote that Bill Murray-starring masterpiece, one I've watched countless times. He was great as Egon, and he was a fine foil for Murray as Russell, but it's Groundhog Day where his genius most shines. It's simply an amazing movie -- dominated by Murray's performance but very much a Harold Ramis film.

The world is just so much less funny without Ramis in it. Thankfully, he left behind so much that is wonderful.


Embedding is unfortunately disabled, but make sure to watch this video of Ramis discussing the central metaphor of Groundhog Day. Here's the preview of the movie:

And here are Murray and Ramis joining the military in Stripes:

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Pussy Riot: "Putin Lights Up the Fires"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As we bid farewell to Sochi, to a Winter Olympics that in many ways was, disgustingly, a celebration of Putin's Russia, if not of the man himself, with Putin presiding over the whole thing like the tyrant he is, playing statesman and host when really he was just engaging in shameless self-aggrandizement, it makes sense to turn to Pussy Riot, the punk group that has become one of Putin's arch-nemeses, not least because members of the group were beaten and whipped by Putin's security forces in Sochi in a truly ugly and yet for some reason generally ignored incident, at least when compared to all the warm feelings about all that athletic achievement.

Last month we posted "Punk Prayer." Here's another of Pussy Riot's well-known songs, "Putin Lights Up the Fires," which takes on additional significance given the imposition of police rule in Sochi, the crackdown on dissent and difference that is central to Putin's tyranny, and of course the very real fires that were lighting up Kiev, with people dying, before Putin's puppet, Viktor Yanukovych, was kicked out of office (actually he fled, having been impeached by parliament) over the weekend, just as things were wrapping up in Sochi.

Here are some of the lyrics:

Putin is lighting the fires of revolution
He's bored and scared of sharing silence with the people
With every execution: the stench of rotten ash
With every long sentence: a wet dream

The country is going, the country is going into the streets boldly
The country is going, the country is going to bid farewell to the regime
The country is going, the country is going, like a feminist wedge
And Putin is going, Putin is going to say goodbye like a sheep

We can only hope so.

Here's a video montage for the song put together back in 2012 by The Guardian:

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On the Hustings

(Texas Tribune): "UT/TT Poll: Abbott holds 11-point lead over Davis"

(New York Times): "In the DeMint era at Heritage, a shift from policy to politics"

(Politico): "Scott Brown, man of mystery"

(Washington Post): "Environmental advocates target climate change as Democratic election issue"

(The Hill): "Then & now: What Dems say about Obama"


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Piers Morgan gets the boot from CNN's prime 9 pm slot

By Michael J.W. Stickings

David Carr at the Times:

There have been times when the CNN host Piers Morgan didn't seem to like America very much — and American audiences have been more than willing to return the favor. Three years after taking over for Larry King, Mr. Morgan has seen the ratings for "Piers Morgan Live" hit some new lows, drawing a fraction of viewers compared with competitors at Fox News and MSNBC.

It's been an unhappy collision between a British television personality who refuses to assimilate — the only football he cares about is round and his lectures on guns were rife with contempt — and a CNN audience that is intrinsically provincial. After all, the people who tune into a cable news network are, by their nature, deeply interested in America.

CNN's president, Jeffrey Zucker, has other problems, but none bigger than Mr. Morgan and his plum 9 p.m. time slot. Mr. Morgan said last week that he and Mr. Zucker had been talking about the show's failure to connect and had decided to pull the plug, probably in March. 

Like so many others, I don't much care for Morgan. While it's true that he's never really been able to connect with American cable news audiences, and while it's good that he can acknowledge that, and while on some issues, like guns, I thought he was right to take a vehemently critical view (I share his views on America's out-of-control gun culture), for the most part he only really made a name for himself as Larry King's replacement by being a self-aggrandizing blowhard or a blatant ignoramus, often both at the same time.

Which isn't to say that he's been all that much worse than King, who was truly awful in his later years on the job, but at least King was a generally genial institution who didn't really rub anyone the wrong way and who could at least conduct shallow celebrity interviews with a modicum of entertainment value. But from the start Morgan wanted to be much more than that, something other than King, and is there that he's failed miserably to make a difference.

Maybe Morgan still has a future on American television, maybe even at CNN if he's used the right way, whatever that may be. But it's probably best for the network that he'll soon be out of the key 9 pm slot. And I say that not as someone who watches prime-time CNN, or for that matter much CNN at all anymore, but rather as someone who remembers what CNN once was, the value it once had as the country's main cable news network, back before the landscape was overtaken by partisanism, and who hopes that it might again regain that status as the go-to network for, you know, news.

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The problem with the NFL plan to crack down on the N-word

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to Jason LaCanfora at CBS Sports:

John Wooten, head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance that monitors diversity in the NFL, said he expects the league's competition committee to enact a rule at the owner's meeting next month making it an automatic 15-yard penalty if a player uses the N-word on the field, with a second infraction meriting an ejection.

Wooten spoke about his desire to eradicate the word completely from NFL workplaces at the Fritz Pollard event during the combine, wanting it to be fineable and policed throughout team facilities, and received a standing ovation according to those in attendance. Wooten said he will continue being vigilant about this with the NFL office and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"I will be totally shocked if the competition committee does not uphold us on what we're trying to do," Wooten said. "We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room. Secretaries, PR people, whoever, we want it eliminated completely and want it policed everywhere."


Wooten said the competition committee will formally decide whether or not to support his measure at the meeting in March, and then present it to owners. Wooten is "extremely hopeful" it will pass.

"I think they're going to do what needs to be done here," he said. "There is too much disrespect in the game."

There certainly is, and while I'm generally concerned about any crackdown on language, because it's often the thin end of the wedge, and while in my view organizations that impose speech restrictions should be viewed with suspicion at the very least, it's hard to object to any effort to rid the NFL of a slur that, one imagines, is far too commonly used.

But is this really the right way to go about it? I mean, "nigger" is bad, of course, but what then? What about gay slurs? Shouldn't, say, "faggot" be eliminated from the NFL? Or how other racial slurs, whether directed at blacks or others? Are there not Latino and Asian slurs, for example, that ought to have no place in civilized society, if that is what the NFL is trying to be? Where exactly does it end?

Read more »

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A.M. Headlines

(New York Times): "Pentagon plans to shrink Army to pre-World War II level"

(Politico): "CNN to end Piers Morgan's show"

(Washington Post): "Obama seeks to defuse tensions among Democrats"

(New York Times): "With president’s departure, Ukraine looks toward a murky future"

(Reuters): "Egypt government resigns, paving way for Sisi to seek presidency"


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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Canada wins men's hockey gold to cap off a successful Sochi Olympics

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It was a dominating performance, a 3-0 masterpiece. Sweden got off to a good start, outshooting Canada early on in the first period and generating a few good scoring chances, but after that the outcome was really never in doubt.

Sure, it was tight. The Swedes are good, even without some of their top forwards (Zetterberg, Henrik Sedin, Backstrom). And it's not like the Canadians ran away with it. At any moment a sudden turn of events could have meant Sweden tying it up at one or drawing to within a goal when it was 2-0.

But it really came together for Canada in this one, as if this collection of superstars finally found its identity as a fully cohesive unit, not just the goaltending (Carey Price was excellent again, as he was against the U.S. in the semis) and the defence (outstanding, as always, including on the penalty kill) but the offence as well. It's like the forwards were finally clicking together, like the lines finally made sense, and while it was tight Canada was generating enough offence to score much more than it did. It took some solid Swedish goaltending to complement the typically mistake-free Swedish style of play to keep the game close. And even then, it was abundantly clear throughout which was the better team, and once it was 2-0 it's like the game was out of reach for the Swedes, and they seemed to know it.

The fact is, Canada has an incredible men's hockey team (and of course an incredible women's one as well). Even a second Canada team would be a strong medal contender and might have beaten Sweden today. They had trouble scoring against Finland, Latvia, and the U.S., but it was always just a matter of time before they figured it out, before not even a world-class goalie could stop them. No, this isn't the best hockey team ever assembled or as good a hockey team as you're ever going to see, as some are suggesting. I still think Subban should have been playing, and there are a couple of picks up front I would have changed, but even then I don't think this team matches, say, the '87 Canada Cup team led by Gretzky and Lemieux that beat the Soviets 2-1 in a best-of-three final, each game 6-5, Canada winning the third on a Lemieux goal set up by Gretzky. But who knows? If this team had some more time to gel, if maybe Stamkos were able to play... look, Price and Luongo are great in net, the defence may be as good as a unit as Canada's ever seen, and the offence... well, it's hard to argue with Crosby, Toews, and some of the other finest players of their generation.

Anyway, today the whole country got up early to tune in to what was a brilliant gold-medal-winning effort, and now the whole country is celebrating this great victory. It was difficult to watch Sochi, at times, given what was going on both internally in Russia (Putin's tyranny, with ongoing brutality and oppression of dissidents and those otherwise unwelcome) and next door in the Ukraine (where Putin saw his ally/minion booted from power, but not before many died in protests), and the whole thing dragged on too long for TV purposes, but there were some stellar athletic performances nonetheless and in the end it turned out to be a great Olympics for Canada. Maybe our medal total was a few less than hoped for, but we did well, and of course we won the "double-double" (partly in reference to a popular order at Tim Horton's: coffee with two cream/milk and two sugar), men's and women's golds in both hockey and curling, our two national sports.

Here are some some photos, starting with my favourite single moment of the Sochi Games, Jennifer Jones making her last shot to win the women's curling gold. I just found it intensely emotional. Her team went undefeated, she overcame a lot to get to the Olympics, she's one of the best ever, and the very personal way curling is broadcast meant that her win was a very personal one for many of us.

From the CBC, here's Sidney Crosby celebrating after making it 2-0 in the second period today:

And, from CTV, here's the winning team, gold medals in hand:

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