Team America

So every now and then, I try to understand the mind of the modern American conservative.

See, I’m not an unreasonable guy.  I’m not interested in needless conflict.  I’m a pragmatist, interested in finding the best solutions to our country’s problems, regardless of political allegiance or ideology.  If it works, it works.  Great.

But, seriously, I don’t understand how the conservative mind works.  Like, at all.

Take Julia.  Conservatives hate her.  A lot.  Who is she?  Well, she’s not real.  She’s fictional.  Now, it’s not particularly weird in and of itself for conservatives to get bent out of shape over fiction, but this one is particularly puzzling and unsettling.

Julia is a new feature on Barack Obama’s website, designed to compare how Obama and Romney’s respective policies affect women throughout all stages of their lives.  Take a look; it’s brief and colorful.  Still with me?  OK, so far, so good.

Now look at what people are saying about Julia over on Twitter (warning: get your boots on, ’cause there’s a lot of bullshit here).

Let me guess: you saw a few misogynist jokes, a few people noting that since she shares a name with a 1984 character Obama must obviously be a totalitarian dictator, a few complaints that she had a kid out of wedlock, one or two incoherent comparisons to Sandra Fluke, and a bunch  (seriously, a metric fuckton) of people complaining about the horrors of her lazy, entitled, cradle-to-grave government-dependant do-nothing life.

This is where they lose me.

See, I could totally dig what they were saying if Julia was the story of a woman who dropped out of high school and spent her life sitting at home eating junk food while she collected $4000 a month in welfare benefits.  And, if you were to go by what some people say, that’s exactly what it is.

Except, y’know, it isn’t.

Julia goes through public education (hardly a radical idea at this point), her family gets tax credits and grants to help her pay for college (nothing more conservative than working families paying less in taxes, right?), she enjoys the benefits of being covered by her parents’ insurance through college (paid for by her parents, not the government), gets paid the same as men when she gets a job (kind of the opposite of living off the government), pays off her student loans on time (helped out by Obama keeping the interest rates low), has her birth control and, eventually, prenatal care covered by her health insurance (which, again, she paid for), sends her kids to a well-funded public school (again, pretty old-hat in modern America), gets a loan (not a gift, a loan) to start a small business, thus creating jobs and economic productivity, and, in her twilight years, becomes eligible for Medicare and Social Security (both popular and well-established programs that Julia paid into her whole working life).

Through it all, it’s implied or outright stated that Julia works hard, pays her taxes, pays her bills, pays her debts, and, in all likelihood, pays at least as much into the system as she gets out of it.

Some others might take issue with the effectiveness or economic feasability of some of the individual programs or policies described in the tale.  OK, fair enough.  Let’s talk about that.  That’s a conversation worth having.

But they lose me when they say Julia is a sponge, or a welfare queen, or whatever the fuck they’re calling her now.  Granted, I’m a dumbass godless socialist wingnut liberal, so maybe I’m missing something, but to me, the moral of the story is, if you work hard and play by the rules, a progressive government will take steps to make your life suck a bit less, making it easier for you to succeed, and that your success will, in turn, provide opportunities for others to succeed, thus improving things for everybody and broadening the next generation’s tax base so we can maybe start to pay down this debt that conservatives sometimes seem so upset about.

Right?  Am I missing something?  Seriously, tell me if I’m missing something.  I want to know.

But somehow, lots and lots of people see this story of an educated, hard-working, tax-paying, job-creating woman as a story of living off the proverbial government teat.  Which leads me to one of two conclusions:

1) Conservatives are either unable or unwilling to read, or

2) Conservatives are ideologically opposed to the idea of government actually being useful or helpful to anyone (except, y’know, zygotes)

Now, I know conservatives read, because Ann Coulter keeps selling books, and there can’t be that many coffee tables in America with one leg shorter than the others.

So I have to wonder.

I mean, yeah, I get that a lot of people place a premium on rugged individualism, and want to believe that they can be self-reliant and successful without outside help, and everything.  I know that in the ideal conservative version, Julia would raise herself in a log cabin in the woods, personally pave the streets on which she walks to school (uphill, both ways), work her way through college (but not as a stripper, because Family Values), and work her entire life, able to save up her own money for health care costs and retirement because she doesn’t have to pay any of those nasty, nasty taxes.  Yeah, I get it, I think.

But is the alternate scenario Obama posits really that much worse?  Like I said at the outset, I consider myself a pragmatist: if it works, it’s good.  If it doesn’t, it’s bad.  And by my count, this “Every (Wo)Man For Themselves” thing doesn’t really work.  Sure, it would be nice if none of us needed any outside help.  But everyone needs help sometimes.  And is this idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps really so crucial that any other scenario is automatically just trash?  Or, to bring it back to Julia: is her entire hypothetical life of hard work and achievement really completely invalidated by the fact that a few government policies work in her favor?  Is Julia really automatically a worthless mooch because the government is occassionally on her side?

Really?

Really???

Well, apparently yes, if the folks on Twitter are any indication of mainstream conservative thought.

As far as I can tell, some of the haters are annoyed at the implication that they might need to receive this sort of help.  Others seem annoyed that they might have to give it, via their taxes.  All of them seem vaguely miffed at the implication that we, as citizens and as human beings, might all be in this thing together.

And so this brings me back to a concept that I’m confronted with over and over again in my ill-conceived efforts to become The Republican Whisperer: some people seem deeply offended by the idea that we’re all on the same team.

When did it become obscene to think that maybe we should be working together, rather than looking out only for ourselves and letting everyone else sink or swim?  When did it become so offensive to think that maybe a society where everyone does well is is better than a society where some do well and everyone else can go fuck themselves?  Why is the party who’s usually trying to shove their Jesus down my throat so much more inclined to have their government drop bombs on brown people than help out its own citizens?

I still don’t get it.  Granted, as noted earlier, I’m a dumbass godless socialist wingnut liberal.  Maybe that’s why I’m not getting it.  But give me time.  I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

Osama bin Laden is dead, so what?

One year ago, my country assassinated Osama bin Laden, founder of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. This was – and is – a powerful symbol of strength and achievement and Victory Over Evil for most Americans, but that’s all. It was completely meaningless in almost every way that matters.

Now, before I continue, let me make a few things crystal clear; I believe Osama bin Laden was a horrible human being and that violence can be absolutely necessary when combating evil. I’m not disputing the morality or legality of assassinating Osama bin Laden, only pointing out that it accomplished next to nothing.

Did his death weaken Al-Qeada? In some ways, since bin Laden was such an important figure and charismatic leader, but it’s worth pointing out that he was immeadiately replaced. Also, it’s seems that our drone strikes had been crippling Al-Qaeda for years before the assassination. And, while Al-Qaeda’s attacks on Muslim civilians had been making the organization increasingly unpopular in the Arab World, bin Laden’s death has created sympathy for his movement in places like Pakistan more recently.

I’m sure none of this sounds “meaningless.” What I mean is that killing Osama bin Laden was not special – it was a normal, predictable part of a cycle of global violence.

We went after Osama bin Laden, at least in part, in retaliation for 9/11. This was followed by a series of retaliatory attacks in Pakistan by the Taliban. We expanded our use of drones, leading to the deaths of innocent Pakistani civilians. When we eased off on using drones in Pakistan at the end of last year, the Taliban and other related groups took the opportunity to retaliate.

And let’s not forget the violent protests that erupted in Afghanistan earlier this year. While their trigger was of course our soldiers burning of the Koran, the volitle demonstrations were mainly a reaction to the killing of civilians (sometimes for sport) by NATO and our troops, not to mention our humilation of their dead.

In light of these things, I don’t see how assassinating Osama bin Laden improved or accomplished much of anything. Killing him seems no different from any other death in this cycle of retaliatory violence. It wasn’t a victory, it was business as usual.

If we really wanted to do something exceptional, we should end our use of drone strikes (I don’t care how effective they’ve been against Al-Qaeda, they’re sloppy), hold our soldiers accountable to the highest standards, use our power to influence rather than shield Israel when it violates human rights, improve and strengthen our relationships with our allies in the Arab World, etc. People consider me idealistic when I mention these things, but, honestly, I’m being practical.

Victims have long memories – much longer than aggressors1. We in America tend to ignore history, but as long as we avoid confronting our past crimes against the Middle East and continue to perpetrate new ones instead of mending these relationships, we are destined for another 9/11. And, frankly, I’m not sure if our nation could withstand that, financially or psychologically.

1There’s a great blog post that helped me understand this here.

Featured image copyright of Surian Soosay, Creative Commons.

My Fellow Americans…

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a dude with a lot of political aspirations. Who needs that kind of grief? Being on TV all the time, having half of the asshole pundits on TV saying what an idiot you are, not to mention all that hand-kissing and baby-shaking (or something like that, I can’t be bothered to look it up now).

But in an election year where most of the choices seem to be pretty underwhelming (to say the least), maybe it’s the duty of a patriotic American to throw his or her hat into the ring and try to get the Democratic process back on track. Well, I’m as patriotic as the next godless socialist. So I’m happy to announce now that I will not shirk my responsibility: I will run for the Presidency of the United States.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, aside from your good looks, charm, and hilarious wit, why should we vote for you? What do you stand for?” Excellent question, hypothetical reader. Let’s review my campaign platform:

 

Sex & Drugs (Rock ‘n’ Roll optional): I am a guy who has done a fair amount of illegal drugs, and had a fair amount of premarital sex. Not as much as some, granted, but certainly more than enough to be a scandal if it becomes known. My solution: strict honesty. If I make my history common knowledge, I can’t be blind-sided with a scandal, right? So I intend to begin all campaign speeches, press releases, and, if elected, State of the Union addresses with: “I am a guy who has done a fair amount of illegal drugs, and had a fair amount of premarital sex.” It may lose me a few Evangelical voters, sure, but I never had them in the first place, and I feel like I’d more than make up the difference with young people (well, the ones who like sex and drugs, at least) and people impressed by my refreshing candor.

 

Health Care: Yeah, I know you don’t like being forced to buy health care.  Fine.  We’ll cancel that bit of Obamacare.  But y’know what?  Hospitals don’t like being forced to patch your freedom-loving carcass back together without payment after you get hit by the Number 11 bus, so that law’s gonna go as well.  Enjoy your freedom, Braveheart.  And County General doesn’t accept checks, so next time you leave the house you should remember to bring a big bag of money with you.  Preferably with a dollar sign on the side.  Like in the cartoons.  I think as much of my administration should be based on cartoons as possible.

Immigration: The borders will be opened for free and unrestricted immigration. Simultaneously, emigration will be made mandatory for anyone who thinks that evolution is a religion, Obama is a Muslim, or Two and a Half Men is funny.

 

Drug Laws: Marijuana will be decriminalized. Moreover, its use will be mandatory for Congresspeople immediately before voting on foreign policy. Good luck starting a war now, assholes.

 

Abortion: Being pro-choice will be classified as a religion; ergo, any legislation attempting to restrict access to abortion will be deemed unconstituional. Also, any man proposing a “personhood” law for anything smaller than a golf ball will have his genitals slammed in a car door.

 

Same-Sex Marriage:  Legalized, of course.  What am I, a monster?  In fact, fuck it.  Let’s troll some assholes: same-sex marriage, group marriages, human/animal marriages, human/turnip marriages.  Everyone and everything can marry everyone and everything else.  Simultaneously, if he/she/it so desires.  Ever wanted to see Rick Santorum’s head explode?  Just wait.

 

Super PACS: Well, this seems harmless enough.  OK, then: Namco’s 1994 Super Nintendo classic Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures will be released as a downloadable title for all current-generation consoles.  All you citizens who have been united in clamoring for this game have had your prayers answered at last.  No need to thank me.  Just doing my job.

Gun Control: Concealed firearms are fine by me.  But anyone who carries one will be required, by law, to also wear a cowboy hat and spurs.  YOU WANNA BE A COWBOY, TEX??  OK, YOU’RE A FUCKING COWBOY!!

Waste: Florida will be sold to the highest foreign bidder. In the event a buyer is not found, it will be forcibly gifted to China.  享受太空山,鄉親們!

 

The Space Program: Most of the money currently spent on blowing up the rest of the planet will be redirected towards making our way to another one. In a bonus initiative, Newt Gingrich will be made captain of a special mission to colonize the Sun.

 

Redecorating: The new national anthem will be Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”. The new national pastime will be roller derby. And that weird eyeball pyramid thing on the dollar bill will be replaced by a dramatic still from that classic Star Trek episode where Abraham Lincoln flags down the Enterprise.

 

 

Let’s be frank, if I can get all of this accomplished in my first term, I won’t even need to campaign for re-election: there will be huge public outcry to repeal the 22nd Amendment and allow me to rule as handsome and benevolent dictator for the rest of my life (or until I get bored).

Well, that’s unless my penchant for impractical and draconian policy gets me impeached or assassinated. But I don’t see that happening. And, as you have no doubt already guessed, I have excellent political instincts.

The Primary Issue

You’ve probably seen the comic I made comparing the non-Republican consumption and discussion of the 2012 GOP primary debates to that of vapid college kids gossiping about celebrities. While that strip clearly conveyed why I, someone who has never and will never vote in a Republican primary, don’t give two shits about the latest stupid utterance of someone who might be nominated to run for President, that comic didn’t go into why I also hate the media coverage itself.  The over-reporting of this subject by American news outlets is not just annoying – it’s a problem.

Now, before I continue, voters obviously both need and deserve to be informed about their candidates and I would never argue that there should be no media coverage of the primary electoral process.  However, one only needs to glance at newsmap (a site which visually represents international news trends as found on Google News) to see that American articles about the Republican candidates and Super Tuesday vastly out-number every other national news story. I take issue with the fact that articles discussing our increased use of drones at home and abroad, the international investigation of Google’s new privacy policy, and the possibly White House-financed illegal NYPD spying program targeting Muslim Americans are being drowned out by the plethora of articles parroting the latest inane quote or personal anecdote of the Presidential hopefuls.

Which leads me to the next part of this problem – the majority of these articles display a complete lack of critical discussion about any of the Republican debates or candidates.  News sources don’t help inform their readers with stories about how much one candidate loves his wife or religion, rather than reporting which candidates lobbied for and profited off of Freddie Mac or received huge campaign donations from a billionaire who regularly threatens journalists and bloggers with crippling lawsuits.

To be clear, nothing I’ve written today is new.  The quality of American news coverage has been degrading since the Reagan-appointed former FCC chairman Mark Fowler started deregulating broadcasting in the 1980s, transforming news outlets from public servants into profit-driven businesses. Clinton made things even worse when he signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law, which legalized the consolidation of media ownership. After an unprecedented series of mergers and buy-outs, the vast majority of American media is now owned by six companies, which is why the 2012 GOP primary coverage has the problems I’ve discussed above. When news outlets have no real competition, no Federal standards of public service to uphold, and are primarily motivated by profit, they will make as much gossipy crap as Americans are willing to consume.

This is why I don’t share articles about the Republican candidates or debates on Facebook, Twitter, etc., no matter how strong the desire to point and laugh becomes.  Those articles are not informative journalism so much as carefully calculated ways of tricking us into giving these news outlets more attention and free publicity, which can improve their bottom line.  While I’d happily do that for sources of real news, I’d rather chew on a hairy ball of tinfoil I found on the floor of a men’s room than shill for those responsible for the worst news in modern history.

Misunderstanding why I won’t vote for Obama a second time

Last week, Andrew Sullivan’s article about how foolish Obama’s critics are was posted and reposted on my social networking feeds. It received enough praise and positive comments that I feel the need to write my own response.

First of all, I am not registered with any party.  I believe in evidence-based policies for dealing with issues like the national debt, not ideological ones. I call myself a liberal because I’m in favor of equal rights, ending the Drug War, legal and easily accessible abortion services, and anything else that would dramatically minimize human suffering. I also supported Obama in 2008, but will not be voting for him again later this year.

According to Sullivan’s article, former Obama supporters like myself lost faith in his administration because we’re “deluded” and “misunderstanding Obama’s strategy” and “projecting unrealistic fantasies” onto him.  From the article:

From the start, liberals projected onto Obama absurd notions of what a president can actually do in a polarized country, where anything requires 60 Senate votes even to stand a chance of making it into law. They have described him as a hapless tool of Wall Street, a continuation of Bush in civil liberties, a cloistered elitist unable to grasp the populist moment that is his historic opportunity. They rail against his attempts to reach a Grand Bargain on entitlement reform. They decry his too-small stimulus, his too-weak financial reform, and his too-cautious approach to gay civil rights. They despair that he reacts to rabid Republican assaults with lofty appeals to unity and compromise.

While Sullivan’s defense of the stimulus package and Obama’s stance on gay rights were well-reasoned, he had no real argument prepared for the president’s continuation of Bush-era polices, such as denying habeas corpus for military detainees in Afghanistan.  Regarding Obama’s handling of Wall Street’s criminal activity, Sullivan weakly framed the fact that Obama discouraged fraud investigations of Wall Street as necessary for the stability of the financial sector.  I would love to know Sullivan’s evidence for this claim, as well as the reason he did not see fit to mention the fact that some of Obama’s most generous campaign contributions came from JPMorgan, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs, nor the fact that his two most recent Chiefs of Staff used to work for two of these Wall Street giants.  Perhaps it’s a “misunderstanding.”

Later in the article, Sullivan justified Obama’s illegal military action in Libya and his signing indefinite detention into law (both of which Sullivan objects to) by claiming that torture was ended under the Obama administration.  Even if that premise made any sense, I can only assume that Sullivan disagrees with the many legal scholars who consider keeping a man charged with no crime in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, only to be stripped naked every night, to be cruel and unusual treatment amounting to torture.  Of course, Sullivan also described the fact that Obama pulled American troops out of Iraq on time as an accomplishment of his administration, despite the reality that Bush set the military withdrawal time table and that Obama fought it, so perhaps assuming that he and I are using the same definitions of words is “deluded” of me.

Last, of course, are the lawless and destructive actions of the Obama administration that Sullivan left out, such as assassinating an American citizen without due process and increasing the use of unmanned drones in countries we are not openly fighting, which frequently kill civilians.  Perhaps Sullivan decided to omit these facts in order to paint Obama as “a pragmatic, unifying reformist” rather than a secrecy-obsessed, Wall Street-backed, centrist who has extended or surpassed every Bush-era Executive overreach and infringement on civil liberties.

Oh sorry, my assumption that a man who campaigned on reestablishing the rule of law would roll back the Bush-era transgressions would be me “projecting unrealistic fantasies on a candidate.”  My mistake (and I won’t let it happen again).

Worse than a soundbite

Kansas recently approved legislation banning their health insurance providers from covering abortion under general health care plans. Women in Kansas now have to take out separate health care policies in addition to their regular ones if they don’t want to pay for terminating an unwanted pregnancy out-of-pocket. This is about as sensible as making people take out separate health care policies for dealing with broken bones or genital warts1.

I’ve seen a few pro-choice websites harping on the fact that, when asked if it was reasonable to expect women to take out these abortion-specific policies before they were impregnated through rape or incest, Kansas Rep. Pete DeGraaf said “I have a spare tire on my car.” While I understand that this inflammatory statement is a perfect summary of the attitude that avoiding rape is the woman’s responsibility2, I feel like some of these blogs are focusing so much on this soundbite that they’re missing the bigger issues here.

First, Kansas has passed legislature which guarantees that the abortion rate won’t change, but that the rate of women who die from back-alley medical procedures will. I know this is obvious to any pro-choice advocate, but, considering how many states are adopting similar policies, I think it’s important to remember how horrifying the reality of illegal abortion is.

Second, most women take responsibility for not being raped every day. We never walk home alone at night, we meet blind dates in public, we don’t get shit-faced at parties where we don’t know anyone. Whether or not women should make these choices (not to mention how effective they are) is debatable, but the point is that many women’s lives are shaped by thoughts of how to avoid being assaulted, sexually or otherwise.

While I would never argue that people shouldn’t take reasonable precautions to protect themselves, it’s important to remember that most men do not spend large portions of their lives worrying about what they can do to not be attacked. Most men also don’t spend large portions of time thinking about how important getting consent from their partners is. When you consider these things along with the fact that rape survivors almost always blame themselves for their attacks, it seems like most of America agrees that women should prepare themselves for being raped, as DeGraaf suggests. In my opinion, that idea is much more horrific than any soundbite.


1 Oh wait, those are her fault too.

2 Because men and boys and trans folk don’t get raped. Nope.