The Republican Suicide

By catering to the most extreme wing of the American right, the Republican party is alienating itself from moderate conservatives and setting up the stage for a potentially historic loss in upcoming elections.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter ushered in a rightward shift in American politics that has lasted for three decades. Since that election, the Democratic party, even when in power, has been on the defensive, whereas the Republicans have been able to set the agenda and the tone of public discourse, even when not in power. For the first time, this arrangement seems to be unraveling, and as is to be expected, it’s the Republicans doing to moving and shaking. In the past week, there have been three powerful articles, each positing that the GOP may be sewing the seeds of its own decline.

In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibi argues that the Republicans are engaged in a perpetual and self-destructive campaign of fear mongering and finger pointing. After decades of weeding out all moderate elements of the party, those within the far right of the party have no one left to lash out at except themselves. Each debate (there have been 20 already and the general election is more than nine months away) showcases the candidates, taking turns arguing why they are the true conservative and why their opponents are liberal sellouts or Republicans in name only (RINOs). There is such an eagerness, an almost religious desire to conform to the orthodoxy of the current canon that no candidate can be deemed worthy of being a “true” conservative.

In New York Magazine, John Heilemann also feels that the GOP is tearing itself apart. The Republican playbook, which is increasingly the Tea Party playbook, sees the country in terms of Christian middle American and secular/urban/internationalist America – it is a constant beating of the us vs. them drum. There is a constant need to prove how American you are. The current Republican primary has been so dirty and vitriolic because the candidates, at least in their rhetoric, are so similar to one another that they must bend over backward to make their opponents seems like traitors.

In The New Republic, Ed Kilgore points out that among the current crop of contendors, there is no such thing as too conservative. Whereas George H. W. Bush called Reagan’s supply side theory “voodoo economics”, today’s criticisms would only come from the right. Christian faith, capitalism, free markets and military defense are among the sacred cows of the now. This primary season has been one big game of who can claim to be to the right of his opponents – “everyone else is too liberal except for me!”

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008 it almost felt like the beginning of a progressive renaissance – the 2010 elections dashed any such hopes/quelled any such fears. 2012 will not be the fulfillment of that or any other progressive renaissance, but it may be the turning point after which the GOP must rethink and reconstitute itself if it hopes to be relevant in the long term. If the GOP goes down in flames, it will not be to the credit of the Democrats (they are still weak and directionless), but because of the rigidity and self-destructive dogmatism that typifies the Republican party.

Unless the GOP figures out how to accommodate some progressive views, 2012 may mark a historic shift, similar to what happened in 1980.  Even Reagan isn’t conservative enough for current bunch.

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How Blue States Subsidize Red States

The next time a conservative complains about welfare and the redistribution of wealth, point out that blue states have been subsidizing red states for years.

Governor Jindal talked a lot of smack about the stimulus but had no problem posing next to (taking credit for) this giant stimulus check. Notice the office name on top.

What’s the difference between a conservative and a liberal in the United States? The former will often say that they believe in tradition, small government and the free market, whereas the latter are godless socialists. Conservatives pride themselves on strong work ethic and self-reliance and abhor the government redistribution of wealth – supposedly.

There is mounting evidence that most conservative (red) states receive much more money from the federal government than they contribute in taxes, whereas most blue states are net contributors to the federal coffers. Blue states are effectively subsidizing red states.

X Axis shows liberal to conservative from left to right. Y Axis shows contributors to moochers from bottom to top.

Republicans have been complaining about welfare for decades. Reagan popularized the term “welfare queen”, which became a sort of code word for the urban black poor who were exploiting government programs. Newt Gingrich even referred to President Obama as the ” welfare president”. These demeaning references ignore the billions in federal assistance that go to rural America and the root causes of the current poverty (pre-Obama policies) that have driven so many people onto public assistance. I am sick and tired of listening to the conservative rhetoric machine that tries to convince the country that they represent the hardworking “real” America that isn’t interested in any handouts.

There are certainly disparities in federal taxation and spending, but its the red states that gain the most. I’m not an opponent of redistribution, but I am opposed to blatant hypocrisy and finger pointing.

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A Muslim King of England or Female Pope?

Both the Papacy and Monarchy are outdated and have a rich history of absurdity. Vote on which one will take that next big step. 

So I was making fun of the British royal family as I normally do when I started playing devil’s advocate with myself. As a Catholic, I too am a member of an ancient institution that has a knack for alienating its own subjects/adherents.

I am a republican. Not in the sense of the American party, but in that I am an anti-royalist. The idea that a certain group of people, by accident of history and bloodline can formally and legally hold themselves in a higher authority than others is absurd. Such practices are fundamentally at odds with our modern principles of humanity. But then why do I keep receiving communion and bowing my head to priests when I know they are also part of and exclusive club that needs to open up? I suppose tradition and heritage do matter. I’ll go so far as to say that I will tolerate any person’s fondness for the Monarchy in their country – the rest of you fans are just silly.

How can the King or Queen possibly have legitimacy in a Britain that is increasingly non-white and non-Christian? What will happen if whites or Christians should ever become the minority? How can the Catholic Church even claim to be universal (that’s actually the definition of the word catholic) when more than half of its adherents are automatically second class citizens at birth? I thought it most prudent to push this to the hypothetical extreme:

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Hendrix Was a Cowboy

The popular narrative of American individualism may explain why the rock & roll pantheon consists of English bands and lone American men.

Earlier this week, I made the argument that iconic English bands are better than their American counterparts. The Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Floyd, Queen and the Who blow away the likes of Aerosmith, Metallica, the Eagles, CCR, Skynyrd and Guns n’ Roses. When it comes to individual artists, however, the Americans are gods.

As mentioned earlier this week, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the Beatles as the greatest artist/group of all-time. Second on the list was Bob Dylan. Also in the top ten were Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix and Little Richard – the very heart of rock & roll music, and all American. Also high on the list are Bruce Springsteen and Prince. The first Englishmen are Elton John and Eric Clapton, who both come in at around 50. Although many consider the Beatles to be the greatest rock band ever, virtually everyone in the rock world agrees that Jimi Hendrix is the greatest guitarist of all time. As Tom Morello said, Hendrix “exploded our idea of what rock could be”.

Does it even mean anything that the greatest rock bands are English and that the greatest individual rock stars are American?

Perhaps the disparity has to do with the idea of American individualism – cowboy philosopher on the stage – reckless guitar slinger with a conscience. Popular American bands did exist. But the pinnacle of American rock & roll expression was the singular disgruntled, rebellious young man – James Dean with a mic. Angry young bands on the other hand were more like gangs and mobs – such an Old World concept. It’s not that Americans are or ever were more individualistic, but that the dominant narrative of the American spirit in popular culture permitted the worship of only those artists that conformed to it.

Washington Achieves Marriage Equality

Washington becomes the 7th state to recognize same-sex marriages. All eyes now turn to New Jersey, which may soon become the 8th.

On Monday, Washington Governor, Chris Gregoire, signed into law, the bill to recognize same-sex marriages, making the state the 7th in the country to achieve marriage equality. Opponents of the new law have already vowed to collect signatures to initiate a referendum that would seek to overturn it. As was the case in New York, the passing of the bill in the state assembly required the support of several Republican legislators who expressed their own personal and impassioned reasons for supporting the bill.

On the same day, the New Jersey State Senate passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriages. Republican Governor Chris Christie has already vowed to veto any such bill that comes to his desk because he feels that such an important decision should be made directly by the people via referendum. Basically, Christie is saying that he knows his party is on the wrong side of history, but that he does not want to take the blame when schmoozing with other Republicans nationally – especially if he is considering a run for national office in 2016 or beyond. Depending on how you look at it, he’s either playing it safe (for the sake of the wrong and increasingly irrelevant audience), or being a coward.

Chris Christie’s real reason for opposing marriage equality.

In 2006, the New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled that gay couples must be granted the same legal rights as heterosexual couples (minus the term, marriage). In the five years since that ruling, none of the apocalyptic scenarios popularized by marriage equality opponents have materialized. There is clearly momentum building on a broad and historic set of changes that now seem inevitable in many, if not most, parts of the country. Years from now, we will hopefully look back on this and marvel at how such an obvious matter of human dignity and civil rights remained unfulfilled for so long.

Sorry America, but English Bands Are Better

Rock & roll music is more American than apple pie. The great American bands, however, pale in comparison to their English counterparts. Is it something in the water?In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine compiled their list of the 100 greatest artists of the rock & roll era. The list isn’t perfect (no list is), but it captures a relatively undercovered transatlantic disparity. Unsurprisingly, the top spot is held by the Beatles. The next band on the list is the Rolling Stones. The next, and first American band on the list is the Beach Boys.

Beatles…Beach Boys.

Other English bands on the list include Led Zeppelin, the Clash, the Who, Pink Floyd, Queen, Radiohead and the Yardbirds. The American bands include Nirvana, the Doors, Aerosmith, Metallica, the Eagles (I hate the fuckin Eagles, man), Creedence Clearwater Revival, R.E.M. and Guns n’ Roses. With the exception of perhaps R.E.M. and Nirvana, I feel confident in asserting that every single one of those English bands is better than every single one of those American ones.

It should be noted that all of the English bands mentioned took inspiration from distinctly American musical roots. The Beatles were vocal in their indebtedness to Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Little Richard, the latter of whom incidentally stayed with and advised the Fab 4 during their stay in Hamburg, which, according to Malcolm Gladwell, marked the turning point in the Beatles’ career in terms of them actually becoming a good, and eventually, great band. The Rolling Stones made it no secret that they were following in the footsteps of Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and other greats of American blues and R&B.

Furthermore, all of the bands on the list, including U2 and ACDC, neither of which are English or American, toured extensively in the States and sold more records there than anywhere else. It can be argued that in terms of inspiration and a market to consume and appreciate them, there would be no Beatles or Stones without the US. But now it feels as though I’m getting patriotically defensive. The fact of the matter is that either by historical accident or some other cultural reason, the iconic bands of England are far better than those bred in the US.

But why focus on mainstream bands? Perhaps there are plenty of underground groups in the States that are better than those in England, but by that logic, underground rockers in Germany, or Korea even, may be better than anyone on the Rolling Stone list. For ease of analysis, my use of the word “better” applies, unfortunately or not, only to bands that have achieved popular success.

Perhaps unfairly, I have intentionally excluded many bands (Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament Funkadelic and essentially every Motown band on the Rolling Stone list). Although these bands can be considered part of the rock world, they are also different enough to merit their own genres. I may hate the Eagles (seriously, I do), but they are unfortunately more of a rock band than the Temptations (who are great). In other words, being called a rock band is not a compliment – it’s a description. Also excluded are Simon and Garfunkel (seem more like Batman an Robin than a band) and the E-Street Band of Bruce Springsteen fame – neither or whose omissions change the larger point mentioned above concerning the English advantage.

Take a look at the list again and let me know if you think there are any deserving bands that were left out. Possibilities include the Cure, Outkast, the Smiths, Pearl Jam, the White Stripes and many more – please don’t say Coldplay. Later this week, I will explore whether the English advantage exists when dealing with individual artists as opposed to bands (hint: it’s the complete opposite).

Mexico’s $4 Billion Drug Bust

Is $4 billion in meth a lot? Some numbers for perspective.

Earlier this week, the Mexican authorities seized 15 tons of pure methamphetamine in Guadalajara, with an estimated street value of $4 billion. This got me to wondering, is that a lot? The answer is, yes. There have been larger busts in terms of weight, but few, if any, have been quite this valuable. For the sake of comparison, 15 tons of gold would cost less than $1 billion. The entire Afghan opium economy is estimated to be worth $4 billion – imagine all of it sitting in one warehouse. The entire GDP of Sierra Leone is only $2 billion. With $4 billion, one could buy the entire Manchester United and New York Yankee franchises and still have half a billion left over.

The stash probably belonged to the Sinaloa cartel, which has been described by US officials as “the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world“. It’s leader, Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera (known as El Chapo), is ranked as the 55th most powerful person in the world by Forbes magazine.  The Governments of Mexico and the US have offered $2.5 million and $5 million, respectively, for information leading to his arrest.

Since 2006, the Government of Mexico, with help from the US – home to most of the demand that drives the trade, and the guns that drive the violence – has been fighting the cartels in a war that has claimed more than 50,000 lives. In 2007, authorities seized 25 tonnes of cocaine – the biggest powder bust in history. Less than two years ago, the Federales seized 105 tons of marijuana in Tijuana – also the biggest grass bust in history. But that was just pot, which meant the street value was less than $500 million – peanuts in comparison to the latest haul. The strangest thing though, was the packaging (shown below).

Marijuana packaging with Homer Simpson proclaiming "I'm going to get high, dude!"

Also, ever wonder what a pile of $205 million looks like?