Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Rapeublican Party: Juris-My-Diction Edition

It kinda-sorta started with Rush Limbaugh calling "slut" on a woman testifying before a House Committee.  It kicked itself in to high gear when then-Senate candidate Todd Akin announced that women's bodies had a heretofore unknown protection against conception, which is why rape victims don't get pregnant, which is why abortions for rape victims are unnecessary.  Later, then-Senate candidate Richard Mourdock opined that, as God has created the fetus through rape, well, then that fetus is a gift.  Being a fetus (a pre-born baby, in current parlance) it should be provided every protection under the law anyway; it can't help that God wanted it's mother raped so it could come in to the world, right?

Is it any wonder radio blabber Stephanie Miller has called the Republican Party the Rapey Party?

More evidence has emerged that, when it comes to the matter of rape, the Republican Party doesn't quite know when to stop.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R[ape]-VA) is holding up the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) because of some additions made by the Senate.  One in particular, apparently, sticks in Cantor's craw.  When accusations of domestic violence occur on reservations, under new provisions, tribal courts would have jurisdiction even when the accused is not a member of the tribe.  Current law limits jurisdiction in such cases to state and federal courts; state and federal law enforcement, however, is usually too far away to be effective, while tribal law enforcement is present, able to react quickly.

As a writer at Huffington Post notes, this comes at a time when there is an appalling level of violence against Native women by white men.
One in three Native American women have been raped or experienced attempted rape, the New York Times reported in March, and the rate of sexual assault on Native American women is more than twice the national average. President Barack Obama has called violence on tribal lands "an affront to our shared humanity."
Of the Native American women who are raped, 86 percent of them are raped by non-Native men, according to an Amnesty International report. That statistic is precisely what the Senate's tribal provision targets.
Just to be clear, the changes proposed in the Senate version do nothing more than allow local law enforcement to act because those with jurisdiction under the current law just can't react in a timely fashion.  As Congress is granted the power to set out the structure and jurisdiction of federal courts (including the tribal courts that operate on native lands under their laws), his resistance to this change amounts to little more than a tantrum.

Over an issue, namely rape, that has become a theme tripping Republican politicians again and again this year.  Which leaves me wondering if Cantor is as smart a politician as people say he is.  I would guess Cantor would insist he is not "defending" rape of Native American women by white men, but standing on some principle or other about which legal system should have jurisdiction in certain kinds of criminal cases.  Except, alas, it is the very class of cases that keep getting Republicans in trouble.  As soon as the word "rape" appears anywhere near a story, it seems to me a Republican politician would run as fast and far as possible.

Which tells me Cantor isn't a very smart politician.

And, yes, if it appears I am giving Cantor the benefit of the doubt, trusting his word on his reasons for objecting to the language in the proposed amendments to VAWA, I am.  Against a background in which white southern men defended the rape of women of color as a right guaranteed by the institutions of slavery and Jim Crow.  So I think I'm going a long way on this one.  All the same, it certainly appears as if the Republican Party has a rape problem they just can't get rid of. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Non-Existent Decline

Yesterday, I saw a photograph that captures what some continue to insist is the decadence and moral failure of our country:
In case you're wondering, these are couples waiting in line to get their marriage licenses in Washington.  Please note a few things.  First, they're all white.  Second, they appear to be, at the very least, middle class.  Several of the couples are older (the two gentlemen in the foreground and the women in the front on the right could be, and probably are, someone's grandparents).  Far from crumbling edifice of our social life, this photo demonstrates how . . . All-American those folks wanting to get married really are.  I realize that this picture will make people like Rick Santorum weep, but I fail to understand why.  It's really threatening to the institution of marriage, all these folks wanting to join the club?  Really?

Similarly, a recent article in Atlantic (with thanks to Amanda Marcotte who writes about it both at Pandagon and Slate) takes a look at a popular theory from a quarter century ago that the rise in single-parent families, which tracked pretty closely to the rise in violent crime, was a principle cause of that rise.  The fact is, since the mid-1990's, while single-parent - usually single mothers - households continued their steady rise, the violent crime rate quite literally collapsed.  Philip Cohen, author of the piece, even graphs the changes:
Please note a couple things.  Even as conservatives were insisting we were facing a whole new wave, perhaps even a generation of sociopathic criminals, the homicide rate was in decline.  It has continued to decline even as the economy has continued it lackadaisical performance the past two years.  All the while, the trend in single motherhood continues.

To be clear, now, this is not to say that there is not a correlation between being the child of a single-parent household and having a criminal record.  That correlation continues; Cohen notes it and doesn't deny it.  What he is denying is any factual basis for some kind of broader social or cultural decline rooted in the rise of single-parent households.  Indeed, while it may be the case that, if one either has a criminal record or is in the corrections system it is likely also that one is the product of a single-parent family.  On the other hand, fewer people who are such are committing crimes.  So the old argument from social conservatives that the "breakdown of the family" would bring about some kind of violent, crime-ridden dystopia is false.  As Cohen writes, "I think single mothers—especially those who were raising their kids back in the 1990s—deserve an apology from the conventional-wisdom purveyors of that time."

I keep reading people on the right carrying on about how the United States is in some kind of decline.  The only thing they point out, however, is a stagnant economy which, to be fair, is a problem for folks of any ideological stripe.  They can't carry on about crime.  They can't carry on about the rise of hedonistic hordes wanting to destroy marriage by getting married.  Shoot, they can't even carry on about single mothers being the source of social pathology because, frankly, there is far less now than two decades ago.

Would it be so hard for all these people who insist America is in decline to take a look around and realize the country is in pretty good shape?  What's wrong with celebrating all sorts of really good things, like a declining crime rate and people finally being allowed to marry?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Knee-Deep In The Hoopla

I have to be honest.  The circular stories about the "discussions" between Congressional leaders and the White House are as predictable as sunrise.  While more amusing, watching the Republicans scramble around, attempting to figure out why America rejected them is losing its comedic value only because . . . well, I don't like to laugh at handicapped people.

There are a couple things careening around the political internet that I really feel a need to speak out about.  First and foremost, this idea that Saxby Chambliss should face a primary challenge because he isn't conservative enough would induce laughter if I didn't think the GA Senator a humongous wad of camel poo. After more-than-hinting that wounded veteran Max Cleland was less than patriotic in a couple TV ads, Chambliss won himself a seat in the Big House.  That there are people in the Republican Party who think that just isn't despicable enough to pass their Asshole Test for candidacy should tell any thinking American what the GOP has become.  I heartily applaud any effort to rid the political world of Chambliss's presence, as long as there are enough voices making clear what a horrible person he is.

With the rejection of the UN Charter on Rights for the Disabled, the US Senate managed to make itself look both heartless and stupid in a single stroke.  No mean feat, all things considered, but some commentators announce they are confused that a "decent" man like Orrin Hatch voted against it.  Orrin Hatch isn't a "decent" Senator.  His treatment of Anita Hill was despicable.  His public lectures on the evils of Bill Clinton's penis were tiring.  Even if he were The Last Sane Republican (which he isn't), he knows which way the primary winds are blowing.  This vote was a tactical move on his part.  Whether or not he believes a Treaty that codified the Americans With Disabilities Act as the gold standard for treatment of persons with disabilities was actually an attempt to steal Rick Santorum's daughter and teach her evolution without his consent, well, I couldn't care less (because, you know, Anita Hill again; I don't care for Orrin Hatch).  Hatch has an entire career demonstrating his preference to side with crazy people.  That's not decent, and no amount of special pleading will make it so.

As an aside, the encomiums for Bob Dole by liberals make me want to retch.  The guy was a partisan hack, a nasty political operator who, when he was Gerald Ford's Vice Presidential candidate complained loudly about "Democratic Wars", as if somehow the Kaiser and Hitler and Kim Il Sung and Ho Chi Minh were  nothing more than overseas precinct captains .  That he became some kind of cuddly celebrity after his political career ended is disgusting enough; that liberals who should know better are carrying on because the rejection of the Disabilities Treaty occurred in Dole's presence (in a wheelchair, no less) is ridiculous.  Back when he replaced Howard Baker as Senate Majority Leader, lots of folks noted he was a right-wing party hack with a nasty disposition.  He didn't change his spots because he got old.  He just, you know, got old.  He, more than many people, are responsible for what the US Senate on its Republican side has become.  I'm glad he sat in his wheelchair and reaped some of that bitter fruit.

As I'm engaged in a fund-raising project for the United Methodist Committee on Relief until just before Christmas, my days are far more full and rewarding than trying to find new ways to say, "Ooo!  Look!  The Republicans are insane!"

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Post-Modern Prometheus (UPDATE)

I've been watching the political theater that are the negotiations between the White House and Congress over the expiring Bush tax cuts and mandated sequestration with more than a little amusement.  Back in the summer of 2011, when Congress forced a deal upon the President that included a shadow-play "supercommittee" that did nothing, I could see the writing on the wall.  After the election, we would have a showdown which would be a replay of every stupid standoff between Congress and the White House since Obama took office.

This time, though, things are a bit different.

It appears the President has discovered a spine.  Winning re-election helped.  Winning re-election that included coattails that extended to the US Senate helped even more.  Winning re-election in which Democratic candidates across the country won far more votes than Republican candidates probably made him realize, "I don't have to take this crap from you!".  And so, he isn't.

What adds more than a little comedy to all this is the Republican leadership in Congress acts as if the election and the campaign that preceded it never happened.  Romney who?  Republicans promised what?  They have no memory of the tens of thousands of words they uttered over the months previous, except those about the President's "lack of leadership" and their allegations of duplicity.  With help from Beltway Blowhards, they utter no peep that this entire situation is of their own devising.  Did they, perhaps with good reason, believe in the summer of 2011 they would be dealing with a defeated President Obama?  Did they believe they would be anticipating a Republican Senate just over the horizon, a stronger GOP presence in the House, thus increasing the likelihood that even should Obama refuse to deal, they could pass new tax cuts at the beginning of a new Congress?

Well, none of that transpired.  Republicans ran on everything they've been doing for thirty years and the American people handed them their ass.  When Mitch McConnell laughed at Tim Geithner last week, he must have forgotten that Pres. Obama was offering Congress nothing more or less than the plan that won him a second term in the White House.  McConnell, who's record as minority leader should prevent him from holding any leadership position (if the Republicans were sane), was acting as if we hadn't just held an election, as if the President had never said there were certain things he was going to do, and others he would not do, and that McConnell could just go in front of microphones and offer a word salad and no one would notice.

On a side note, all these Republicans who screeched about the deficit being worse than the Soviet threat should be wetting themselves over the prospect of massive tax increases and enormous spending cuts.  It would certainly eliminate the deficit, now, wouldn't it.

The fact is the entire dance in Washington is something the Republicans created.  Obama has neither the need nor, it seems, the interest, to drag their collective chestnuts from the fire they started.  That he continues to act like a politician who won an election is not a mark against him; on the contrary, it is a sign that he gets it.  The huffing and puffing from the Republicans over what is, by and large, a meaningless bunch of nonsense - tax rates would rise the Clinton-era levels, hardly confiscatory; the spending cuts can only be enacted by Congress, and if they choose to spend more, then they will spend more - only shows how much the Republicans have bought their own bullshit.  No horrid monster ready to kill, they created instead the perfect post-modern political predicament - a meaningless pas de deux which has them dancing while the President stands back and laughs.

UPDATE:  Two things about David Brooks's latest.  Like Duncan says, "this involves Congress taking itself hostage and threatening to shoot the country".  Second, also as Duncan reminds folks on occasion, all this "Grand Bargain" nonsense is ridiculous.  There is, quite literally, nothing the current Congress might or might not do that would constrain or limit what future actions either future Congress's or Administrations can or cannot do.  If Brooks believes in Grand Bargains, he's an idiot.  If he doesn't, then he's a shill for a bunch of stupid hoodlums in Congress.  Either way, it's more of the same empty, meaningless, pomo politics-as-theater, that now includes people like Brooks being congratulated for saying something intelligent when they're actually being quite stupid.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Advent I

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. - 2 Peter 3:8-10
Advent is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ. - Thomas Merton
So it begins.  Our journey through the Christian calendar, with time now tuned to God's action for the creation so beloved God in Christ came down to live God's love with us and for us, begins not only the period where we wait for the birth of the Christ-child.  We also are called to wait and watch because the work begun with Christ so long ago continues; the end of the story is yet to come, and each moment is full of the promise of God's recreation.

 As we recall the birth of the promised Messiah, we also long for the final completion of God's Divine work in Christ through the Spirit.  We look back, of course; what else is the time before Christmas but one long season of nostalgia?  We share stories of Christmas's past, of get-togethers and presents and parties.  We remember what it was to be a child on Christmas morning, the overflowing stockings, the presents stacked underneath the tree, sometimes spilling out in to the room.  While nostalgia has been called the antithesis of real memory, it does serve us by reminding us that this is a time apart, a day removed from other days.

Yet, to be truly faithful, we should also hear the call to look ahead.  We need to remember that God's promise made human in Christ is not yet complete.  We are, all of us, a work in progress.  Advent, a time of waiting and preparation for something to come, should not just be about parties and decorating and recalling years past; just as we look forward to the celebration of the birth of the Christ child, we should also be looking forward to that moment when Christ comes to call all creation by name, remaking what was in to what it all can be in and through the Spirit, in the name of the Son to the glory of the Father.  No apocalyptic bloodlust, no chiliastic destruction of the sinful and godless, the promised return of Christ is nothing more or less than the promise to complete what has already begun in and through Christ for all creation: to make of it what God has always intended, to live and be for the Glory of God.

To be honest, however, we should not ignore than this is not some sweet feeling of peace; Scripture is filled with the words of Jesus promising a refining by fire.  To rid our lives, to rid all creation, of the sin that keeps us from full participation in the life of God in Christ through the Spirit is a painful process of death.  We die to our own needs and wants.  We die to the siren song of the delights of the flesh.  We die to the seductive whispers of the promise of power and all the glories that can come through it.  We are called even to sever those ties most dear to us: our families and friends, our spouses and children.  These, like all the rest, are temptations, empty promises of security in a world filled with unrest.  Let me be clear: the family, like the state, like work, like friendship, even the comforts of routine, can be a trap, a way to rest in peace as the world around us burns.  When God in Christ calls us, we are called to leave behind even those most dear to us.  As the world is made new around us, as we hear Christ beckoning us to join in the work of bringing that new creation more fully to life, every thing in our lives is the price we must pay.  The pain we endure when we answer with joy the call of Christ in our lives can be devastating.

This First Sunday of Advent, as we begin, again, to wait and watch, to hear the words of St. Peter in Scripture reminding us that God is patient yet persistent, we should also hear the words of St. Peter that say all things shall pass away.  All things.  God in Christ is calling us even now to live this out, and the price we pay, our own lives, is far higher than we can imagine.  As Thomas Merton reminds us, Advent is a call to begin ridding ourselves of those parts of us that have not yet been brought under the reign of Christ in our lives.  The world remade, the new creation, the promise of fellowship, these are possible in the New Heaven and New Earth that God in Christ through the Spirit is, even now, preparing for all that is.  It is, alas, not yet. Hearing the Advent words "wait" and "watch" are not only liturgical calls to prayer; they are calls to renew our vigilant work, bringing the Kingdom of God here and now, thinning the wall between our sinful time and God's promised New Creation.  This call demands we set all to one side.

Are we ready?

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