How Far Is Too Far?


In a recent campaign ad for governor of the state of Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp loads a shotgun and points it at a young man who (in the ad) is “interested in one of my daughters”. He then proceeds to grill “Jake” on why Mr. Kemp is running for governor and what qualities are essential in a young man who will be dating one of his daughters. Naturally, those would be “respect and a healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment, sir.”

Where do I begin?

As someone who has often stated my support for the Second Amendment and the personal right to own firearms, as well as a satirist in my own right, the casual reader might expect me to fully support this ad. After all it’s just in good sport, right? A little poking fun, ribbing the liberals, maybe the casual allusion to the classic “Southern dad with a shotgun” motif? There’s at least a few things wrong with that.

The first thing is that it’s not “just in good sport”. There are a two rules in comedy that are getting violated here. The first, and one that is getting a lot of play these days, is that you punch up, not down. Who exactly is Mr. Kemp punching up at? Gun control advocates? Liberals? Jake? It’s not clear, but like many other politicians these days, he is in a position of power already, and he is using that position to take cheap shots (pun intended) at those who oppose him.

The second rule in comedy that is being violated is that the secret to good comedy is timing. As the editors of The Onion once pointed out, the closer a joke is to the tragedy it’s making fun of, the funnier it needs to be. If you’re going to riff on a tragedy the day after it happened, that better be the funniest joke I ever heard. Given the proximity to the Parkland shooting (along with any number of other teen shootings in America, which may not have gotten the same level of publicity but are just as heartfelt to the victims), I just don’t think this one makes the cut.

The second problem I have with this commercial is that it’s not about liberals versus conservatives, it’s about responsible gun use versus careless or outright unlawful gun use. The first rule of gun safety, always, is to treat every weapon as if it is live, loaded, and ready to fire. A logical extension of this rule that all responsible gun users follow is “don’t point a weapon at anything or anyone you don’t intend to shoot”. I don’t know if it’s because he’s trying to intimidate Jake into voting for him, scare him away from his daughters, or he just doesn’t like his actors, but none of those is a sufficient reason to point a gun at someone. Well okay, maybe because he’s an actor. (See? That’s comedy.)

Finally, the trope of the “Southern dad with a shotgun” is tired, played out, and insulting. Speaking as someone who has both been “threatened” by a father with a shotgun on multiple occasions as a teenager, as well as someone who has actually once been held at gunpoint for real, I can say with authority this shit needs to stop. You are sending one of two messages: either you are a homicidal lunatic who doesn’t understand how to participate in civilized society; or you prefer to use threats, bullying, and intimidation and don’t understand how to participate in civilized society. Neither is something that we should be modeling in the media as something to aspire toward, and certainly not something we should look for in our elected officials.

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I Guess the Joke’s on Me


Here’s a quick joke for you: What’s the difference between a comedian and a politician? A comedian knows how to tell a joke, but a politician doesn’t know how to take one. I know, it’s not very funny. Guess I would have fit right in at the White House Correspondents Dinner the other night with Michelle Wolf. See, she wasn’t very funny either, according to many inside sources. It seems she wasn’t given the approved list of topics in advance that she wasn’t allowed to make jokes about because it would have been “in poor taste” or “going too far”. As George Carlin and Redd Foxx roll over in their smutty graves and Richard Pryor curses a blue streak that causes thunderclouds to form, I have to wonder what in the world these people are thinking.

There are several reasons that attacking Michelle Wolf is wrong, but I’ll focus on three: defense of the comedic tradition, the fact that such attacks are thinly veiled misogyny, and finally naked self-interest for journalism itself.

The tradition of the comedy roast is a time-honored one, and vulgarity is a common component of such roasts. Is it a bit crude and arguably tasteless? Sure, but it’s still a tradition. Besides, as William Blake said, “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom…for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.” Or if you prefer Ferris Bueller, “You can never go too far.”

…Unless of course you’re the President of the United States. As many commentators have pointed out, Mr. Trump is well known for making gross, insensitive, and outright vulgar comments about women that are objectively as insensitive as anything that was said by Ms. Wolf. There are three differences worth pointing out. The first is that Ms. Wolf is being called out for her comments by a wide swath of people, some of whom have served as apologists for Mr. Trump. The second, and probably more notable difference, is that Ms. Wolf is a comedian whose job it is to make pointed and (to some) humorous observations about others; Mr. Trump is the President of the United States. Regardless of what they have to say, to at all put their language or behavior on the same level is ludicrous. Finally, by calling out Ms. Wolf without calling out Donald Trump for equivalent comments, there is the faintest stench of “ladies don’t talk that way”, the kind of “there, there” misogyny that says women aren’t capable of meeting men on their own terms.

And ultimately that is what it’s all about: meeting the haters on equal footing. The press is supposed to be a participant in and defender of the First Amendment, which sometimes means taking a stand for controversial speech. The accusations that the White House press corps has gotten too cozy with the administration are hard to ignore are defend against when the WHCA starts taking sides against the entertainer they brought in to mollify the man who has popularized the term “fake news”. I’m not suggesting that every journalist everywhere should stand up, cheer, and demand an encore. That’s a decision for every individual journalist to make. When the association as a whole starts turning on individuals for expressing opinions or even for doing the job they were hired to do, that creates what’s known in the biz as “a chilling effect”. You want to know that professional associations will have your back, not put a knife in it.

I expect politicians to make hay out of this; it’s what they do. I guess I just expected better from journalists. I guess I’m learning better.


Why Republicans Should Think Seriously About “Jobs For All”


Jobs. Seriously.

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. What politician in their right mind is going to go in front of an American audience and say “I am completely against a government program that is going to put poor people to work”?

Really? That’s your plan? Justify it any way you want, as soon as you get in a debate and try to defend that position you’re setting yourself up for a one-two combo that finishes with “and I also supported a tax cut for wealthy people and corporations.” To put a cherry on top of that I suggest you drop your pants, break wind, and molest a small child in public. That would be about the only way you could screw that pooch any harder.

You want people to work for public benefits? This. Just this.

The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and Republican politicians declaiming that poor people are living high on the public dole. “Why,” they declaim, “why can’t those lazy poor people get a job instead of living off our tax money and getting free food and services?” Irony

Do ya’ll even listen to yourselves? You want people to have a job in order to get public benefits. How about giving them a job instead of giving them all of those government benefits after they get a job (or withholding them until they do)? The outcome is better and more sustainable and actually gets the results you want for the tax dollars you’re spending directly rather than indirectly (if at all).

“But the upward pressure on wages and benefits would force private companies to increase spending on wages and benefits in order to compete for labor!” I hear you cry.

Facepalm

And I wince as I watch you try to say that with a straight face in front of an American electorate that is already convinced you are the Plutocrat Party.

Unions might actually lose some power and appeal.

Didn’t think about that one, did ya? Because Republicans have spent the last thirty years or so playing the short game, they forgot how to think long-term.

What value do unions provide to their members? The simple answer is they negotiate contracts with employers. But why? Because employees feel like they can’t get good wages and benefits if they don’t join the union (or at least if the union isn’t around to ensure the company provides a good contract whether or not they join). But if workers have a reasonable default alternative, companies will be forced to provide better wages and benefits just to keep them (see my point above). This might make union membership (and the attendant cost of paying dues) seem less attractive. Given the fact that unions have a long history of supporting Democratic candidates that should be enticing for Republicans.

A broader tax base means more fiscal stability.

You know what the great thing about people having jobs is? They get a paycheck. And you know what the great thing about a paycheck is, at least from a governmental perspective? Payroll taxes. Not just income taxes, but FICA too. Social Security, Medicare, all those social programs that Republicans love to blame for busting the budget, they actually have their own special line for coming out of paychecks. By having more people receiving a paycheck, there will be a broader tax base, which means more people paying income taxes. And since the people taking those jobs will by definition be on the lower end of the economy, they won’t be benefiting from that “big, beautiful tax cut” you passed last year, so it will help make up for the gigantic deficit caused by that self-same tax cut. It’s a win-win!

For once you have a government program that really does help pay for itself.

Hey, speaking of that giant stink-bomb you just can’t seem to stop trying to pass off as a rose, there’s another benefit to this sort of program that you can actually sell as, well, a benefit. Unlike when Republican politicians laughably tried to sell the Great Giveaway of 2017 as “paying for itself”, this is a federal program that will help to offset its own costs. Note that I’m not trying to be so disingenuous as to suggest that it will completely pay for itself, because the next government program that does that will be the first. But this kind of program could at least reduce some costs and offset others. How you might ask? First by generating tax revenue (see above). Second, the more people who have jobs, the fewer people who will need the various iterations of welfare such as SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, etc., especially if those jobs include healthcare. If those people then go on to get jobs in the private sector (because hey, if you have to work anyway, why not get a better paying job, amirite?), that’s less money being spent by the federal government, more people with a better standard of living, and everybody gets what they claimed they wanted all along.

Now obviously you could say you’re just shuffling money from one government program to another, but so what? The money is already getting spent. Wouldn’t it be better if you’re getting something in return? The only remaining question is “what kind of something should you get?”

My Not So Humble Suggestion: Bridge Employment

If Republican politicians are smart (and from what I’ve seen over the last couple of years I’m not willing to place that wager) they’re going to get out in front of this. One of the ways they can do this is with a one-two punch of their own. For starters, they can raise the minimum wage to $12.85 an hour as I’ve suggested previously. Any Democrat who votes against this because they want to “Fight for 15” will get pilloried. That will effectively kill that issue for at least another ten years, because at that point anyone who seriously keeps after it will just look like they are either moving the goal posts, unwilling to compromise, or simply unwilling to take yes for an answer.

The next thing to do is introduce a plan for guaranteed employment, but don’t pay minimum wage. Pay something between $7.50-$9.00 an hour instead. This will make “guaranteed work” less attractive than even a minimum wage job but will still put money in the pocket of anyone who can’t even get a minimum wage job. Why would anyone be willing to take it when they can get more money doing literally anything else? Because there are situations when getting a minimum wage job is actually less attractive or even not feasible than taking guaranteed employment, as long as you make those situations eligible as employment. I would suggest covering anyone who is a full-time family caretaker, enrolled at least part-time in training or higher education, or currently eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance.

Another situation would be where you can’t get enough hours working a minimum wage job to make as much as you can be working full time making less. Sure, $12.85 an hour sounds great compared to $9.00 an hour – until you find out you’re only getting 15 hours a week. Then all of a sudden that 40 hours a week at $9.00, plus health insurance, sounds awfully tempting. Add in the idea that you’ll be getting paid to get training in job skills or a certificate that will make you more appealing to an employer, and it’s a no-brainer.

I understand you can’t live on $9.00 an hour, even with health insurance, and I don’t expect anyone to do that. That’s why I call this solution “Bridge Employment”. The idea is that it won’t replace any of the programs out there – short term unemployment will still exist for folks who can get a new job relatively quickly, and social safety nets will still exist to keep people from falling through the cracks – but the idea is to help people get across those big gaps. Not able to make the transition from school to a steady, survivable job? Did the plant close down and you don’t have the skill set to make it in the new economy? Did you leave your career to take care of your kids and now money is tighter than you thought it would be? Have an elderly relative who needs more attention than you can give while working full-time? Bridge Employment combines community support, opportunity, and personal dignity.

The benefits are more than just money and keeping people afloat. If you get training, you’re ready for your next position. If instead you choose a job, you get something to put on your resume so you don’t have a blank spot you have to explain to your next employer. For those who are home caretakers that later decide to return to their careers, online courses can be offered to help them develop or maintain their skills.

Or Republican politicians can keep giving tax breaks to the rich and corporations and blaming the poor for being poor. See how much further that gets you.


It Never Happened


I would like to take this opportunity to personally applaud the sagacity and wisdom of House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Ca.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). In a joint press release yesterday they made it clear that in his recently released memos “former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened.” I for one feel completely relieved, and I am not simply writing that because I feel in any way under siege in President Trump’s America.

To be sure, unless a person very explicitly and clearly states in no uncertain terms that they are being threatened with jail time just for being a journalist, which I am clearly not doing because I am a loyal and patriotic American and would never do such a thing, we don’t have to make any attempt to read between the lines. Just look into my eyes and you’ll know I’m telling the truth. If you don’t believe me, just ask Gina Haspel. She could get the truth out of anybody.

Let’s face it, even Freud had to admit a cigar is just a cigar. And if we learned anything from Georgia O’Keeffe, it’s that what you see is what you get. And what you see here is a man who very clearly intended that, rather than detailing an out of his depth, possibly criminal and maybe even megalomaniacal president, James Comey’s intent was “rather than making a criminal case for obstruction or interference with an ongoing investigation, these memos would be Defense Exhibit A should such a charge be made.”

Obviously.


Royalty


When we were Kings and Queens
and backyards and forests were our kingdoms,
action figures were our soldiers
and stuffed animals our loyal subjects.
We were tyrants, one and all –
benevolent or cruel –
deposed by Time.


The Same Lame Blame Game


Here’s a fun little experiment you can do at home. Pick up a video game. It can be any kind of video game, all the way back to an Atari 2600 cartridge to a PlayStation 4 disc. Now, use it in the way it was intended by the manufacturer.

How many people did you manage to hurt? How many people did you kill?

Okay, now try using it in any way you can conceivably think of, even in ways never intended by the manufacturer. How many people can you manage to injure or kill before you get taken down by the police or your fellow citizens?

According to President Trump, the greatest threat to our country, and particularly our young people, comes from video games “shaping young people’s thoughts”, according to a report from the Washington Post. The report added that “[h]e also proposed that ‘we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it.’”

Well, yeah. Because goodness knows that we’ve established time and again that playing violent video games leads directly to an increase in violent behavior. Oh wait, no we haven’t. But just in case, we should violate the First Amendment rights of video game makers to be on the safe side, because that’s the best and most direct way to resolve the problem.

Apparently Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Council, suggested that violent video games “needed to be given the same kind of thought as tobacco and liquor.” Of course, because video games have been known to cause cancer and drunk driving. That’s some quality thinking there, Brent.

And that’s not the worst of the kind of conclusion-first, evidence-not-at-all thinking on display at this particular meeting. Rep. Vicki Hartzler was quoted as saying “[e]ven though I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link, as a mom and a former high school teacher, it just intuitively seems that prolonged viewing of violent nature would desensitize a young person.” I’m just curious, exactly what did you teach? Because I can’t imagine any teacher I ever had literally stating “I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link” and then trumping those factual studies with their own “intuition”. Then again, they never had the benefit of being legislators, which apparently gives you… supernatural powers?

Speaking of legislators, Sen. Marco Rubio felt the need to chime in with his usual wisdom, “acknowledg[ing] there is no evidence linking violent video games to the tragedy in Parkland. But he said he wanted to ensure ‘parents are aware of the resources available to them to monitor and control the entertainment their children are exposed to.’” Wow, that’s a brave stance. I wasn’t aware that the ESRB rating system for video games and the MPAA rating system for motion pictures were state secrets. Thanks for getting those declassified and making them available to parents everywhere, Sen. Rubio. With leadership like that you should consider running for President.

If these politicians and other “crisis actors” (yeah, I said it) really believe there’s a causal link between video games and real world violence, they need to step up and put their money where their mouth is. Start funding some quality, rigorous studies into the phenomenon, or better yet lift the ban on the CDC investigating the potential link. Address the very real concerns raised with the studies they continuously lean on (you know, the ones that don’t show a causal link?) and find something more than a spurious correlation.

The hysteria over video games recalls the hysteria over Dungeons & Dragons from the early 1980s, the outrage over explicit music that managed to stretch all the way from the mid-80s to the late 90s, banned books that seem to be a perennial controversy, or any time bad or undesirable behavior is blamed on media or culture rather than placed squarely where it belongs: on the people who perpetrate it. That’s not to say that the media doesn’t influence behavior to some extent, but to ban media in an attempt to control a handful of bad actors is very much akin to cutting off the noses of an entire community to spite one face.


Dealer Stands on 21


Before the rage trolls drop down into the comments to tell me what an awful person I am, let me get out in front of the controversy by acknowledging that (a) I am an awful person and (b) I am going to be touching on some hot button issues here. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, but I am not trying to stir up shit (this time). This is an honest exploration of the issues, and I welcome thoughtful feedback. That being said…

In the wake of the recent Parkland school shooting, several ideas have been advanced to tighten gun safety in the United States. Among these is raising the minimum purchase age for firearms to 21, a move which Dick’s Sporting Goods has already voluntarily taken. While I am not necessarily opposed to such a measure, it does lend itself to a broader question: when is a person an adult? The reason I ask is because there are a number of activities, even a few that are considered rights or responsibilities, that are age-restricted in our society, and it seems that the ones a person might find desirable are being more restricted as time goes on, while the ones that are less desirable only expand. Consider the following examples (all examples sourced from Wikipedia):

Alcohol: This one has varied, but has been somewhere between “age of majority”, 18, and 21 when there has been an established limit at all (mostly from the late 19th century on).

Tobacco: Again, the trend of setting an age restriction on these products seems to have started in the late 19th century in a few states, mostly in the 15-16 year old range, picking up speed in the mid-20th century. This generally changed to 18 in the late 20th century, with some states now moving toward 21 in the early 21st century.

Driving: This has remained a bit more consistent (most likely due to the relative innovation of automobiles and lag time in legislation), with states generally allowing learner’s permits between 15-16, restricted licenses between 16-17, and unrestricted licenses between 17-18.

Selective Service: Originally established 1917-1920, all men aged 21-30 were required to register; this was later raised to 45. From 1940-1947 all men aged 21-35 were required to register; in 1941 this was raised to 37. Starting in 1948 all men 18 or older had to register with the Selective Service; men aged 19-26 were eligible to be drafted at this time. In 1951 this age was lowered to 18 ½. In 1967 this range was changed to men aged 18 to 35. In 1975, “President Gerald R. Ford, whose own son, Steven Ford, had earlier failed to register for the draft as required, signed Proclamation 4360 (Terminating Registration Procedures Under Military Selective Service Act), eliminating the registration requirement for all 18- to 25-year-old male citizens.” Unfortunately, in 1980 Jimmy Carter brought it back for all 18-26 year old citizens. (Note: various deferments and exemptions have applied to all versions of the Selective Service.)

Voting – Prior to 1970, the legal voting age was 21. IN 1970, Richard Nixon extended the Voting Rights Act to cover age discrimination, which was challenged in Oregon v. Mitchell. The result of this case was that some states had two sets of voter rolls, one for federal elections (so that 18-20 year olds could vote) and one for state and local elections. The situation was resolved with the ratification of the 26th amendment, which made it unconstitutional to deny voting to anyone over 18 on the basis of age.

There are other examples, but these suffice. My question then is “when is someone an adult?” Is it when they turn 15 and get a learner’s permit? Perhaps at 21 when they can purchase alcohol? Or should we use the Selective Service standard, and decide that only men who are at least 18 years old are adults? (Sorry ladies, but at least you can’t be drafted.)

That last example, while deliberately provocative, also serves to further illustrate my point. The very reason the voting age is 18 instead of 21 is because of the Selective Service. The rallying cry of being “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” is certainly appealing, but there’s an innate fallacy in this thinking. By presupposing that 18 IS a valid age for conscription, the argument works. But what if I were to suggest that 15 was a valid age for conscription, so long as we likewise reduce the voting age to 15? After all, “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” Clearly the idea is ridiculous on its face, which is exactly my point. Simply declaring someone capable of handling one responsibility because they have had another responsibility thrust upon them is not sufficient grounds to justify giving it to them.

Furthermore, why is someone sufficiently able to handle a car, a ballot, a cigarette (in some states), and sacrificing his life for his country, but not buying a drink or a gun? Again, I am not simply making an argument to lower the age of all of these to 18 or even lower; I am simply looking for a consistent and reasoned argument, either in favor of pegging them all at the same age or for keeping them all at different ages. If that one age should be 21, then why 21? What is special about that number instead of 18 or 25? If instead they should be spaced out, what is significant about each right that makes it less of a liberty available to a citizen of the United States (note that the last I checked I did see voting and the right to bear arms specifically covered in the Constitution; I did not see driving or tobacco. Alcohol was kind of a wash).

For myself, I don’t have a lot of great answers, but I would be most comfortable keeping the driving age as is due to the noted economic benefits it can engender, as well as the possibility of gradually introducing teenagers to expanded responsibility. Restricting the ownership of alcohol, tobacco and firearms to people over 21 would help reduce access to teenagers and others who are still developing both physically and mentally without being overly burdensome to adults. I would abolish the Selective Service and raise the voting age to 21; failing that I would expand the Selective Service to all US citizens and keep the voting age at 18, and anyone who is currently serving in the armed forces or who has received an honorable discharge from the armed forces would have all the rights and privileges accorded to a 21 year old citizen. It’s not a great solution, but it’s a little more logical, and it at least tries to deal with some of the issues.