The Scions of Saint Sarah

It took a while, but I finally figured out what truly offends me about Sarah Palin. It's not her shameless greed, nor her stunning ignorance. It's not even her attitude that things like facts and proper English are for elitist intellectuals. Those are reasons to oppose her, even to dislike her, but not to be disgusted by her.

No, it's how she uses her kids. Publicly at least, she treats them merely as things to be exploited to further the brand name that is Sarah Palin™.

What finally did it was seeing Palin on Fox News (where else?) last week going on and on for the umpteenth time about "you touch my kids and this mama grizzly is going to rise up." She puts on this act all the time, and it generally takes three forms:

1. Hiding behind her children. Whenever Palin is criticized about anything, she uses her kids as human shields and shrieks that it's actually an attack on her offspring. For example, when she spoke at Glenn Beck's come-to-Jesus rally back in August, she invoked her son Track, back home after a tour in the Army: "I’ve been asked to speak as the mother of a soldier, and I am proud of that distinction. You know, say what you want to say about me, but I raised a combat vet, and you can’t take that away from me." Of course, no one said anything against her son. And when author Joe McGinniss rented the house next door to Palin's earlier this year, she (or rather, her Facebook ghostwriter) screamed that he was there to lust over her daughter Piper. (She was lucky he didn't sue her for defamation.)

2. Using her children as props. When she unveiled the "death panels" canard last year to scare people into opposing health-care reform, she used her youngest son Trig as a prop: "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care." The claim was so egregiously false that the St. Petersburg Times' PolitiFact blog named it "Lie of the Year." She again used Trig earlier this year in demanding then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's hide for calling liberal Democrats "f---ing retarded," calling it an attack on her son. She does stuff like this all the time. Even as mayor of Wasilla, she used to drag her kids door to door while campaigning, and her current reality show is just as much about showing off her kids as it is about her own ambition.

3. Pimping her children out for publicity. Let's face it, does anyone really think her daughter Bristol made it to the last round of that dancing show solely on talent? It's an open secret that the voting process was abused by Palin fans to keep her in the running. Whether it's faking an engagement between Bristol and the father of her out-of-wedlock child solely to mollify the religious right during the campaign, making the same daughter the voice of teen abstinence (opposite one of the Jersey Shore idiots, no less!) or making Piper a literal right-to-life poster girl, Palin has a long history of pushing her kids into the spotlight whether they like it or not.

It's all a shtick for her. She uses her kids to promote herself and her red-blooded God-fearing know-nothing Americanism, then uses them again to shield herself from disapproval. And if anyone mentions them outside the exploitative bubble in which she keeps them, she goes into her "mama grizzly" act. She's the Kate Gosselin of politics.

I don't pretend to know how Sarah Palin treats her kids in private, but if it's anything like how she treats them in public, I feel sorry for them. To have a mother who sees them only as objects to be exploited rather than as children to be loved must be an awful thing.


The Soup That Eats Like Jihad

All summer, demagogues have been stoking the fires of religious bigotry against Muslims. Sometimes it's rank politicking, like when Republicans couldn't wait to get in on Pamela Geller's jihad against the Muslim community center in downtown Manhattan. Sometimes it's downright scary, as in the arson attack against an under-construction Islamic center in Tennessee.

And sometimes it's just plain dumb.

Campbell's Soup has been around forever, inspiring everything from classic TV commercials to Andy Warhol's iconic artwork. But did you know that when you open up a can of tomato soup, you're actually supporting jihad? That's the latest conspiracy theory from professional Muslim-haters.

You see, the Canadian branch of the Campbell Soup Company recently decided to expand their customer base by certifying some of their products as halal, or compliant with Muslim dietary laws. The halal laws are generally very similar to the kashrut dietary laws for Jews: no pork or blood, animals must be slaughtered in a specific way, etc. In fact, the Koran says quite clearly, "The food of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them."

But since Muslims are involved, the usual suspects are screaming that Campbell's creation of a new market for their products is actually a surrender to the Global Islamofascist Boogeyman Conspiracy™:
  • Justin Phillips of Tea Party Nation: "Campbell's now making Muslim approved soups. Mmmmm Mmmmm not good. No more campbells for me."
  • Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch: "ISNA has admitted ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. So why is Campbell's Soup rushing to do its bidding? 'M-M-Muslim Brotherhood Good?'"
  • Pamela Geller: "Boycott Campbells, I say. Good in the Muslim Brotherhood. Warhol is spinning in his grave."
And so on. You get the picture. The official reason for the outrage is that the certification is being done by the Islamic Society of North America, a group which has been accused of being connected with terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere. Never mind the fact that no actual evidence has ever been presented beyond nebulous claims of unspecified "ties."

Of course, the real reason for the outrage is Campbell's acknowledgment that Muslims with purchasing power exist. In the alternate universe inhabited by those who are freaking out over this quite ordinary business decision, all Muslims are terrorists who must be force-fed pulled pork sandwiches to exorcise the Islamic demons.

Now, if all this sounds oddly familiar, that's because it is. Decades ago, food companies decided to get new customers by selling their products to observant Jews. So they hired rabbis to come in, look at their operations, and certify that the products were kosher. Jew-haters went berserk, shouting that the Jews were imposing a secret "kosher tax" on food to fleece honest Christians. (While it is true that companies pay a fee to have their products certified as kosher, the fee is far more than offset by increased sales.) The rumor eventually died down and was mostly forgotten, although some anti-Semitic groups still claim the so-called "tax" exists.

The hullabaloo over Campbell's is exactly the same thing as the "kosher tax" canard. Just replace "Muslim" with "Jew" and "halal" with "kosher."

Someday, people will go shopping, see a little "H" or "ISNA" logo on the packaging, and think nothing of it, just like people today think nothing of kosher foods marked with a "K" or a U in a circle. And they will look back on this freakout and wonder how anyone could be so paranoid and gullible.


Not Their Brother's Keeper

Gene Cranick lives, or rather lived, in a house in Obion County, Tennessee. Last week, his house caught fire and he called 911. The fire department arrived, sirens blaring - and did nothing. They watched as his house burned to the ground.

You see, Obion County requires all residents to pay an annual $75 surcharge above and beyond their existing local taxes for fire protection. And Cranick hadn't paid. When the fire engines arrived, the firefighters told him he was out of luck because he hadn't paid up. Cranick, who freely admits he forgot to pay the bill, offered to pay on the spot, but the firefighters refused. Instead, they simply stood around as Cranick frantically tried to get someone - anyone - to listen. His house went up in flames, killing his pets (three dogs and a cat) and literally reducing his life to ashes.

It was only when the fire started spreading to his neighbor's property that the fire department went to work. The neighbor had paid the bill, you see. So the firefighters saved the neighbor's house while ignoring Cranick's.

When the story hit the wires earlier this week, the general reaction was stunned incredulity. Commentators generally couldn't believe that professional firefighters, who devote their lives to protecting people's lives and property, would just stand around and watch a house burn because the homeowner hadn't paid a bill. Even Daniel Foster of the conservative National Review was horrified:
I have no problem with this kind of opt-in government in principle - especially in rural areas where individual need for government services and available infrastructure vary so widely. But forget the politics: what moral theory allows these firefighters (admittedly acting under orders) to watch this house burn to the ground when 1) they have already responded to the scene; 2) they have the means to stop it ready at hand; 3) they have a reasonable expectation to be compensated for their trouble?
Proving that some people will never let anything as bleeding-heart as doing what's right get in the way of ideological purity, Cranick was promptly attacked by the usual "I've got mine so screw you" crowd as a freeloader. And Glenn Beck (big surprise) put his vaunted compassion on display front and center:
And it goes nowhere if you go on to well, compassion, compassion, compassion, compassion or, well, they should have put it out. What is the fire department for? No. What is the $75 for? To keep the firemen available, to keep the fire trucks running, to pay for the fire department to have people employed to put the fire out. If you don't pay your $75, then that hurts the fire department. They can't use those resources and you would be sponging off of your neighbor's $75 if you they put out your neighbor's house and you didn't pay for it - I mean if your neighbor didn't pay for it, you did, and they put out their house, your neighbor is sponging off of your $75 and as soon as they put out the fire of somebody who didn't pay the 75 bucks, no one will pay $75.
Even putting aside the obvious failure here of government services by subscription, the callous selfishness is just staggering. What kind of people would not only stand around and watch as a man's house burns to the ground, but actually applaud the firefighters who allow it to happen? Would they also congratulate cops who let a woman who hadn't paid a police surcharge be raped and murdered? Or maybe they'd cheer on doctors who let someone bleed to death in the ER because he doesn't have health insurance.

In Genesis 4:9, Cain asks God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" The answer to that, as given by those who said that Cranick was rightfully SOL, is not just "no," but "hell no."

This, in a nutshell, illustrates so much of what is wrong in America today. In so many instances, we have forgotten what it means to be a society and to take care of each other. We need to rediscover that.


A Modest Mosque Proposal

At a White House iftar dinner (a tradition dating back to the days of Thomas Jefferson) President Obama finally pointed out the blindingly obvious - that our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to everyone, and that means New York's Muslim community has every right to build the Cordoba House community center and mosque in lower Manhattan.

As expected, the right wing exploded in often incoherent rage:
  • Rep. Peter King, the Long Island Republican who has made quite the media career out of opposing the center, said that since 9/11 "was carried out in the name of Islam" anything Muslim anywhere near the World Trade Center site would simply be "salt in the wounds." (It should be mentioned that King's boundless sympathy for the 9/11 victims did not prevent him from blocking a bill providing medical aid for first responders who fell ill from working at the Trade Center site.)
  • CNN's Eric Erickson tweeted that supporting Cordoba House on freedom-of-religion grounds is exactly the same as supporting human sacrifice, satanism and polygamy.
  • The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer said that no more mosques should be built anywhere in the United States because "each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government."
  • Pamela Geller, the Muslim-hating blogger who more than anyone else has driven the false "Islamic supremacist mega mosque" storyline, even went so far as to claim that Obama is pro-terrorist: "If you had any doubt who Obama stood with on 9/11, there can be no doubt in our minds now."
As best as I can make out, the hysterical opposition to the center is based on this line of deduction:
  1. 9/11 was carried out by Muslims.
  2. All Muslims are the same.
  3. The families of 9/11 victims, attack survivors and area residents should not be subject to the hurt and humiliation of having a reminder located so close. Plus, as Geller says, a mosque in lower Manhattan "is not a religious issue. This is a national security issue."
  4. Therefore, nothing Muslim should be allowed anywhere near the Trade Center site.
Let's take a similar line of reasoning and apply it to a modest proposal, that Christian facilities should be located far away from schools, playgrounds and other places where children assemble:
  1. For decades, the Vatican allowed priests to molest children.
  2. All Christians are the same.
  3. Abuse survivors' families and parishioners whose priests were hauled to jail for abusing children should not be subject to the hurt and humiliation of having a reminder located so close. Plus, protecting kids is not a religious issue. This is a child-security issue.
  4. Therefore, nothing Christian should be allowed anywhere near schools or playgrounds.
Of course, this not only violates Christians' religious freedom, but also lumps all Christians in with the pedophile enablers in Rome. As it happens, King, Fischer, Geller et al are doing the exact same thing by pretending that our constitutional freedom of religion does not apply to Muslims and that all Muslims are the same as those who carried out 9/11. Stereotyping and bigotry is stereotyping and bigotry, whether it's applied to Christians, Muslims, Jews or anyone else.

The president should not have to underline such a basic American principle as the freedom of people to worship as they wish without government approval or interference. But with the fires of anti-Muslim bigotry being stoked higher and higher by reckless demagogues, he had to remind the nation that freedom of religion is for everyone, whether or not a particular belief may be popular with the majority.

Or, as Rep. Jerrold Nadler correctly told King, "We do not put the Bill of Rights, we do not put religious freedom to a vote."

Well put.



When Judge Vaughn Walker overturned California's Proposition 8 last week, he pointed out that the ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage is not just an unconstitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's due-process and equal-protection clauses but is wholly unsupported by the facts. When he asked Prop 8's defenders during the trial to prove their claim that procreation is the sole purpose of marriage, they actually refused, saying, "You don't have to have evidence of this point." So in his ruling, he pointed out the obvious: that there is simply no legitimate (much less overriding) reason to deny gay couples the same rights granted to straight couples.

So Prop 8 is now a thing of the past (pending appeals) and it seems like much of America greeted the decision with a yawn. After all, gay marriage was already legal in five states and the District of Columbia, and the world is still here. In the six years since Massachusetts became the first state to legalize such marriages, the sky has not fallen and the state has not been overrun by locusts.

But the nation's self-appointed "defenders of marriage" issued a collective primal scream and insisted we're on the fast track to Sodom and Gomorrah, especially since Walker is rumored to be gay:
  • "There is only one issue before each of us Californians: Is Marriage of Divine or of Human Origin? Judge Walker pays no attention to this fundamental issue, and relies solely upon how Prop 8 made certain members of society 'feel' about themselves. Those of us who supported Prop 8 and worked for its passage did so for one reason: We truly believe that Marriage was instituted by God for the specific purpose of carrying out God's plan for the world and human society. Period." (Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles)
  • "It is unnatural...an older white guy handed down the decision and he happened to be gay. That might have had something to do with it." (Patrick Buchanan)
  • "Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling yesterday, in which he trampled on the will of seven million Californians, is a monstrous, egregious, reprehensible expression of judicial activism and tyranny." (American Family Association)
  • "Let's not be shocked that Judge Walker cannot comprehend the self-evident rational basis for prohibiting homosexual marriage, after all, he is a practicing homosexual. The Bible plainly tells us that once a person has seared his conscience to such an extent that he can exchange his natural sexual relationship with the opposite sex for homosexuality, his ability to reason becomes utterly compromised." (Christian Anti-Defamation Commission)
And so on. One of the people putting in his two cents is Newt Gingrich, past House Speaker, present Fox News mainstay and future possible presidential candidate:
"Judge Walker's ruling overturning Prop 8 is an outrageous disrespect for our Constitution and for the majority of people of the United States who believe marriage is the union of husband and wife. In every state of the union from California to Maine to Georgia, where the people have had a chance to vote they've affirmed that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Congress now has the responsibility to act immediately to reaffirm marriage as a union of one man and one woman as our national policy."
Now, it seems that Gingrich doesn't sanitize his website to make sure only supportive comments get through - unlike Sarah Palin, whose Facebook ghostwriter routinely strips her page of anything even remotely critical. You see, quite a few people noticed how it's just a tad self-righteous for a serial philanderer on his third wife to lecture anyone on what marriage should or should not be, and made clear their feelings in the comments. Some of the best include:
  • "Newt you cheated on your first wife then dumped her when she was in the hospital with cancer. Later you cheated on your second wife with a 27 year old congressional aide. Maybe you should pipe down about defending marriage."
  • "Marriage is between a man and a woman. Err... A man and 2 women. Err... a man and 3 women. Damn, why do women have to keep getting old."
  • "One man and one woman, huh? So Newt, is your 'one woman' Jackie, Marianne, or Callista?"
  • "No, I want to hear more from the twice-divorced man about how marriage has to be reserved for one man and one woman. I wonder if the two former Mrs. Gingriches would testify as to Newt's reverence for marriage."
  • "Which one of your multiple marriages was the most sacred to you?"
Doesn't Gingrich have staffers whose job it is to prevent him from stepping into such situations? They're obviously not very good at it. Or perhaps he listened to them and then posted the statement anyway. Either way, he looks like not just a fool, but a hypocritical fool as well.

You'd think Gingrich and other mountebanks would learn to keep their mouths shut on such things. But until they do, they will always provide good entertainment.


All Means All

The Anti-Defamation League's website says it "fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all." They just issued a press release concerning the proposed Cordoba House community center in downtown Manhattan. They're against it.

The group's rather torturous justification goes like this: yes, we know Muslims have the same religious freedom as everyone else. Yes, we know the people who are building Cordoba House are not even close to the people who destroyed the World Trade Center. And yes, we know that opposition to the center is mostly being driven by paranoia and bigotry. Nevertheless, we're against it because it would hurt people's feelings. Freedom will just have to take a back seat this time.

Did the ADL forget the part of its mission statement about "civil rights for all?" Or did they compromise their principles in an attempt to win the support of people who react not out of logic and reasoning, but out of blind fear and hatred?

It's the latter. The ADL has a long history of standing up for what's right, but they've given themselves a very large black eye with this one. Advising a religious minority to compromise on their freedom so as not to ruffle the feathers of the majority, telling them not to rock the boat - hmm, where have we heard that one before? Oh yes, it's how Jews have been told to get along with our Christian neighbors for centuries. And we know how well that turned out, don't we?

When a religious minority is told not to worry, they have to give along to get along, that endangers religious freedom for everyone. And the ADL, of all people, should know that very well.

While their intentions in sparing 9/11 victims' families feelings may be good, they're going about it entirely the wrong way. People's feelings get hurt all the time, but that's no reason to throw away freedom. By that logic, person A can advocate that person B not be allowed to speak because A's feelings would be hurt by what B has to say.

"Civil rights for all" means just what it says. All means all. The ADL should reconsider.


Of Mosques and Men

Cordoba House is a community center planned for an empty building in lower Manhattan, two blocks from the World Trade Center site. The center will include a swimming pool, day-care center, library, auditorium and mosque. It's basically a Muslim version of the YMCA, and the local community board approved it by a 29-1 vote. No big deal.

A very big deal. The mosque part has naturally gotten bigots, political opportunists and people who are just plain frightened by anyone who is "other" up in arms:
  • Pamela Geller, the head of a group called Stop Islamization of America, calls the project the "911 Mega Mosque" and demands that it be halted. (She also wrongly claims that the center will be opened on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.)
  • Sarah Palin called on "peaceful Muslims" to "refudiate" the center. (Upon being informed that "refudiate" is not a word, she compared herself to Shakespeare.)
  • Carl Paladino, a GOP candidate for governor of New York, is running on a platform of using eminent domain to seize the former Burlington Coat Factory building and turn it into a "war memorial."
  • A group calling itself the National Republican Trust PAC created a blatantly fear-mongering TV ad, using images of armed terrorists and the WTC rubble to oppose the center.
  • Geller (among others) whipped up public hatred in a rally near the center site, during which police had to come to the rescue of several Coptic Christians from Egypt who were targeted for speaking Arabic.
All these people basically say the same thing - that anything Muslim near the Trade Center site is an intolerable insult to the victims of 9/11 and that the center organizers are terrorist supporters, a claim for which there is no evidence at all. The Cordoba House organizers have thus been jammed into the impossible position of proving that they are not terrorists.

What a mess. And it's steeped in the belief that all Muslims are the same. Since the 9/11 terrorists were Muslims, the reasoning goes, all Muslims must be in league with al Qaeda, and every mosque is by definition a jihadist training center. The aforementioned ad is particularly blatant in tarring everyone with the same brush: "And to celebrate that murder of more than three thousand Americans," it says, "they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at Ground Zero."

Putting the factual errors aside, the catch-all word "they" excuses bigotry and stereotyping. "They" think. "They" say. "They" do.

By the same logic, all Christians are crusading Left Behind-type fanatics who cheer at the thought of all non-Christians (and even the "wrong" kind of Christians) burning in hell forever. Is that true? Of course not. But stereotypes are insidious, dangerous things.

Do some Muslims, even some American Muslims, genuinely believe that followers of other faiths should be injured or killed? Unfortunately yes, and they're the ones who get all the press. But you find publicity-hungry fanatics in every religion, and I have yet to hear anyone screaming about building a JCC somewhere.

When asked why the center should not be built, opponents always fall back on the same excuse: because it's Muslim.

Muslims were killed on 9/11 too, you know. Dozens of Muslims worked at the Trade Center or were passengers on the doomed flights. But they apparently don't count because nineteen people who claimed the same faith did something truly horrible. And Muslims living in New York (or anywhere else) are now required to live as second-class citizens for the same reason.

What would happen if Jews wanted to build a Chabad House two blocks from the Trade Center site? Or if Buddhists wanted to build a meditation center? Or, for that matter, if a Christian group wanted to build a community center near a bombed abortion clinic? Would we see the same sort of fear and loathing we see now?

Of course not. Because those religions are "peaceful." Have we really been so indoctrinated by post-9/11 fear and loathing that we automatically believe all Muslims to be hate-crazed killers? Are we really so ruled by our own fears that we can be stampeded into shrieking denunciation of a community center solely because of which religion is associated with it?

Those who scream about a fictional "mega mosque" or mosques in general are very clear about what they are saying: that the freedom of religion for which America is justly admired does not apply to everyone. In their world, Muslims are forbidden from following their faith if anyone else objects. Doesn't matter how ludicrous the objection might be, it's still forbidden. Just imagine the uproar that would occur if people objected to a church camp being built near, say, the site of the Salem Witch Trials.

That's the thing about freedom of religion - it's either granted to everyone or it's not freedom at all. If some people are deemed unworthy of that freedom, we become a nation divided into denominations, in which only the "favored" ones can operate freely and all others must stick to the shadows for fear of official sanctions.

(Tennessee Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, in the GOP gubernatorial primary, has already come out in favor of denying freedom of religion to Muslims. "Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it," he said at a recent campaign event. "Now certainly we do protect our religions, but at the same time this is something we are going to have to face.")

So let Cordoba House be built. And let mosques be built wherever a Muslim community needs a place to pray. For every time a Muslim somewhere in the world sees that Muslims in America enjoy the exact same freedoms and opportunities as any other American, al Qaeda loses another follower.

Everyone wins. Except for the bigots, and they deserve to lose.


Going to the Dogs

Every time you think the right wing can't find anything more petty or ridiculous with which to attack President Obama, they outdo themselves. To wit, take Michelle Malkin's latest sneer on how the Obama family dog Bo supposedly got his own private jet to Maine for the family vacation:

Not enough room on Air Force One for a Portuguese water dog and Reggie Love? Obama had to have a smaller jet (G3 Gulfstream, according to the story) serve as Air Force One instead of the 747 the president usually uses because of the size of the airport, but still, it's a dog - and we're all supposed to sacrifice in order to get through these tough economic times, right Mr. President? ... Um, Mr. President?

There was some concern because the jet carrying the First Couple's egos was a bit late in arriving due to rough weather over Shangri-La.

To no one's surprise, Fox promptly jumped all over it under the headline "Obama Family Dog Flies on His Own Private Plane," garnering the expected classy comments:
  • "As a tax payer I don't mind paying for the dog, At lease it's qualified"
  • "I'm not surprised in the least. Since taking office this president has never avoided an opportunity to stoop as low as possible to show the American public his disdain for us."
  • "be fair people, obamas other dog pelosi has a plane of her own, so why not bo"

And so on. But - all together now! - the story is fake.

You see, when Malkin wrote her blog post and Fox pushed it on their website, no one bothered to check the facts. If they had called the Waterville Morning Sentinel, the paper quoted to push this latest phony "scandal," they would have quickly discovered it to be a fake story:

Today's story about the arrival of the Obamas said the Obama's dog and one aide arrived on a small jet before the First Family, but there were other occupants on the plane, including several other staffers. The presidential party took two small jets to the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton because the airport was too small to accommodate the president's usual jet.
The airport was too small to use the Boeing 747 on which the president usually flies, so they used two smaller planes. The Obamas and some of their staffers went in one plane, Bo and the remaining staffers in the other.

That's it. That's all there is.

But as we all know, pesky facts never get in the way of a good smear, and this latest bit of nonsense is basically a rerun of the Fala attack on FDR back in 1944. Of course, that was phony too.

Next fake scandal: Obama's visit to a Black Power ice cream shop!


Not Even Trying Anymore

Fox News likes to claim that it's "fair and balanced," but anyone who spends any time watching it knows that it's about as fair and balanced as a Stalinist show trial. Still, every once in a while, they do something that makes you wonder if they're not even pretending to be fair anymore.

This time, it was a report which aired on Tuesday's edition of America Live, making the startling claim of "a massive stretch of Arizona now off limits to Americans. Critics say the administration is, in effect, giving a major strip of the Southwest back to Mexico."

When the item was posted at Fox Nation with the headline, "Obama Gives Back Major Strip of AZ to Mexico," the usual suspects let fly:
  • "I cannot believe how absolutekly pisssed I am. We have this half arsed POTUS in training who will NOT guard and protect the borders of our Republic, as in the oath he took. How effin dare he ? He should be thown out of office and sent out on a rail. He GIVES UP on protecting our nation? What an effin waste of our trust and money. Impeach this S ofa B"
  • "Typical, Obama 'The Commander Chicken in Chief' surrenders to Mexico! We must put the Army on the southern border and support the troops with a few AC 130's all aiming south and what ever else it takes to 'Take Back that part of America!'"
  • "Enough is enough! American Patriots, this a call to action! Screw everyone else saying violence is not the answer. If the government will not protect this country then it is time for us to rise up and protect our country! I will not stand here and watch foreigners take over this country! No more power to the government it is time for the power of the people! Grab your weapons and defend our border! Lets set an example that no government will forget! Awake the sleeping giant once again!"
And so on. But - surprise, surprise! - the story is fake.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that a 3500-acre strip of land on the southern edge of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, directly adjacent to the Mexican border, was no longer safe for visitors. (It is not, as Fox claimed, "north of Tucson, eighty miles away from the border.") And so they posted a closure notice:
The situation in this zone has reached a point where continued public use of the area is not prudent. The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge has been adversely affected by border-related activities. The international border with Mexico has also become increasingly violent. Assaults on law enforcement officers and violence against migrants have escalated. Violence on the Refuge associated with smugglers and border bandits has been well documented. Many of these activities are concentrated at, or near, the border. The concentration of illegal activity, surveillance and law enforcement interdictions make these zones dangerous.
Oh yes, and this was more than three years ago.

If you look at the PDF file's properties, you'll see the file was created (and last changed) on October 23, 2006. Which means the area was closed to visitors more than two years before Obama was elected. The Fish and Wildlife Service issued a statement confirming that the closure was issued at that time. Not only that, Fox's scary film clips of Mexicans climbing over the border fence are also from late 2006.

So why is Fox trumpeting it now? Three guesses, and the first two don't count. They did it because there's a Democrat in the White House, and any attack, no matter how phony, is acceptable.

Now I don't know about you, but I was shocked - shocked! - to learn the story is a lie.

So, to sum up, no one (especially not President Obama) is giving any territory to anyone. The strip of land has not been handed over to Mexico. The area was closed years before Obama became president. And Fox News is once again pushing a completely false story for purely political reasons.

One wonders if Fox's viewers will ever figure out just how badly they're being played for suckers.


Something in the Water

There must be something in the water down in South Carolina for so many politicians to have gone off the deep end. First there was Governor Mark Sanford hiking the Appalachian trail, then there was Rep. Joe Wilson shouting, "You lie!" at President Obama during an address to Congress, then there was Lieutenant Governor André Bauer comparing poor kids getting school lunches to stray animals, then there was State Senator Jake Knotts calling not just Obama but also GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley a "raghead."

And now we have Alvin Greene, the official Democratic nominee to take on Senator Jim DeMint in the November election. He has no website, no campaign manager, no yard signs, no nothing - and somehow managed to get 59% of the vote in last week's primary. When he went on TV in the aftermath of his surprise win, Greene appeared to be drunk, on drugs, or otherwise out to lunch. It was so ridiculous that CNN's Don Lemon actually told Greene, "Honestly, you don't sound okay" and asked if he was "mentally sound."

Oh yes, and he's under investigation for allegedly showing porn to a student at the University of South Carolina. (As Jon Stewart pointed out, "Most senators don't sexually harass college girls until they get elected.")

This has become a complete circus, and the Democrats are crying foul. Greene, they insist, is not a real candidate but a Republican plant, designed to give DeMint a DOA opponent this fall. Possible, given the bare-knuckle nature of South Carolina politics, but that doesn't quite make sense.

After all, even if Greene is a barely-there front man, you'd think he would have done something to ensure his nomination. By all accounts, Greene did nothing - no campaigning, no voter outreach, no press interviews. All he did was put up the $10,000 filing fee - and even that's suspicious, considering that he's unemployed and lives in his father's basement. And even if he was a plant, nobody made Democratic voters pick him over "establishment" candidate Vic Rawl, who had everything Greene did not, starting with a website. Greene's only advantage appears to be that his name was listed first on the ballot.

So is this an example of Republican sabotage, a testament to the ignorance of South Carolina's electorate, or both? Rawl is fighting the primary result, ensuring that this story isn't going anywhere.

See How Well It Works?

There is an old joke in which someone buys a very expensive object which he is told will keep away dragons. When someone else points out that there are no dragons, he smugly replies, "See how well it works?"

Rex Duncan is an Oklahoma state legislator, and takes his job very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he is determined to protect his state against even imaginary enemies. Make that especially imaginary enemies.

You see, back in February he introduced a constitutional amendment which would prohibit state and local courts from considering Islamic religious law (also called Sharia law) when making decisions: "The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia Law." The amendment was passed overwhelmingly last month and will be on the ballot this fall for voter approval.

Good heavens, sounds like it's really needed out there - except that American judges don't use Sharia law in their deliberations. They never have. And they never will. In our secular legal system, judges don't use any religious law to decide cases.

But that hasn't stopped Duncan. Going on MSNBC a few days ago to defend the ballot measure, he found himself unable to point to even a single instance where a judge has used Sharia law to decide a case. "It has not [happened]," he admitted before recovering and larding on the fear: "It's a growing threat, frankly, and this again is a preemptive strike. They understand that this is a war for the survival of America. It's a cultural war, it's a social war. It's a war for the survival of our country."

Less than one percent of Oklahoma residents are Muslim. And even if the hardest of the hardcore think applying Muslim religious law wholesale is a great idea, that leaves a whole lot of Muslims, not to mention a whole lot of non-Muslims, who realize it's a terrible idea. But that doesn't matter to Duncan and his fellow fearmongers, who see a golden opportunity to whip up political support while demonizing a religious minority.

(And is it just me, or do all these people who use fear and loathing against Muslims fall silent when extremists demand that legislatures pass and judges enforce laws according to Christian religious doctrine? Just sayin'.)

So Duncan, following in the footsteps of so many other political snake-oil salesmen, is selling the people of Oklahoma an object guaranteed to keep away Sharia law. After all, see how well it works?


Worst. Press Conference. Ever.

If cringing comedy is your thing, check out the latest offering from birther preacher James David Manning, who has a reputation even in birther-land for being, well, weird. Last week, he held a show trial at his Harlem church in which he accused "long-legged mack daddy" President Obama of having been born in Kenya. Not only that, he claimed Obama never actually attended Columbia University in the early 1980s, instead going to Afghanistan to fight for the mujaheddin against the occupying Soviets on behalf of the CIA. Wow, not even Orly Taitz at her loopiest ever said that.

To absolutely no one's surprise, Manning's little play court found Obama guilty of all charges. Of course, since it wasn't a real court, the legal value of this "verdict" is precisely zero. But since he was upset that no one apart from birthers and people who find comedy gold in birther antics paid any attention to him, he held a press conference at his church Friday afternoon at which he attacked the "bullying" media and Obama in equal measures.

All I can say is that Manning has a lot to learn about staging press conferences. The video shows about a dozen people, widely spaced out in the otherwise empty church, sitting quietly and listening. One woman asks him to clarify some of his accusations, particularly, "Why would Obama, with his Marxist background, be so eager to throw in with the CIA and go to Afghanistan and fight Socialists?" Manning, clearly irritated at having been caught in a rather basic contradiction, says the trial is over and refuses to answer. Another person, evidently one of Manning's own parishioners, asks if a day of prayer and fasting can make the "verdict" sink in. And so on.

Manning even claimed his fake trial was genuine because the police let it happen. "We have a verdict that is legal," he said. "Were it not so, we would have been arrested. You don't put the alleged sitting president of the United States on trial right in front of the police department if you don't have a right to do it."

Actually, it's more likely that the cops didn't interfere because holding a pretend trial is not a crime. Silly, yes, but not criminal. Now if Manning or one of his followers try to rush Obama and arrest him, the police might have something to say about that.

And so another birther bombshell is revealed to be a dud. Manning and his followers can rage all they like, but they're still just another bunch of conspiracy theorists, and their rage doesn't make it true.



Exactly one day after winning the GOP Senate primary in Kentucky, tea-party darling Rand Paul got into a lot of trouble. Going on NPR and MSNBC, he was asked about his previous writings that government has no power to ban discrimination by private businesses. He stuck by what he said and all hell broke loose.

You see, in Paul's world, private property rights trump everything. Restaurants can tell black patrons to take a hike. Housing associations can tell Jewish buyers to go back to the shtetl. Companies can tell people who can't get up the stairs to the office that they're on their own, or just refuse to hire them at all. This, of course, flies in the face of the American ideal that everyone must be treated fairly, and has not gone over well with people who have faced discrimination or whose families faced it.

Oh yes, and he said today that President Obama is "un-American" for criticizing BP's turning the Gulf of Mexico into a big oil slick. "Accidents happen," he said dismissively, in one fell swoop losing the support of people whose homes and livelihoods are in danger because they are now covered with oil.

In between bouts of whining over having been called out on his positions, Paul says that the magic of the market will drive discriminatory companies out of business because people won't go there. But guess what? It doesn't work that way.

He seems to have forgotten about two hundred years of American history, when businesses routinely discriminated against anyone who was "other" and prospered while doing it. Blacks, Jews, Irish, Catholics, Hispanics, Asians - the list of excluded people goes on and on. (As a straight white male Presbyterian, Paul has likely never been the victim of any kind of discrimination.) And these biases in private business finally stopped only when government stepped in and said, "you can't do that."

Paul says that freedom includes the freedom to discriminate. This is, of course, well known in his libertarian and tea-party circles, but this week's ruckus is the first time the wider public has heard of it. And from the public reaction, they don't think much of it. Even the larger GOP is backing away from him, knowing that there's simply no way to win this fight.

Paul needs to realize that while in a perfect world no one would discriminate against anyone, we do not live in a perfect world, and people do discriminate. Government has a widely recognized and very legitimate function in putting a stop to bigotry both public and private.

And the longer Rand Paul takes to realize that, the quicker he will be an ex-candidate.


There's Gold in Them Thar Shills

Glenn Beck's long list of offensive and just plain bizarre antics, from calling President Obama a racist to fantasizing about poisoning Nancy Pelosi, have cost him many of his advertisers. One of his few remaining sponsors, Goldline, sells gold coins to the public as an investment - and indeed, Beck appears in Goldline's ads as a paid endorser.

Now, Beck has a long history of scaring his fans with hysterical warnings of imminent hyperinflation and economic collapse. (Stephen Colbert once memorably ridiculed Beck's overheated rhetoric by welcoming viewers to his "Doom Bunker.") And in every warning, Beck always claims that gold is the perfect investment, the ultimate hedge against the wave of socialist cannibal zombies that will doubtless overwhelm us all. Cut to a commercial for Goldline, which has ridden this wave of paranoia to estimated annual sales of more than half a billion dollars.

But the problem, as Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) charged this week, is that Goldline routinely sells their products at such a high markup that gold prices would have to double in order for buyers just to break even. In other words, they rip off their own customers. He also had harsh words for how Goldline works with Beck and other right-wing talkers to create a market for their product by scaring listeners and viewers.

Beck, ever the martyr, placed himself on - well, a cross of gold, portraying himself as the lone voice crying out in the wilderness against the inflation which will (any day now, it'll happen, Krusty is coming, Krusty is coming) destroy us all. He also hit back in his usual adult manner by launching a website called Weiner Facts, which appears to consist mostly of Photoshopped images combining photos of Weiner with photos of hot dogs. Even for someone of Beck's arguably doubtful mental stability, it's pretty inexplicable.

An article by the liberal Mother Jones found that Beck and Goldline form the perfect symbiosis, feeding off each other in an endless cycle of paranoia, high-pressure sales tactics and overpriced merchandise. It's a particularly sordid cycle - Beck terrifies his viewers with outlandish warnings of what he claims is to come and says they can live only by buying gold. Goldline runs ads selling gold at outrageous markups to these same viewers, then turns around and gives Beck a large sack of money for being a "paid endorser." Repeat.

There are, of course, legitimate gold dealers who make a living without using their customers' fears as an excuse to rip them off. But Goldline, aided and abetted by Glenn Beck, does not appear to be one of them.


The Ultimate Birther Theory

Orly Taitz, Joseph Farah and other birthers like to claim that Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen and so cannot be president. First they said his Hawaii birth certificate is a fake and he was actually born in Kenya. Then they said okay, we'll admit he was born in Hawaii, but he's still not a natural-born citizen because his father was Kenyan. After that, it kind of devolved to the point where they're desperately trying to avoid acknowledging that they hate Obama simply because he's a black man with a foreign name.

In doing so, they have fallen back on everything from channeling 18th-century political philosophers to arguing the significance of "certificate" vs. "certification" to (probably) reading tea leaves and goat entrails. Nothing has worked; courts have repeatedly ruled that Obama, having been born in Hawaii, is a natural-born citizen and thus eligible. Not that this has slowed the birthers down in the slightest - take, for example, their little pretend trial in Harlem earlier this week.

But I've got them all beat. Like the birthers, I have scoured Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution with a fine-toothed comb and have made a startling discovery. It appears that only ten presidents were eligible and thus everyone occupying the Oval Office since then has been an unconstitutional usurper. Including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Here's how it works. The relevant section of the Constitution, which the birthers quote all the time, reads:
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
Note the comma between the words "States" and "at." Under the rules of grammar, a comma is used to separate distinct phrases which can be removed from the sentence without rendering it unreadable. Given that, if you remove the "or a Citizen of the United States" section, you wind up with:
No Person except a natural born Citizen at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.
So taking the commas into account, the phrase says that only people who were natural-born or other types of citizens, and who were citizens only when the Constitution was adopted in 1787, can be president. If the Founders had really wanted to add a grandfather clause allowing people who became Americans upon independence to be president, they would have left the comma out, and the phrase would have read:
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.
If that's the case (and by birther logic it must be) every president born after 1787 was not eligible for that office and thus every law enacted since the administration of John Tyler (born in 1790) is null and void. Except for Zachary Taylor, who's OK since he was born in 1784.

So in the proud tradition of the birthers, I proclaim that a Grand Conspiracy involving every historian, scholar, journalist, politician, civics teacher, etc must exist to allow so many people to have become president when they were not eligible to do so. And if anyone disagrees with me, that only means they're in on the conspiracy too.

Now, you know and I know that this is a load of dingo's kidneys, but it's just the sort of load that the birthers would embrace with open arms. And they'll probably take this little thought experiment and run with it too.


Raising the Bar

I thought the birther pretend trial in New York was comedy gold, but it actually got eclipsed today.

Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), a holier-than-thou Bible-thumping family-values evangelical Christian conservative, resigned this morning after news reports exposed his affair with an office staffer. At first glance, it appears to be just another entry in the long, long list of mostly Republican moralists who claim a divine right to tell everyone else how to live their lives while being rather less than divine themselves, but this one has something just a little bit special.

Last fall, Souder's office released a YouTube video touting his participation in a 2008 Congressional hearing on abstinence education.

He's a big fan of this approach to sex-ed classes, blithely ignoring the many studies showing that it just doesn't work. But that's par for the course. What elevates the video from just another bit of hypocrisy to an instant classic is the fact that Tracy Jackson, the woman shown interviewing Souder, is the woman with whom Souder had an affair.

Yes, he actually made a video promoting abstinence outside of marriage with the very same woman he was shagging outside his own marriage.

You really can't make this stuff up. Souder has raised the chutzpah bar for everyone else. C'mon, all you self-righteous prudes, try harder!


Punishing the Child

As the Catholic Church finally realizes that protecting child molesters while threatening their victims into silence might not have been such a great idea, and that dismissing the resulting outrage as "petty gossip" is an even worse idea, they clearly still have a ways to go.

St. Paul Elementary School, a private Catholic K-8 school in Hingham, Massachusetts, is currently in the news because they first accepted and then rejected a boy to enter the school in the third grade. Why? It's not because he has disciplinary problems or because his academics aren't up to snuff. It's because his parents are both women, and the Church says homosexuality is a sin.

Yes, the Church is actually pushing away an eight-year-old boy because it doesn't like his moms. And I thought the whole notion of punishing children for the supposed sins of their parents went out sometime in the 19th century.

The school claims they rejected the boy because "teachers wouldn't be prepared to answer questions her son might have because the school's teachings about marriage conflict with what he sees in his family."

Well, that's the teachers' problem, isn't it? I mean, they're supposed to be able to answer kids' questions. That's sort of the whole purpose of going to school. If they can't or won't answer a student's questions, they should pick another profession.

Now, to be fair, St. Paul is a private school and as such can set whatever admission criteria it likes. But they need to be consistent. If they're going to reject children of gay parents, they'd better be ready to kick out any kids whose parents are divorced, use birth control, are unmarried, eat meat on Fridays, conceived their children via fertility treatments, or commit any other violation of Church canon. Of course, that would make their enrollment plummet from the current 250 to - oh, about six or seven.

But we all know that won't happen. The Church will save its punishments for the children of gay parents. After all, it's so much easier to go after kids with a particular kind of "wrong" parents than to reconsider the doctrine which turns those parents - and their children - into sinners in the first place.


I Hate Science More Than You

In yet more proof that mixing religion and government is generally a bad idea, we now have a tussle in Alabama between a Republican candidate for governor and a group calling itself the True Republican PAC. The issue - and I'm not making this up - is which Republican is more Christian, more godly, and more anti-science.

Yes, it started when the PAC, apparently a front funded by the state teachers' union, ran an attack ad saying Bradley Byrne "supported the teaching of evolution, said evolution best explains the origin of life, even said the Bible is only partially true."

Good heavens, the man must be some sort of secret Jew, or Muslim, or even (gasp!) an atheist. Fortunately, Byrne has defended God, Jesus and Alabama by fighting back and proceeding to out-God his critics:
As a Christian and as a public servant, I have never wavered in my belief that this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God. As a member of the Alabama Board of Education, the record clearly shows that I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school text books. Those who attack me have distorted, twisted and misrepresented my comments and are spewing utter lies to the people of this state.
Well, so there!

Byrne's closest opponent in the primary is Roy Moore, a former state supreme court judge who became a hero to the Christian right by installing a 2½-ton monument of the Ten Commandments at the courthouse in 2001. "Today a cry has gone out across our land for the acknowledgment of that God upon whom this nation and our laws were founded," he proclaimed at the official dedication. "May this day mark the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and the return to the knowledge of God in our land."

Others disagreed with his call for an explicitly religious judiciary and sued. After a two-year legal fight, federal judge Myron Thompson ordered him to remove the monument as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state. Moore defied the order and was removed from the bench by his fellow Alabama State Supreme Court judges.

Moore is running on a program of "morality" and the "right to acknowledge God," complaining that "Judge Thompson's order was simply an unlawful order which contradicted not only the Constitution of the United States but every State Constitution to include that of Alabama which acknowledges the existence of God."

So we've got quite the God-off going on down in the heart of Dixie. With both main GOP candidates competing over who can make the best obeisance to the Almighty, it seems that the state's real problems - you know, jobs, health care and other boring secular stuff - will be ignored. Yes, people might be sick and out of work, but they can take comfort in the fact that the likely Republican nominee will be looking out for their immortal souls.


If the Bag Fits

If there's one thing teabaggers are very good at, it's getting offended. They can pour out personal abuse and name-calling by the bucketful ("Obambi," "Odumbo," "Obozo," "Obowma," etc) but say one thing about them and they carry on like a five-year-old girl whose pigtails have just been pulled.

Case in point is the "teabagger" name itself. The tea-party movement came up with it early last year, right after Obama became president, and it became very popular very quickly. It was everywhere, showing up in such forms as "Tea Bag Liberal Dems Before They Tea Bag You" and "Teabagging 4 Jesus," among others. One protester in Washington even threw a box of tea bags over the White House fence, much to the consternation of the Secret Service.

All that was before someone in the movement learned how to use Google and discovered the term's other meaning. And before you could say "George Orwell," they abandoned the term "teabagger" en masse, insisted they had never used it in the first place, and whined about how only mean liberals, Democrats and Communists called them that.

It didn't work. Liberal bloggers and pundits have long taken immense glee in pointing out how the teabaggers adopted the term as their own and then ran away from it as fast as they could.

But when the tea partiers have an opportunity, however ridiculous, to whimper and cast themselves as the victims, they grab on with both hands and won't let go. For example, in the new book The Promise: President Obama, Year One, Obama is quoted as saying that the Republicans' lockstep vote against the economic stimulus bill "helped to create the tea-baggers and empowered that whole wing of the Republican Party to where it now controls the agenda for the Republicans."

Cue the screams of outrage in three...two...one...
  • Michelle Malkin: "Really. How many more selective civility police lectures can we take from this vulgarity-clogged White House?"
  • Ian Lazaran: "Obama may be the most thin-skinned President we've ever had. It'll be funny to see him apologize for his crude, offensive, and juvenile language when this book officially comes out."
  • Diane Student: "I for one appreciate the gay slur. Oh yes, Mr. President, thank you so much!"
Not to mention some of the classier comments on Fox Nation:
  • "Obama you ignorant arrogant individual !!!!! if you don't have something intelligent to say then you should keep that hole in your face shut !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
  • "I would much rather be a 'TeaBagger', than a communist, socialist, marxist, arrogant, rude dumbass like our prez is? How's that for civility??"
  • "Obama as always has NO class. For a president to use the gay slang 'teabaggers' tells you all about him."
  • "STFU you racist muslim dirtbag"
And so on. You get the picture.

The simple fact, of course, is that the tea-party movement originally called themselves "teabaggers," no matter how hard they try to forget it or bludgeon everyone else into forgetting it as well. Cloaking themselves in the political mantle of the original Boston Tea Party participants, the teabaggers loved calling themselves that and embraced the tea-bag image at every opportunity. Well, at least until they found out what it meant.

But hey, if the bag fits, wear it.


So Much for the Latino Vote

"I think we should catch 'em [illegal immigrants], we should document 'em, make sure we know where they are and where they are going. I actually support micro-chipping them. I can micro-chip my dog so I can find it. Why can't I micro-chip an illegal?"

Pat Bertroche, running for the GOP nomination for a House seat from Indiana

High Times at the GOP

Back in 2008, some people who were hired by the community group ACORN to sign up new voters figured out they could pad their earnings by submitting fake registrations for Mickey Mouse and other fictional characters. ACORN submitted the registrations to the county clerks because they had to - most states require canvassers to submit all received registration cards regardless of fraud or error. (The reason is simple: to prevent gatherers backed by one party from arbitrarily discarding registrations for other parties based on made-up allegations.) The group alerted the clerks' offices, the fakes were caught and invalidated, and the dishonest canvassers were charged with voter registration fraud.

In other words, the system worked. But it was a huge scandal at the time, with the Republican Party and its media divisions (Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc) all screaming about how the election would be tainted by a flood of fake ACORN votes. It was one of the reasons why the national group went under earlier this year.

Final tally of proven fraudulent votes based on ACORN registrations: zero.

So now we have another tale of fake voter registration, but it's somewhat different than the ACORN one. Earlier this month, the Orange County Register reported that the county Republican Party paid "bounties" of as much as $8 per head to canvassers who signed up new GOP voters. So the canvassers went around asking people to sign petitions in support of beach cleanups, cancer cures and even marijuana legalization - but didn't tell them that by doing so they were registering as Republican voters. (Does that mean you have to be high to vote Republican?) Hundreds of complaints have now arrived at California state elections offices from people claiming they were duped in this manner.

One canvasser, who submitted three registrations from people complaining they were lied to, dismissed them as morons: "I can tell you that half the people out there don't know the difference between a Republican and a Democrat." (And Tom Tancredo says we should bring back literacy tests since President Obama was supposedly elected by stupid voters. Perhaps he was looking at the wrong party.)

It's tempting to brush this off as an ACORN rerun, but it's not that simple. You see, back in 2006, the newspaper received the same sort of complaints, did some digging and found the same sort of GOP fraud that would be uncovered four years later. Back then, eleven canvassers were convicted of falsifying voter registrations, and eight of them went to jail. So they're trying the same thing again. Add in the fact that the "bounty" was paid directly by the Republican Party via the signature-gathering firm they hired and this is getting serious. The county Democrats are now demanding that the local US Attorney investigate the charges.

I don't care what your position or party is - if you have to con people to get them to register as a member of your organization, you have no business being in politics. The Orange County Republicans still have time to fix the mess, but only if they do some major housecleaning:
  • Take all the crafty canvassers, and the party officials who gave them the green light, and throw them to the wolves.
  • Contact all involved registrants and invalidate all registrations which were signed up fraudulently.
  • Stop offering "bounties" to canvassers based on how many registrations they bring in and support state legislation to bar the practice.
  • Promise never to pull such a scam again and submit to random checks to make sure they're being honest.
That should help clean things up. Because signing up marijuana proponents as Republicans makes the Harold and Kumar jokes just too easy.


Open Season

With Arizona's new anti-illegal-immigrant law SB 1070 making waves across the country and the world, state and local police now have blank-check power to stop and arrest anyone with a "reasonable suspicion" of being in the country illegally. Of course, this raises the question of just how to determine whether someone is an illegal immigrant, and it always comes back to racial profiling.

We all know the law will not be used against white people. It's aimed squarely at Hispanics, and it is Hispanics who will pay the price. It doesn't matter whether they were born in the US, have green cards or really are here illegally - if they have brown skin, they will be targeted. Leave your wallet at home and you run the risk of going to jail. It will be ugly.

(And is it just me, or do the same teabaggers who wave Gadsen flags and scream about "Obama fascism" think it's just peachy when that very same government stops people on the street at will and demands their identity papers? Gee, maybe all that stuff about freedom and tyranny is only for white people.)

But there is a potentially even uglier consequence to this new law, one which I doubt its authors intended: namely, that it is now open season on anyone who is in the country illegally. Yes, once the law goes into effect this summer, any illegal immigrant basically has no legal protections against anything. You can do anything you like to them - robbery, rape, murder, whatever - and they won't go to the police. Why? Because they know that the instant they pick up the phone to call 911, out come the handcuffs and clang goes the jail-cell door.

Basically, the law creates "nonpersons" in Arizona. Sure, there is nothing in state law which specifically excludes illegal immigrants from police protection, but that's the effect of SB 1070.

With various people now calling for an economic boycott of Arizona, the same people who shot their state in the foot now have a chance to undo the fiscal damage. Since undocumented immigrants will now essentially be fair game, why not profit off it? Set up a facility somewhere off in the desert where the most beautiful and handsome illegal immigrants will be sent and housed. Then invite in wealthy sickos to do whatever they like to these people, secure in the knowledge that no one will go to the police. Think of it as a real-life version of the 2005 horror-porn film Hostel.

Terrible idea? Sure it is. But so is the whole idea of making people criminal suspects based solely on their ethnicity. My advice to the Arizona legislature is to find another way of solving the problem, preferably one not so blatantly un-American.


Papers, Please

It's a scene out of a seemingly infinite number of movies. Someone is walking down the street and minding his own business when a policeman (secret or otherwise) appears out of the blue, demanding to see his papers. Something is not in order and the helpless hero is dragged away, never to be seen again.

Okay, so it's not quite like that in Arizona, even after Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law late last week. The new law, officially called the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act," allows Arizona police to arrest anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant - but just how does one determine that? Skin color? Accent? Clothing? I mean, people don't walk around with helpful signs saying "I'm In This Country Illegally." Maybe they will just demand to see the person's birth certificate. Is there anyone out there who makes a habit of taking their birth certificate when they leave the house?

We all know what will happen with this law. Someone who looks like an illegal immigrant (translation: Hispanic) will be stopped and required to provide proof that he is in the country legally. If said person can't immediately produce the right paperwork, he will be arrested, thrown in jail and maybe even shipped across the border to Mexico. High-dollar lawsuits will ensue and the law will eventually be thrown out as unconstitutional.

Or perhaps he will simply be killed by vigilante "border patrollers" for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Oh, and when Tom Tancredo - the immigrant-hater extraordinaire who last distinguished himself by demanding that people pass a "literacy test" before they can vote - says it's a bad bill, you've got a big PR problem.

Is illegal immigration a problem? Of course it is. Illegal laborers drive down wages for lower-rung workers and can commit identity theft by using other people's Social Security numbers to get work for themselves. Not to mention that illegal immigrants are more at risk for being crime victims.

But is criminalizing a vast swath of the population the answer, especially when it can all too easily ensnare many thousands of completely legal people at the same time? No. There has to be a better way.


Authentic Frontier Gibberish

To quote Sam Cooke, Sarah Palin don't know much about history, not to mention energy, religion, economics, government, science and geography. She really is appallingly ignorant, not to mention incoherent (on a good day, she can make George W. Bush sound like an Oxford debating champion) and her popularity among the teabaggers says a whole lot more about them than it does about her. What she does know about, though, is how to cash in.

Last week, ABC estimated that ever since she got bored with being governor of Alaska and quit halfway through her term, Palin has raked in about $12 million (that's one hundred times her former gubernatorial salary) with most of it coming from her ghostwritten tale Going Rogue, her appearances on Fox News and especially her speaking gigs at a reported $100,000 a pop.

You'd think that at those prices, she can afford her own travel, but no. A contract unearthed by some enterprising California students requires anyone hiring Palin to provide either first-class plane tickets or a private jet which "MUST BE a Lear 60 or larger," not to mention deluxe hotel suites and bendy straws on her water bottles. It doesn't quite fit the folksy, "plain hockey mom" image she and her handlers try so hard to project.

Oh yes, and she is apparently so petrified of "real Americans" that she won't take any direct questions from them: "For Q&A, the questions are to be collected from the audience in advance, pre-screened and a designated representative...shall ask questions directly of the Speaker."

So what do you get for a hundred grand? Well, Palin spoke last week at a charity banquet for which 900 tickets were sold at $200 apiece. She isn't saying how much she made for this speech, but if it was her usual fee, she pocketed more than half of what the group collected. Charity begins at home, it seems.

Anyway, here's a sample of what she had to say:
I'm wanting to, though, kind of shift away from the political. I'm just getting off the trough from doing a lot of Tea Parties across the US, man those are a blast. [applause] They're rowdy and they're wild and it's just another melting pot, there's just diversity there and all walks of life and all forms of partisanship and non partisanship just wanting good things to happen in this part of the world. It's been a blast. The shift from the political, so now that I have that shift from the political but still have that desire to talk about the economy and talk about energy and resources and national security and all those things. I was telling Todd, okay, this is like [inaudible] on the vice presidential campaign trail, where you never really knew what you were getting into when you get into that line before you were interviewed. Obviously, sometimes I never knew what I was getting into in an interview. Obviously!
If anyone can extract any meaning at all from that mess, I salute you. I half-expected Olson Johnson from Blazing Saddles to stand up and say, "Now who can argue with that? Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish, it expressed the courage little seen in this day and age."

The rest of her speech was only slightly less jumbled. I suspect that as Palin rhetorically wandered all over the place, committing various crimes against the English language, the charity organizers realized just how much of their reputations they had flushed down the drain in pursuit of their "big name" speaker and were backstage drinking hemlock.

A hundred thousand dollars for that? I am definitely in the wrong business.


GOPman Sachs

Even with all the tales of greed and fraud coming out of Wall Street over the last two years, the allegations against investment bank Goldman Sachs are pretty appalling.

The story so far: a big Goldman client named John Paulson packaged a derivative based on subprime mortgages and pitched it to Goldman as an investment opportunity for their other clients. Goldman agreed and sold it as such - but never told the buyers that Paulson deliberately designed the investment, named ABACUS 2007-ACI, to lose value. Knowing that the subprime market would tank, Paulson sold short, made a killing and left other clients holding the bag.

So where does Goldman figure in all this? Well, it seems they did one of two things:
  1. They were unaware that ABACUS was purposely meant to fail, in which case their lack of due diligence was criminally negligent, or
  2. They knew all along that it was a scam and sold it anyway, in which case they coldly ripped off some of their clients to make another one richer.
Now that the Securities and Exchange Commission has sued Goldman Sachs in civil court for fraud, the popular anger is once again brewing. When we invest our money with Wall Street, whether it's in a 401(k), a stock or bond portfolio, or something else, we expect the company we're working with not to screw us over. This is why the White House is trying to rein in the Wall Street casino, to put back the regulations which have been repealed since the early 1980s and which would hopefully prevent future economic meltdowns.

But since the White House supports putting the crooks and connivers under control, the Republican Party must, by definition, be against it. Yes, the Party of No has once again emerged as the party of Wall Street, vowing to do everything it can - filibuster, offer endless amendments, hold its breath until it turns blue, etc - to derail the financial-reform bill. They evidently still don't realize that the American people are mad at Wall Street for very nearly sending the whole economy down the toilet, and are unlikely to reward its backers in November.

So now the GOP is weighing in on behalf of poor downtrodden Goldman Sachs, saying they're being picked on by that meanie in the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue. Yes, Senator Orrin Hatch went on the tube yesterday to complain that the SEC timed its lawsuit filing to fit the White House's legislative schedule and desire to pass the Wall Street reform bill. Fox News and other right-wing media outlets predictably ran with it, accusing the White House of "meddling" and darkly wondering whether they're "exploiting the charges to build the case for their financial regulatory overhaul."

Of course, the people doing all the shrieking and conspiracy-theorizing ignore two things: as an independent agency the SEC doesn't coordinate any enforcement action with the White House, and Goldman Sachs actually donated more money to Democrats than to Republicans. If the White House really was making an example of a Wall Street powerhouse, wouldn't they have picked one which supported the other side? Just sayin'.

Will the GOP realize that they're playing a losing game? Will they continue to sell their souls for Wall Street's tainted campaign cash? Of course they will. Expect the fall campaign to be especially nasty as the Republicans try and divert voters' attention from this simple fact.


Bring a Chicken to the Doctor

Having failed to stop the nation's badly broken health-insurance system from being reformed, the Republicans now say they want to repeal the entire law (including the parts which prevent insurance companies from yanking your coverage when you get sick) and start over - meaning, of course, to do nothing at all. Part of this latest GOP push comes from Nevada, where Sue Lowden, running against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, says that patients should barter with their doctors over the price of care.

I am not making this up:

Yes, your intestines may be falling out or your skull may be cracked, but you can still paint your doctor's house to make sure you get treatment.

With Lowden quickly becoming a laughingstock, her campaign tried to insist that she actually said "bargain" rather than "barter," but the video clearly shows her saying the latter. Bargaining isn't such an attractive prospect either; can you really imagine someone with a broken leg saying he'll hobble out the door and try getting a better price from the doctor down the street?

Apparently believing that she hasn't gotten enough flak ever since her comment came to light, Lowden yesterday doubled down on it. Appearing on the talk show Nevada Newsmakers, she fondly remembered the time before people had access to health care and said it's a great idea to just bring a chicken to the doctor's office when you get sick:

So in Lowden's world, instead of asking which insurance you have, do doctors ask whether you're bringing Original Recipe or Extra Crispy? I have this image of a doctor saying, "Sure, I'll take out that appendix, but I need my car's oil changed first."

You know, I suspect that she really doesn't want this job and is trying to find a way to sabotage her own campaign. She cannot possibly be this callous or this dumb. Every time she tries to get herself out of this hole she blasted and then jumped into, she just keeps on digging deeper.

Reid, who's facing a tough re-election fight, must be on his knees right about now, thanking God, Jesus and Brigham Young for this manna from heaven. If he has any political savvy at all, he will run ads mocking Lowden's health care "plan" until she drops out in disgrace.

It's going to be a fun campaign. Tastes just like chicken.