Bloomberg Ricin Attack: Don’t Overreact Just Yet

Published: mic (May 29, 2013)

When an issue is as superheated as gun control, one can almost instinctively predict the reaction to news stories such as this one:

“New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has received an anonymous threatening letter that preliminary tests indicated contained the presence of the poison ricin, law enforcement officials told NBC News.

A similar letter, which early tests indicated contained ricin, was also sent to the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, in Washington, D.C.

In both letters, the writer made threatening comments about Bloomberg’s support for gun control, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Public information Paul Browne said.”

That is why, before our reactions to this story jump the gun (pun intended), we should take a step back and remind ourselves of two things:

1. As Daniel Webster famously put it, “Keep cool; anger is not an argument.” While gun control advocates have every right to be livid at the palm greasing and rightist paranoia-baiting used by the NRA and their ilk to kill regulatory measures, that does not justify smearing all who hold a conservative position on this issue. We cannot afford a repeat of the overreactions that occurred after incidents like the John Kennedy assassination and Gabby Giffords assassination attempt, in which liberals immediately blamed their favorite right-wing targets for acts of violence against progressive public officials. The vast majority of Americans who oppose gun control do so for reasons that are just as well-intentioned as those who favor such policies. If we allow ourselves to use this single incident as an opportunity to smear an entire movement, we will be guilty of a terrible disservice to the vital spirit of our democracy. At the same time…

2. Conservatives need to remember that words have consequences. As I pointed out in an op-ed last month on right-wing extremism, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report in April 2009 warning that extreme rightist groups were “already working to attract new recruits ‘by playing on their fears about several emergent issues’ like immigration, gun control and economic policy'” and that “‘lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing [sic] extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”” The reason for DHS’s concern at that time, and that of many moderates and liberals today, is that the rhetoric employed by extremists often fails to simply characterize their ideological opponents as being misguided or wrong. Instead liberals are depicted as socialists, utopianists, despisers of god and worshippers of big government – a threat to “whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values,” to quote Richard Hofstadter’s famous 1964 essay on American political paranoia, whose ideas cannot be met halfway through compromise “since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil” and as such “what is necessary is … the will to fight things out to a finish.”

In short, if there is one takeaway lessons which self-proclaimed pundits can safely intone based on the early information leaking out about this incident, it is the one articulated by President Obama himself in the aftermath of the Gabby Giffords assassination attempt:

“But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

If that message can’t be met with sincere and unequivocal approval from all sides of the ideological spectrum – regardless of what one thinks of this particular president – then our body politic requires strong medicine indeed.

 

George Zimmerman Trial: Release of Trayvon Martin Text Messages is Racist and Reprehensible

Published: mic (May 27, 2013)

After facing a wave of controversy for their decision to release Trayvon Martin’s private cell phone records to the public, George Zimmerman’s attorneys are defending themselves by claiming they merely wish to demonstrate that Martin was “hostile.” In their own words, their sole goal is to “assist the jury in understanding why Trayvon Martin chose to hide then confront George Zimmerman rather than simply going home.”

To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway: If you believe that, it’s time for you to develop a bullshit detector.

From the moment when Martin’s shooting became a national news story, Zimmerman and his supporters have exploited racist stereotypes to assist their cause, and this latest incident is no exception. The defense team’s documents brandish incidents in which Martin bantered with his friends about acting like a “hoodlum” or “gangsta,” engaged in lengthy conversations about cannibis use (including references to a marijuana-related school suspension), discussed having arguments with his parents and making plans to skip classes, and took pictures of himself blowing smoke rings, giving the middle finger, and wearing a gold grill. At his ostensible “worst,” Martin is shown bragging about winning a fistfight and talking about wanting to own a gun.

Readers with moderately well-oiled Hemingwayesque bullshit detectors will immediately notice three things about the previous paragraph’s list:

1. Not one of the released texts specifically pertains to the actual events of the Martin-Zimmerman confrontation on the night of February 26, 2012. As such, according to the most elementary standards used to determine evidentiary relevance in criminal cases, these texts are entirely immaterial (and will quite likely be thrown out for that very reason).

2. None of the texts reveal anything about Martin that one wouldn’t expect to discover when prying into the psyche of an average American teenager. For one thing, the handful of texts being highlighted to the public no doubt constitute a mere fraction of Martin’s larger social interactions, especially given the extensive and complex socialization in which virtually all Western youth are involved today. What’s more, even if our popular culture didn’t glorify drugs, violence, and “gangsta” culture, young adults have been defined by their penchant for self-aggrandizing braggadocio and general rebelliousness all the way back to the days of Socrates (who himself complained of the “bad manners” and “contempt for authority” demonstrated by the youth of his time). Needless to say, most of these teenagers never engage in violent activity aside from standard juvenile scuffles (such as the ones in which Martin seems to have participated), so without proof of anything more serious from Martin’s past, the released texts are meaningless.

3. The obvious motive behind releasing these cell phone records was to smear Martin’s image in the eyes of the public and, by way of social osmosis, the jurors for Zimmerman’s trial (although Judge Kenneth Lester will no doubt instruct his jury to disregard the texts, pre-existing impressions are hard to purge from the subconscious, much less conscious, mind). Even worse, much of the character assassination is firmly rooted in the tropes frequently conjured up to vilify and “other” urban black men. After all, of what relevance are Martin’s fashion preferences (the gold grill) or slang choices (terms like “gangsta” and other chronicled uses of inner-city slang), unless one assumes that the culture with which they are associated is an inherently violent one? Why even mention that he smoked weed, hotdogged in social media for his friends, and didn’t take his studies seriously, unless the implication is that these actions belied latent violent tendencies – and if so, are Martin’s detractors ready to apply the same behavioral rubric to suburban whites as well as racial minorities (disingenous reassurances to that effect notwithstanding)? Even Martin’s fascination with firearms isn’t as automatically damning as Zimmerman’s attorneys would like the public to believe. If liberals and moderates are to be regularly denounced whenever they question the benign intentions of the millions of Americans who staunchly oppose any form of gun control, what right do we have to condemn a Trayvon Martin for his own fixation with gun ownership?

If there is one good thing about cause celebres like the Trayvon Martin shooting, it is that they can shed light on deeper political and social illnesses in our country. Although this case tends to be compared to other events in American history involving violent outbursts of racial prejudice (and correctly so), I am most keenly reminded of the 1999 trial for Matthew Shepard’s killers – i.e., the court case in which the idea that “gay panic” could be used as a defense for murder was exposed to the widespread public contempt it deserved. If nothing else, Martin’s death and the subsequent actions of his killer’s defenders make it clear that another form of hate-based panic is also prevalent in our society. While it’s historic roots are quite different from those brought to light by the Shepard killing, they are no less pervasive or destructive. If we simply allow ourselves to come to grips with it, we may be able to prevent tragedies like Martin’s death from happening in the future. All it takes is a willingness to reach a deeper understanding of the problems of the world in which we live … problems which, as the very fact that these texts were released goes to show, we far too often make for ourselves.

Joe Biden Gaffe: VP’s Jewish Comments Were Not Anti-Semitic

Published: mic (May 25, 2013)

While Joe Biden is notorious for his gaffes, his recent comments in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month should not be designated as such … despite the outcry from some critics claiming otherwise.

First, let’s take a look at what he said:

“The truth is that Jewish heritage, Jewish culture, Jewish values are such an essential part of who we are that it’s fair to say that Jewish heritage is American heritage. The Jewish people have contributed greatly to America. No group has had such an outsized influence per capita as all of you standing before you, and all of those who went before me and all of those who went before you.”

Normally a paragraph like this would be considered innocuous, even a tad generic. After all, it is a longstanding tradition for politicians of both parties to lavish praise not only on the concept of American demographic pluralism, but on the specific ethnic groups who make our diversity possible in the first place (whether this rhetoric is followed up by substantive action is an entirely different matter). Had Biden made a comparable statement about any other religious community or nationality, it is doubtful his remarks would have received any meaningful attention.

Unfortunately, the claim that Jews have had an “outsized influence per capita” in shaping America and the world has long been a potent fuel for anti-Semitism. One need only look at the ongoing popularity of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion — a hoax churned out more than a hundred years ago by Tsarist Russia which purported to chronicle a meeting of powerful Jews discussing their plot for global domination — to fully appreciate this fact. Indeed, a recent State Department report documenting a worldwide increase in conspiratorial anti-Semitism (e.g., official Holocaust denial by the Iranian government, President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt supporting an imam’s public prayer for “Allah” to “destroy the Jews and their supporters,” the reciting of the “Protocols” by a member of the Greek parliament) prompted Secretary of State John Kerry to name a special envoy to specifically address this problem. Yet does that mean that Biden said anything wrong?

Certainly his remarks weren’t factually erroneous. It is true, as Biden pointed out, that Jews “make up 11% of the seats in the United States Congress” (despite being less than 2% of the American population) and “one-third of all Nobel laureates” (despite comprising less than 0.2% of the world population). Likewise, Biden was correct in observing that “you can’t talk about the Civil Rights movement in this country without talking about Jewish freedom riders and Jack Greenberg,” that “you can’t talk about the women’s movement without talking about Betty Friedan,” and that “you can’t talk about the recognition of … rights in the Constitution without looking at incredible jurists” on the Supreme Court like Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter.

While it is hardly a coincidence that Biden’s party affiliation accounts for his emphasis on Jews’ historic proclivity toward liberalism (Jews have voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1924, with 74% identifying as liberal or moderate today and, excepting in the year of Jimmy Carter’s defeat, between 64 and 80% voting Democratic in every presidential election over the past 40 years), he did not overlook non-political achievements as well. By the time he had finished extolling everything from the contributions of Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan in American science to the influence of George Gershwin and Bob Dylan in American music, his only notable factual error had been one almost born of his well-known penchant for hyperbole — i.e., his statement that “85% of those changes” in Hollywood and social media that had led to gay rights had been “a consequence of Jewish leaders in the industry” (although it is true that Jews have also been disproportionately supportive of gay rights). His overall thesis, on the other hand, was entirely sound. After listening to his recitation of the facts of American Jewish history, it would be hard to argue that “Jewish heritage has shaped who we are – all of us, us, me — as much or more than any other factor in the last 223 years.”

Then why have Biden’s comments provoked such consternation?

Simply put, it is because America’s obsession with political correctness is rooted more in insecurity than conviction. Even the shrillest avowed non-bigot will, as a rule, become uncomfortable when confronted with facts which seem to support bigoted worldviews. Because the disproportionate Jewish influence in politics, science, art, business, and academia seems to confirm anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, non-bigots who can’t think of an argument to account for that reality instead opt to ignore it. When asked to justify this decision, they usually do so by arguing that they’re merely trying to avoid playing into the hands of anti-Semites. However, given that anyone so inclined to feel this way about Jews will no doubt already be aware of these or similar statistics, that explanation doesn’t hold much water.

More significant, though, is that it misses the point entirely. For one thing, the notion that Jews should be expected to defend themselves for their achievements is in itself implicitly anti-Semitic, operating as it does on the presumption that a Jewish conspiracy might exist and as such needs to be disproved. What’s more, these arguments diminish the various qualities that have contributed to Jewish success, such as the Jewish culture’s emphasis on education and hard work, its ability to maintain a cohesive communal identity after five millennia, and the moral premium it places on providing tangible charity and socioeconomic uplift for the less fortunate (as Diego Rivera once put it, “My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life. From this has come my sympathy with the downtrodden masses which motivates all my work.”)

The worst part, though, is that these arguments are fundamentally un-American. To explain why, I turn to one of America’s last libertarian presidents. As Grover Cleveland explained during a Thanksgiving Day speech in 1905, only two years after the Protocols of the Elders of Zion became a worldwide hit, Jews should be proud that “the toleration and equal opportunity accorded [them] have been abundantly repaid.” His closing words are the perfect conclusion for this piece:

“I know that human prejudice, especially that growing out of race or religion, is cruelly inveterate and lasting, but wherever in the world prejudice against the Jews still exists, there can be no place for it among the people of the United States, unless they are heedless of good faith, recreant of the underlying principles of their free government, and insensible to every pledge involved in our boasted equality of citizenship.”

PS: In the name of full disclosure, I myself am Jewish.

Why Today’s Democrats Are Not Like LBJ

Published: mic (May 23, 2013)

There are days that call for history lessons, and while most liberals don’t realize it, we should definitely insist on May 22 being one of them. After all, it was 49 years ago yesterday that President Lyndon Baines Johnson intoned these words at a speech delivered to a graduating class at the University of Michigan:

“For a century we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people.

The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.”

At the time, they seemed to foreshadow the apotheosis of New Deal liberalism, that unique brand of boldly assertive economic and social progressivism set into motion during Franklin Roosevelt’s whirlwind opening term (1933-1937) and ratified as America’s dominant political ideology for a generation by his landslide reelection in 1936. While it may be hard to imagine today, the overarching philosophy that guided national policy during the middle third of the twentieth century held that the federal government could play a proactive role in fighting poverty, discrimination, and economic injustice without violating the precepts of the Constitution (which, as I explained in an earlier op-ed, did not inherently proscribe state intervention in economic matters). As Roosevelt himself explained in his 11th State of the Union address, “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

This precept clearly provided the theoretical foundation for Roosevelt’s revolutionary first term, which saw the passage of unprecedented federal job-creation programs (including the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Civil Works Administration, the Public Works Administration, the Works Progress Administration, and the National Youth Administration), relief measures for the poor and elderly (the Federal Emergency Relief Act, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, and Social Security), business regulations to curtail financial chicanery (the Emergency Banking Relief Act, and the Securities and Exchange Commission Act), and protections for workers and consumers (the National Recovery Administration and the National Labor Relations Act), to name just a handful of its major policy initiatives. While these policies had philosophically eclectic roots and did not in their own right end the Great Depression (which Roosevelt had inherited from his predecessor, Republican Herbert Hoover), they significantly alleviated the misery endured by millions of Americans as a result of that worldwide economic collapse. What’s more, they brought together a political coalition that lasted nearly half a century, one that included unions and blue collar laborers, farmers and rural Southern whites, African Americans and so-called “ethnic whites” (generally southern and eastern Europeans and Jews), big city machines and intellectuals, and anyone who agreed with Roosevelt that conservatives who justified the hardships imposed on the working class by laissez-faire policies had forgotten that “economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings.

As a result, Democrats controlled the White House for 28 of the 36 years after Roosevelt first took office (1933-1953 and 1961-1969), as well as 32 of the 36 years during that same period (excepting the midterm reshifts from 1947-1949 and 1953-1955). Even after the rush of achievement from Roosevelt’s first term wore off, both he and his successors spent the next three decades continuing to use the government as a constructive force in America’s economic and social life. Again, the list of programs is too extensive to receive all but the briefest skim here, ranging from Roosevelt using the economic mobilization necessitated by World War Two to end the Great Depression and push through the G. I. Bill of 1944 to Harry Truman passing the Employment Act of 1946 and Fair Housing Act of 1949. Dwight Eisenhower (a moderate Republican) signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (creating the modern interstate highway system) and juiced America’s current technological boom via influxes of funding for scientific research. John Kennedy’s passed school lunch and other food programs in impoverished areas and was an outspoken advocate of civil rights legislation. That isn’t to say that this period was a political goden age; after all, it also saw the rise of the military-industrial complex (against which Eisenhower issued his famous warning), the ballooning of our federal debt, and the lagging of civil rights due to the continued influence of conservative Democrats and their growing number of Republican sympathizers. At the same time, it was at least a period in which the government was unapologetic about trying to actively improve the lives of its citizens.

Although few could have realized it at the time, Lyndon Johnson’s speech on May 22, 1964 marked the last time this would be the case. Christening his ambitious new social and economic agenda as “the Great Society,” Johnson capped off the first year of his presidency with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in public accomodations, housing, and jobs, as well as increased federal power to prosecute civil rights abuses. Following his own landslide election in 1964, he then passed the Medical Care Act, which established Medicare and Medicaid; created the Department of Housing and Urban Development; increased federal support for education by subsidizing textbooks and libraries for needy public schools, strengthening standards, providing scholarships and low-interest college student loans, and funding educational television and radio broadcasting through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; brought the campaign against legalized racial discrimination to its climax with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968; kickstarted the modern environment movement with the Wilderness Preservation Act, the Water Quality Act, the Clear Air Act Amendment, and the Air Quality Act (by comparison, Richard Nixon being credited for establishing Earth Day seems ridiculously trivial); and protected consumers as never before with the Truth in Packaging Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

Ironically, when Johnson overwhelmingly triumphed in the election of 1964, his victory was attributed in large part to the staunch conservatism of his Republican opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater. Indeed, it was Johnson’s own kowtowing to conservatism on foreign policy that caused the New Deal coalition to fragment — by supporting the disastrous Vietnam War to win over the right wings of both parties (which blamed Harry Truman for the success of the Maoist Revolution and John Kennedy for the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs), Johnson alienated the rising New Left and was pressured into dropping out of the 1968 presidential race. The subsequent Democratic infighting weakening the party enough to elect Republican Richard Nixon in a squeaker. Nevertheless, the fact remains that while May 22, 1964 seemed to usher in nothing more than the latest phase in the political era that had begun on March 4, 1933 (the start of Roosevelt’s presidency), in reality it was the last time liberal rather than conservative ideas would establish the premises of our political discourse. In the dozen years after Johnson left office, the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter achieved very little in the way of social and economic reform and strived for even less, with the two Republicans and lone Democrat focusing more on foreign policy than domestic issues. In Nixon’s case, this was due to his personal temperament, in Ford’s case it was due to his own weak political standing, and in Carter’s case it was due to his incompetence in handling legislative negotations. All opted for centrist accomodations rather than advocating bold new initiatives of their own. The final death knell of the New Deal era rang out on November 4, 1980, when a protege of the conservative movement that had been denounced as “extreme” during the Johnson-Goldwater election — a former California governor and erstwhile Hollywood star named Ronald Reagan — was elected over a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who had been rendered unelectable due to the Iranian hostage crisis and his own ineptitude on domestic issues.

That brings us to our current era, the one that started a third of a century ago after Reagan’s election. It is one in which the Republicans have moved the nation farther and farther to the right under leaders like Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and George W. Bush, while the Democrats have countered with avowed centrists like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. In inevitable concurrence with that happening, our politicians from both parties have shifted our national dialogue to the right, making visionary rhetoric like that of Lyndon Johnson seem almost inconceivable in our own times. We have lost the courage to say, as Andrew Jackson, our party’s first president, said, that “there are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses.” When a Republican like Eisenhower even suggests that the government can do good as well as evil, he is run out of the party. When a Democrat who wants to avoid being depicted as radical wants to argue the same thing, he feels reflexively compelled to do so quasi-apologetically, preemptively accounting for the default branding he will receive as a Constitution-hating socialist in both what he says and how he governs.

This is nothing short of tragic, and for any liberal who is unconvinced of that by looking at the history, they need only look at how relevant Johnson’s words on that May 22nd still applied to this May 22nd:

“There are those timid souls who say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth. I do not agree. We have the power to shape the civilization that we want. But we need your will, your labor, your hearts, if we are to build that kind of society.

Those who came to this land sought to build more than just a new country. They sought a new world. So I have come here today to your campus to say that you can make their vision our reality. So let us from this moment begin our work so that in the future men will look back and say: It was then, after a long and weary way, that man turned the exploits of his genius to the full enrichment of his life.”

Tom Coburn and Republican Senators Repeatedly Opposed Disaster Relief Funds

Published: mic (May 21, 2013)

Update: Since this article was written, Senator Coburn announced that he would be insistent that any aid to the Oklahoma tornado victims must be offset by additional spending cuts elsewhere — predictably putting partisan politics ahead of helping his constituents. Read more here.

It’s always immensely satisfying to read an article that makes its point simply by listing facts.

The piece that inspired this observation appeared in the Huffington Post. As reporter Christina Wilkie observed, the recent string of tornadoes which have devastated Oklahoma are putting that state’s pair of Republican senators in a rather “awkward position.” Not only did Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe support a conservative plan last year to cut Hurricane Sandy disaster relief from $60.4 billion to $23.8 billion, but they even opposed additional funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) when it was set to run out of funds back in 2011. Of course, despite a claim by one of Coburn’s spokesmen that that his boss never makes “parochial calculations” in his voting decisions, the erstwhile physician is on the record urging FEMA to act as quickly as possible after a 2007 ice storm so that “Oklahoma has the resources needed to begin the clean-up.” When the Department of Housing and Urban Development came through with additional relief funds the following year, Inhofe joined Coburn in offering effusive praise.

Image Credit: Talk Radio News Service

Given that Oklahoma needed (and received) $67.8 million in federal relief after its last comparable tornado disaster in 1999, it’s a fair bet that the amount required to achieve meaningful results will again land in at least the high eight figure range this time around. If Coburn and Inhofe decide against pushing for adequate funds, they will fail to uphold their most basic duties as representatives of the best interest and welfare of the people of Oklahoma. Then again, if they request anything close to what would actually be necessary to repair their state, they can bank on the same right-wingers with whom they normally align to either …

A) Root around their relief bill and cry foul against “wasteful spending” (both the real and imagined kind) as a way of impressing their party base or …

B) Suspend their ideology so they can help their fellow partisans.

Image Credit: Gage Skidmore

As I mull over the unflattering predicament currently faced by Coburn, Inhofe, and the people who voted for them, I can’t help but think of the political ideals propounded by the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, back when he was an obscure ex-congressman and his future party was less than two weeks old. “The legitimate object of government,” Lincoln wrote, “is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves.” Although he naturally believed that when the people could “individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere,” he listed the state’s responsibility as including the response to “all which, in its nature, and without wrong, requires combined action, as public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanages, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself.” Because government exists so that the people of a polity can “effect certain objects by joint effort,” inevitably “the best framed and best administered governments are necessarily expensive.”

Of course, we live in the era of haughty zealotry, in which the ability to cleave to abstract concepts in the midst of concrete suffering is too often praised as principled … except, of course, when the suffering hits too close to home. As much as outspokenly thrifty politicians are admired for their so-called courage, the truth is that it’s always easy to oppose programs that help others; all that’s required is an incentive (the votes of right-wing ideologues) and a handful of overboiled platitudes (usually on small government, various reifications of freedom, and the erroneous belief that our founding fathers were economic conservatives). When a program impacts one’s self directly, however, the same people who allowed ideology to interfere with other people’s welfare are suddenly forced to either reveal the fundamental inhumane callousness of their philosophy to their constituents or (given the understandable reluctance to do that) expose their own hypocrisy by making an exception for themselves to rules they all too cruelly apply to others. Either way, the main losers in the end are the people who, though afflicted with problems they can not fix on their own, are left with inadequate governmental assistance when it comes time to address them.

Since the problem addressed here has existed since the very first tremors of progressivism made their way to America, there is no sound reason to think it will go away in the near future. As such, perhaps the best way to end this piece is with the wise observation of another great Republican, California governor, vice presidential candidate, and Supreme Court judge Earl Warren:

“Many people consider the things government does for them to be social progress but they regard the things government does for others as socialism.”

Ted Cruz 2016: Presidential Run Would Put Birthers in a Bind

Published: mic (May 18, 2013), The Morning Call (May 20, 2013)

From a strictly political standpoint, the past month has been pretty good for Sen. Ted Cruz. First the Tea Party darling further endeared himself to grassroots rightists by claiming that he had privately told the Republican senators who supported the gun-buyer background check bill to “not be a bunch of squishes.” Now he is in the headlines again, this time for being on the receiving end of a senatorial insult namely, Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement that Cruz had acted like a “schoolyard bully” during Senate budget negotiations.

Regardless of what one thinks of Cruz’s ideology, it is hard to deny that his conveniently conspicuous clashes with archetypes so deeply reviled by Tea Partiers that is, compromising Republicans and any Democrat to the left of Grover Cleveland makes him at first glance a logical favorite of the so-called “conservative base” for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Indeed, online support for a potential Cruz candidacy is already starting to pop up, with Cruz himself remaining cryptic about his intentions.

This makes it all the more troubling that he was born in Canada.

Although there are valid questions regarding Cruz’s legal eligibility to run for president, these aren’t troubling in their own right. Section 1 of Article 2 in the Constitution states that only “a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.” While Cruz’s case isn’t covered by the Fourteenth Amendment exemption (which grants citizenship to anyone born in the United States but says nothing about children born to Americans who happen to be abroad), Section 301(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act extends citizenship to anyone born to an American citizen such as Cruz’s mother at the time of his own birth. Consequently, the central issue facing a hypothetical Cruz presidential bid is whether being a “national and citizen of the United States at birth” (Cruz’s current citizenship designation) is the same thing as being a “natural born Citizen.” Since legal scholars can be found supporting both possible answers to that question and the issue itself has never been tested in court (despite opportunities for John McCain, who was born in the American embassy in Panama), there is no official answer regarding Cruz’s eligibility.

Then again, the mere fact that conservatives are seriously considering a Cruz candidacy in the first place is troubling in its own right, as hypocrisy tends to be.

Bear in mind that, when a 2011 Public Policy Polling survey asked Republican primary voters if they thought Barack Obama had been born outside the United States, nearly three-quarters of them were either certain that he wasn’t a natural born citizen (51%) or felt they were “not sure” about the matter (21%). A CBS News/New York Times poll taken only a few months later produced a similar result, with roughly two-thirds of Republicans and Tea Partiers declaring either that they were certain Obama hadn’t been born in this country (45% for both groups) or that they were “not sure” (22% of Republicans and 21% of Tea Partiers). By comparison, a clear majority of Americans as a whole believed the president had been born here (57%), with only one-quarter claiming he hadn’t (25%) and the remainder saying they didn’t know (18%).

Of course, according to the logic of Cruz’s conservative defenders, none of this matters. After all, no one questions that Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, was born in Wichita. If one reasons that Cruz is eligible to run, then naturally Obama was eligible when he ran as well.

This puts the birther half of the GOP in a rather unenviable position. Since they’re already on record claiming Obama’s non-native birth disqualified him from the presidency, the only way they could ethically support a Ted Cruz presidency would be to admit to themselves that, platitudes notwithstanding, they love the Constitution only when it can be used as a weapon against liberals.

If nothing else, this is one more reason we must hope America never becomes the nation envisioned by the GOP’s right-wing base. Should that happen, we may start resembling the England described by Oscar Wilde:

“And what sort of lives do these people, who pose as being moral, lead themselves? My dear fellow, you forget that we are in the land of the hypocrite.”

‘All My Children,’ ‘One Life to Live’ Return 2 Years After Cancellation — Online

Published: mic (May 1, 2013)

If you thought NBC’s inept mishandling of the Tonight Show franchise was the mother of all network debacles, take a look at this recent story about ABC from the Los Angeles Times:

On Thursday, production company Prospect Park Networks filed a $25-million breach of contract lawsuit against the Walt Disney Co-owned broadcast network. The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleged that ABC backstabbed the production firm by carrying out a devious plot to destroy Prospect’s efforts to bring the beloved daytime dramas back to life as online productions.

Prospect Park in July 2011 licensed the rights to the two ABC soaps shortly after ABC announced its budget-cutting plans to cancel them. “All My Children” went off the air in September 2011, and “One Life to Live” ended its television run in January 2012…

The suit said that ABC agreed to consult with Prospect on story lines involving the characters — but that apparently didn’t happen.

In the name of full disclosure, I should add that I have never watched a soap opera episode in my life. My interest in this is not based on familiarity with the genre.

No, it is based on my general desire for quality television programming, and if you feel the same way about your entertainment, I would strongly suggest that you pull for Prospect Park on this occasion.

Plenty has been written about how cyberspace has revolutionized how we watch movies and television shows, listen to music, play video games, and even simply read. Just look at Netflix, Hulu, e-books, and MMORPGs, to say nothing of the epidemic in piracy and illegal file sharing. I even wrote a piece last year that discussed internet review shows like Obscurus Lupa Presents, The Cinema Snob, Phelous, and Welshy, during which I pointed out that these new programs were not only venues for insightful cultural analysis, but also distinct works of art that owed their very existence to the unique opportunities offered by the internet.

Yet the vast majority of these articles that have discussed this entertainment phenomenon (including my own) have tended to divide it into two categories: The trend of it becoming increasingly common for traditional creative products — i.e., material that originated externally — to be distributed online (whether intentionally or otherwise); and the explosive growth of content created specifically for the worldwide web, both professionally and on user-sharing sites like YouTube.

There is a third category, however, one that I believe is destined to grow despite receiving little attention at the moment — that of traditional creative products moving from their homes in other media to the world of cyberspace. It is here that Prospect Park and a pair of soap operas, All My Children and One Life To Live, enter the picture.

As Prospect Park co-founder Rich Frank explained in an interview for a recent Variety article, he and his business partner Jeff Kwatinetz feel TV shows are destined to gradually evolve beyond actual network television.

“Almost 20% of college graduates don’t buy television sets,” he pointed out. “Today, there’s the ability to feed anything to anybody’s screen — TV, iPad, or telephone — and give them programming that they want.”

After All My Children and One Life To Live were canceled by ABC in 2011, Frank and Kwatinetz decided those programs could serve as the backbone of a pioneering new business model. Instead of reviving those shows by pitching them to another network, they could instead air them on their company’s new online network, aptly dubbed Online Network, as well as presenting them on Hulu Plus and iTunes.

Naturally television executives are trying to downplay the potential threat to their industry. While conceding that we are experiencing “an evolution of the viewing mechanism,” Sony Pictures Television senior executive programming vice president Steve Kent insisted to Variety that “people have long predicted the demise of network television, but it still exists and will for the foreseeable future.”

According to Greg Meng, one of the executive producers for Days of Our Lives (which is produced by Sony Pictures Television), while network insiders had nothing but the best wishes for this project, they were confident that “these shows won’t be competitive with us.”

It seems like there is more fear among network suits than they initially let on.

Should Prospect Park’s bold experiment succeed, we could be entering a new phase in the history of TV shows, one in which the medium of television itself is gradually phased out. Up until now, online broadcasts have encountered a seemingly insurmountable difficulty, at least insofar as creating a viable business model was concerned. Appropriately enough, one of the more astute insights into this dilemma came from “South Park,” the hit Comedy Central sitcom that broke ground as one of the first hit television shows to create a website for legal streaming. In the words of fictional fourth-grader Kyle Broflovski:

We thought we could make money on the internet. But while the Internet is new and exciting for creative people, it hasn’t matured as a distribution mechanism to the extent that one should trade real and immediate opportunities for income for the promise of future online revenue. It will be a few years before digital distribution of media on the Internet can be monetized to an extent that necessitates content producers to forgo their fair value in more traditional media.

That was in 2008. Now that have a few years have passed, Prospect Park and the creators of All My Children and One Life To Live are preparing to test that thesis. Until more information comes out, it will be hard to say whether ABC acted as it did out of NBC-esque bungling or as a deliberate attempt to sabotage what it fears might ultimately pose a serious market threat. Even if the latter possibility proves to have been the case, however, I suspect that Prospect Park represents the vanguard of the future. If they succeed with their programs, the online broadcasting of All My Children and One Life To Live will be remembered as one of a watershed moment, one in which the lines between old media and new media not only blurred, but started losing their separate identities altogether. Should it not work out on this occasion, there is little reason to doubt that either Kwatinetz and Frank themselves or other similarly-minded producers will see the potential in this business model and attempt to replicate it in another scenario.

Personally, I’m rooting for Prospect Park to pull this one off. Between the internet reaching its maturity as an entertainment medium and television networks showing their increasing immaturity, I can’t think of any better time to start this era than right now.

The future began Monday, when All My Children and One Life To Live premiered on Hulu, Hulu Plus, and iTunes, with the former show being the top download on Hulu and iTunes and the latter taking the number two spot.