Rebranding Failing Because GOP Doesn't Do Listening

So, Republicans are now in the midst of their big rebranding effort that includes outreach to minority and female voters. Frankly, the woman voter outreach is going pretty lousy, because they're doing it all wrong. You don't take away people's freedoms then ask them to reward you for it at the ballot box. If the GOP wants to win over women, it might be a good idea to stop with all the War on Women stuff.

But there's always the minority outreach. Let's see how that's going...

[Washington Post:]

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), in an interview with a local radio station released Thursday, referred to Latinos working on a ranch by using the derogatory term “wetbacks.”

“My father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 or 60 wetbacks and — to pick tomatoes,” Young said in the interview with KRBD. “You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

The term “wetback” is a slur often used to refer to illegal Mexican immigrants. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a Mexican who enters the United States illegally,” “from the practice of wading or swimming the Rio Grande where it forms the U.S.-Mexico border.”

OK, so that's not doing it right either. Young later released what some are calling an apology, but is really just an explanation. There is no apology. "I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central California," he said. "I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect."

In other words, "You're wrong to be offended by what I said."

"Just so we're clear, it's 2013," Steve Benen reminds us. "Republicans were recently reminded not to use words like 'aliens' and 'anchor babies' when referring to Hispanics, but apparently that advice was not all-encompassing enough, since we still have at least one congressman using the word 'wetback' -- on the air -- as if it were perfectly acceptable."

This comes on the heels of a Republican National Committeeman posting a homophobic screed on his Facebook page. And the committeeman, Dave Agema, isn't apologetic. He likewise released a statement of explanation, claiming to be the victim of harassment and playing the Helen Lovejoy "Won't somebody please think of the children!?" card, saying someone has to post these hateful lies, because "It's about maintaining the family and its importance to the well being of the children and this nation."

"And here's the problem with the wise, beltway-driven Rebranding effort," writes Dave Weigel. "You're a D.C. Republican consultant who gets booked on TV to talk about the glories of gay marriage? Good for you. I agree with you! But most of your party adamantly disagrees with you, and these people know how to write or say things that can make their way onto the Internet."

Reince Priebus may think the GOP needs to change it's image, but other than saying maybe they might possibly give an inch someday on immigration reform, no one seems willing to actually change anything. They don't want to change their policies, they don't want to change their language, they don't want to change anything. They've just decided to declare themselves friendlier to people they so far haven't removed from their enemies list. "No abortions or birth control for you, you whore!... Now vote for me because I'm pro-woman."

You can't change the perception without changing the party -- and people who think they can change the party need to check the dictionary and see what "conservative" means. It doesn't mean open to change. In fact, I always say that when a Republican talks about change, you should watch out -- it means he wants to change things back the way they were when they sucked. The party doesn't look to the future, it looks back at the fifties and wonders why we changed from that.

The perception of the party won't change until the party members change. And they're not willing to do that. In fact, most are probably incapable of doing that. And incidents like Young's keep happening because of another conservative trait: they're lecturers. They don't listen, the dictate. It's why these Republicans keep saying stupid and offense things -- then explain why they aren't gaffes, instead of apologizing. The GOP is a strict, top-down hierarchy where elites tell everyone below them what to think. Why do you think talk radio works so well for the right? They don't think they have to change, they think you have to change. They'll explain why you have to change until you do. Todd Akin thought he was winning voters to the Republican cause by educating them about rape and abortion. And take a look at Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson -- all he ever talks about is how wrong everyone else is and how they need to listen to his teachings and become enlightened. Republicans tell, they aren't told. Not by voters, anyway.

And not, apparently, by Reince Priebus and the RNC.


[original photo by MACSwriter]


Homophobia Wedge Turns Against the GOP

2 women in relationship protest in favor of marriage equality
There's been a wave of Senate Democrats announcing retirement lately, with South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson being the last. That all these announcements are happening at once is not coincidental -- the party has asked people to make their intentions known now, in order to avoid surprises closer to 2014 the elections.

Another wave of announcements has come from the Senate lately -- and it could be the result of similar election strategizing.

[Washington Post:]

Then there were 10. No, wait. Nine.

In the past month, the rapid rise in public support for same-sex marriage has left Supreme Court justices perplexed and some political veterans, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, struggling to keep up.

But there may be no better measure of this historic change and its disorienting speed than what has happened among the Democrats of the U.S. Senate. They are often representatives of an urban party in rural places. That makes them the zebras of Washington’s little world: perpetually vulnerable, sniffing the wind.

As recently as the last election, 17 of those Democrats did not support same-sex marriage. By this week, however, the number was smaller.

And getting more so by the day.

Granted, not all of these are up for reelection. In fact, people like Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill just won their latest races last year. But others like North Carolina's Kay Hagan are red state Democrats up for reelection in the 2014 cycle. They could just clam up and play it safe, but they aren't. And that could be because Democrats have decided it's a winner. What Republicans had used as a wedge issue against Democrats is now being turned against them. Marriage equality can peel off voters from the GOP.

After all, it's absolutely certain that it will cost candidates like Hagan votes from certain populations. But the calculus has obviously shown that she'll gain more than she loses. And maybe not on its own, but as a package of wedges that are turning against the GOP, including minorities and women. With two high profile Supreme Court cases making news, now is just the most obvious time to play this particular wedge. But beyond timing, there are other reasons.

"Supporting same-sex marriage will help their campaigns' coffers," reports NationalJournal, "red-state Democrats could get financial help nationwide to help fight potential blowback in their conservative states (McCaskill and Tester face reelection in 2018, while [Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia] and Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, another Democrat who recently came out in support of same-sex marriage, are up again in 2014). Over the past decade, gay-rights advocates and groups have proved themselves to be major players in fundraising cycles, whether it’s state races in New York or the flood of financial support for President Obama after he reversed his position."

If that seems a little cynical, let me point out that this is exactly what you hope will happen when you send an organization a donation. Good news; grass roots lobbying works. You have to believe a lot of Republicans are doing the same math and determining that the voters they'd gain by supporting marriage equality won't make up for the voters they'd lose from their base. This makes sense for two closely related reasons; it's a fact that Republicans are far more bigoted on this issue, so conversions are a lot harder for voters to buy. People will switch to a Democrat over the issue, but Republicans have just burned too many bridges. The battle lines have been drawn -- by Republicans, to the Democrats' advantage.

For whatever reason, Democrats have obviously decided that supporting marriage equality is good politics -- even in red states before reelection campaigns.


[original photo by Jef Nickerson]


Equality Before the Bench Today

Same-sex wedding
In his morning headlines post, Greg Sargent gets right to the day's big story:

Today the Prop 8 case is being argued before the Supreme Court, and a sweeping ruling that strikes the law down as unconstitutional could pave the way for full marriage equality being the law of the land across the country. Such a ruling would be a historic outcome for equality and civil rights in this country.

Whether or not such a ruling will actually take place is a matter for patience. But one thing's for sure: there is no going back. No matter what happens today, it's becoming clearer and clearer that marriage equality will happen. The war against the Homosexual Menace is lost and those still fighting it are deadenders at their dead end.

If the law at issue before the Supreme Court were to be voted on today, it would lose in a landslide. Californians regret falling for homophobic BS and voting to ban same sex marriage. 67% of Californians now believe that same-sex couples deserve the legal benefits of marriage. Only 30% oppose the idea.

"Conservatives have argued that if the Court rules against Prop 8, it will somehow invalidate the will of the voters who supported the ballot initiative," reports ThinkProgress. "Not only do voters not have the power to undermine the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, but it’s clear that the anti-gay animus that motivated Prop 8′s passage no longer represents the majority of California values."

Nor does it represent the majority of American voters. A CNN poll finds:

...57% say they have a family member or close friend who is gay or lesbian, up 12 points from 2007.

"The number of Americans who support same-sex marriage has risen by almost the same amount in that time - from 40% in 2007 to 53% today - strongly suggesting that the rise in support for gay marriage is due in part to the rising number of Americans who have become aware that someone close to them is gay," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

A CBS poll finds the exact same percentage of support. Additionally, it shows a stunning change in public attitudes on the issue; a full third of the respondents "who now think same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry say they once held the opposite view."

If same-sex marriage were on a ballot, rather than before the Supreme Court, it would win. And Washington adds one new marriage equality supporter today, with Alaska Sen. Mark Begich joining in.

If you're a homophobe, this whole thing must look like it's spinning radically out of control in a big hurry. You won't get any sympathy from me.

Our friends, neighbors, and family members deserve the same respect, dignity, and liberty we all enjoy. Regardless of what happens today, they will get it. If not immediately, then very soon. As corny as it sounds, love will win in the end.


[photo by stevendamron]


In the Gun Debate, Suicides Count

Gun suicide chart
It always happens with gun stats; no sooner are new numbers out than gun nuts immediately dismiss the bulk of them as suicides. Gun violence is gun violence, so logically it should make no difference. Yet, for people looking for a way to poke holes in arguments for saner gun regulations, suicide by firearm is some sort of special class of gun violence.

A great example of this is a post by the hopelessly dishonest John Hinderacker, written earlier this month. "New Study Finds Firearms Laws Do Nothing to Prevent Homicides" argues that once you rule out suicides, rates of gun violence is actually higher in states with fewer guns. It's actually a statistical tie, but math is no impediment to the seasoned, professional liar. The problem here should be obvious; you could just as easily argue that gun ownership does nothing to prevent crime. As pro-gun arguments go, Hinderacker's sucks.

But the main point is that you have to rule out suicides as real gun violence. "Most people -- most liberals, certainly -- would say that a person has a right to commit suicide if he is determined to do so," he writes. "If guns are the suicide weapon of choice, and it is easy to see why they are for most people, why should the state try to make its citizens use other, more difficult or painful means? On the other hand, some people undoubtedly do commit suicide on impulse who, if they had not had access to a gun or other effective means, may have gone on to live a happy or at least normal life. This is an argument for keeping guns away from those who are suicidally depressed, locking them up in your home, and so on. But those mental health issues are very different from the scare headlines on the basis of which activists... are trying to sell unconstitutional gun measures to the voters."

So conservatives are for assisted suicide now -- so long as the assistant is the gun industry.

We'll leave aside the fact that suicide prevention is in everyone's best interests for obvious reasons. The argument hinges on the idea that people who commit suicide will use other means. The numbers show this is not true. Suicide attempts are twenty times as likely to be fatal using a firearm than any other method. 85% of all attempted suicides by firearm succeed. And often murder and suicide are combined in the same act. "Some experts say mass shootings such as the one in which 20 first-graders and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December can often be seen as extravagant suicides rather than homicidal rampages," reports the Washington Post. "And the young man behind that massacre killed himself before he could be apprehended. Preventing these killings, experts say, requires better treatment of mental health problems and limiting access to weapons."

Another study finds that anything that slows down access to firearms reduces suicide rates immensely. And that's across the board -- not just the rate of suicide by gun. "[S]imple things that can delay access to a gun, like mandatory background checks for all handgun purchases -- including private sales -- like those that would be required by a new bill recently passed by a Senate committee, can make a big difference in preventing suicide," reports Mother Jones. "States with such a requirement have a gun suicide rate 50 percent lower than states that don't, even when their non-gun suicide rates are about the same."

And Hinderacker's argument that we should only worry about keeping guns away from the "suicidally depressed" is BS. The Mother Jones piece tells us that "suicide is often an impulsive act, and one that people haven't given much thought. That's especially true in gun suicides, where the majority of victims don't have a documented serious mental illness. If some in a crisis simply can't access a gun quickly, they may not try suicide at all, or they may try a less-lethal means that offers more chance that they'll be saved. And most people who survive a suicide attempt don't go on to take their own lives at a later time."

So suicide prevention is a perfectly rational reason to restrict access to firearms. And restricting firearms is a proven method of suicide prevention. To argue, as gun apologists so often do, that suicides don't count because they can't be prevented is just wishful thinking on their part (and the sorts of things they wish for does not say good things about their character). Many suicides can be prevented by something so simple as making buyers wait a little longer for their brand new suicide machines. The background check doesn't actually have to prevent the person from buying the gun. All it has to do is slow down the process a bit.

Gun laws save lives. The numbers are impossible to argue with. Which is why gun industry apologists go to such great and dishonest lengths to dismiss so many of those numbers.


[chart from Mother Jones]


Putting Bigotry Before Healthy Families

Same-sex relationships make for good families. It's science.

[Huffington Post:]

With the Supreme Court poised to hear arguments on same-sex marriage next week, a top pediatricians' group has issued a statement supporting marriage equality for all consenting couples, as well as full adoption and foster-care rights for parents regardless of sexual orientation.

"There is a lot of research to back up this policy," said Dr. Ellen C. Perrin, a professor of pediatrics at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and one of the lead authors. "If a child has two parents that are dedicated and willing to provide a permanent, secure family, why would we not support that family? It's clearly in the best interest of children."

This is not the first time the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, has publicly addressed same-sex parenting. In 2002, the organization, which represents more than 60,000 pediatricians, issued a policy statement supporting second-parent adoption by partners of the same sex -- a stance it reaffirmed in 2010. In 2006, the group also published an article exploring the legal, financial and "psychosocial" ramifications of civil marriage. It concluded that more than 25 years of research have found no link between parents' sexual orientation, and their children's emotional well being.

Marriage confers many benefits that a more informal relationship does not. There are insurance issues, legal issues, issues at school, issues about emergency medical decisions, etc. Legally speaking, an unmarried parent is an only parent, with any support from a same-sex partner being limited by law. While single parents are more than capable of raising healthy families, laws barring marriage equality ban parents who want them from these extra benefits and privileges from access to them. as a result, children suffer.

"Many factors confer risk to children's healthy development and adult outcomes, such as poverty, parental depression, parental substance abuse, divorce, and domestic violence," the AAP said in an accompanying technical report on the science behind their decision. "But the sexual orientation of their parents is not among them."


[I]n one large national study of adolescent health, researchers looked at information from 44 teens who reported being raised by two women in a “marriage-like” family arrangement, and compared them with a random sample of 44 adolescents raised by heterosexual parents. Researchers found no differences in measures of self-esteem, depression, anxiety and school success, according to the report.

Another study called the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study includes 154 lesbian mothers (70 couples and 14 single mothers), and has tracked the children's health since 1986. At age 17, the children of the lesbian mothers were highly competent socially and academically, and had fewer social problems and aggressive behavior, according to the report.

Other recent studies show that families of gay men resemble closely those of lesbians, although fewer data are available because the numbers of gay men who are parenting have been small until recently, the report said.

Yet over at Politico, we find Republicans and conservative Democrats digging in their heels against the idea of marriage equality, even as polling shows public support skyrocketing. And looking over which congress critters we're talking about here, the problem becomes immediately obvious -- these aren't the right demographic. These are the "behind the times" generation.

A new Washington Post poll found support for same-sex marriage at historic highs, with 58 percent of Americans backing the right to marry for gays and lesbians, compared with 36 percent who believe it should be banned, a complete reversal from a decade ago. Among younger voters, the poll found a resounding 81 percent supporting same-sex marriage.

But while there’s been an uptick in support among older Americans, only 44 percent of those older than 65 back gay marriage, the poll said. The average age of senators is 61, while House members on average are 57, according to the Congressional Research Service.

So it's a doomed fight these people are waging. They will lose eventually. And all they're managing to do in the meantime is hurt families needlessly by delaying the inevitable. Seriously, that's it. That's the big, super-important result of their continuing bigotry. They're standing against a wave of healthy, well-adjusted children flooding our nation with their filthy ideas of love and equality.

But I suppose it wouldn't be bigotry if it served a constructive purpose.


[original photo by NeitherFanboy]


The GOP's Religious Fanatic Problem

Religious conservatives protesting pretty much everything
It wouldn't be an easy case to make to claim that the religious right is not one of the Republican Party's biggest problems right now. The best example of this would be Todd Akin, who basically threw away a senate race by offering bizarre theories about rape. It's easy to forget that he had no shortage of defenders. And he had those defenders because those theories weren't something he'd cooked up on his own, but are part of a huge steaming pile of medical misinformation about abortion coming from Christian conservatives. Among the more common lies are that abortion causes breast cancer, that it leads to depression and suicide, and that abortion is a medically dangerous procedure. For such supposedly strict adherents to Christianity, abortion opponents tend to be shameless liars.

And it's not just limited to abortion. Pretty much all of the Republican Party's War on Women moves have been religiously motivated. And they're falling behind the mainstream on other issues as well, such as support for the LGBT community and marriage equality. As our nation becomes more and more diverse, it becomes more and more tolerant by necessity. It also becomes less and less Christian -- specifically, less of a very specific, deeply intolerant, and deep pocketed strain of Christianity.

And the Republican Party establishment may be beginning to notice that.


Some leaders of the religious right are openly worried this week after a sprawling 98-page report released by the Republican National Committee on how the party can rebuild after its 2012 implosion made no mention of the GOP's historic alliance with grassroots Christian "value voters."

Specifically, the word "Christian" does not appear once in the party's 50,000-word blueprint for renewed electoral success. Nor does the word "church." Abortion and marriage, the two issues that most animate social conservatives, are nowhere to be found. There is nothing about the need to protect religious liberty, or promote Judeo-Christian values in society. And the few fleeting suggestions that the party coordinate with "faith-based communities" — mostly in the context of minority outreach — receive roughly as much space as the need to become more "inclusive" of gays.

To many religious conservatives, the report was interpreted as a slight against their agenda and the hard work they have done for the party.

The imminent demise of the Christian right is almost certainly a pipe dream. At least, for now. The truth is that the GOP is still a party of very narrow religious interests. Think of the 2012 presidential campaign, when conservative commentators wondered if a Mormon would ever be considered a "real" Christian by the base and when not a single major Republican candidate was pro-choice -- not even the supposedly Libertarian Ron Paul. The Republican brand of Libertarianism has everything to do with tax cuts and money and almost nothing at all to do with actual issues of liberty. No, the religious right is wound deep around the party's roots. You're not getting rid of them simply by ignoring them.

And that's exactly the problem. Elections analyst Charlie Cook believes that the Republican Party must change to win national elections -- and that the nutjobs in the base are a big part of the problem. "Years ago, I used to attend [the Conservative Political Action Conference], mostly to listen to the speakers, and I even appeared on a panel once," Cook writes. "But as the conference grew increasingly exotic -- if possible, even more so than Iowa’s GOP presidential straw poll (which I’ve sworn to never waste time attending again) -- it became apparent that CPAC is representative of only one faction of the Republican Party, a group that national figures have to acknowledge and sometimes appear in front of, but certainly one that most don’t want to be too closely identified with."

In short, the party has to both embrace and distance themselves from the nuts; something that's becoming increasingly difficult to do. This is why the RNC's big plan for change completely ignores the religious right. But they can't keep pretending their crazy aunt doesn't live in the attic. Sooner or later, they're going to either take the hit and cut the fanatics loose or become a strictly regional party, uncompetitive in national elections for the foreseeable future.

"It may not be too melodramatic to say that over the next couple of years, the Republican Party faces a fork in the road," Cook says. "Following one path, the GOP can seek to address what has gone wrong, the narrowness of the party’s appeal, and the intolerance that has alienated so many minority, female, young, and moderate voters that Republicans have a hard time prevailing in federal races outside of carefully drawn conservative enclaves. Taking the other road could lead the party over a cliff in 2016, in much the same way Barry Goldwater led Republicans to disaster in 1964."

There is no path forward that's without sacrifice. Republicans will lose voters, no matter what they do, The question is really which voters can help them most.

"The social conservatives will quit voting," religious right leader Don Wildmon told Buzzfeed. "They'll give up, they'll be despaired. Those are the most loyal people to work for you because they're energized because they believe their cause is something God stands for and that's a pretty good motivator. And you take that away? You diss them? You tell them their issues aren't important anymore? I don't know who you're going to be left with. I think you won't have any troops out there. I don't know how many country club people will go and walk door to door over the taxes issue."

I'm tempted to say that something's gotta give here, but the truth is that something's already giving, if not already given way. If the GOP does nothing, they'll be stuck with the religious right by default and continue their downward spiral. Not making a decision is a decision in itself -- and that decision has serious consequences for the party. If they ignore their problems with religious fanatics, they're screwed now and in the long term. If they don't, they're just screwed now and maybe in the long term.

I know which choice I'd make, but I suppose that's one of the reasons why I'm not a Republican. Religious nutjobs aren't the best decision-makers. And neither are people who let themselves be led around by them.


[photo by Anuj Biyani]


Voters Like Spending Cuts -- Until They Become Real

In looking at a poll in The Hill, Ezra Klein explains a seemingly strange political fact; that voters appear to want to have their cake and eat it too.

In 1967, the political scientists Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantrill wrote that Americans were “ideological conservatives” but “operational liberals.” What they meant was that when asked broad questions about how government should work and what it should do, voters responded like conservatives. But when asked operational questions about which programs should be cut and which services should be eliminated, they responded like liberals. Voters like big cuts and smaller government in theory, but they don’t want to actually cut anything in practice.

The poll in question finds that people like the idea of broad spending cuts, but that Republicans were unpopular on the issue -- despite being the party that's supposedly all about cutting spending. Voters' "ideological conservative/operational liberal" stance isn't as irrational as it would seem, if you consider the mixed messages most voters get about budget matters -- and especially considering the existence of a media more concerned with finding "balance" than in finding truth. The average person doesn't have the time it takes to ferret out what's really going on in Washington and the news media and punditry can't be bothered to tell them. So you wind up having to blindly choose among the true and the untrue to arrive at your positions.

So if some rightwing tool starts talking about cutting spending in the abstract, you're for that -- especially when they frame it as "wasteful spending" or "government handouts." The right deals in vague and unrealistic terms, in order to hook people into their point of view.

But switch over to the liberal channel and suddenly you're dealing in specifics. What will be cut, who will suffer, what affect these attacks on demand will have on the economy. Suddenly, you're not so for these drastic cuts anymore. You're trying to figure out where all the handouts and waste you were hearing about before are supposed to be. You still want to cut them, but no one can actually seem to find them.

One side deals with economic reality and one's just a dishonest sales pitch. It's no wonder that, when the chips are down and the numbers are real, voters side with liberals on cuts. And that's where things start to get a little interesting.

Writing about a Politico piece on the effects of the sequester on two congressional districts -- one Democrat, one Republican -- Greg Sargent sees the "ideological conservative/operational liberal" dynamic playing out in a way that is not good for the GOP.

Yes, the sequester clearly holds perils for both sides. But the Politico story shows that this battle may end up unfolding exactly as Dems had predicted — with individual lawmakers beginning to panic as the reality of the cuts begins to be appreciated by their constituents. With Republicans claiming the sequester as a “victory,” the GOP could continue to be tarred as the party of destructive austerity. What’s more, majorities support the Dem argument that we should replace it the sequester with a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes. By contrast, the GOP fiscal vision — deficit reduction only through deep spending cuts, paired with deep cuts on tax rates on the rich — is unpopular, and Dems may be able to persuasively argue (given that 68 percent see the GOP as the party of the rich) that Republicans would sooner allow the pain of extended sequestration to continue rather than close a few millionaire loopholes.

"However this turns out, the moral of the story is that people really, really don’t like spending cuts when they’re directly impacted by them," Sargent writes. Bingo. The day the sequester was triggered, Republicans did the happy dance. They paraded the sequester around like Hector's body at the walls of Troy. They sent the word out far and wide that they had been victorious. Republicans may try to blame Obama for the cuts, but to a much larger degree, they've taken credit for them. They own the sequester cuts.

And when those cuts really start to hurt, voters will remember who was smiling on sequester day.


[photo via sociotard]


Is There GOP Life After CPAC?

At our core, Republicans have comfortably remained the Party of Reagan without figuring out what comes next. Ronald Reagan is a Republican hero and role model who was first elected 33 years ago -- meaning no one under the age of 51 today was old enough to vote for Reagan when he first ran for President. Our Party knows how to appeal to older voters, but we have lost our way with younger ones. We sound increasingly out of touch.
-Republican National Committee's "Growth and Opportunity Project" report.

By now, it's no secret that the GOP is a party with problems. While many reports focus primarily on Republican outreach to Latino or women voters, the fact is that the party has alienated Americans across the board. The list of demographic groups Republicans have either lost by actually attacking them or merely by ignoring them is far, far too long to post. Listing the demographic left to them is just as informative, if much more concise: middle-aged straight, white Evangelical males. The end.

The Republican Party is in deep trouble and everyone knows it. They can't hope to win the White House without radically reforming. And, since they're one appointment away from losing the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, that means real trouble for a conservative agenda that relies more and more on judicial activism. They could conceivably lose that SCOTUS majority before the next election. But it gets a lot more likely if they lose the presidency in 2016. On the presidential side, even in normal circumstances, a Democrat winning 2016 puts 2020 in danger, through the advantage given by incumbency alone. Add in unresolved demographic issues and defeating a Democratic incumbent in 2020 would be an exercise in futility. Especially without a Supreme Court willing to hand Republicans Citizens United-type advantages.

Enter the Republican National Committee's "Growth and Opportunity Project," a 100-page report recommending major reforms to the Republican Party in advance of the 2016 elections.

"When Republicans lost in November, it was a wake-up call. And in response I initiated the most public and most comprehensive post-election review in the history of any national party," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in prepared remarks in advance of a Monday morning speech at the National Press Club. "As it makes clear, there’s no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement."

There's only one hitch: conservatives, especially those in the base, hate change.

[NBC News:]

...Many of the reforms proposed by the Growth and Opportunity Project, however, will encounter stiff resistance in corners of the Republican Party and broader conservative movement — because of a deep distrust of the official GOP among the grassroots.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin encapsulated the sentiment during her speech on Saturday before the Conservative Political Action Conference.

"Now is the time to furlough the consultants, and tune out the pollsters, send the focus groups home, and toss the political scripts," she said, "because if we truly know what we believe, we don't need professionals to tell us."

I'm fairly well convinced that Sarah Palin spends her days scrolling through rightwing websites. She doesn't read the posts there, she reads the comments. Then she leads by following. Sarah Palin has never had an original idea in her life. So when she showed up at CPAC, waving a Big Gulp around like some sort of revolutionary war flag and complaining about consultants and "professionals," she was delivering not what she believes (I'm just as convinced she believes nothing), but what she knew the audience would applaud. CPAC was her crowd, her area of expertise. These are the people who leave insane comments at Breitbart.com. These are the lunatics Sarah studies and emulates. If there's one thing wingnuts love, it's hearing their own beliefs bounced back at them uncritically. It helps them believe the crazy things they say are true. Palin knows it and keeps her fifteen minutes of fame on life support by doing exactly that.

Long story short, if Sarah Palin's remedy for the GOP blues is "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!" then that's the base's opinion as well. And the base is where candidates and voters come from. It's who decides the primaries. Reince's little project is DOA unless he can get the talk radio crowd to play along -- and you know they won't. Republicans have spent far too long courting the torches-and-pitchforks crowd. Angry mobs don't have time for carefully laid out manifestos for the future. Angry mobs are formed to satisfy anger. Reaction is the rule, not planning. Strategy is proactive. Angry mobs are reactive.

The Republican Party has spent far too long choosing their voters to change anything now. Using wedge issue after wedge issue, they split off demographic after demographic until they created the perfect rightwing lunatic. Even if they had a great plan to move forward and win the White House, their perfect voter is the one steering this bus now and he's going to go where he wants to go.

It was probably a mistake to release this report immediately following CPAC, where rightwing purity was the rule. But the mistake is only one of public relations. The party's base are just as resistant to change now as they would be later.

And it's there that the "Growth and Opportunity Project" dies in its cradle.


[photo via Gage Skidmore]


Putting Social Security and the Economy in Chains

Length of chain
It's one of those bad news/good news sorts of things. The bad news is that President Obama is definitely looking at some sort of benefit cut in entitlement spending. The good news is that congressional Democrats most definitely do not agree -- and if they say it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. After President Obama met with Republicans to iron out some sort of a deal on deficit reduction, he met with Senate Democrats to pitch ideas to them. It was not a sale.

[The Hill:]

...Though they are his most powerful congressional allies, there is tension in that relationship too given fears of liberal Democrats that Obama will make too many concessions with House and Senate Republicans on entitlement cuts, all in the hope of reaching a deficit deal.

Obama stood firm Tuesday when pressed to back away from benefit cuts during the meeting with the Senate Democratic Conference, according to lawmakers who attended.


[B]ehind closed doors, liberals in the Senate caucus raised concerns about Obama’s readiness to consider cuts to Social Security benefits and his support for a deficit-reduction package evenly split between spending cuts and tax increases.

I suppose the President and Democrats could be playing good cop/bad cop with Republicans, but Obama's been so willing -- scratch that; so eager -- to compromise with Republicans in the past that he's opened negotiations with them by meeting them halfway. I think he is the overly-helpful good cop. I don't think there's any playacting here at all. This was what lost us the public option in healthcare reform. Had the president started from a very liberal position -- say, singlepayer healthcare -- we might've negotiated down to a public option.

But healthcare reform was something we needed to get done. So Democrats were willing to take a bad deal and perhaps revisit it down the road. But deficit reduction? Yeah, Republicans want everyone to freak out over the deficit, but there's actually no reason anyone should. Deficits will rise during economic downturns because revenues fall. It's been said that the best social program is a job. Along those same lines, the best deficit reduction program is high employment in a good economy. Make the economy and employment your top priority and most of your deficit reduction work will be done for you. Increased employment, combined with better pay, increases revenues and reduces deficits. Prosperity is by far the best and most painless way to address deficits. And you don't get prosperity by slashing entitlement spending, because that's a direct attack on consumer demand. You can't get rich by saving money, you get rich by making money. Saving money is just making the most of the status quo.

But the White House seems bamboozled by Republican deficit hysteria. The Hill reports, "Obama did not back down from a proposal to switch to the chained consumer price index formula for calculating Social Security benefits." Chained CPI is a complex issue, so I'll give you a link explaining it and use the space here to say it's just your typical Republican attack on consumer demand. Suffice it to say it means a reduction in benefits over time.

Social Security has a budget separate from the rest of the federal budget. And that budget is solvent and deficit free. It's not responsible for deficit spending, so why should it be cut?

Here's where you get into the very special kind of robbery that is Republicanism: it should be cut to save fabulously rich people from paying more in taxes. Since Social Security does not add to the deficit and is separate from the federal budget, cutting benefits to reduce benefits is just a raid on the trust fund to plug budget holes. Republicans like to say that taxation is theft. That's ridiculous. If you want an accurate metaphor, taxation is rent. Don't like the rent in this building? Use the power of the free market and move to the Somalia Arms. No one's actually forcing you to stay here and keep paying all this rent. It's a free country. You can leave.

But raiding Social Security to keep taxes low for billionaires -- now that's theft.

After all, you paid into Social Security. It's your money we're talking about here. And it's all very real money, because Social Security is barred by law from paying out benefits at a deficit. It's real money that was collected for one purpose and one purpose only, suddenly being taken and applied to an entirely different purpose altogether. Imagine your banker telling you, "We took some of the money from your retirement account and used it to patch the roof on the bank. Sorry, you won't be getting that money back." What's being proposed with chained CPI is not a lot different. They want to pay you less of your own money, so they can take that money and apply it somewhere else. That's Wall Street's hand in your pocket and that's a Rolex on the wrist. They don't actually need the money.

"We knew some would hold [the view that entitlement spending should be off the table]," a White House official said of the meeting. "It's exactly what we anticipated. But we need to all come together and find out what we can and can't live with. That's the way we compromise. We don't have to give up on our values to reach a compromise. I think that's the message the president sent today."

But unless the president secretly agreed to abandon chained CPI and pretend it's still on the table, "giving up on our values" is exactly what the president is asking Democrats to do. Whether it's the President's plan or not, Democrats should commit to being the baddest goddam bad cops this White House and Republicans have ever seen. Give not an inch. Not a millimeter. Not a dime of your money should be spent on keeping billionaires' taxes down. Not a penny.

The goal should be to increase employment and grow the economy, not shield already spoiled billionaires from taxes.


[photo via BotheredByBees]


No Future for GOP on Gun Issue

An interesting tidbit from The Hill, on a new poll about gun control and partisanship:

A new poll released Tuesday finds the nation evenly split on whether they trust President Obama or GOP lawmakers more on the contentious issue of gun control.

The ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 42 percent say they trust President Obama on the issue, while 41 percent say they trust Republicans in Congress, many of whom have been skeptical of new gun-control measures.

But the poll also reveals a split between those who are gun owners and those who are not. Respondents who live in gun-owning households trust Republicans more by a 56 to 26 percent split, while those who do not own firearms trust the president over the GOP by 58 to 26 percent.

If there's one thing no one wants to hear in our overly-partisan times, it's the term "evenly split." I suppose, taken at face value, Republicans have more to gain from inaction, since the status quo is what they prefer on gun regulations. But take them aside and make them tell the truth somehow and they'll tell you that "evenly split" in this case means "about to become the minority."

Yesterday, I reported on a study that showed gun ownership has been in steady decline for decades. Where gun owning households were 50% in the '70s, they're now just 35%. If gun owning households trust Republicans in the gun debate, the party can't count on that level of support to last. They're already dancing on the razor's edge, with most of those saying they trust them obviously unaware of the party's actual positions on the issue. A landslide 57% of all respondents say they support an assault weapons ban and a jawdropping 91% support expanded background checks.

Meanwhile, another poll shows Republicans losing a crucial demographic on the issue.

[Los Angeles Times:]

A strong majority of Latino voters — Democrats, Republicans and independents — supports stiffer gun control laws, including more vigorous background checks and creation of a national database of gun owners, according to a new survey of that increasingly important slice of the electorate.

The poll suggests Latinos tend to lean leftward in the gun debate regardless of political affiliation, which could further complicate GOP efforts to boost Latino support after November's poor showing.

"Latino voters are saying with a strong voice we want some new and smart gun policies taken up by the Congress," said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political science professor and co-founder of Latino Decisions, the firm that conducted the nationwide survey.

84% support expanded background checks and 54% support a ban on assault weapons. Beltway pundits and Republican Party flacks will be shocked to learn that Latino voters are as complicated as anyone else and that immigration isn't the one and only issue they care about.

The Republicans' story on guns is a familiar one -- America's changing demographics doom them. Little tweaks to the party's positions aren't going to save them in the long run. They need big changes to keep from being the party of yesterday's opinion. But big changes seem to be beyond them at the moment.

The trends on guns is the trend on any issue: shifting demographics spelling future electoral doom. No wonder they feel the need to steal elections. Otherwise, the GOP elephant goes the way of the wooly mammoth.


[photo via swanksalot]


Gun Sales are Up, But Gun Ownership is Down

Rifles in gun shop
It's enough to send a serious gun regulation backer into despair. The more often the words "gun control" appear in headlines, the more often we hear about a surge in gun sales. Since it's certain that no new gun regulations will result in the confiscation of firearms (rightwing lobbyists, talk radio hosts, and Washington demagogues are just lying when they start shrieking about "gun grabbers"), then rising gun sales would seem to mean that the effort to curb gun violence has resulted in more guns on the street, not fewer. It's at this point that you begin to wonder if you aren't just doing more harm than good.

But what the "Booming Gun Sales!" stories fail to cover is who it is who's buying all these guns and ammo. And it turns out that this is a pretty important question -- as a new poll demonstrates not by showing who's buying them, but who isn't.

[New York Times:]

The gun ownership rate has fallen across a broad cross section of households since the early 1970s, according to data from the General Social Survey, a public opinion survey conducted every two years that asks a sample of American adults if they have guns at home, among other questions.

The rate has dropped in cities large and small, in suburbs and rural areas and in all regions of the country. It has fallen among households with children, and among those without. It has declined for households that say they are very happy, and for those that say they are not. It is down among churchgoers and those who never sit in pews.

The household gun ownership rate has fallen from an average of 50 percent in the 1970s to 49 percent in the 1980s, 43 percent in the 1990s and 35 percent in the 2000s, according to the survey data, analyzed by The New York Times.

Guns sales are soaring, but gun ownership is plummeting. And the most likely explanation is that the people making all these new gun purchases are the same nuts who own a lot of the guns in the first place.

"There are all these claims that gun ownership is going through the roof," Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told the Times. "But I suspect the increase in gun sales has been limited mostly to current gun owners. The most reputable surveys show a decline over time in the share of households with guns."

It's a lot harder than Hollywood makes it seem to use more than one firearm at a time, so the danger posed here isn't quite as serious as it would at first appear. Of course, more guns means more ammo capacity, but guns are also a lot heavier than movies would lead you to believe. You can't carry that many at once. At least, not for long or for very far.

The panic among people who seem to be addicted to firearms is almost understandable. After all, the day they outlawed cigarettes would probably be the day there were riots at convenience stores, as panicked smokers tried to buy as much of their fix as they possibly could. It wouldn't mean that a bunch of nonsmokers had suddenly decided it was time to take up smoking. It would just mean that smokers had suddenly started buying way more tobacco than normal.

But this also explains the panic in the gun lobby and why all of their defenses of guns are basically sales pitches. The messages aren't like, "Joe prefers the AR-15 for hunting, because it's lightweight and he likes the balance -- not because he's a homicidal maniac." They're like, "You don't have a gun? For the love of God, why? Don't you love your family? DO YOU WANT TO DIE!?" They're losing the marketing battle and they have been for years. The American public's attitude toward firearms is evolving and gun ownership is dropping. Other factors may be America's changing demographics, with a falling rural population and rising minority populations.

Tom W. Smith, director of the survey, said the data agrees with two emerging American trends, "the decline of hunting and a sharp drop in violent crime, which has made the argument for self-protection much less urgent," reports the Times. You could as easily argue that the decline in violent crime is driven by the decline in firearm ownership as you could the other way around. But I suppose more study is probably needed to determine which factor is the cart and which is the horse.

Whatever's going on here, firearms manufacturers, small arms dealers, and blood lobbyists have good reason to worry. This is all going the wrong way and it has been for quite a long time. Wayne LaPierre's fearmongering drives up gun sales, yes. But that's a spike, not a trend. And if it spikes again, it will spike amongst an even smaller segment of the population next time.

The battle to change attitudes about guns isn't just being won today. It's been fought and won over and over, quietly and without many noticing, since the 1970s.


[photo via bettyx1138]


Can Gun Laws and Gun Ownership Coexist? Yes, and I Can Prove It

Vintage photo of hunters in Wisconsin Dells
Wisconsin is a gun-owning state. All you need to do to prove that to yourself is show up around November. The woods are crawling with guys in orange snowsuits and hats, in search of whitetail deer. Or ask about wild turkeys when you stop in a roadside tavern. It's like asking about the Packers -- everyone's an expert. It's not at all unusual for people to be extremely familiar and comfortable around firearms and stories about hunting trips are part of many family get-togethers. In fact, we're number twelve in the top twenty gun-owning states. In the latest available figures from 2007, our percentage of gun owners was 44.4%. That means we beat out rootin'-tootin' shootin' Texas -- by a country mile. The Lone Star state's percentage of gun ownership was a measly 35.9%. We also beat out other southern states -- i.e., those supposedly immersed in "gun culture" -- such as Georgia (40%), North Carolina (41.3%), South Carolina (42.3%), Arizona (31.1%), and Florida (24.5%). Don't talk to us about your "gun culture" -- we've got a culture. You've got a hobby.

Now take a look at this map from a study on state gun deaths. In 2010 we were one of the states with the fewest gun deaths per capita. How can this be? Simple. All it takes is common sense gun laws.


States that have more laws restricting gun ownership have lower rates of death from shootings, both suicides and homicides, a study by researchers at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard University found.

States with the most laws on gun ownership, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, have 42 percent lower rates of death from guns than those with the least restrictions, including Utah and Oklahoma, according to the study, published on Wednesday in the online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study was released as a Senate committee approved new gun-control measures backed by President Barack Obama to crack down on illegal trafficking in firearms in the wake of the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.

Based on data from 2007 through 2010, the study looked at the relationship between the number of restrictions states placed on gun ownership -- from background checks on gun buyers to bans on military-style assault weapons -- and the number of gun-related homicides and suicides reported.

Prior to 2010, Wisconsin didn't allow concealed carry. Then Gov. Scott Walker was elected, decided that what was working needed fixing, and passed a concealed carry law. We also have a 48 hour waiting period. In 2010, we didn't have a Castle Doctrine, which is similar to "stand your ground" laws in that it allows someone to shoot people trespassing on their property, no questions asked. Also after 2010, it became legal to carry a loaded weapon in your vehicle. Gov. Walker and state Republicans seem to have spent a lot of time fixing things that no one knew were problems. Unless we reverse these idiotic and unnecessary laws, we can't expect to do as well in the next study.

But imagine what Wisconsin was like when the data in this study was collected: common sense gun laws increasing public safety and a high percentage of gun ownership. Kind of looks like pretty much everything the blood lobby tells you about gun regulation is not so awfully true, doesn't it? No one came and took anyone's guns away. Crime didn't run rampant as citizens were helpless to defend themselves. Joseph Adolph Hitlerstalin didn't rise up and run a ruthless and brutal dictatorship out of his villa on the shores of Lake Michigan. No zombie apocalypse, no Road Warrior, no Red Dawn. It's just a quiet northern state dotted with barns, cheesemakers, bait shops, and hunters. All this Chicken Little crap about guns being the only thing propping up the sky is all paranoid horsecrap, meant to fool gullible cowards into supporting laws who's only real purpose is to scare them into buying more guns. And, as the gun ownership levels in the states show, those laws fail to do even that. Texas, one of the most conservative states in the union, has hardly any guns at all compared to Wisconsin (although, to be fair, their screwed up policies creates such economic inequality that few can probably afford the luxury of a firearm. Texas, like all conservative economies, is a merely support-system for the wealthy elite).

Want a gun and sane, effective firearms regulations? Turns out we can do it. I grew up where it was done. It's not about grabbing anyone's guns -- in fact, that's completely unnecessary. It's about passing laws against stupidity, because the nature of stupidity is that it's too stupid to recognize itself as stupidity. Stupid needs to be stopped from being stupid.

It really is that simple.


[photo via Tobyotter]


Why Republicans are Terrified -- And Why That Should Worry You

caricature of frightened Republican elephant
Last month, Nate Silver took a look at Republican chances to win a majority in the Senate. The verdict: maybe, but probably not. Of course, it really is hard to say with any certainty this far in advance, but this assessment does not say good things about the party overall. If all things were equal, Republicans would be the clear favorites. The vast majority of Senate seats being contested in 2014 are held by Democrats -- 21 of 35 -- meaning the Republican Party can use most of their resources working to gain seats, while Democrats will be forced to spend mostly on holding them. And out of all those 21, Republicans need a mere 6. In other words, they could lose all those races at a rate in the neighborhood of 3:1 and still come out on top -- but they probably won't even reach that paltry level of success.

Today Republicans get more 2014 bad news. Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg writes that Democrats will likely pick off a few governorships that cycle.

While the fight for the House of Representatives will take center stage next year, another battle could be almost as important for the two parties: control of a handful of big-state governorships.

Republicans like to point out that while they lost the presidency and seats in both chambers of Congress in 2012, their party continues to hold governorships in 30 states, including nine of the country’s 12 largest states.

But most of those governors — 23 to be exact — were elected in 2010, a great GOP year that doesn’t reflect the nation’s (or many states’) political fundamentals. (That number includes Utah’s Gary R. Herbert, who ran in a special election in 2010 and again in 2012.)

In congress, the big Tea Party wave turned into the one term Tea Party anomaly. And it's looking like that will likely hold true at the state level, as well. It's at this point that Democrats and liberals will need to pay close attention. You'll notice that these races where Republicans are expected to do poorly -- governorships and the senate -- are all statewide races. That means these races can't be rigged by gerrymandering. Not only is that why Republicans can expect to have a bad year, but it's why it's the year Republicans are most likely pull out the stops on dirty tricks to win elections. You see, if things turn out as predicted, the GOP will be royally screwed.

"If Democrats can win a number of these big-state governorships, even if they don’t take back the U.S. House, it could well bolster the narrative of Democratic momentum leading up to the 2016 elections," Rothenberg writes. "It also would put Democrats in the position to retain those governorships four years later, in 2018, when states will select governors who will play a role in the next round of congressional redistricting."

And it's that last point that dumps ice water down Republican spines. The only real power they have left in the elected branches of government is the House of Representatives, the only one they can (and have) won through gerrymandering. If they lose governorships -- and with them, the ability to draw unfair district boundaries -- things can go very, very badly for them very, very quickly. They could easily see Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate, a Democrat in the White House, and the likelihood of at least one appointment to the Supreme Court under these conditions. That would mean a level of liberal control in Washington unheard of for decades -- House, Senate, White House, and a Supreme Court majority. For conservatives, it's the perfect storm.

so, for Republicans interested in being something other than an ineffective crank minority party, there are only two choices: cheat or reform. Every day we're seeing more and more evidence that reform is nearly impossible. The insane partisans are just becoming more deeply entrenched and all efforts at change are quickly becoming nothing more than cosmetic. So that leaves cheating. Republicans are very comfortable doing that. Especially the base.

You see, it's the base that makes it impossible to change the GOP and it's the base who believes all the insane crackpottery they're told. They really do believe that Democrats are secret Soviets and terrorist-sympathizers bent on taking away everyone's guns, putting everyone in FEMA camps, and destroying America from within -- at least, when we aren't agents of Satan here to turn America from Jesus with gay rights, feminism, and Sharia law. They're willing to cheat for the same reason a terrorist is willing to use a roadside bomb -- asymmetrical warfare.

And that base is what became the Tea Party caucus. Those people aren't just at home listening to Rush Limbaugh spout nonsense on their radios, they're in congress, they're in governors' mansions, and they're in statehouses around the country. They see this coming and they are terrified. So they'll do whatever they can, up to (and perhaps including) out-and-out election fraud. They'll push their voter ID laws, cut back on early voting hours, and make it more difficult to register voters. What do you think this whole Voting Right Act case in the Supreme Court is about?

It's about the need to steal elections, because of the inability to win them fairly. Republicans aren't just on the verge of losing a few elections, they're on the verge of losing everything.

So they're desperate and willing to do anything


[photo via DonkeyHotey]


Making it Easy for Terrorists to Arm Themselves

Chart showing rapid rise of rightwing paramilitary groups
Most times, sweeping efforts at change have unintended consequences. When a thread is deeply woven into our society, pulling it out will almost inevitably unravel parts of the tapestry we didn't intend to. But rarely does that unintended consequence demonstrate the need for the change that caused it in the first place. A new report demonstrates this phenomenon.

[The Guardian:]

The number of anti-government, far-right extremist groups has soared to record levels since 2008 and they are becoming increasingly militant, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It says the number of groups in the “Patriot” movement stood at 1,360 in 2012, up from 149 in 2008 when Barack Obama was first elected president, an increase of 813%. The report said the rise was driven by opposition to Obama and the “spluttering rage” over federal attempts at gun control.

Those who were identified as “militia” groups or the paramilitary wing of the Patriot movement, numbered 321, up from 42 in 2008, the SPLC said in its report.

Concern over a “truly explosive growth” of groups on the radical right, along with a rise in domestic terrorist plots, has prompted the SPLC to write to US attorney general Eric Holder and Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, warning of the potential for domestic terrorism and urging them create a new, inter-agency task force to assess whether it has adequate resources to deal with it.

So here's the thing: because of our insanely loose gun laws, we're pretty much arming the very terrorists who want to kill us. If that strikes you as flabbergastingly stupid, that's because it is.

This sort of soft on crime idiocy is nothing new. After 9/11, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft banned the use of a federal database to find out if people detained on suspicion of terrorism had purchased guns in the United States.

"I'm a little befuddled," Sen. Charles Schumer said at the time. "We're looking for new tools in every direction. I support most of those. But when it comes to the area of even illegal immigrants getting guns and finding out if they did, this administration becomes weak as a wet noodle."

Keep in mind, this was an administration who had no problem violating American's rights when it came to secret and warrantless wiretapping. But start poking around in suspected terrorists' gun purchases and suddenly we're all worried about their freedom. Since the Bush administration was torturing these same people, it seems pretty safe to assume that concerns about their Second Amendment liberties were horsecrap. The truth is that the administration was avoiding headlines like "Federal records show lots of suspected terrorists buying lots of guns in US."

It's one thing to overreact and make air travel a nightmare, wiretap people's phones and read their emails, torture them, kidnap them from countries where we have no jurisdiction, lock them up in concentration camps, and invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 -- but it's quite another to react rationally and start keeping terrorists from buying guns in the US. That would be the dreaded "gun control" and, although it would've been the most obvious and sane thing in the world, the Bush administration was Republican to the core. That meant they were the NRA's pet monkey. And the NRA is about selling as many guns as possible. They don't care who buys them. A terrorist's money is a green as anyone else's.

So we were, then as now, in a situation where the unstated argument was that the 2nd Amendment protects the right of America's enemies to buy the weapons they'll use to kill Americans in America. I guess because having to smuggle guns in would be too inconvenient. I'm sure that's exactly what the founders had in mind.

It really is long past time to stop being so damned stupid about guns. When terrorists are buying guns in large numbers, it's time to put a stop to that. Obviously. How anyone can argue otherwise is beyond me. As is so often the case when talking about the gobsmacked right, we leave the realm of logic and enter the shrine of religion. Guns are sacred to the Cult of the Gun Fetishist and that makes them exempt from sanity, rationality, and reality.

As I said, the unintended consequence of the push for gun regulation demonstrates the need for that regulation extremely well. The only people who'd disagree are soulless NRA tools, gun fetishists, blind partisans -- and those terrorists themselves.


[chart via Southern Poverty Law Center]


Old Jim Crow, Back for an Encore

Modern voter suppression protest
Take a moment and consider how unlikely this headline would be:


Doesn't seem like much of a danger, does it? And that tells you all you need to know about the continuing necessity of the Voting Rights Act, currently under attack by the right and the conservative members of the Supreme Court. America has moved on, they argue. There is no polling place discrimination anymore. Racism has been solved.

Yet in Florida, early voting lines were hours long in many places. And for many, early voting isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. Contrary to conservative rhetoric, minority voters work. And most workers don't get to set their own hours. Being able to vote when they have the time off is the only way they can vote. The crooked Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, refused to reverse changes he'd made to election rules and, when told of the long lines, tried to spin it as the consequence of a vibrant democracy; "People are getting out to vote," he said. "That's what's very good."

People having to wait hours to vote is not "what's very good," it's what's very bad. And -- surprise! -- my headline about the travails faced by the intrepid with rich fella doesn't apply here. Reality is pretty much the opposite case.

[New York Times:]

...A Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis determined that blacks and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long in line to vote on average than whites. Florida had the nation’s longest lines, at 45 minutes, followed by the District of Columbia, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia, according to Charles Stewart III, the political science professor who conducted the analysis.

A separate analysis, by an Ohio State University professor and The Orlando Sentinel, concluded that more than 200,000 voters in Florida “gave up in frustration” without voting.

“When I got there, the line was around the building,” said Jonathan Piccolo, 33, who said he had waited nearly eight hours to cast a ballot in Miami-Dade County the Monday before Election Day.

When lines are so long and so slow that people walk away without voting, those votes have been stolen. Those people have been disenfranchised. When it happens to minorities instead of whites at a ratio of two to one, it's not coincidence or a statistical anomaly. Minority voters are deliberately being discouraged from voting -- exactly the problem that the Voting Rights Act was meant to address. Florida is not fully covered under the Voting Rights Act -- only five counties must clear changes with the Justice Department. Clearly, the Voting Rights Act needs to be expanded, not gutted. When you look at the plain facts, you see it's needed more than ever.

Which is why plain facts have been banished from this debate -- as they have been with so many issues conservatives decide to take on. The data showing -- not suggesting, showing -- that minority voters were discriminated against at the polls just months ago isn't a point worth talking about, because it doesn't support their predetermined conclusion. What supports those conclusions is bad math.

[National Public Radio:]

At the voting rights argument in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts tore into Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, grilling him on his knowledge of voting statistics.

The point the chief justice was trying to make was that Massachusetts, which is not covered by the preclearance section of the Voting Rights Act, has a far worse record in black voter registration and turnout than Mississippi, which is covered by Section 5 of the act.

But a close look at census statistics indicates the chief justice was wrong, or at least that he did not look at the totality of the numbers.

Roberts' argument was that Massachusetts had a lower black voter turnout than Mississippi -- a "fact" he got from a minority dissent in a lower court decision. According to NPR, those numbers come from the census and are the result of statistical sampling. The sample is meant to be representative of the nation as a whole, not of the individual states. And this means numbers from different states have vastly different margins for error.

The number of black citizens eligible to vote in Massachusetts is 236,000, while it is 721,000 in Mississippi, more than three times that number. Therefore, according to Census officials, when looking at the estimated turnout rate in Massachusetts, the voting percentage for African-Americans at first blush is estimated at 39.3 percent. But the margin of error is 11.5 percentage points, meaning that the black voter turnout actually could be as high as 50.8 percent (or, conversely, as low as 27.8 percent).

Now, look at Mississippi, where black turnout is listed at 48.7 percent. But because of the large size of the African-American population that was sampled, the margin of error is only 5.4 percentage points.

That means that factoring in the margin of error, the black turnout rate in Mississippi could be as high as 54.1 percent, or as low as 43.3 percent.

So, if you figure in the margins for error -- which both Chief Justice Roberts and the lower court selectively did not -- the numbers could just as easily show that "Mississippi could have had a black voter turnout rate that was 7.5 percentage points lower than Massachusetts."

In other words, since the numbers are being applied in a way they were never meant to be, they're meaningless, incomplete, and malleable as clay. To hang the fate of the voting rights of millions on this lousy math would be insane. Yet that's what Roberts seems to have in mind.

Striking down the Voting Rights Act and denying millions of Democratic voters their right to vote may be the only way Republicans can win national office going forward. Of course, they could always just be less racist in their policies, but that would mean progressive change. The only time a conservative talks about "change" is when they want to change something back; i.e., regressive change. So the conservative members of the Supreme Court -- through transparent judicial activism and bad math -- want to change voting laws back to the bad old days of Jim Crow, when America's wealthy white elites were safe from democracy.

And Republicans wonder why they have so much trouble attracting minority voters.


[photo via Michael Fleshman]


Sequestration, the March Hare, and the Mad Tea Party

March Hare graffiti
It's Sequester Day, America. The worst holiday so far this year. Still, we should make the best of it. Other special days have mascots -- Santa Claus, pilgrims, Jack-O'-Lanterns, etc. -- so I propose that Sequester Day be celebrated under the lunatic grin of the March Hare. The mascot is pretty perfect; a participant in the Mad Tea Party, completely insane, and -- of course -- it's March.

You see, there's nothing sane about any of this. The last time we celebrated this holiday was not a year ago, but just back in January, when it was known by a different name: the fiscal cliff. We went over the cliff a little bit, Republicans lost their nerve, and the crisis was avoided... Well, not avoided so much as kicked down the road until today. The crisis was very much not avoided, as the mad March Hare reminds us. We merely banned the nickname "fiscal cliff" from our national vocabulary, cut some deals to reschedule the whole thing, and now we refer to it by it's more formal name, sequestration. It the same stupid self-laid trap, we've just all agreed to pretend it's a new one. It's mad, mad I say -- frantabulousy, craptastically, thingdubitably, deliciously mad!

And no one better embodies the true spirit of the March Hare better than the House Republican caucus. Left is right, up is down, right is wrong, and Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

[CBS News:]

...House Speaker John Boehner has said he's done negotiating. The House, Boehner says, has twice passed legislation that would undo the sequester, and should not have pass a third bill before the Democrat-controlled Senate "gets off their ass and passes it once." He has also stated that Republicans will not play ball on new tax revenue, telling the president, "You got your tax increase; it's time to cut spending here in Washington."

In a statement this morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., added: "We promised the American people that we would cut Washington spending, and the President signed those cuts into law. Republicans have offered the President numerous solutions, including the flexibility he needs to secure those reductions more intelligently. I'm happy to discuss other ideas to keep our commitment to reducing Washington spending at today's meeting. But there will be no last-minute, back-room deal and absolutely no agreement to increase taxes."

Yes, Barack Obama got his one tax increase (well, part of one anyway), Republicans have gotten spending cut after spending cut, so it only makes Mad Tea Party sense that it's now Obama's turn to give things away again. Because the opposite of truth is Tea Party sense; which means the opposite of parity is a fair deal. Barack Obama gets his one lump of sugar, then Republicans get a pile of sugar lumps -- and that means it's Republicans turn to get their sugar again. Because Mad Tea Party reasoning, if you'll remember your Lewis Carroll, is backwards, contrary, and splendidly wrong.

Under that definition, cutting spending to plug a deficit hole makes perfect Tea Party sense, as reality reminds us. Dylan Matthews of Washington Post's Wonkblog illustrates that reality -- by way of a familiar chart, now updated:

Chart showing Bush tax cuts as largest and most obvious driver of deficits

As you can see, that big, fat sandy-colored stripe is the biggest culprit in driving deficits. And that big stripe represents the Bush tax cuts. Washington doesn't have a spending problem, Washington obviously has a revenue problem. But recognizing that is not playing by the mad Tea Party rules and the March Hare will have none of it. President Obama was reelected on a promise to raise taxes on the wealthy? Pshaw and fiddlesticks!

It's so much more fun to be mad!


[photo via Newtown grafitti]