Take Five (Well, Shut My Mouth edition)

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Take-FiveONE: Vinny Laughs Last

With NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and his career hanging by a thread, it’s been fascinating to contemplate his attempts at apology and explanation for his Iraq tall tale. He claimed he “would not have chosen to make this mistake,” which begs the peculiar question of which mistake he might have opted for instead. He went on to note that he “[doesn’t] know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.” Elsewhere, he implied he does know, ascribing his “mistake” to what he termed “the fog of memory.”

The fog bank apparently stretched across many months, all the way to New Orleans, where Williams’s recollections of armed gangs, dysentery, and bodies floating outside the Ritz-Carlton are now receiving some Category 5 scrutiny. As are other instances of Williams and the truth not being on the same page; the list will likely be augmented as his suspension continues. His very public humiliation is especially striking set against his remarks to an audience at New York University back in 2007:

“You’re going to be up against people who have an opinion, a modem, and a bathrobe. All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I’m up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn’t left the efficiency apartment in two years.”

Well, of course he hasn’t left that apartment, Brian. Who the hell wants to risk getting hit by an RPG crossing Jerome Avenue?

It’s worth noting that the credentials Williams has spent all his life developing began with his very first job, busing tables at a Perkins. Good thing he has a fallback career. Efficiency apartments, even in the Bronx, don’t come cheap these days.

TWO: Cloudy with a chance of stupid…

Vinny might also be wondering how someone as loathsome and nakedly biased as John Stossel could have won nineteen Emmy Awards. It certainly beats the hell out of me. Stossel has been acting like a jerk for such a long time that it’s pretty much automatic for him these days. Case in point, a recent Fox News appearance with colleague and fellow cretin Tucker Carlson, wherein Stossel got all nostalgic about the real heroes of Katrina. Apparently, it’s a story Brian Williams was too dysentery-ridden to investigate:

“After Katrina, Walmart and private charities helped people in many more ways than FEMA did… because FEMA is incompetent because government tends to be. But also Walmart everyday needs to know what people need, and they were ready. They had more weather forecasters than some of the local governments do.”

Missing from Stossel’s “analysis” were some inconvenient facts: the Bush administration’s initial indifference followed by its comprehensive mishandling of the crisis, the appointment of the monumentally unqualified Michael Brown to head up FEMA, chronic underfunding of federal agencies at the insistence of Republican fiscal hawks-of-convenience, and the general rightwing guiding principle of “if it’s busted, just leave it.” And though I’ve only ventured into a Walmart twice in my life, I don’t recall seeing a weather forecasting department.

THREE: Almost Heaven, part 1

West Virginia may rank 38th in state population, but it’s positively brimming with bonehead Republican politicians enthusiastically elected to public office by bonehead Republican voters. One in the news recently is Delegate Brian Kurcaba. Despite his pre-politics background as a financial adviser, Kurcaba is comfortable pontificating on a range of subjects, like “voter fraud,” traffic in Morgantown, and “Second Amendment freedoms.” Oh, and rape.

Kurcaba, in the presence of a reporter, recently weighed in on the topic during a House of Delegates debate on the imposition of a strict ban on abortions after 20 weeks, something West Virginia Republicans have been trying to impose for some time. While Kurcaba sagely allowed that rape is “horrible and terrifying and brutal… absolutely disgusting,” he managed to find a silver lining to inspire female rape victims everywhere: “But what is beautiful is the child that could come as a production of this.”

Or maybe not. A day later, Kurcaba issued a mea sorta culpa to “anyone who took my comments about the sanctity of human life to mean anything other than that all children are precious regardless of circumstances.” Delegates in West Virginia serve two-year terms. Sadly, then, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Brian Kurcaba. Continue reading Take Five (Well, Shut My Mouth edition)

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Take Five (Looking Down on Creation edition)

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Take-FiveONE: Big Bung Theory

Creation Museum founder Ken Ham brought tidings of great joy to creationists and non-creationists alike when he announced that on February 4 at the “museum,” he and Bill Nye will debate the question: “Is creation a viable model of origins?” Ham thinks the event will be a chance to “show Mr. Nye and our debate audience that observational science confirms the scientific accuracy of the Genesis account of origins, not evolution.” Personally, I think it will be a chance for Ham to make a fool of himself, though that would hardly be novel.

Ham – who, ironically, kind of resembles the Neanderthal from the Geico commercials, not that there’s anything wrong with that – describes the event as “an important debate to have.” Well, for the Creation Museum, that’s no doubt true; it will put desperately needed asses in the 900 seats of “Legacy Hall” at 25 bucks a pop. Tickets purportedly sold out within minutes, which sounds impressive until you consider that a recent Pew poll finds only 43% of Republicans currently believe in evolution, down from 54% in 2013.

On the brighter side, if $29 million in municipal bonds aren’t purchased by February 6, the Creation Museum’s long-delayed sister project, the Ark Encounter, might run aground. Which is in itself a more convincing suggestion of the existence of God than any of the Ark Encounter’s proposed exhibits could ever be.

TWO: Diet Hard

For all their efforts to stake a claim to the bottom of the political barrel, Republicans invariably find that the territory has already been surveyed and subdivided, by folks like Trestin Meacham. The former political candidate for something called the Constitution Party recently staged a hunger strike to protest Utah’s same-sex marriage prohibition being found unconstitutional.

I’d never heard of Meacham’s party before. And now that I have, I wish I hadn’t. The Constitution Party’s official platform is an eerily calm manifesto of addled extremism, equal parts libertarian gobbledygook and white-picket-fence fascism. The Constitutionists (Constitutionals? Constitutionics?) would ban abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. They want to repeal the 17th Amendment and turn the business of electing the Senate over to state legislatures. They want the Voting Rights Act and McCain-Feingold repealed, and the FEC abolished. They would eliminate the Departments of Energy and Education. They deny global warming and want the Endangered Species Act overturned. And they oppose “any legal recognition of homosexual or civil unions,” which is where Meacham’s little stunt comes in.

Meacham announced his fast with the solemn self-importance of a five-year-old declaring that he’s running away from home. Minus the cuteness:

“I cannot stand by and do nothing while this evil takes root in my home. Some things in life are worth sacrificing one’s heath and even life if necessary. I am but a man, and do not have the money and power to make any noticeable influence in our corrupt system. Never the less, I can do something that people in power cannot ignore.”

Well, “not with standing” his confidence, the people in power “never the less” ignored him for over two weeks, long enough for him to shed 26 pounds. When the Supreme Court conveniently ordered a stay on same-sex marriages in Utah pending a review by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Meacham was understandably quick to break his fast with a bowl of yogurt. But be assured that whatever his weight, he’s still a fathead, as he’s happy to prove over and over again on his Facebook page:

“The homosexual movement is less tolerant than the Nazis and if they had the power of the Nazis, I have no doubt they would not hesitate to march people of faith into ovens.”

Oh, please just go eat it, Mr. Meacham.

THREE: A Star Is Sworn?

In about a year, Arizona will be rid of the term-limited Jan Brewer. The bad news? Her successor might be even worse. For starters, Ken Bennett, Arizona’s current Secretary of State, has made no secret of his interest in the office. Among his many liabilities, if elected he would be the first known birther to inhabit a governor’s mansion.

It gets worse. Oafish action star and non-credentialed law enforcement officer Steven Seagal now says he’s maybe, kinda, sorta considering a run. The idea appears to have originated with Seagal’s crime-bustin’ compadre Joe Arpaio. At least that’s one Arpaio brainstorm that won’t cost Maricopa County taxpayers astonishing sums of money.

From a population of 6,553,255, is Steven Seagal – who probably doesn’t even fulfill the state’s residency requirement – really the best Arizona can do? No, but better alternatives have been slow to present themselves so far. Brewer has even hinted on several occasions that she might challenge the term limit statute. Absent a Democrat winning the office, which is far from assured, it’s more than a little pathetic that the best possible follow-up to Jan Brewer could be Jan Brewer herself.

As far as I’m aware, the only announced Democrat in the running so far is former Bruce Babbitt protégé Fred DuVal, who went on to work in the Clinton White House.  He seems like a bright guy, but one who has spent an excessive amount of time and energy pursuing the chimera of meaningful bipartisan cooperation. He also has a clutch of tediously moderate positions and disconcerting ties to that old snake oil merchant T. Boone Pickens.

Arizona deserves better, so I’m just going to go ahead and nominate my sister-in-law Arlene for the position. She’s liberal as all get-out, she meets the residency requirement, and I’ll bet she could snap Steven Seagal’s neck like a twig. Continue reading Take Five (Looking Down on Creation edition)

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Take Five (2014 and All That edition)

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Take-FiveONE: Bzzzzzt!

While another clod named Robertson has been hogging headlines, Pat Robertson just keeps on keeping on, a one-man dick dynasty of the old school variety. Despite his years, the octogenarian still packs more five-star dumb into a typical week than a teenager with a beer bong, a tube of airplane glue, a carton of fireworks and a boxed set of Jackass movies.

The good folks at Right Wing Watch have been busy trying to keep up with Robertson’s recent blather, which included a few things about Barack Obama, most of them scurrilous, some of them ridiculous, all of them wrong. Robertson is among the last conservative chowderheads still desperately pushing the stale “Obama’s in over his head” meme. Conveniently skipping past the President’s largely successful half-decade of experience in geopolitics as head of state of the most powerful nation on Earth, Robertson claimed:

“[Obama] doesn’t understand what these things are, he’s never been in the military, he doesn’t understand it, he doesn’t understand geopolitics.”

The charge is especially rich coming from a guy who believes that his stint as a “liquor officer” in Korea somehow constituted combat experience. But Robertson’s cognitive problems pale in comparison to his fondness for just plain old lying about stuff:

“But he has a prism on the world that was shaped by his radical father and he has a prism that was shaped by some of his friends who were radical leftists and his spiritual mentor who at one time hated America; that’s who is running our country.”

That, of course, was in reference to the father whom the President barely knew, the Chicago acquaintance who co-founded the Weather Underground before becoming a respected academic and non-violent activist for progressive causes, and the pastor very publicly and painfully repudiated by then-candidate Obama in a landmark speech on race relations, respectively. Robertson went on to compare America to Lemuel Gulliver and said the nation was being “held down by these pygmies,” although he prudently left unspecified the identity of said pygmies. A scant 24 hours later, just as these inanities were beginning to draw ire, Robertson spread mustard and relish on his other foot and shoved it deeply into his mouth:

A viewer named Catherine told the TV preacher that she had recently reconnected with a childhood friend, who was a lesbian. She invited the friend to meet her children but became concerned when she asked to bring her same sex partner…

Robertson advised the woman not to “shun” her friend, “but at the same time, you don’t want your children to grow up as lesbians.”

“That’s what you’re talking about,” he said. “You don’t want to show them that that’s an acceptable lifestyle for your family.”

President’s a radical leftist, nation’s being held down by pygmies, sexuality is simply a lifestyle; what does a guy who’s wrong about everything he sees do for an encore? Be wrong about the future, of course! Robertson ended the year by retreating to the mountains, where God (or the thin air) revealed to him what 2014 has in store: Iran getting nukes, Islam “in retreat,” some sort of “credit crisis” involving China, and the usual vague tut-tutting about chaos. Oh, and some more spectacular idiocy about Barack Obama:

… I think that the President is going to be severely, severely hampered. I think that America is going to turn against him much more so than now, as that Affordable Care thing starts biting hard as it is, he’s going to be discredited terribly. As a process, I think that he is going to withdraw. He likes Hawaii, he spent a lot of time in Hawaii and he probably figured, ‘Okay, I’ve done my thing, now let’s go surfing.’ I mean really, he’s got a big airplane to ride around in, he’s got a big staff, he’s got a big expensive limousine to ride in, he can just go bopping around the world and he doesn’t have to govern and I don’t think he’s going to because he can’t get anything through.

You can find a nice rundown of asinine Robertson predictions from previous years here. I especially love the 2005 one about mass conversions by Muslims to Christianity, the 1996 one about Bill Clinton becoming a one-term President, and the 2007 one about a huge terrorist attack that could kill “possibly millions” of Americans. And I’m still tickled by one I commented on two years ago, when Robertson warned of imminent economic collapse. (Hey, don’t blame Pat that it didn’t happen; God assured him it would.)

So what are the odds of his 2014 predictions having any accuracy? As of year-end, over 2.1 million people have enrolled in “that Affordable Care thing” via state and federal exchanges, and almost 4 million more are newly eligible for Medicaid or CHIP. So bite that, Pat. Hard.

TWO: Camping with God

Speaking of being wrong, I’d be remiss not to note, belatedly, the passing of Harold Camping, who died on December 15. Camping was a fellow who raised being flat-out mistaken into an art form, as noted in previous editions of this column.

The radio evangelist first calculated that the world would end in 1994, later chalking up its failure to do so to an error in his math. After fixing May 21, 2011 as the new end date, Camping told a newspaper he was “flabbergasted” when the day passed without eschatological incident. Undaunted, he and his wife holed up in a motel while Camping ran his numbers again, determining that the actual this-is-it date was October 21; May 21 was simply the day on which Jesus judged the world, and He would be taking out the trash in the fall.

Well, it’s the darnedest thing, but Harold Camping turned out to be wrong again. I know, right? Weird. Worse still, Camping’s precarious health had prompted him to step down from his ministry and his radio pulpit, Family Radio Stations Inc., only a week before October’s Apocalypse Not Now. If Camping made any further attempts to forecast the end of the world, he apparently kept them to himself.

Tragically, he suffered a fall at home on November 30, and never recovered. The world – this world, at least – has ended for Harold Camping. Wherever he is now, in whatever form, I wish him well, but I do hope God will have a word with him about his math skills, or lack of them. Continue reading Take Five (2014 and All That edition)

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Take Five (100th edition)

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Take-FiveONE: It’s All Over Now, Sacre Bleu

The first edition of this column, three years ago today, began with an item about Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics for “The Times They Are A-Changin’” selling for $422,500. Last week, the Stratocaster Dylan (possibly) played at the ’65 Newport Folk Festival fetched $965,000, a world record auction price for a guitar. The previous record was for another Strat, formerly belonging to Eric Clapton, which sold at auction in 2004 for $959,500.

The guitar was sold by a New Jersey woman named Dawn Peterson, whose father, Victor Quinto, had been a pilot employed by Dylan’s then-manager Albert Grossman. Quinto claimed the Strat and two other guitars were left on his plane, and that his attempts to contact Grossman about them got no response. After the guitar was authenticated in 2011 by experts from PBS’ History Detectives, Dylan initiated legal proceedings (since settled) to get it back, although he disputed its Newport connection:

“Bob has possession of the electric guitar he played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965,” his attorney, Orin Snyder, said in a statement. “He did own several other Stratocaster guitars that were stolen from him around that time, as were some handwritten lyrics.”

Dylan is now enmeshed in legal proceedings of a different sort, having been charged in France with “public insult and inciting hate.” The charge stems from comments he made in a 2012 interview, comments that did not sit well with the Council of Croats in France:

“If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.”

The Council of Croats is demanding that Dylan “present an apology to the Croatian people.” The charge was filed a couple of days prior to Dylan becoming an Officier of the Légion d’Honneur.

TWO: The Liar Next Time

Rand Paul says he’s “seriously thinking” about a presidential run. His wife doesn’t want him to do it, but his father thinks he “probably will.” And, you know, why the hell not? Last time around, Republicans tried hard to convince the nation that the likes of Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, the aforementioned Ron Paul, and – most outlandishly – Mitt Romney were actually suitable candidates for the Oval Office. Other than that improbable thatch of pubic hair on his head, Rand Paul’s not significantly worse or weirder than any of them. Or is he?

Paul already has a surefire plan to get unemployed Americans back to work. He wants to cut off their benefits:

“When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy,” he said on Fox News Sunday. If the unemployed stopped receiving benefits sooner, they would be back to work sooner, he suggested.

Wow! It’s genius, I tells ya, and it’s the kind of approach that could be extended to all sorts of issues. Cut SNAP benefits and people will immediately hunt their own meat and grow their own crops. Get rid of Medicare and the elderly won’t get sick anymore. Cut education funding and we’ll reap a generation of self-taught geniuses. Cut police budgets and crime will be a thing of the past.

Give Rand Paul the presidency and watch the country circle the drain. Continue reading Take Five (100th edition)

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Take Five (Odds & Sods edition)

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Take-FiveONE: Season of the Which?

“Silly season” used to refer to a specific time of year when substantive news was temporarily replaced with outsized coverage of trivial events, quirky happenings, fluff, and the occasional 15-minute political or celebrity scandal. Much like “election season” before it, the term has become meaningless; both “seasons” are now essentially perpetual.

The notion of anything being recognized by huge segments of the corporate media as “important, substantive news” has of course become absurd. They don’t need to bother, since everything is already treated with the monotonous, insincere gravitas they freely bestow on the newest controversy over Justin Bieber or Black Friday brawls or minor clinical studies of caffeine toxicity in rats. Come World War III, I expect to breathe my last with Wolf Blitzer yammering some idiocy faintly at the far edges of my fading consciousness, having screwed up my part of the end of the world by turning on CNN to see what the hell was going on.

But why shouldn’t the media be mired in an endless silly season when one of the two major political parties is too? And Republicans get more ludicrous by the day. Booking Rand Paul to headline the opening of the “African American Engagement Office,” the Michigan GOP’s minority outreach center? Check. George Bush the Lesser’s Chief of Staff carping about President Obama and his administration “misleading” the American people? Check. A white Republican winning office in a predominantly African American district by conning voters into thinking he’s black? Check. Rating Ronald Reagan the nation’s greatest Chief Executive and Barack Obama its worst? Check.

I use the word “silly” with regard to Republicans only because it’s more polite than saying “completely unhinged” or “out to lunch” or “a danger to themselves and others” or “just flat-out batshit.” They embrace a shopworn collection of ideas long ago proven to be unworkable, inequitable and fundamentally anti-American. They put forward candidates with no respect for or knowledge of the political institutions they yearn to become part of. They pander furiously to old-fashioned populism while working strenuously for the elites. They loudly level accusations of class warfare whenever Democrats rightly point out how Republicans themselves declared class warfare and have waged it, brutally, for decades. They play the race card by accusing liberals of playing the race card. With the exception of a very few bravely dissenting voices in their ranks, they hold women, the poor, minorities (visible and invisible), gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, immigrants, the New Deal, the Great Society, the Affordable Care Act, TANF, SNAP, community organizers, the Girl Scouts, the United Nations, the Peace Corps, and most of Europe, the Middle East and Asia in contempt. They’d hate Africa and South America too, if they ever thought about them much.

Republican silliness has left federal agencies hamstrung and courts unable to administer timely justice. It has severely hampered recovery from the worst downturn since the ’30s, a downturn directly caused by Republican profligacy. It has damaged the nation’s credit and credibility, strained international relations, undercut meaningful efforts to combat climate change, advance equality of opportunity, equality of rights. This kind of silliness sickens societies. Its season needs to end.

TWO: North to Alaska

My friend Linda in Anchorage, noting my unwholesome fascination with asshat Republican governors, suggested I check out Sean Parnell. Names like Scott, Snyder, Brewer, LePage, Perry, Walker, Kasich and Haley often make national headlines, but Parnell’s profile has been lower, if only because anyone succeeding Sarah Palin would seem, pending further evidence, unremarkably normal by comparison. Yet Linda’s blunt description of Parnell as a “disaster” looks pretty accurate as far as I can tell.

Case in point, Parnell recently refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA, putting his state on par with such shining exemplars of civilization as Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Kansas. He even described Medicaid expansion as a “failed experiment” and “hot mess,” which will probably wow the zero-information voters he’ll be relying on for reelection next year. Others are less than wowed:

The Anchorage and Alaska chambers of commerce, the Anchorage NAACP, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, AARP Alaska, Anchorage Faith and Action-Congregations Together, and numerous Democratic legislators and candidates all have pushed for the new coverage.

Asked why he was going against such a diverse list of Alaska groups, Parnell said “each one of those groups you’ve named are responsible for their membership. I’m responsible for all Alaskans.”

Parnell’s definition of “responsible” is, to say the least, idiosyncratic:

Expansion would have benefited 40,000 or more Alaskans, many of them low-income adults without children who currently have no health insurance. It also would have helped hospitals and doctors by reducing the amount of uncompensated care they have to write off and would have brought billions of federal dollars into the Alaska economy.

The story gets worse. While supposedly giving prudent consideration to Medicaid expansion, Parnell’s administration commissioned a study on the subject by the Lewin Group (a subsidiary of the cuddly, community-minded folks at UnitedHealth Group). The study was delivered in April, although Parnell mysteriously claims it only got to his desk mere weeks ago. After months of public records requests for it were refused, the study was publicly released on November 15, just prior to Parnell’s announcement:

Asked whether withholding a study while he and others were thinking it over was a novel interpretation of the state law that requires state records to be made public with few exemptions, Parnell said no one asked him personally for the report. He said he would need to consult with attorneys for more explanation.

Even the Lewin study acknowledges that at least 20,000 of the state’s poor will have no health coverage absent Medicaid expansion. What to do, what to do? Could Parnell’s predecessor have the answer? Of course not, but Sarah Palin recently took time out from promoting a book she’s pretending she wrote, to offer up a synopsis of… hey, let’s just go ahead and call it Sarahcare. Ironically, just reading through it can make a person feel sick:

“The plan is to allow those things that had been proposed over many years to reform a health-care system in America that certainly does need more help so that there’s more competition, there’s less tort reform threat, there’s less trajectory of the cost increases, and those plans have been proposed over and over again. And what thwarts those plans? It’s the far left. It’s President Obama and his supporters who will not allow the Republicans to usher in free market, patient-centered, doctor-patient relationship links to reform health care.”

But the current Republican-dominated political scene in Alaska isn’t all poorly informed heartlessness and grossly uninformed pseudo-policy. Happily, after a long convalescence, Stubbs, feline “mayor” of Talkeetna, is back on the job:

The owner of Stubbs the cat, Talkeetna’s honorary mayor, says he’s settling back into his creature comforts months after being mauled by a dog and severely injured…

A number of city councils have written to Stubbs, with mayors in at least four states — both near and far — offering their sympathies since the attack.

“Even the mayor of Wasilla sent him a card,” [owner Lauri] Stec said.

Stubbs is back to spending time at the bar of Talkeetna’s West Rib Pub, mingling with the citizenry and knocking back catnip water. Stec, who manages the pub, reports that the mayor’s spirits are improving steadily:

“He’s into his routine again and probably being just a little extra-loving, because it’s so nice for him to be social again…”

It’s encouraging to know there’s at least one politician in Alaska who actually cares about people, even if he’s a cat. What a shame Stubbs can’t take on Parnell next November. Continue reading Take Five (Odds & Sods edition)

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Take Five (We Don't Need Another Zero edition)

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Take-FiveONE: One Fling to Rule Them All…

What’s more mawkish than Republicans rallying moistly and noisily around a new standard bearer? Absolutely nothing.

While all but the most stalwart or blockheaded of the party faithful ended up too embarrassed to admit how embarrassed they finally were by George Bush and Dick Cheney, many of them shamelessly went on to embrace a succession of greasy mediocrities like Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell, Scott Brown, Paul Ryan, Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Marco Rubio.

The mass infatuations mostly dwindled miserably into scandals, lawsuits, ridicule and/or simple morning-after remorse, but it’s worth remembering that most of these intellectual pipsqueaks retain a mystifying and immovable popularity among one or more dependably Republican demographics.

Enter Ted Cruz, who aspires to be the one fling to rule them all. I confess I’d never even heard of this guy until he appeared at last year’s Republican National Convention. Even then he didn’t make much of an impression, if my synopsis of the first day of the convention is a reliable yardstick:

9:40 PM:

Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz forsakes the podium and gives a pointless speech as he paces the stage. It’s as if he’s auditioning to be an evangelist. Or a stand-up comic. He points to the debt clock. Yep, the nation is still in debt.

Cruz bellows, “Government is not the answer,” which makes me wonder why he and his fellow Republicans are so damned keen on being elected to office.

As it turned out, the position Cruz was actually auditioning for, then and since, was President of the United States of America. Happily, even some Republicans seem completely appalled by that idea, but Cruz effectively capitalized on the government shutdown and flirtation with default to enhance his grassroots popularity and leadership cred. He also realizes that the GOP’s actual leadership is laughably inept, something he telegraphed by upstaging Mitch McConnell‘s announcement of a budget deal. The party is ripe for hijacking, and Cruz – a shrewd demagogue, equal parts Cotton Mather and Joe McCarthy – seems poised to do just that, at least temporarily.

Lest Cruz’s increasingly high profile and rock star status among zero-information conservative voters make you queasy with thoughts of a presidency in his future, Paul Bibeau offers some reassurance on the subject of Ted Cruz Yet to Come:

We know what happens to Ted Cruz, because it’s happened before…

Ted Cruz runs for president. Jackasses in Iowa talk about his honesty and his directness. They portray him as an outsider, a renegade, a fresh new face. What they mean is something else, something darker. Anyway, soon after that – because of dropping polls, stories of infighting, and some hideous thing he says into a hot mike or on hidden camera – his campaign turns into a space shuttle made of balsa.

Does it stop there? Christ, no. Because then Ted Cruz finds what he was meant to do all along. He’s going to get a TV show, a radio gig, or an income stream from giving speeches to the kind of folks who think the UN is a totalitarian plot and gay people are poisoning our water supply…

Yeah, that sounds about right. If Republicans do only one thing well – and indeed, yes, they actually do only one thing well – it’s that never go away. Examples come readily to mind. Not only did the outlandishly repugnant Tom Delay avoid prison; he’s working on a book with infamous huckster Jerome Corsi. Dick Cheney, risen from the dead for the sixth or seventh time, is energetically spitting ichor at Barack Obama and still stubbornly insisting that the invasion of Iraq actually had something to do with weapons of mass destruction. Sarah Palin also has a book coming out, and still found time to pretend she shot a bear. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist has remade himself yet again, this time as a Democrat, and is probably going to run for another term. Hell, Ronald Reagan has been dead for almost a decade, but stick any Republican in front of a microphone and you’re bound to hear his name invoked, with stupefying reverence, within about 60 seconds.

No, they never go away, so get used to Ted Cruz. He’s only just getting warmed up.

TWO:  Houses of the Holy Moly

Further to that last-ditch attempt to block construction of Mitt Romney’s La Jolla McManor discussed in the previous edition of this column, the California Coastal Commission recently shot down Anthony Ciani’s appeal, clearing Casa Romney to go forward, weird-rich-guy car elevator and all.

Romney being Romney, he’s also building a house in Holladay, Utah, and it’s going to have a weird-rich-guy feature of its own: a secret room hidden behind a bookshelf. Why a secret room? It’s just a guess, mind you, but behind those shelves I picture an exact replica of the Oval Office, a place where the hapless millionaire, safely hidden from view, can pretend he became leader of the free world after all, manage imaginary crises, sign imaginary executive orders, conduct imaginary diplomacy, and give imaginary addresses to the nation, while “Hail to the Chief” loops stirringly in the background. Continue reading Take Five (We Don’t Need Another Zero edition)

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Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

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Take-FiveONE: Death Becomes Them

Via The Hill, I recently discovered political scientist Eric Ostermeier’s fascinating curio cabinet of a blog, Smart Politics, published by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Among other topics, Dr. Ostermeier has recently scrutinized websites for House campaigns (nine incumbent House members did not have an active campaign website as of August 18), traced the historical arc of African-Americans elected to Congress (25 states have yet to elect their first black Representative, and nearly half of the African-Americans ever elected to the House were from a mere five states), tallied living former Senators (167, a whopping eight of them from Minnesota), and surveyed Spanish language content on official House websites (the sites of 36 Congressfolks, 31 of them Democrats, feature some).

Dr. Ostermeier is now three installments into a series focusing on “unusual deaths that have befallen members of Congress.” Given current Congressional approval ratings, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that “Unusual Exits” is among the year’s most popular political writing; if it isn’t, it should be. The newest installment looks at drowning, which has claimed 13 members of the Senate and House since 1808, although only two were in office at the time of their deaths. This follows on part 1, which looked at Congressional deaths “on or by railroads” (death toll 23), and part 2, which examined deaths by “accidental gunshots” (body count 6).

It’s lucky for House Republicans that blatant, bare-assed hypocrisy isn’t fatal. Take Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, who were quick to add their signatures to an emergency funding request by their state delegation following Colorado’s calamitous flooding. Back in July, the quartet endorsed a similar petition for a federal major disaster declaration after a rash of wildfires. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, except that the same four Representatives voted against disaster relief money for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. For added context, ThinkProgress helpfully notes that they’re all climate change denialists.

TWO: Squeaker of the House

John Boehner, crime boss of these and other Republicans in the People’s House, just vomited up some hypocrisy of his own with a web commercial that asks the musical question: “Why is the Obama Administration willing to negotiate with Putin on Syria… but not with Congress to address Washington’s spending problem?”

Since you asked, Mr. Speaker, I have a few guesses. Maybe it’s because the civil war in Syria has ominous regional implications, and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime violates an accord ratified by 189 nations, and soon by Syria. Or it could be because Congressional Republicans haven’t negotiated anything in good faith with the Executive Branch since Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Or perhaps it’s because the only spending problem in Washington (other than the perpetually ludicrous defense budget) is your party’s refusal to strengthen the recovery with further stimulus, adequate SNAP and unemployment benefits, and a federal minimum wage at least tenuously connected to reality. You know what? Let’s make it all of the above.

THREE: China Syndrome

You might recall a story from late August about a million cockroaches escaping from a farm in Dafeng, China. As loathsome as roaches are, I can’t begrudge them their instincts here, since they were being bred as an ingredient for traditional medicines. Besides, the escape wasn’t even their idea; the greenhouse where they were housed was compromised by a person or persons unknown, and the roaches did what came naturally, and scattered.

I didn’t really give the item a second thought until I read a National Journal story about a terrifying encounter in the basement of the White House press offices with a roach described by political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar as “the size of a small drone.”

Wait. Could the Dafeng “escape” have been faked? Could the White House incident be a beachhead for some sort of Red Dawn-style insectile assault? Could the press office cockroach have actually been a drone? Well, no, of course not, but the need for vigilance has never been greater. Mere days after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved Shuanghui International’s $4.7 billion purchase of US pork producer Smithfield Foods, Chinese authorities seized roughly 45,000 pounds of fake beef from a factory in Xi-an:

The pork was treated with chemicals, including paraffin wax and industrial salts, to make it look like beef…

The news will come as [of] particular concern to Xi’an’s large Muslim community, who may have been buying some distinctly non-halal beef.

Hedge fund Starboard Value, which owns 5.7 percent of Smithfield, had been working on an alternative buyout offer since early summer, but has abandoned the effort and will back the Chinese deal at a shareholder vote on Tuesday, knocking down one of the last remaining hurdles to completion of the transaction. Nobody brings home the bacon like Shuanghui International, even if they have to disguise it as flank steak. Continue reading Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

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Take Five (Way Stranger than Fiction edition)

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Take-FiveIf those present at the March on Washington imagined anything about the national conversation on race half a century hence, they might well have assumed it would at least be an adult conversation, because of course they had no way of knowing that the Republicans of the new millennium would so decisively abandon any pretense of maturity, emotional or intellectual.

The GOP Dog-Whistle Philharmonic haughtily eschewed the high-profile 50th-anniversary celebrations of the March, opting instead to stage a series of energetic but stridently off-key recitals by its few minority soloists, like Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz.

In an op-ed supposedly penned to commemorate Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, Jindal, stunningly, used the occasion to criticize – wait for it – minorities:

Jindal accused minorities of placing “far too much emphasis on our ‘separateness,’ our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans…

“Here’s an idea: How about just ‘Americans?’ That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our ‘separateness’ is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot,” the governor opined.

Jindal underscored that waste of electrons with an appearance on Meet the Press last week that included a jaw-dropping rationalization for the tidal wave of bigotry to which the nation’s first not-entirely-white President has been subjected:

David Gregory asked Gov. Jindal about Colin Powell’s opinion that there is a dark vein of intolerance within the Republican Party. Jindal answered by comparing the Republicans’ Obama racism to Democratic treatment of George W. Bush.

The same day Jindal was pitching that idiocy, Senator Ted Cruz, touted, toasted, hyper-hyped Cuban-Canadian-American Demagogue Extraordinaire, appeared on CNN and claimed that his party’s vigorous efforts to destroy Obamacare are based in part on trying to help Hispanics and African Americans:

“… it’s not working and it’s hurting Americans,” Cruz insisted. “And by the way, the people that it’s hurting the most are the most vulnerable among us… The people who are losing their jobs are young people, are Hispanics, are African-Americans, are single moms. I don’t think that’s fair, I don’t think that’s right.”

Sure you don’t, Senator. Your party is all about minorities, after all. Case in point, the government’s figures for 2012 show African Americans at 13.1% as a percentage of total population, and Hispanic Americans at 16.9%, while a 2012 Pew study found that 31% of African Americans and 22% of Hispanic Americans have received SNAP benefits at some time in their lives. Yet, strangely, the party you and your doughy cohort of sophists insist is on the side of minorities has yet to reinstate food assistance funding after summarily stripping it out of the Farm Bill, the legislation through which SNAP money has traditionally been disbursed.

If it’s no longer mind-boggling that the stubbornly self-congratulatory “Party of Lincoln” is so utterly, offensively worthless on race and every other issue of minority rights, it’s only because everybody got used to it ages ago. And not a single po-faced minority conservative mouthing glib clichés in the direction of the nearest TV camera is going to do anything but make it worse.

TWO: Crass from the Past

Leave it to Republicans to keep their presidential campaigns in the news long after the campaigns have ended. You might remember a fellow by the name of McCain who ran against Barack Obama back in 2008. You know, the mavericky guy? Thought his long-suffering wife would be a fabulous “Miss Buffalo Chip”? Recklessly chose a running mate who had never heard of the Bush Doctrine and couldn’t name a single newspaper she read? A POW in Vietnam, although his campaign only ever mentioned it on days of the week with names ending in “y”?

Five years on, the FEC has managed to reach a “conciliation agreement” with “Five-Plane” McCain’s campaign for taking excessive campaign contributions and sundry other violations, all of which would have been easily avoided if anyone working on the campaign had cared enough to care. The agreement stipulates $80,000 in fines. Chump change in the grand scheme of things? Sure. And it certainly won’t be coming from the spouse-subsidized pockets of Senator “Keating Five” himself, but it’s a mildly gratifying little story nonetheless.

You might also recall that while the 2008 Obama campaign was running an impressively web-savvy operation (modeled on but expanding greatly on the blueprint of Joe Trippi’s groundbreaking work for Howard Dean in 2004), the hapless John McCain was reduced to admitting he relied on his wife and aides to get online, with the almost pathetically hopeful postscript:

“I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself…”

Well, times sure have changed. McCain’s just a regular old cybernaut nowadays, as he proved Tuesday at a Senate hearing on Syria. As his colleagues mulled over matters of life, death, international law, and scruffy old domestic politics, Senator McCain was photographed by the Washington Post‘s Melina Mara playing online poker on his iPhone.

There are three possible takeaways here, as I see it. One is that McCain is so fixated on the idea of raining explosive ordnance on Syria that he doesn’t give a nickel-plated crap what he might hear at a hearing intended to furnish him with the sort of information important decision-makers supposedly need to make their decisions. The second is that McCain is a goldbricking charlatan who owes his state and the nation a formal apology and his immediate resignation. The third is he’s both.

Then there’s Rick Santorum, whose granitic façade of moral rectitude has long been suspected of masking an inner sleazeball. Well, suspected by me, at least, but also by electoral watchdog groups Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, who recently filed a formal complaint with the FEC alleging that Santorum directed a $1 million donation to the Red White and Blue Fund, a Super PAC, in violation of federal election law.

If true, it’s disgusting behavior for any politician, let alone one who wants the world to believe he invented ethics, but the most disturbing allegation is that Bill Doré, the Louisiana businessman whose donation is at the heart of the complaint, actually thought it was sensible to cough up a million bucks to try and get Rick Santorum elected President of the United States.

Last, and almost certainly least, there’s Michele Bachmann, whose ill-fated 2012 campaign has already resulted in a probe by the House Ethics Committee for possible financial violations, a lawsuit over an allegedly stolen mailing list, and an active investigation into Kent Sorenson, a state senator who chaired her campaign in Iowa and may have received improper payments for so doing, in addition to more recent allegations that he solicited money from the Ron Paul campaign in exchange for switching his support.

The newest Bachmann scandal-in-waiting revolves around possible illegal coordination between her campaign and the National Fiscal Conservative PAC, coordination that might have involved her husband Marcus Bachmann. The Justice Department subpoenaed financial and other records from the Super PAC last week. It seems Bachmann’s imminent retirement from Congress could prove fortuitous, freeing her to spend more time with her attorneys.

THREE: The Mire Next Time

And then there are the horrors and hilarity of Republican presidential campaigns yet to come. If you thought ’08 and ’12 were grotesque spectacles of dank depravity, untrammeled ugliness and anti-intellectual pandering to the scummiest side of human nature, you were right, but ’16 is going to be much worse. Or better, depending on how entertaining you find all this stuff.

Former centerfold model and temp Senator Scott Brown, having nothing much else to do these days, recently went to the Iowa State Fair, and explained to the Boston Herald why. He wants to find out if the country is collectively deranged enough to consider putting him in the White House:

“I want to get an indication of whether there’s even an interest, in Massachusetts and throughout the country, if there’s room for a bi-partisan problem solver… It’s 2013, I think it’s premature, but I am curious. There’s a lot of good name recognition in the Dakotas and here – that’s pretty good.”

Yeah, real good. Hey, maybe Cosmo can do a sort of “where are they now?” follow-up shoot, with a naked President Brown stretched out on an Oval Office couch, a copy of the Constitution barely preserving his modesty.

As I noted here a couple of weeks ago, Congressman Peter King of New York is on a jihad to neutralize what he calls the “Rand Paul isolationist wing” of his party, and if that means he has to get elected President to do so, well, so be it. At least he wouldn’t do any nude modeling, or so we can hope.

Ted Cruz, of course, has been running all over the country, most recently to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa, pretending that a presidential run is the last thing on his mind, while hurriedly initiating the process to divest himself of the Canadian citizenship he pretends he didn’t know he had. If it were up to Texas Teabagger Christine Katok (a woman on record as doubting President Obama’s eligibility) Cruz wouldn’t need to bother:

“As far as I’m concerned, Canada is not really foreign soil…”

With no Democratic incumbent to face in ’16, Republicans, theoretically, have a shot at retaking the White House, but these early stirrings already hint at their determination to ensure it won’t happen. Continue reading Take Five (Way Stranger than Fiction edition)

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Take Five (Summertime Blues and Reds edition)

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Take-FiveONE: The Original Kings of Comedy

With Stewart and Colbert in reruns, Congress in recess until September, and the phony hysterics over this summer’s White House pseudo-scandals losing their already dubious entertainment value through tiresome repetition, it’s been pretty damned tough to find a laugh recently.

Tough but not impossible: perhaps sensing a ready audience, the two obnoxious House Republicans who share the surname “King” have been competing in what amounts to an impromptu comedy slam. Iowa’s Steve King got out to an early lead about a month ago in a Newsmax TV interview with his now-viral comments about undocumented immigrants:

“Some of them are valedictorians — and their parents brought them in. It wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents.

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert…”

Ignoring (or maybe reveling in) the widespread derision these remarks earned, King sat down with Laura Ingraham a week later for an eerily Palinesque interview, and laid it on even thicker:

“That description comes from many days down on the border, riding and sitting with the border patrol and without them at night, no night vision, watching the shadows come across the border, picking people up personally with my hands, unloading illegal drugs out of a vehicle with a false bottom under the truck… I mean this is a personal experience and I sit there at night and border patrol agents would come to me one at a time in their civil clothes and talk to me clandestinely…This description is the description from that kind of experience.”

Uh-huh. Cool story, bro. King had another kind of experience last week when he addressed a “Stop Amnesty” rally in Richmond, Virginia, an experience best described as “a complete waste of time for the very few concerned.” Undaunted and seemingly unembarrassed by the meager attendance, King treated the rally’s listless little crowd of “60 or so” to a classic bit of sophistry straight from Chapter 1 of Xenophobia for Dummies:

If you bring people from a violent civilization into a less-violent civilization, you’re going to have more violence right? It’s like pouring hot water into cold water, does it raise the temperature or not?

Coincidentally, Steve had already had cold water poured on his hopes of winning the hilarity steeplechase the day before, when New York’s Peter King unexpectedly told The Hill that he, Peter, was “serious” about exploring a presidential run. Presumably as “serious” as he was when he opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, opposed the repeal of DADT, opposed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and claimed that 80 to 85% of mosques in America are “controlled by Islamic fundamentalists.” King is, after all, an all-round serious guy, but a presidential run? Really?

I definitely want to keep the party from going the route of what I call the ‘Rand Paul isolationist wing’ of the party… At the same time I’m testing the waters myself presidentially. It’s sort of like walking and chewing gum at the same time. I’m very serious about the issue but I’m also very serious about seeing what the possibilities are about running for president.”

Funny, funny stuff! But Steve King isn’t throwing in the towel. The Missouri rodeo clown with the Obama mask provided him with a perfect opportunity for some clownishness of his own. And what better venue for the Iowa King’s rudimentary thought processes than one that allows only 140 characters per post? Behold his tweet on the topic:

Mr. President: Invite the rodeo clown 2 the White House 4 a beer summit. Take the temperature down, have a laugh, relax. It’s not about race

Now, I don’t know if King believes any African American on the receiving end of racism should invite the racist over to sink some cool ones, or if the prescription only applies to the President, but I have a better idea in any case. How about a “jeer summit”? The President could host both Kings on the South Lawn, preferably fitted snugly into stocks or a pillory, and invite the public to mock them. Free admission for Muslims and Hispanics! Bring your own cantaloupes!

TWO: Baked on a Plane

Peter and Steve King only go so far, of course. Sometimes you have to make your own fun, and that’s just what an intrepid young man did recently in Cologne, Germany:

Germany’s security services are urgently investigating how a man was able to board Angela Merkel’s military jet where he partied alone for four hours wearing only underpants while high on drugs.

The man, a bodybuilder of Turkish descent named as Volkan T, 24, danced on a wing of the German chancellor’s aircraft, sprayed fire extinguisher foam around its luxury cabin and randomly pushed cockpit buttons, deploying an emergency evacuation slide…

Wow! So far, this all sounds sorta like my dream weekend, but Volkan T unfortunately managed to cut his good time short inadvertently:

The authorities were only alerted to the security breach, when he inadvertently triggered an alarm while playing with the cockpit buttons.

Adding to the embarrassment, it then took police, dogs, private security guards and soldiers three hours to get the intruder off the plane, including attempts to persuade him to give up shouted over a megaphone.

If only Chancellor Merkel’s security staff had shown that kind of determination when dealing with unwanted massages.

THREE: Heavy Medal

The White House recently announced the newest round of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients. Established by JFK, the award celebrates its fiftieth birthday this year, with honorees including CT Vivian, Gloria Steinem, Loretta Lynn, Ernie Banks, Patricia Wald, Ben Bradlee, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Arturo Sandoval, and posthumous honorees Bayard Rustin, Sally Ride and Daniel Inouye.

The one name on the list that got my hackles up was Richard Lugar, less for his being a Republican (although there is that) than for his being a Republican who was apparently sound asleep while his party was being hijacked by its worst elements, finally waking up and noticing what was going on only when Teabagger extremists successfully primaried him with the grotesque Richard Mourdock. Maybe he’s being honored for retiring from politics immediately after that debacle.

Lugar aside, this year continues what has become another quiet Obama achievement: giving the Presidential Medal of Freedom to people who (mostly) actually deserve it. So far, the list during his tenure includes names like Bob Dylan, Harvey Milk, Yo-Yo Ma, Billie Jean King, Stan Musial, John Glenn, Stephen Hawking, Desmond Tutu, John Lewis, Jasper Johns, Ted Kennedy and Toni Morrison.

All a remarkable contrast to the three people honored on December 14, 2004 by George Walker Bush. It was at the time and still remains nearly impossible to come up with three less deserving people than Tommy Franks, Paul Bremer and George Tenet. The closest I can think of would be Irving Kristol, the America-hating “godfather of neoconservatism” honored in 2002, and Bush’s fellow war criminals Tony Blair and John Howard, who received awards in 2009 a mere seven days before Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Notwithstanding all that, Bush’s two illegitimate terms also resulted in awards to Julia Child, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Aretha Franklin, Harper Lee and Carol Burnett, and George HW Bush was, unfortunately, an Obama honoree in 2011. Which proves, I guess, that the Presidential Medal of Freedom is an unreliable barometer for an administration’s ideological leanings, but remains an intriguing spectator sport. Continue reading Take Five (Summertime Blues and Reds edition)

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Take Five (Hot Mess in the Summertime edition)

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Take-FiveONE: Happiness Is a Warm Diorama

Last Friday, the NRA opened its “National Sporting Arms Museum” in Bass Pro Shops’ mammoth flagship store in Springfield, Missouri. Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris was so taken with the NRA’s National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia that he generously underwrote the new museum, where visitors will have an opportunity to drool over almost 1,000 guns, some of them historic, plus “detailed dioramas and displays.”

Guns & Ammo sent author and gun enthusiast SP Fjestad in for a preview. He was not disappointed:

The firearms displays are grouped within time periods, with some of the best dioramas I’ve ever seen placed in between them. These included a buffalo hunter, a 1950s hunting cabin, Lewis & Clark, Native American hunter, and modern-day father and daughter decked out in camo.

Yes, that does sound special, and worth every penny of the free admission. The new collection complements the Virginia museum‘s 1,700 guns and “state-of-the-art” firing range boasting “touch-screen target retrieval.” Impressive as all that is, I can’t help but think the NRA needs to let its corporate imagination run just a little wilder.

The full text of every piece of gun control legislation the organization has helped to defeat over the years might make a nifty exhibit, although it would take a hellaciously long time to read them all. What about a Gallery of Preschool Firearms Victims, or a Worst Gun Massacres Hall of Fame? Hey, Charlton Heston’s cold, dead hands could certainly pack in the crowds, especially if they were holding something sleek and high-caliber. Personally, I’d love to see an interactive, animatronic Wayne LaPierre that turns bright red and spews spittle at the utterance of certain, uh, trigger words, like “regulation” or “background check” or “civilized society.” Then again, the real Wayne LaPierre could do that even better, and he’s already on the payroll.

TWO: The Fun Also Rises

Used to be that when I heard the words “bull run” the first thing I thought of was Manassas, but that may change if entrepreneur Rob Dickens’ new brainstorm, The Great Bull Run, is successful. Its website describes it as an “adrenaline-filled experience” you can “[cross] off your bucket list without breaking the bank.” It kicks off in Petersburg, Virginia on August 24, with stops in Georgia and Texas scheduled for later in the year. Florida, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Illinois will be added to the roster in 2014.

The website generously credits Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls as inspiration, but notes that the American version has “significantly more safety protections” and its bulls “aren’t killed after the event or otherwise abused in order to make them run.” And those aren’t the only differences. I have no idea what extras, if any, Pamplona features in its Eurotrashy, old-fashioned event, but Dickens and Co. are offering up a little something they call Tomato Royale, inspired by yet another Spanish tradition, La Tomatina Buñol. Pamplonians (Pamplonites? Pamplemousses?) can read it and weep:

Tomato Royale is an insane tomato food fight that happens three times a day at each event. When the music starts, participants sprint to crates of tomatoes stationed around the arena and the free-for-all begins! Hurl tomatoes at your family, friends and fellow participants without guilt, inhibition or remorse!

Each bull run ticket also includes entry to Tomato Royale, but non-runners can join in the fun, too.

Having done it more than once as a farmhand, I have no desire to try and outrun half a ton of annoyed male bovine again, but the idea of throwing tomatoes at total strangers, especially Republicans, sounds pretty groovy. Prices at various venues range between $35 and $65 for the run, which also gets you into Tomato Royale and entitles you to a free t-shirt and a free beer. Yep. Free t-shirts and beer. Sucks to be you, Pamplona.

THREE: Pity Party

Much was made of the Republican Party’s attempts, post-election, to strategize its way out of its current doldrums, to broaden its appeal, to become – however improbably – the Party of Know.

It all kicked off with the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” whose 100-page report, released in March, advocated greater outreach to minorities, women and young voters. The same week, RNC Chair Reince Priebus dutifully announced a $10-million minority outreach effort, and did the interview circuit to inform everyone of what everyone except the RNC already knew:

“Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow minded,’ ‘out of touch,’ and ‘Stuffy old men.'”

Priebus then trotted out a canard beloved of Republicans who refuse to admit their ideas stink:

“It all goes back to what our moms used to tell us: It’s not just what we say; it’s how we say it.”

The great Will Durst described this wrongheaded approach much more eloquently:

No need to demonstrate more compassion, the trick is to seem more compassionate… In other words, all they need to do is to bleach the leopard’s spots.

The spot-bleaching and the minority outreach, to date, have been less than successful. Pablo Pantoja, the acclaimed “Director of Florida Hispanic Outreach for the Republican National Committee,” gave up on his party in May:

“Yes, I have changed my political affiliation to the Democratic Party.

It doesn’t take much to see the culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party today.”

No, it certainly doesn’t, especially with old white conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly noisily insisting that the party is barking up the wrong demographic. Between sips of embalming fluid, Schlafly recently told a rightwing radio host:

… the people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes…

A couple of weeks later, Georgia conservative social activist Rich Thompson – at an event ludicrously christened “The True Rainbow Coalition: Building an Organization in Minority Faith Communities” – showed just why GOP minority outreach was doomed from the get-go:

… right now an extremely disproportionate number of people of color are being paid by the government. Therein lies a serious problem. We can’t just cut everybody off instantaneously. But we have to have a serious conversation about how we get people to being producers and not receivers. So I thank you for coming this evening to find out how we can better message to people of the black community, the Latino community, and the Asian community.

The party’s efforts to court women have been no more effective, and are painfully epitomized by the 43 restrictions on women’s reproductive rights passed in 2012, not to mention the 92 passed in 2011.

As to the youth vote, the College National Republican Committee has provided their elders little cause for optimism:

The Republican Party’s troubles with young voters are well known. But a new internal report virtually elevates the threat level to apocalyptic, declaring that the GOP needs a “fundamental re-thinking” of its approach in order to remain viable with the younger generation.

Adding to all this bad news for Republicans is that their fondness for lying has not gone unnoticed. The Center for Media and Public Affairs released the results of a study showing that PolitiFact “has rated Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims.” Meanwhile, there are indications that the RNC’s smarm offensive may well have come too late:

The Republican Party’s ratings now stand at a 20-year low, with just 33 percent of the public holding a favorable view of the party and 58 percent judging it unfavorably…

But at the end of the day, the biggest problem for Republicans might not be their strategists, their candidates, or their elected officials. It might be their voters:

A new CNN poll shows just how far away from sanity the Republican Party has drifted. According [to] the poll, 80% of Republicans think George W. Bush’s presidency was a success.

And a more recent poll confirms that many of the party’s voters still have their heads screwed on at least half a turn too loose. Asked which direction Republican leaders should move, 54% of respondents opted for “conservative direction” while only 40% urged a move toward moderation. Even more amazingly, 35% of respondents believe Republicans have “compromised too much” with Democrats, and 32% believe the amount of compromise has been “about right.” It would have been fascinating to see how many respondents could even name a single example of their party compromising with Democrats, other than the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration bill hammered out in the Senate, since consigned to the House to die a painful death at the hands of – wait for it – intransigent Republicans.

On same-sex marriage, 31% of respondents believe the party’s stance has been “too conservative,” but 27% feel it’s “not conservative enough.” On abortion, “too conservative” was the choice of 25% while “not conservative enough” garnered 26%.

Favorables and unfavorables for various GOP leading lights were also intriguing. Would-be Veep Paul Ryan scored 65% favorable against a mere 15% unfavorable, but “next big noise” Ted Cruz was favorable to only 33% of respondents, while 13% gave him a thumbs-down and a surprising 53% had no opinion.

Best of all, the survey found that Republicans of the Tea Party persuasion constitute 37% of respondents, but 49% of those who “always vote in primary” are Teabaggers. All of which means that 2014 may not be as dire as Nate Silver has been hinting, and 2016 is looking up. Continue reading Take Five (Hot Mess in the Summertime edition)

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