Surveys show Americans succumbing to lies of the gun lobby

Charles Blow has written the column I toyed with writing, dreaded writing and avoided writing.

In “Has the NRA won?” Blow analyzes the evidence that the United States has become a nation of gun lovers who incorrectly believe that they’re safer with a gun in the house and in the holster.

Blow tracks the odd phenomenon of rising guns sales after every mass murder. He blames it on a boomerang effect: Mass murders using guns get people talking about gun control, which compels gun-toters to buy more for fear that they won’t be able to when stronger gun laws pass. Not mentioned by Blow, but a similar phenomenon, is the flurry of state legislation that loosen gun regulations after each mass murder.

Like many progressives, I have lately consoled myself with the fact that fewer people than ever own guns in the United States. The University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center reports that only 32% of all American households own guns, down from 50% just three decades ago. Since there is about one gun per person in the United States (or 50% of all guns owned privately in the entire world!), that means that those who own guns have more of them.

Thus, for a long time I and others have reasoned that Americans really do want to rid society of the plague of guns, but that craven politicians afraid of the financial clout of the National Rifle Association (NRA) have blocked the passage of laws that make it harder to buy and carry firearms and passed laws that loosen firearm restrictions. The storyline of the bad NRA corrupting politicians to obstruct the will of the people has provided reasonable people with both solace and a large and prominent enemy to battle.

Of course, besides corrupting elected officials, the NRA, helped by the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world, has unleashed a propaganda machine that spouts false information about violent crime increasing and gun ownership making homes and society safer. The little research out there clearly demonstrates that an increase in the number of guns owned in any country increases the number of deaths and injuries from guns. Research also shows that far more people die each year from friendly fire than are saved by pulling out a gun against an attacker or criminal. Note that there haven’t been enough of these surveys done, since Congress passed a law that prevents federal money being used to fund studies on gun violence. What’s out there, however, shows that gun ownership in and of itself makes our streets—and homes—more dangerous places.

The result of this endless barrage of false information and fearmongering is what Charles Blow lays out in his latest column: A new Pew Research Center survey showing more Americans now believe that protecting gun rights is more important than controlling gun ownership and a 2014 Gallup poll that says that 63% of all Americans believe that having a gun in the home makes it safer. The second statistic is particularly disturbing because just 15 years ago in 2000, only 35% of those polled thought a home was safer with a gun in it. That Gallup poll also showed that 63% of Americans believe crime is on the rise, even though crime is at a 20-year low. Not many people connect this decrease in crime with the decrease in households with guns, possibly because not many people are aware that crime and household ownership of guns are both down.

If only 32% of households own guns and 63% of Americans think households are safer with guns, does that mean that gun sales are set to expand? Maybe yes, maybe no. But it certainly shows that at this point in time, much of our nation is dedicated to making it easier for people to own and carry guns. Lies have won over truth.

“The N.R.A. appears to be winning this round,” is how Blow ends his disturbing article. I think that’s a very optimistic understatement. I’m thinking the NRA has won not just the round, but the entire game. For the time being, we are a nation that supports private ownership of guns with little if any restrictions, certainly less than we place on those who drive automobiles.

That our support is based on lies may enrage and confuse us, but it shouldn’t surprise us. Americans seem to be ever more susceptible to the big lie, be it the lie that guns keep us safe, the lie that humans are not making the Earth too warm too quickly for our own good, or the lie that lowering taxes on the wealthy is the key to creating new jobs and ending economic inequality. In each case, what the liars propose to make things better actually make them worse for most of us.

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New Kansas law picks the pockets of the poor while humiliating them in the process

When Republicans support or pass a law to address a non-problem, they usually have an ulterior motive. Take the slew of recent state laws making it harder to vote. The stated rationale behind these laws is to prevent voter fraud, a complete non-problem since there is virtually no voter fraud perpetrated by individual voters anywhere in the country. The ulterior motive is to make it harder for the poor and minorities to vote.

The state of Kansas presents the most recent example of using a non-existent problem to ram through legislation that has as its goal something completely different, and devious. The Republican-dominated state legislature has passed and Republican Governor Sam Brownback has signed a law that limits where people who receive cash assistance can spend their money and also limits how much they can withdraw in any single day.

The new Kansas law prevents those receiving state cash assistance from spending it on alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco products, lottery tickets, concert tickets, professional or collegiate sporting events, tickets for entertainment events intended for the general public or sexually oriented adult materials. Among the more than 20 types of retail establishments where poor people can’t spend their public assistance money are bail bond companies, movie theatres, swimming pools, jewelry stores and spas.

To this progressive, these holier-than-thou Kansas lawmakers are imposing their value system on the poor living in their state in a particularly humiliating way. They are essentially saying that if you’re poor, you don’t deserve to enjoy your life, nor do you have the ability to make wise decisions about how to spend money. The law prevents the poor from using their welfare to take their kids to a public swimming pool or to sit in the “cheap seats” at a baseball game.

Kansas reserves this moral harshness for the poor. There are no restrictions on fast-food franchise owners, whose businesses are subsidized because their employees receive so little in wages they qualify for state benefits. Fast-food franchise owners can spend their state subsidy on anything they like. There are also only loose restrictions on how businesses spend the funds they get from tax rebates and other state government support. No state auditor inspects a business office to make sure the business didn’t buy expensive luxury furniture, pay themselves too much money or subscribe to non-essential magazines.

I know that conservatives will disagree, averring that we need to treat our poor with “tough love,” instead of incentivizing poverty.

But we don’t even have to get into a discussion of the rights of those who receive cash assistance to evaluate the efficacy of this new law. All we have to do is look at the facts to see that Kansas is addressing a non-problem.  A 2014 federal report showed that less than one percent of all cash assistance in eight states it studied was spent at liquor stores, casinos or strip clubs. In other words, it’s not really a problem. In other words, those receiving cash assistance do not spend it frivolously or on goods and services that offend some people’s sense of morality.

We know what the non-problem is that the new Kansas law is trying to solve. The question is what is the ulterior motive? What are these Republican lawmakers really trying to do?

The answer lies in the payment system, I believe. The poor don’t get a check anymore, they get an ATM/debit card, which is why the state can so confidently ban purchases at particular locations like swimming pools and movie theatres.

It usually costs money to extract cash using an ATM card, an average of $4.35 per transaction nationally, according to The $25 limit per day means that the poor have to keep coming back to get more money, racking up additional transactional fees. The law prohibits a clever and frugal poor person from getting all her or his money at once to save on fees.

It’s worse than you think, because, as Elizabeth Lower-Basch, director at Center for Law and Social Policy, an advocacy group for low-income people, notes, virtually no ATM machine gives out $5 bills, so the real limit is $20. At $4.35 a transaction, that’s a more than 20% fee that the poor have to pay to get access to their cash.

What a windfall for financial institutions!

I think all the other restrictions in the new Kansas law are meant as window-dressing and a diversion from the true purpose of this law—to take from the poor and give to the wealthy, in this case the financial institutions that charge withdrawal fees on those receiving cash assistance. The real reason for the law is not to humiliate the poor, but to divert some of the money earmarked for them to financial institutions.

It’s an interesting twist on the basic Republican economic playbook, which has been to fund massive tax cuts to the wealthy by cutting government spending on everything except the military and the security state apparatus. In this case, the Kansas state government is sanctioning the kind of usury we associate with payday loans and sub-prime used-car loans.

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OpEdge’s Marc Jampole & Barry Wallenstein perform their poetry May 21, 7:00 pm, 50 West 13th Street, Manhattan

OpEdge followers living in the New York City area are in for a treat, I write somewhat fat-headedly.

I’m performing my poetry in a feature reading on May 21 at 7:00 pm at the Thirteenth Street Theater, 50 West 13th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan. It’s close to Union Square, so there are a lot of ways to get there.

Reading with me is the wonderful jazz poet Barry Wallenstein. Barry is well-known for his poetry performances with jazz groups. A retired professor of literature and writing at City University of New York (CUNY), he has 8 books and 7 CDs of poetry. Barry founded the journal Poetry in Performance and CUNY’s Poetry Outreach Center, which in 2012 celebrated its 40th anniversary. His “restless vision and nearly flawless ear for phrasing record the muchness of our world with a seductive music and unexpected turns of language,” is how poet Colette Inez aptly describes his work. Prominent jazz bassist Ken Filiano will accompany Barry on the bass.

I’m going to present the complete gamut of my poetry styles, including some political, love, surrealistic and abstractly musical poems. But I will focus on my theatrical poems: little operas or stories in poetry told from the point of view of one or more different characters. I’ll read poems from my book “Music from Words” and some newer work.  Imbuing all my work is a pervasive musicality created by irregular meters and lines, word play, assonance and alliteration. My favorite description of my poetry is from Michael Wurster in Small Press Review: “Jampole is absolutely unique in the way he expresses his material, especially with regard to sound, meter and rhythm.”

So you’re going to see more than just a couple of guys reading their poems. You’re going to experience poetry as music and theatre.

If you have any interest in poetry or if you just want to support my OpEdge column, I urge you to attend and bring your friends. The admission fee is $10, with all proceeds going to Jewish Currents magazine, which is sponsoring the event.

A copy of the flyer is below (click for larger image). Share it with friends. Print and hang in a prominent place. Spread the word. And be there—or be square.

Jampole Wallenstein Poetry Flyer

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Hillary will win in November unless Americans want to end Social Security, Medicare & aid to public schools

Now the media attacks on Hillary will begin in earnest, if for no other reason than there is nothing much else to say about the campaign to become the 2016 Democratic nominee for President of the United States. Hillary has name recognition, a distinguished record, high scores for likeability and big donors. The current president is on her side. She has no heavyweight competition and a lead in the polls unparalleled for a non-incumbent in the history of American elections. She has pretty much shut down the competition early, just as Bush II did in 2000.

But there are still papers to print, broadcast space to fill, Internet pages to launch. The mainstream media has to pretend that it is covering the Democratic side, even though as in 2010 and 2014—the off-year elections that gave Republicans a gerrymandered dominance in Congressional districts for years—the media will give much wider coverage to the differences between conservative Republicans like Jeb Bush and rightwing loonies like Ted Cruz than they will to the differences between Democratic centrists and progressives. It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the mainstream media favors coverage of Republicans and twists issues rightward. Their owners, after all, tend to be conservative rich folk.

Early returns suggest the following as the main themes the media will use to cover Hillary Clinton’s inevitable march to the Democratic nomination:

  • Scrounge up old scandals or fabricate new ones.
  • Try to make it appear as if Hillary is a stolid, uninspiring or wonkish speaker, which is a standard accusation that Republicans have made against all of the recent Democratic candidates for president, including Dukakis, Gore, Kerry and even Clinton—everyone but Barack Obama. Him they called a rock star! In retrospect, I wonder if the Republicans were just too racist to admit that an African-American could be smart enough to be boring.
  • Exaggerate the differences between Hillary and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
  • Focus on the past peccadilloes of Bill Clinton or wonder whether he is being intrusive or a distraction on the campaign trail.
  • Isolate poorly worded statements for signals that Hillary really doesn’t care about the poor, but is just another “rich bitch.”
  • Speculate on whether America is ready for a woman president, and whether Hillary is putting too much or too little emphasis on her gender.

The mainstream media will leave it to Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the National Rifle Association and the Republican candidates to paint Hillary as an America-hating, male-emasculating atheist socialist who wants to destroy the economy, although the mainstream will cover the Republican candidates smearing Hillary with various crimes and misdemeanors.

Note that none of these story ideas focus on the issues. Focusing on the issues would show the stark differences between Democrats and Republicans and help swing the vote to Hillary Clinton.

Paul Krugman made the case for voting the Democratic party line in The New York Times by listing the various critical issues on which all Democrats and all Republicans seem to disagree: Virtually all Democrats want to maintain and grow Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, preserve the Affordable Care Act (ACA), raise taxes on the wealthy, preserve the 2010 financial reforms and respond to global warming (which Krugman politely calls “climate change”). Virtually all Republicans want to cut social insurance programs, destroy the ACA, lower taxes on the wealthy, deregulate financial markets and block any attempt to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

No progressives in their right mind will make the mistake many made in 2000 and vote for a third-party candidate or stay home from the polls. We see what happened when votes for Ralph Nader allowed Bush II to sneak into office and bring us the botched responses to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, a shameful torture gulag, lower taxes on the wealthy, a booming deficit and a financial crisis. The differences between Hillary Clinton and the least rightwing Republican contender Jeb Bush are far greater than the differences between Gore and what Bush II was mouthing in 2000.

Those who follow the news know the stakes are high—a Republican Senate, House and presidency could bring severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, public education and other important programs for the poor and middle class, all to finance more tax breaks for the wealthy. The similarities of the Democrats on these core domestic issues will moderate the tone of any debate between Hillary and other candidates. And even if there is a spirited campaign battle pitting Hillary against an attractive progressive candidate, most Democrats will fall into line and vote for Hillary in the fall.

If they know what’s at stake, they will have no choice. Despite Hillary’s hawkishness on foreign policy and connections to Wall Street money, she still supports traditional Democratic positions on economic and social issues.

That’s why the key for a Hillary Clinton victory in 2016 is not so much to articulate the centrist Democratic line she espouses but to remind voters of the rightwing economic ideology that drives the current Republican Party.

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Indiana pious pizza purveyors latest example of the rightwing touting bogus victims

A coordinated rightwing effort raises $840,000 for a pizza joint in a small town in Indiana through crowd-sourcing when the pizza place supposedly closed down in the face of an avalanche of threats after the owners told local news media that it wouldn’t cater a same-sex wedding.

Doesn’t it smell a little cheesy? And not the fresh buffalo mozzarella you sometimes get in upscale enotecas in Manhattan and Washington, D.C.? No, this is definitely a phony processed cheese product that’s stayed in the back of the fridge far too long that we’re whiffing here.

Let’s start with the question unasked so far by any of the horde of pundits who have commented on Memory Pizza’s venture into social significance: Who serves pizza at a wedding? A Bar Mitzvah or Sweet Sixteen party—sure! But a wedding?

My guess is that the local TV news reporter who first covered Memory Pizza’s intolerant attitude towards those different from them had spent the day asking multiple business owners whether they wouldn’t provide services to an LGBT wedding and went into Memory’s Pizza out of desperation. Or maybe Memory faxed out a news release about the superficially religious stance its owners were taking. In either case, Memory’s closed down after dozens of negative reviews on Yelp and what the owner says were a bunch of threatening messages. No pickets at Memory’s doors, no rocks through its windows. Just condemnation over social media. That certainly shows the courage of one’s convictions—unless the owner knew that someone at Glenn Beck’s media empire was going to stoke the fires of rightwing indignation at a crowd-sourcing site.

It’s perhaps the first entirely virtual cause célèbre ever; Internet spread the original local TV story. Online expressions of ire were enough to intimidate the pious pizza purveyors, who were supposedly rescued from financial ruin by online ad hoc charitable contributions.

But at the heart of it all is the small fact that very few people if anyone would order pizza for a wedding banquet, so the effect of the new law on Memory’s ability to assert their so-called religious freedom was theoretical. Note, too, that the handful of other small businesses who have said they would refuse service to gays have not run into difficulties.

Does it sound familiar, all this hullaballoo about a rightwing cause célèbre who turns out to be a little bogus?

Let’s start with Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, AKA Joe the Plumber, who took on Barack Obama at an Obama rally during the 2008 presidential campaign because Obama wanted to raise taxes on people making more than $250,000. As it turned out, Joe the Plumber wasn’t even registered as a plumber in his home state and made about $40,000 a year. The McCain campaign and rightwing Republicans touted Joe as an example of the average Joe and Jane being crushed by Obama’s tax proposals, but in fact this particular Joe would have been helped by Obama’s plans.

Just as federal subsidies help two of the three individuals in whose name the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed King v. Burwell, which seeks to overturn federal subsidies to individuals who buy insurance on the federal healthcare exchange because there is no state exchange in their states; the third plaintiff, by the way, qualifies for Medicare. In other words, CEI filed a lawsuit in the name of three victims who were not victimized in the slightest.

A variation of the phony victim of what the rightwing considers to be pernicious Socialist-like programs of the left-leaning center is the phony perpetrator from whom the right insists on protecting all of us. That’s certainly the case with the dozens of voting restrictions passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures over the past eight years. All have as their stated purpose protecting American society from fraudulent voting, a problem that statistically speaking does not exist. By statistically speaking, I mean that there are less than a handful of cases of suspected fraud by individual voters at the polls among the hundreds of millions of people to vote over the past 30 or so years.

Just as the Bush II administration manufactured reasons to go to war in Iraq when there were none, so does the rightwing routinely manufacture victims, villains and heroes when none exist, all in the name of justifying duplicitous positions: laws that say they protect religious rights but really discriminate against gays or take rights from women; laws that say they protect us from voter fraud but really serve to make it harder for millions to vote; and policies they say will lead to growth and prosperity but only for those already rich and connected.

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What do Pet Rocks and handbags made from frog and anaconda skin have in common?

Would you pay $17.23 for a smooth gray-colored stone that could fit in your hand, something you could find at almost any municipal park for free? That’s the equivalent value in today’s money of what people paid for Pet Rocks in 1975. Of course, it came with a 32 page manual full of puns and jokes about the rock.

Around the Christmas season in 1975, the Pet Rock first became a media sensation, covered in newspapers and TV news shows all over the country, and then a marketing fad as 1.5 million people plunked down $3.95 (plus tax, I assume) to buy one—for what purpose remains a mystery. Gag gifts? Funny party favors? Conversation starters? Because neighbors bought one for their grandchild? Unlike their later incarnation in virtual pets, which needed to be “fed” and “cleaned” on a regular basis, the Pet Rock did nothing and demanded no interaction. It just sat there, looking smooth.

Pet Rocks are in the news again—briefly—because their creator, a formerly ne’er-do-well advertising writer named Gary Dahl, has died.

The Pet Rock came out during a time of abundance when we had an historically large middle class and the smallest gap between the wealthy and the poor in terms of wealth and income in American history.  In 1975, someone making the federal minimum wage of $2.10 would have to work 1.88 hours to buy one, net of all taxes. The Pet Rock still sells today, but inflation has driven the cost for one up to $19.95, which means that net of taxes, it takes someone earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 about 2.75 hours to pay for one. Interestingly enough, someone earning the median household income in both 1975 and today would both work about 47.5 minutes to pay for a Pet Rock, again net of taxes. (The median is the point at which half the population is higher and half lower.)

If someone ran me through a word association test and mentioned the Pet Rock, the words that might come to mind are useless, frivolous, wasteful, stupid. It represents the frothy extreme of American consumerism—something you can find anywhere for free and yet you buy it. The Pet Rock takes to an absurd extreme the branding strategy by which you slap a catchy or famous name onto a cheap product and jack up the price. The messages behind the name supposedly imbue the product with greater worth—at least to unsavvy consumers, a category that seems to include many of us. In the case of the Pet Rock, the entire value is in the brand name, except for those who use their Pet Rocks for door stops or to keep their papers from flying around when the window is opened.

Coincidentally, the same day the news media reported the death of Mr. Pet Rock, it also told us that Carlos Falchi, a designer of exotic handbags, also met his demise. Falchi first made his name in the 1970’s and 1980’s selling exotic handbags patched together from the bits of skins of wild animals—the list of his raw material in the New York Times obituary includes pieces of alligators, anacondas, anteaters, buffalo, caiman, crocodiles and frogs, among others. Falchi handbags sell for thousands of dollars at upscale department stores, but you can get cheaper versions from $20 to $300 on the Home Shopping Network or at Target.

The question of how a $30 bag differs from the $5,000 bag involves a lot of variables, including materials. One Amazon seller is currently offering a bag for $16.95 made of nylon and faux snakeskin; another has one of the same material for $89.99. Meanwhile, Nieman Marcus is selling a bag made of python and leather for $1,155.  Most women and many men think they need handbags, and Falchi has a version for everyone, no matter how much money they earn. In fact, once you buy into the ideology of branding, buying a Falchi for around $20 is an enormous value, because you’re toting what the rich folk tote.

The brand-name fashion item thus becomes a social leveler of a peculiar sorts—it doesn’t level economic or social differences, just brand buying patterns. Mick Jagger, Miles Davis and Andy Warhol carried Falchi bags and so can the working Jane or Joe watching the Shopping Network. Celebrity worship, which usually involves a preoccupation with what a celebrity buys and uses,  serves as a means to lessen the perceived difference between rich and poor, thus helping to preserve social order.

But whatever price one pays for a Falchi, it costs more than it would without the fame of the Falchi name, without the back story of his creating custom hand-sewn bags for cool people. I don’t know it for a fact, but I’m extremely confident that the brand value of the Falchi name and myth adds much more to the cost of the expensive bags than the entire price of the Pet Rock.  I’m also confident that the cost to make the cheap bags is about the same as the cost to find and package the Pet Rock, and that both represent a small fraction of the sales price.

Thus Gary Dahl and the Carlos Falchi ( at least the one who expanded beyond making bags by himself for a handful of customers) were running the same exact scam, but on different audiences. Dahl went for the mass market and Falchi went for the wealthy, but both used the name to jack up the price beyond the value of the materials and labor needed to assemble the product. One could argue that the added value consisted of creativity, in the case of Dahl, his humor, and in the case of Falchi, his designs and selection of materials. But by the time the products rolled out in department stores, all this value had been reduced to the exhortation of a name: buy the smooth gray stone rock because of the name; buy the bag because of the name.

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We learn same old lesson from Indiana law that claims to protect religious rights: Money talks

When did the fight about religious liberty change from protecting the right to practice in private to asserting a right to impose a religious practice on a public space?

It’s a rhetorical question, because history tells us that for at least 200 years the religious rightwing has always wanted to impose Christianity on American society, just like radical Muslims want to impose a conservative version of Islam on civil societies across the Middle East. We know that the America’s religious rightwing has become more pushy over the past 35 years as it has become more politically powerful—thanks to a deal to join forces with those who support the economic interests of the wealthy. The campaign against the war on Christmas, the many state laws trying to restrict a woman’s reproductive rights, the demands that the state pay for religious education through voucher programs, the demonizing of Michael Schiavo and passage of “Terri Schiavo” laws—these are some of the steps that the Christian right has taken to impose its religious values on the rest of the country.

But we do live in a secular society and sometimes the religious right pushes too far.

The mainstream of business leaders, pundits, politicians and media have joined progressives in believing the new Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows business to discriminate against LGBT individuals and couples. Indiana Governor Mike Pence and other conservative supporters of the new law believe that it merely protects religious people and the organizations they control from having to take actions against their religious beliefs.

It sounds like a face-off between two rights, each with equal standing, but it’s really not. There is no right to refuse to sell goods or services to anyone because you don’t approve of their private actions. Many people who support the law—Pence, the Wall Street Journal, Jeb Bush—insist that it won’t enable discrimination against LGBT, although the comments of Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker all suggest that they don’t care about gay rights as long as religious rights are preserved.

An analysis of what the law means on the level of day-to-day actions reveals that at its heart, it represents an imposition of religion on civil society. Let’s start by all the real-world actions that the law might protect: Private worship in the home? Other laws protect that. The right to display religious imagery on one’s own property? Other laws protect that. The right to gather with others of like mind and pray or philosophize together? Other laws protect that. So why did we need this law if not to enable individuals and corporations to act out their beliefs in ways that do impinge on others?

Supporters of the law have yet to name one additional action not allowed previously that religious individuals and the organizations they control will now be able because of the new law.

Keep in mind that many businesses can quietly refuse to serve anyone, although as the recent case of Macy’s discriminating against blacks in New York City, you have to be pretty subtle about it. Take everyone’s favorite example of the florist or photographer who doesn’t want to work a same-sex wedding. A vendor can claim to be “too busy, jack up the price or market the business solely through religious vehicles such as the local Christian business directories. As long as no one discovers a pattern of discrimination, the vendor—be it florist, landlord or adoption agency—could always get away with it. If the interpretation of most in the mainstream and on the left is correct—and I think it is—the new law would enable these vendors to take their discriminatory attitudes out of the closet and explicitly tell LGBT people why they won’t serve them.

Thus, when we reduce the lofty words about religious freedom to specific actions, we can only conclude that either the law is unnecessary or that those supporting it do want to give people and corporations the right to refuse service to others because of a difference in religious practice.

Even as the Indiana governor and legislators raise a hue and cry about the hue and cry everyone else has raised about this ill-conceived law, they are nevertheless acting swiftly to amend it to make certain that no one can hide behind it to discriminate.

The reason for this rear guard action is money: They fear that businesses will take theirs away from the state. In the few days since the Indiana legislature passed and Pence signed the law, large employers in Indiana and all over the country have protested loudly. Indianapolis-based Angie’s List has canceled a $40 million office expansion. The Gap, Apple and Levi Strauss have all come out against the law, as have the administrations of Indiana and Butler Universities. So has the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is holding its basketball finals in Indianapolis and has an extensive operation in Indianapolis. Several smaller organizations have already canceled conventions planned for Indiana’s largest city.

Those who believe that the United States is a secular nation should naturally rejoice that the Indiana state legislature is going to fix the new law to make certain no one can use it to discriminate against others in the marketplace. But we should mourn the fact that Indiana’s elected officials are not acting from a sense of right and wrong, but rather reacting to what the moneyed interests want. It reflects the hypocrisy of many of the politicians who follow the classic demagogue playbook in upholding the views of the religious right. Their support is not sincere, but part of a snow job to gain support for economic programs and policy that hurt 99% of the country but help their real employers—the super wealthy.

Once again, in the immortal words of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman, “When money talks, no one listens to the accent.”

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House budget seeks to make war, not love thy neighbor

Snip, snip, snip. They’re cutting down the nets.

I’m not talking about overjoyed college basketball players standing on ladders to cut down the basket nets to the cheers of rabid fans after advancing to the next round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.

No, that loud and constant snipping sound we hear comes from our nation’s capital where Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to shred the social safety net.

Healthcare aid to the poor. Cut.

Food stamps for families who can’t otherwise afford a decent meal: Cut.

Special education. Cut.

Pell grants to help poor students afford a college education. Cut.

Job training. Cut. Housing assistance. Cut. Federally-funded research. Cut.

The one government function not to get the hatchet is defense. The House budget actually gives the Pentagon more than it requested, including $96 billion that the generals can spend without telling Congress why. They call it the Overseas Contingency Operations funds, or OCO, but that’s just a euphemism for a slush fund.

And not just for military spending, but for spending on war. As a New York Times article points out, the House budget gives the Defense Department less than it wanted for basic operations, but more than double what it requested for waging war.

House Republicans say they are slashing programs to reduce the deficit, but the fact they saved war from the cutting table suggests that what they really wanted to do was stop paying for social welfare programs.  Thus the budget takes money from poor people and gives it to the military contractors and defense manufacturers who benefit most from increased spending on war.

When we look at the money flow, it all makes sense. This budget continues the proud Republican tradition of stealing from the poor to give to the wealthy. It’s the essence of the Reagan agenda, which still guides Republican economic policy. The true objective behind the budget differs not a whit from that goal behind other Republican actions that transfer money from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, such as replacing public schools with charter schools that pay teachers less and administrators more; cutting taxes on the wealthy while also cutting social welfare programs; or making it easier for businesses to resist labor unions so they can pay their employees less and keep more of the profits.

The House budget also includes language that could lead to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would end the health insurance of millions of Americans, while driving up the cost of coverage significantly for those lucky enough to keep their insurance. The House budget also takes the first step to privatizing Medicare.

It’s not just the flow of money that makes the Republican budget so odious, it’s also the values behind it: These self-proclaimed protectors of American values say “no” to helping the young, the sick, the poor and the elderly, but say “yes” to bombs, tanks and guns. I know these guys hated the 1960s, but that’s no reason to make “make war, not love” in a mockery of that earlier age’s slogan projecting a world of peace and prosperity.

There is absolutely no chance that this budget will become law. The more reasonable Senate will undoubtedly mess with it, and even if it does pass in close to present form, President Obama will certainly veto it.

But all that means is that programs that help poor people, those who send their children to public schools and those who use America’s roads, bridges and mass transit systems will suffer gradual strangulation, not an instantaneous deathblow. Why? Because without a budget, the sequester will remain in effect and keep slowly choking the budgets of all federal programs.

And if the Republicans could somehow exempt military spending from the sequester, they wouldn’t mind that outcome at all.

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Ted Cruz is more likely to become star orator on the rightwing rubber chicken circuit than president

With all the imagining Ted Cruz was doing in his speech announcing he’s running for president, one thing I don’t think he was imagining was winning.

In fact, I’m convinced Cruz knows he’s not going to win and he doesn’t care, since he’s not really in the race to win.

What I believe Cruz is after is to solidify his career as a radical religious-based right wing nudge, someone who can command fancy prices to throw red meat to the faithful at rightwing gatherings. If I’m right, the true competition for Cruz is not political trust fund babies Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, but current religious right demagogues Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum. There are just so many $50,000 honorariums floating around.

My theory depends on Cruz being a rational person who realizes that he has pissed off too many mainstream Republicans with his obstreperous grandstanding and obstructionism since he assumed the office of junior U.S. senator from Texas. He knows that his loud-mouthed intemperance may have given him national visibility but at the cost of burning bridges. When it comes time for Republican senators and Congressional representatives to begin giving endorsements, I’m guessing they’ll go out of their way not to give their nod to Cruz.

My assumption that rationality guides Cruz’s actions stems more from his background than from his public statements, which show an irresponsible disregard for economics, economic history and how government works in the 21st century real world. I’m assuming that if Cruz didn’t pick up good reasoning skills growing up as the privileged child of business owners, he certainly picked them up at Princeton or Harvard Law School. Of course, Cruz was also indoctrinated in middle school and high school into the beliefs of the Christian and economic rightwing, and perhaps these beliefs have addled his brain.

I could be all wrong. Cruz’s wife is a high-ranking executive at Goldman Sachs, and maybe Goldman is looking for a reliable Republican to offset their investment into the campaigns of such Democrats as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Maybe Cruz is backed by the kind of deep pockets that kept Newt Gingrich in the 2012 race long enough to embarrass himself.

He might also be thinking that running this year will increase his visibility, thereby setting him up for serious runs in 2020 or 2024, by which time he’ll be only 54. But candidates that start in the extreme rightwing fringe like Ron Paul and Rick Santorum usually remain fringe candidates, even as their visibility rises. The way to win the Republican presidential candidacy is to start in the middle and look right. That’s what has worked for every Republican candidate since Nixon. My guess is Cruz knows that his strength as a demagogue is also his weakness as a serious candidate, so instead of jockeying for a future race, he is positioning himself for the gravy train awaiting all politicians willing to appeal to the doctrinaire ignorance of the Christian right while espousing economic policies that enable Cruz’s social and economic class—the wealthy—to continue pulling more and more money from the middle class and poor through lower taxes on the wealthy, privatization, policies that keep a lid on wages, the dismantling of the social network and government disinvestment into America’s future.

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Koch Industries uses college sports programming to try to brainwash American public

Why would a major university want to be associated with a company that has spent tens of millions of dollars espousing views that go against mainstream science and the preponderance of historical economic data?

Do I even have to supply the answer? But here’s a hint: It’s in the title of songs written by Pink Floyd, the Beatles, the men in ABBA, R Kelly and the team that wrote the songs for the Broadway musical, “Cabaret.”

The major universities in question include Penn State, Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, Oklahoma, among others. The company supplying the stuff that makes the world go round is Koch Industries.

But those worried that Koch money is going to directly poison research into the effects of global warming, government regulation, the minimum wage and unionism, can rest easy. Koch Industries is not giving the research dollars to academic departments.

No, what the Kochs are doing is advertising to fans of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams of 15 universities.

Koch recently announced a three-year deal to advertise to these universities with Learfield Sports, which is a company that negotiates advertising deals for dozens of college sports programs across the country. The news release announcing the deal calls it a “multi-year, integrated national sponsorship platform,” whatever the heck that is. Besides advertising, Koch will have signs in stadiums and arenas, social media advertising campaigns and other nontraditional marketing programs.

The news release doesn’t really get into what the Kochs will be saying in their ads, except in the most nebulous of ways, such as “Koch looks to Learfield to tell its story..,” “college sports are a great fit for us,” and “develop a meaningful program…to help drive home their goals of being able to give back to the college communities.” We do know that the topic of some of the advertising will be honoring employees and retirees, a common way that corporations combine marketing with employee relations.

A wonderful opinion piece by Kavitha A. Davidson, who writes sports opinion pieces for Bloomberg News, points out the similarities between the goals of Koch Industries and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which is not a party to the deal, except by inference (since the NCAA sets the rules for college sports). Both Koch Industries and the NCAA are fighting unions; Koch has also spent a lot of money opposing the minimum wage, while the NCAA is currently being sued for minimum wage law violations.

Davidson misses another way that Koch Industries resembles college sports: College sports distort the mission of universities, just as the millions of dollars that Koch spends on political campaigns distort our political process and what should be the mission of our elected officials. Sports money corrupts many institutions, as we see in the recent examples of the University of North Carolina and Syracuse University, just as Koch money corrupts our political process.

Even if Koch Industries doesn’t use the opportunity to speak with millions of college sports fans to spread its boldfaced lies about the mythical free market, taxes, the minimum wage, global warming and unionism, it will still be furthering its political agenda, which hurts everyone in the United States except the top .1% in terms of wealth. Every happy-faced employee and retiree lauded for contributing to the community or the company and every mention of Koch Industries sponsoring this or that sports radio feature will improve its reputation with the target market. Plus, there are many subtle ways to sneak in hidden messages: references to the power of the free market to solve problems and the value of volunteerism (as opposed to government programs); citations of the huge number of Koch employees or Koch contributions to communities; faces of happy and hard-working women and minorities. Moreover, the repetition of the Koch name in association with what the audience perceives as a positive experience (college sports) will offset the many references in the news media to the Koch family’s support of rightwing think tanks and political candidates.

So, anyone who has recently asked the question, “How could college sports get any more corrupted and corrupting than it already is,” we now have an answer: Get the Kochs involved.

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