Constitution Just Happens to Agree with Scalia’s Bigotry

Nazi Antonin ScaliaAdam Serwer wrote a great article this morning, Here Are the 7 Worst Things Antonin Scalia Has Said or Written About Homosexuality. Now, we all know that Scalia is a vile human being. But after reading Serwer’s list, it was clear to me what I’ve long suspected: Scalia is no sober justice that his position implies.

What comes through in all of these comments is that Scalia isn’t against gay rights out of any legal principle; he is just against homosexuality (he’s a Catholic) and thus votes against gay rights. Think: Rob Portman before his son came out of the closet. And that shows that he is no kind of judge; he is, as Dan Savage said, just a partisan hack.

In his dissent on Lawrence v. Texas, the case that found sodomy laws unconstitutional, Scalia said such laws didn’t violate the right to equal protection. He wrote, “Men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, are all subject to [Texas’] prohibition of deviate sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex.” But Serwer noted that this was a long repudiated line of reasoning:

That should sound familiar: it’s the same argument defenders of bans on interracial marriage used to make, arguing that the bans were constitutional because they affected whites and blacks equally.

But that just shows why Antonin Scalia is exactly the sort of person who should not be given the power that goes with sitting on the Supreme Court. He is not even looking at the law in these cases that collide with his personal moral code. Instead, he just uses his intelligence and erudition to justify his prejudices. And that is why he will find that both Prop. 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act are constitutional. Through ever more complicated and far-fetched legal reasoning, he will find—What a surprise!—that the constitution does indeed justify his long held personal bigotry. That’s a constitutional originalist for you!

GOP Won’t Move on Immigration

Dream ActJamelle Bouie reported this morning, Why Immigration Reform May Not Help the GOP. The point of the article is that the president tends to get credit for policies like immigration reform. Thus Republicans understandably ask, “What’s in it for us?” This, of course, is the wrong way to think about it.

As I’ve argued before, immigration reform is necessary but not sufficient with regard to the Republican desire to get Latinos to vote for them. And here’s the part that really sucks for Republicans: immigration reform is the easy part. The biggest hurdle is the Republican economic platform: as a class, Latinos are poor. Thus, the Republican Party really needs to get away from its focus of trickle down economics. The Republicans have rightfully become known as the party of the rich and no amount of pretty words are going to change that.

Some Republicans are arguing that immigration reform is a losing issue for them because the 11 million new citizens it would eventually create will overwhelmingly vote for the Democrats. Although such statements are self-fulfilling, there is much truth. The party really needs to ask itself, “If we aren’t willing to make fundamental changes in our policy, what is the point of courting Latinos at all?” And I think this is where the party will be for the immediate future.

Eventually, the Republican brand will do so badly on the national level that even the party base will see that their politicians need to pander to Latinos. Once this happens, the Republican Party will be willing to do long-term strategizing. But as long as the party can hang onto most of its current power, they will continue on as before. Even then, I only see changes around the edges. And I don’t think that’s enough. They are chasing a moving target—salivating over Bush’s 44% Latino vote in 2004. But over time, “losing by less” is not a strategy for success.

Given all of this, I don’t see the Republican Party agreeing to immigration reform, unless something strange happens. (For example: John Boehner could decide to retire and so allow the House to pass a bill with mostly Democratic votes.) There is no immediate upside to doing so (Latinos aren’t going to vote for them anyway); but there is an immediate downside (the Republican base won’t turn out in high numbers). Unless they are prepared to make major changes to their platform, it doesn’t make sense for the Republican Party to reach out to minority groups. And thus: they won’t.

Why Sarah Jessica Parker is a Bitch

A Fuller Life - Dolores FullerRecently, I’ve made reference to the fact that Sarah Jessica Parker is not a nice person. I don’t actually know much about Parker. I base the statement on an interview with Dolores Fuller that was part of the extra features on a DVD of Plan 9 from Outer Space. Sarah Jessica Parker played the part of Dolores Fuller in Tim Burton’s bio-pic Ed Wood. Apparently, at a party for the cast after the film was released, Parker and the real Fuller finally met. Parker said to Fuller, “I’ve been telling everyone I’m playing the worst actress in history!”

The best I can say for Parker is that she was probably drunk. Fuller didn’t mention this, but it sounds like the kind of thing someone would say when they’re drunk. Regardless, it is unacceptable. Think about this: Parker was 29 at that time and Fuller was 71. What ever happened to showing a little respect to your elders? Or what about showing a little sympathy for the poor and weak? Currently, Parker’s net worth is estimated at $90 million. I’m sure she didn’t have that much money back then, but she was certainly very wealthy. What’s more, she was at the height of her fame. Fuller was doing okay, but she wasn’t rich and she certainly was on the far side of her career.

Parker’s statement isn’t even true. I’ve never liked it when people say that Ed Wood was the worst director of all time. For one thing: it just isn’t true. But it is a hell of a lot more true than to say that Fuller was the worst actress ever. In fact, looking back at the films, it is clear that she isn’t a bad actress at all. What she lacks is great beauty, and that is doubtlessly why Sarah Jessica Parker was hired to play her.

What’s more, Parker, like most Hollywood stars, knows nothing about how independent films were and largely still are put together. It is hard to be great when you are limited to one or two takes. And that is just the start of everything that these actors labored under: poor scripts, bad sets, incompetent co-stars, and much, much more. Parker couldn’t know what it is like to work in these little films, but should have know enough to shut up about it.

What annoys me most of all is that Dolores Fuller wasn’t primarily an actor; she was a highly successful songwriter. She wrote songs for Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, and others. So to have this young know-nothing making a comment about one small part of the life of an older woman who was successful later is just disgusting. And learning that Sarah Jessica Parker acted this way has poisoned me toward all of her work since then.

Afterword

Dolores Fuller died back in 2011 at the age of 88. Here is Elvis performing her song “Do the Clam” from Girl Happy. Enjoy!

The Danger of Certainty

Saddam Hussein - Ace of SpadesAmericans are muddled thinkers. People are constantly pointing out how in polls, Americans contradict themselves. I do it myself. But it’s not the worst thing that as a nation we are confused. Americans are at their most dangerous when they are certain of things that just aren’t so.

Generally, I would not say that polls don’t matter. If you give people binary choices, polls are pretty reliable. Are you going to vote for Obama or Romney? People can make a decision. But most of life cannot be phrased this way and that is where we get into trouble.

The Terrorist

Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald wrote an article where he noted America’s contradictory thoughts on extrajudicial killing of American citizens on foreign soil. Americans are very much against this: Democrats and Republicans alike. Only 41% said we should do that kind of thing. But when it came to the specific case of killing US citizen and suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, 69% of Americans were in favor of it.

Think about that for second: it is really horrible. I can see it the other way: people think it is okay in the abstract, but when it is done to a real person, they are horrified. But this is seriously screwed up: people think it is wrong in the abstract, but when the government does it, they just accept the government’s word that it was a really bad guy they killed. Greenwald thinks it is just good old fashioned American racism. I don’t doubt that he’s right. But I think there is something even deeper going on.

The Deficit

Also yesterday, Kevin Drum reported on a Democracy Corps poll that asked people to name their two most important political concerns. Their answers: increasing spending and decreased spending. In particular, the top 5 things were: (1) protecting retirement benefits; (2) reducing the federal deficit; (3) cutting ineffective programs; (4) making sure education is affordable; and (5) fixing infrastructure to create jobs. You know: increase; decrease; decrease; increase; increase. Now, we know that Americans define waste as “programs I don’t like.” But in general, Americans want to spend as much as we have been (and in many cases more) on all programs except “foreign aid.” (Because politicians long ago demonized such aid, Americans think it takes up to a half of all our spending when it is usually less than 1% and most of that goes to the hugely popular state of Israel.)

In addition to these two examples, we have the polls that come out each election cycle that tell us that the voters just hate negative advertising. Pity the foolish politician who actually uses these polling results to run his campaign. People may hate negative advertising, but it effects them all the same.

The Secret Sauce

It isn’t that these polls are wrong. What is really going on is that Americans don’t think seriously about any of these issues. They don’t like the idea of the government just up and killing people—unless they are bad guys. They hate the idea of the government spending too much money—unless it causes any programs to have less money. And of course negative advertising is a terrible thing. But they want to know if a politician is fucking around on his wife. As you can see, all of this is not explained by ignorance and poor thinking alone. It requires the Secret Sauce!

The Secret Sauce is the propaganda machine that the combined media and government systems provide. Americans really do have a natural abhorrence to unjustified killing. But we are complete suckers for the public vilification of our alleged enemies. We did it to Saddam Hussein to justify war—twice! And we’ve done it to Anwar al-Awlaki. We never even question it unless there is some powerful source pushing back on the propaganda campaign. And there very really is.

Americans would never even think about the budget deficit if there weren’t a constant drumbeat from the media telling us that it is important. And even then, the only way we contextualize the federal debt is by analogy to our own budgets—which, of course, is invalid and leads to misunderstanding the issue. As for negative ads: we don’t like them but that doesn’t stop us from believing them. It must be true; it’s on the TV machine!

Naive America

This is one of the most terrifying things about modern America. We are a surprisingly naive people. In fact, we are so naive that most of us have no idea we are naive. We think we have a good bead on what’s really going on. I thought the Cold War was a great illustration of this. Most Americans couldn’t believe that people in the USSR accepted the obvious lies told to them by their government. (I hear the same things today regarding North Korea.) But the truth was that most of the people in the USSR were far more skeptical than the people of the USA. Among the people I knew, almost no one even questioned that the government or media would lie to us. And when these institutions were caught lying, it was always justified as a special case.

Now we have a whole network, Fox News, dedicated to pushing the idea that you can’t trust the regular news. That’s great. But what they provide instead is straight Republican Party propaganda. And again, their viewers are certain they are getting the Truth™. Of course, any news source is going to be biased. The problem is not the bias; the problem is the belief of the viewer that it isn’t biased. I’ve long said that the issue between Fox News and MSNBC is not that one is more biased than the other; the issue is that MSNBC viewers know that the news is biased; the Fox News viewers do not.

Too often, I find people either accept everything they hear uncritically, or they refuse to believe anything. This second group is even more problematic. You see, they aren’t as cynical as they claim to be. They use their cynicism as a filter to dismiss anything they don’t want to believe. In my experience, a large fraction of Fox News viewers fall into this latter category. And the worlds that they allow their filters to paint are often troubling indeed: bigoted, reactionary, simple-minded.

Polls provide a snapshot of what we as a people believe. And sadly, it is heavily skewed toward what we have been told to believe. I remember back at the end of Reagan’s administration when the Drug War was really gearing up. I read about a poll of CEOs of major corporations. They were asked what the most important issue facing their companies were. Less than 10% said “drugs in the workplace.” Six months later, the same poll found over 50% of the CEOs saying “drugs in the workplace” was the most important issue facing their companies. The only thing that had changed was six months of constant Drug War propaganda. Now if CEOs are this malleable about the issues facing their very own businesses, what can we expect from regular people asked about items on the federal budget or America’s enemies abroad?

The Danger of Certainty

Our biggest problem as a nation is how information flows to the people. With the right (wrong) flow of information the people will gratefully change our constitutional republic into a Job Creator Dictatorship. We could easily look back 20 years from now and think that these were the glory days. Confusion is not the worst thing. It is our certainty—like the certainty that Saddam Hussein was a serious threat to our nation—that gets us (and the rest of the world) into the most trouble.

Just Good Enough: Richard Dawkins

Richard DawkinsI feel that I should clarify something about my birthday posts. I don’t just name everyone I’ve heard of or everyone who I think is famous enough. For example, it is Utah Jazz superstar John Stockton’s birthday, but I won’t even mention how old he is because he doesn’t make the cut. And that is what it’s all about: who makes the cut. The cut is defined as (1) someone who I happened to notice had a birthday and (2) someone I care about enough to mention. Some of these are real judgement calls. Like Sarah Jessica Parker on yesterday’s list. On the one hand, I don’t think much of her as an actor. On the other hand, I don’t think much of her as a person. So I don’t know why I even put her on the list. But somehow, she made it.

Today I have a real problem. There are plenty of people on the list. There are even plenty of people who I really admire. But there is no one who I think I ought to have “win” the day. And even as I write this, I do not know what I’m going to do about it. (Exciting, isn’t it!) First, though: let’s get to the birthday’s of dead people.

Robert Frost was born on this day in 1874. He is not one of my favorite poets, but his work is really beautiful. The religion writer Joseph Campbell was born in 1904. The great playwright Tennessee Williams was born in 1911. Finally, we have two actors: Sterling Hayden in 1916 and Strother “Failure to Communicate” Martin in 1919.

John Stockton wasn’t the only birthday I skipped today; there were lots. Of those who did make the cut, let me start with the entertainers. Bob Elliott is 90 today. He was one-half of the great comedy team Bob and Ray. I just found out that he is also the father of Chris Elliot. (Can you say, “America is not a meritocracy“? How about “nepotism”?) Leonard “Mr. Spock” Nimoy is 82. Alan Arkin is 79. James Caan is 70. The wonderful Diana Ross is 69. And spazedian Martin Short is 63.

We have a few birthdays in the world of politics. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is 83 today. President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is 78. Former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is 73. And annoying political reporter Bob Woodward is 70.

I’m very fond of a number of these people: Tennessee Williams and Bob Elliott and Diana Ross especially. But there is one birthday who doesn’t fit into the two categories above and who is not only a very important person, but also very important to me. It is the 69th birthday of the brilliant evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Sometimes his very comfortable English middle class values bother me—they are, after all, very close to my own very comfortable American middle class values. And I don’t think his work on atheism is all that good, even if I do largely agree with him on the subject. But his popular work on biology has had a profound effect on me. So I have no problem giving the day to him, even if I wasn’t even thinking of doing it when I started writing this article.

Happy birthday Richard Dawkins! And this song goes out to you, good doctor:

Imported Honey Likely Fake

Angry Honey BeeOne of the most charming things I’ve ever heard about Prince Charles is his interest in the local food movement. I haven’t thought much of it myself. In general, as long as my food doesn’t have a bunch of pesticides in it, I’m pretty happy. But a lot of recent reporting about food has made me wonder. Maybe it would be best if I knew where my food was coming from.

Last month, there was all the reporting that indicated that fish sold in markets was as likely as not to be mislabeled. That didn’t freak me out all that much because other than shrimp, I don’t much like seafood. But then, last week, Andrea sent me an article from Buzz Feed, 11 Horrifying Facts About Your Fresh Groceries. Many of these too were about seafood—but not all. And one that was, bothered me quite a lot, “Shrimp and tilapia are often fed untreated animal feces in China, Thailand, and Vietnam.” Maybe it’s time to find a local supply of shellfish.

“A quarter of U.S. raw meats test positive for flesh-eating MRSA bacteria.” Well, you know what they say about that which doesn’t kill you: it makes you weaker so that you are easier to kill next time. “Apples, celery, and bell peppers are the most pesticide-contaminated produce.” Well, I don’t really like apples. And I’ll squint when I’m working with celery and bell peppers. Bqhatevwr! “Chickens are fed arsenic to make their flesh pink.” Well, all the better to kill you with, my deary!

“Most of the honey you buy isn’t real.” Now hold on right there. Them’s fightin’ words! Most honey I buy isn’t real?! I suppose that’s especially true of the “honey” that comes in those cute plastic bear containers. Damn it!

According to an article in Mother Nature Network, ‘Honey Laundering’ an International Scandal. Here’s what’s going on:

Food-safety experts have found that much of the honey sold in the United States isn’t actually honey, but a concoction of corn or rice syrup, malt sweeteners or “jiggery” (cheap, unrefined sugar), plus a small amount of genuine honey…

The honey is not just fake; it is also poisonous. It “has been found to contain toxins like lead and other heavy metals, as well as drugs like chloramphenicol, an antibiotic, according to a Department of Justice news release.” Fun times!

Most of this honey is coming from China. But because of heightened duty charges, Chinese manufacturers are shipping the honey to other countries and relabeling it as though it were from there. And that gets us to what we should generally be doing a lot more of: buying locally. You could just buy honey that is “Made in the USA” but I’m not sure that would necessarily solve the problem. The thing to do is to find the local beekeepers and buy your honey from them.

I don’t expect my hot dogs to be pure (not that I’m sure what that even means). But at least we can have real and safe honey.