Some Anti-Bigotry Hip-Hop

There’s a certain type of racist – the cowardly kind who doesn’t say what he thinks out loud. This is the majority. The minority who actually express their bigotry out loud are a breath of fresh air in comparison.

You know how it works: reggae is misogynistic, hip-hop is homophobic – any kind of stereotype that will indirectly accuse a whole group of some unsavoury attitude.

Of course, hip-hop isn’t homophobic. It’s a form of poetry set to a rhythm. It descends from West African story-telling traditions, and it’s the most popular music form in world history. It has spread to every country and language and has expressed every kind of idea from love to hate, revolution to consumerism. Yes, it’s true there is some homophobic hip-hop. I wouldn’t call myself a hip-hop head, but I’ve heard some great hip-hop over the years, and some of my favourite tunes are in this genre.

[UPDATE: following complaints from a couple of pedantic bastards on Twitter, I should make clear that, while hip-hop does descend from West Africa, its birthplace as a recognisable genre was in the Bronx, New York in the 1970s.]

I heard this tune today – an anti-homophobia track, and thought I’d share it. It not only attacks dumb anti-gay bigotry, but gives the lie to those racists who try to attack black people as a monolithic group by trying to label and stereotype this art-form. Enjoy.

 

Rand Paul: Civil Liberties Hero?

Delivery from President Obama!
Delivery from President Obama!

As regular readers will know, my political roots lie on the left; but I feel very little affinity with the left today, largely because it has lost touch with its tradition of support for civil liberties. The right loves to throw around the F-word (Freedom, I mean) but has never, in practise, believed in it. “Freedom” meant, under Reagan, the right to destroy democracy worldwide in the name of “fighting communism”. Today, “Freedom” means the right to destroy democracy in the name of fighting terrorism. The right in Europe and the US has always been the greatest threat to liberty; today, much of the left has decided to join it.

This means that, if you care about civil liberties, there is increasingly little to choose between Conservative/Labour, Republican/Democrat. George W Bush and the Neocons, who concocted a “global war on terror” when the “threat” comprised of perhaps a few hundred extremists at most, had a clear strategy; recreate the cold war climate of fear, and thus erode support for civil liberties. The Bush Administration carried out war crimes on a global scale and unprecedented attacks on civil liberties at home. Obama’s Hope & Change message seemed to carry a promise of a return to truly progressive values – most of all, defence of free speech – but the Obama Administration has not only preserved the core of the Bush attacks on civil liberties, but extended them (and continues to do so).

Free speech is even more under threat today than it was when Obama came to power in 2008. At this point, the partisan nature of US politics becomes tiresome. The right had, as ever, abandoned its commitment to Freedom when freedom came under sustained attack by Dubya. Now, the left largely averts its gaze when Obama does the same thing. The US mass media has utterly failed to hold Obama to account, just as it ignored the crimes of Bush. Even Fox, constantly attacking Obama for things he hasn’t done, has barely bothered to attack him for the things he has done. Fox-viewing morons want Obama impeached for a variety of bogus “crimes”, but not for the actual attacks his administration has made against the US Constitution – largely because these attacks are supported by Republicans even more than by Democrats. The US news organisation that has best held Obama to account isn’t Fox, but the progressive Democracy Now!

The political news in America has been dominated for the past couple of days by a filibuster by the right-wing Senator Rand Paul. He spoke for 13 hours in an effort to delay the appointment of John Brennan as the director of the CIA. Brennan was the major architect of the drone assassination programme, in which at least 4,700 people, many of them innocent of any crime, have been killed with no due process (click for a photo gallery of drone strike victims).

Before we brand Paul a saviour of international law, let’s note that his concern isn’t over drone strikes in general, but primarily because the Obama administration claims the right to kill US citizens (apparently the other 95% of us are fair game). And we should also note that he appears to be using this event as a publicity-generator for a possible 2016 Presidential run. Yet, as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! has written in today’s Guardian, it is shameful that only Paul has chosen to speak out on this issue (with some backing from only a small handful of Republicans and one Democratic Senator).

They say bipartisanship is dead in Washington; but when it comes to ignoring America’s global terrorism, torture and tyranny, under Presidents from both parties, the Republicans and Democrats are remarkably united. We can expect Republicans to excuse international law-breaking; we might hope that Democrats would know better. But they don’t.

Nobody on the left has any reason to like or trust Rand Paul; yet in this case, partisanship should be put aside. At a time when almost nobody is prepared to fly the flag of liberty, anyone who does so deserves qualified support. Obama has now won his second term. A Romney win would have been disastrous, and led to even more international criminality. But Obama – we should have noticed by now – is no progressive, and is happy to advance the military-corporate attacks on democracy.

The US left needs a reality-check. When the right-wing, corporate-backed Rand Paul is saying what Democrats should be saying, he deserves at least one round of applause.

NRA: National Rapist Association?

A suggestion for the National Rapist Association's new logo
A suggestion for the National Rapist Association’s new logo

Morons never seem to rest, especially on Twitter, and yesterday saw yet another surge of moronic activity as the hashtag
#LiberalTips2AvoidRape trended. In case you’re wondering, the gun lobby has found yet another way to sell guns to frightened people: the idea being that women should carry guns to prevent themselves being raped, and that in calling for gun control, those evil liberals are actually helping out the rapist.

The NRA, of course, has been scraping the bottom of the barrel for a very long time – for example using school shootings as an excuse to sell even more guns – but if there was any bottom still left in the barrel, this latest ruse may have finally worn all the way through. In its hysteria, the pro-gun American right has left behind any sense of decency, but also any sense of reason.

To start with, if guns are freely available, who is more likely to be carrying one – a rapist who pre-meditated his crime, or a woman who didn’t expect it? And if the victim is carrying a gun, how much use is it to her (or him) if there’s already a gun pointed at her (or his) head? Only two weeks ago, let’s not forget, Spanish tourists were raped at gunpoint in Mexico. Rapes at gunpoint are sadly common (as a quick Google will reveal); stories of potential victims escaping because they (and not their attacker) far less so. Guns are, it seems, far more the friend of the rapist than of his victim. I therefore feel it fitting to give the NRA a new name: the National Rapist Association; because no doubt, any American who has ever used a legal gun to rape anyone is grateful to the NRA for their tireless campaigning work on his behalf.

But let’s look at some hard statistics. How do we determine whether gun availability makes rape more or less likely? As the NRA constantly whines, there are US states (typically Democrat-voting) which do implement gun controls, as well as states (typically Republican-voting) that do not. Luckily, I already produced some statistics for a post I wrote a year ago, breaking down rape statistics by red vs blue states. The statistics revealed as follows:

Rapes per 100,000:

  • Average in Republican-voting states: 34.96
  • Average in Democrat-voting states: 28.33
  • Average in marginal states: 29.47

(Full table is available here as a PDF).

Or, to put it another way, rapes are 23% more prevalent in Republican states than Democrat ones. Not only does the right to buy a gun not make women safer, but it appears to make them less safe.

As I’m not a lying, rape-loving, spokesman for the National Rapist Association, let me make clear that I have only revealed a correlation, not causation. We don’t know that the guns are making rape more likely – we only know that states with softer gun laws have more rapes, but not why.

It should also be pointed out that America, uniquely, has a huge prison rape problem. A quarter of the world’s prisoners are American, and the brutality of the system turns a blind eye to rape in prisons – both by prisoners and guards. Given the NRA’s insane position on guns (that guns always make things better), let’s not be too surprised if they start calling for prisons to be filled with guns. After all, if guns help prevent rape on the outside, surely that same approach will work behind bars as well?

Yes, we live in a strange world where many people seem to be convinced that violence of all sorts can be solved by more guns. And then more guns. And then guns, guns, guns, guns, guns. The fact that America has both the highest gun ownership in the world and the highest violence of any developed nation doesn’t seem to stop morons from taking this plainly idiotic position.

And if you’re worried about being raped? Well, in gun-loving Alaska, you are around seven times more likely to be raped than in gun-restricting New Jersey. Take your pick. And if you’re an aspiring rapist? Buy a gun, and send a thank-you donation to your friends at the National Rapist Association.

Top Morons Of 2012

Print2012… what a moronic year it’s been! This blog is now over two years old, and despite warnings from some that my base may be eroded by improving education and the global spread of information, worldwide moronic activity shows no sign of peaking. So attempting a comprehensive round-up of moronic events has proven to be way beyond my capabilities. Instead, here’s a selection of my favourite moments from the year. Feel free to add yours in the comments section.

A big Thank You to those of you who read this blog, follow me on Twitter or listen to my podcasts. There’s plenty more to come in 2013, including – watch this space – MoronWatch: The Book! Please subscribe to my mailing list to make sure you catch all the news.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present my moron selections for 2012! Spoiler for lazy people: my moron of the year is nominated at the end of this article.

GOP Madness: I’ve tried my best to maintain a global view, but as ever, the US has managed to punch above its weight, thanks in large part to the Republican Party. The Republicans have become MoronWatch favourites by adopting an unusual electoral strategy: represent only the interests of billionaires. This isn’t a sure-fire way to win elections, as billionaires represent somewhat less than 0.01% of the US population. To make up the difference, the Republicans have embraced a diverse selection of moronic policies to attract the votes of nut-jobs ranging from creationists to lovers of hi-tech weaponry to good old-fashioned racists, and pretty much anyone with an IQ below 70. This is a fairly unruly group to control, which meant that no electable person could be selected to run for President in this year’s elections. The result of that was that Mitt Romney was chosen, because he was the candidate that fewest Republicans hated (though few of them actually seemed to like him). And the result of that was that Barack Obama was cleanly elected to serve a second term. Special mentions must go to the crazies who failed to become Republican candidates, but provided me endless entertainment, including: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and perhaps the greatest moron of them all, Rick Santorum. Only the absence of Sarah Palin, who in her endless search for media attention endlessly hinted that she might run, detracted from an otherwise top-rank moron line-up.

Slutgate: Right-wing moron-jock Rush Limbaugh was outraged in March that contraception advocate Sandra Fluke, could dare call for public funding to be put into making contraception more easily available. So outraged, that he labelled her a slut; and then since that clearly wasn’t extreme enough, he also called her a prostitute (reasoning that, if the public were paying for her pills, she was basically being paid to have sex).

Invisible Children: Kind-but-gullible people were convinced by Kony 2012, a viral video campaign, to donate to a non-profit organisation, Invisible Children, that was “raising awareness” about the horrendous Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. The video, however, was deeply inaccurate, was pushing for US military involvement, and didn’t make clear that the campaign’s devil-figure, Joseph Kony, had already been chased out of Uganda. Furthermore, the video presented a complex situation as a simple good-vs-evil one, failing to point out the rapes and other human rights abuses of the “good guys”, Uganda’s moron President Museveni and his army. But it worked, and raised millions for a dubious cause. Some of these millions were apparently put to good use by the group’s leader Jason Russell, who, just after the campaign peaked, was found naked in the street, masturbating and pounding his fists on the pavement. He later said his mind had “betrayed him”. I guess a few million dollars buys a lot of… “mind betrayal”.

Panicky in the UK: British fuel tanker drivers made a strike threat in Spring. Government ministers tried to win the propaganda battle against them… by warning of coming fuel shortages, and telling people to fill up their tanks, just in case. Francis Maude went even further, telling people to fill up jerrycans and keep them at home in their garages (presumably forgetting that widespread amateur storage of flammable substances may be considered a fire risk). British morons like nothing better than a good panic-buying spree, and quickly long queues developed at petrol stations around the country, with some suppliers running dry.

Tennessee Gateway Sex: It seems that runaway rates of Christian belief in Tennessee have failed to prevent runaway rates of teenage pregnancy (strange – how can you get pregnant while you’re praying?) – so the state legislature passed a bill banning the “promotion of gateway sexual activity” by teachers. The bill was strangely lacking in detail, raising the concern that teachers may be sued for allowing kids to hug or hold hands.

Carolina Warming Denial: With global CO2 emissions reaching new records, it’s looking increasingly likely that the targets set 15 years ago in Kyoto will be missed by a mile. Scientists are despondent about staying within the “safe” warming target of two degrees centigrade by 2100. It’s even increasingly likely that the unthinkable “human civilisation might collapse” target of four degrees may be breached. Brave Republican lawmakers in North Carolina, a coastal US state that may see huge costs from sea level rise, seem to have found a solution: they outlawed the use of scientific projections that predict sea-level rising due to climate change. Now, let’s just hope that the global climate respects North Carolina law.

Lock Up The Gays: Staying in North Carolina, Pastor Charles Worley thinks he’s found a sensible way to deal with the “lesbians and queers”: lock them up behind an electric fence and wait for them to die. That would work.

South Carolina Rape Victims Don’t Matter: While the Republicans fight tooth and nail to maintain tax cuts for the wealthy, Nikki Haley, the Governor of South Carolina, vetoed $450,000 of spending to help rape and sexual assault victims, explaining that this money went only to help a small minority of people in the state. Apparently rape is only an issue when above 50% of the population have fallen victim.

Israel’s “Infiltrators”: Israel’s drift to racist nationalism gained global attention when mobs turned on African immigrants and their businesses. The politicians, including Israel’s moron leader, Netanyahu, just stoked the anger, and said that African “infiltrators” would be sent home. The irony of Nazi-style language and tactics being used in Israel was apparently lost on many Israelis.

Boy Band Jihadis: top British boy band One Direction ruffled the feathers of right-wing moron blogger Debbie Schlussel when Muslim band member Zayn Malik tweeted about Ramadan. One Direction, she decided, are an insidious plot to “pimp Islam” to gullible teenage American girls.

Economics For Morons: George W Bush, the President who inherited a budget surplus and left office leaving a huge debt and a burst housing bubble that stalled the global economy (but richer billionaires), launched a book on Economics. No, really.

World’s Most Moronic Sheriff: In 2011, Barack Obama neatly handed Donald Trump his ass by publishing his long-form birth certificate just as Trump was getting into full-blown birther mode. Realising that birther morons are still looking for a hero, Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio took up the baton this year, announcing that his investigators had proven Obama’s birth certificate to be a forgery. Such conspiracies are largely met with a yawn these days, but apparently not to Arpaio’s devoted supporters.

Homophobic Fried Chicken: Dan Cathy, CEO of US “Christian fast food chain” Chick-Fil-A (yes, apparently even junk food is religious in America) decided to speak out against gay marriage. It would be nice to be able to say this hurt Chick-Fil-A’s profits, but Republicans such as Mike Huckabee stepped in to support the deep-fried morons, declaring a “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day”, which saw morons lining up to eat gay-hating poultry.

Jobbik Jew: Nationalism is Europe’s nasty little secret, and it’s back with a vengeance – no more so than in Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik party is rising in popularity. So it was with great amusement that we watched outspoken anti-Semite Jobbik MP Csanad Szegedi get unmasked as a Jew, whose grandmother had been in Auschwitz. Reportedly, this hasn’t done wonders for his political career.

Legitimate Rape: Tea Party-backed Senate Candidate Todd Akin made global headlines when, during an interview about abortion, he claimed that pregnancy from rape was rare, because women’s bodies have the magical ability to prevent conception in the case of rape. This even upset some in the Republican Party – presumably because it implied that God carries out abortions on behalf of rape victims. Thankfully, the people of Missouri decided that Akin wasn’t for them, and he lost his election bid on November 6, along with a number of other Tea Party morons.

The Joy Of Slavery: Yet more crazy Republicans… Jon Hubbard of Arkansas published a book in which he claimed that “slavery was a blessing” because it gave Africans the chance to live in “the greatest nation ever established”. He apparently didn’t notice that Europeans and Asians were given the same chance – but without being raped, forced to work, beaten, killed and separated from their loved ones.

BNP Fail: Conscious that his far-right British National Party (BNP) is losing support, Nick Griffin decided to play the homophobia card, apparently not realising that British attitudes had changed. When a gay couple won their court case against a hotel owner who refused to let them stay, Griffin tweeted their address, with the threat that a “British justice team” would be visiting them. The BNP then followed up with a poll on their web site, asking: “Would you leave a gay couple to babysit your child? Vote now!” – the result? 98% voted yes, which probably wasn’t the answer the fascists were expecting.

Moronissimi! Europe’s most conservative country showed its disdain for science when seven Italian scientists were convicted of manslaughter for saying that an earthquake was unlikely in Aquila, shortly before the quake in 2009 that killed 300 people. The undoubted effect will be to push scientists out of Italy, and frighten many of the remainder into silence. Meanwhile, a Rome-based fraudster who claims to be God’s representative on Earth, but also failed to predict the quake, was not charged with any offence.

Kentucky Lends God a Hand: God, apparently, isn’t powerful enough to speak for himself – luckily, he has the Kentucky state legislature on his side, which passed a law mandating the state Homeland Security building to post a plaque outside recognising the “power of almighty God”. Never mind that this law blatantly breaches the first amendment to the US Constitution – anyone breaching it faces 12 months in jail.

O Canada… WTF!? Remember when Canada were the good guys? The sensible ones who had the misfortune of having all those nut-jobs located south of their border? Not any more: all that tar-sands oil seems to have gone to their heads. Flush with all the new cash, Canadians elected a hideously right-wing government in 2011. This year, the UN General Assembly held a historic vote to finally recognise the battered and bruised state of Palestine, which was passed resoundingly. Only nine states of 193 voted against, including (predictably) Israel and the US. The other seven included world giants like Palau and Micronesia. And Canada. Not only did the Canadians feel comfortable belonging to such a bizarre little club, but their moron Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird then threatened to retaliate – presumably by cutting off Palestinian aid.

Israel’s Moronic Expansion: Israel then decided to “retaliate” against the vote for Palestinian statehood by announcing a huge expansion of illegal home building in East Jerusalem (which doesn’t actually belong to Israel) – this new development is hugely significant because it cuts Palestinian East Jerusalem off from the Palestinian West Bank, effectively annexing all of Jerusalem for a future invasion and occupation by Israel. Middle East watchers will have noticed a pattern here: Israel “retaliates” against almost anything, from Palestinian rocket fire to the sun rising, by building new homes in Palestinian territory. Palestinians know that new home building is an inevitability, regardless of what does or doesn’t happen. The only thing that could stop this endless theft of land is for the international community to show some guts in backing international law – but the US (and its poodles) won’t allow that to happen.

Guns Don’t Kill People, X-Boxes Do: The year ended with yet another school shooting in the United States: 20 children were gunned down by yet another crazy with easy access to automatic weaponry. The US then went into its carefully prepared response to such events: a debate – incomprehensible to international observers – on whether the problem in America is caused by too many weapons or too few. I’m one of those who agrees that these kinds of events aren’t driven by gun availability alone – there are deeper problems. But a recent event in China proved the point: a madman attacked 22 schoolchildren with a weapon; none died. His weapon? A knife; the parents of those children can at least be thankful that a gun wasn’t available. Moronic gun lobby group the NRA were silent for a few days after the massacre, and then broke their silence with a press conference hosted by Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. A low-key, compromising stance had been expected; but LaPierre failed to deliver this, instead delivering a speech described by the New York Times as a “mendacious, delusional, almost deranged rant“. He blamed pretty much everything and everyone – except the guns. He called for armed police in every school (funded by the taxpayer, not the gun industry, of course). In a fair world, LaPierre would have been gunned down by a crazy during his speech – but alas, he lives to spew bile another day. Wayne LaPierre, well done: you are our Moron of the Year, 2012!

Newtown, Connecticut: The Suburbs Strike Again

The Ghetto It Ain't
The Ghetto It Ain’t

In the wake of yet another US mass shooting – and this time, featuring the murders of 20 small children, being particularly hard to understand – we see ourselves going through the same old rehearsed positions.

Step 1: Unite momentarily in expressing outrage.

Step 2: Select one of the following positions according to your stance:

Anti-gun: Blame it on the guns.

Pro-gun: Defend right to own guns as an important component of liberty, despite the obvious costs.

Gun-nut: Claim that this kind of thing wouldn’t happen if the teacher/janitor/children had been armed.

Step 3: Wait until the next inevitable shooting, and repeat.

It proves very difficult to conduct a discussion on why these events actually happen. You’ll be given a stock position: too many guns, or not enough guns, and any deviation from this agenda results in the debate being shut down.

Yet, take a step back from the heat and emotion of each immediate event and some statistical correlations can be easily made. To start with, the vast majority of these events happen in the United States, a country with less than 5% of the world’s population. That surely is significant. But dig deeper, and even stronger correlations are revealed.

The US actually appears to have two separate gun problems. The first accounts for most gun deaths: it is the carnage that takes place in the poor, mostly non-white inner-cities. This first problem seems easy to explain: poverty, lack of opportunity, disenfranchisement, and a highly profitable (and competitive) illegal drugs trade. The second consists of an epidemic of random mass shootings, as we saw in Connecticut last week. Look at these problems as a single issue, and the statistics are confusing; separate them, and perhaps things become clearer.

The inner-city shootings, accounting for the vast majority, cloud the statistics. Separate out Newtown-style events, and something else emerges. Here’s the weird thing: despite the fact that the vast majority of gun crime is carried out by poor non-whites in urban areas, these mass shootings are completely different. The perpetrators are almost entirely white, and middle-class.

Now let’s look at a couple of much bigger trends:

Trend 1: Urbanisation. for most of the 10,000 years of human civilisation, we have been increasingly inclined to urbanise; to move together into increasingly populous and compact cities. In 2007, for the first time, the majority of humans lived in cities.

Trend 2: Decline in Violence. It’s fashionable to believe that we live in dangerous times (often encouraged by authoritarians who profit from an increase in fear), yet violence has been on the decline for thousands of years. Indeed, there appears to be a direct correlation between urban living and the decline in violence. We tend to idealise ancient, rural lifestyles, but the realities are far more brutal than we imagine. Around 15% of deaths in primitive societies are violent, compared with 3% in states. And murder is estimated to have fallen between tenfold and 50-fold in Europe between the Middle Ages and the 20th century. These facts contrast heavily with the constant claims that mass murders are somehow a “product of modernity”.

And now here’s a third trend, over a shorter scale:

Trend 3: The Suburbanisation of America. The United States was following the same trend of urbanisation as Europe, although it was more rural than Europe. And then, along came the car. Although on paper, America continued to urbanise, in practise, its development skewed off the 10,000-year path of urbanisation. Cities are places where people are forced to live in close proximity to, and meet with, people unlike themselves. The suburbs allow people to cluster closer together than in rural communities, and yet never have to interact with each other. Big houses, bigger yards and – most importantly – cars, ensured that the civilising process of urbanisation almost ground to a halt. The peculiarly American behaviour of white flight accelerated this process. Civil rights frightened white Americans, and they took their families, and their cars, to the edges of the cities into the suburbs and – another American peculiarity – the Exurbs. Exurbs are rural communities under a new name.

The American suburbs are a paradox: modern on the surface, but able to maintain the ignorance and prejudices of rural communities that cities tend weaken and break down. America’s suburbs are bland, dull, soulless and allow ancient human fear, ignorance and prejudice to be preserved, under a civilised shell. They allow the frightened, the ignorant and the racist to ignore the places where human cultures are made: the big cities. Now you throw in gun ownership on a huge scale, and you get the same effect as if you flooded rural Africa with guns – that experiment too has been tried, with the inevitable, horrific results.

Here’s my prediction: the next school shooting will take place in a mostly white, middle-class suburb that looks just like 10,000 other places in America. The perpetrator will probably be white, but this isn’t a racial thing: as middle-class non-whites also head for the “safety” of the suburbs, the chance of a school shooting by a black, Asian or Latino person increases. The shooter won’t be a black or Latino gangster, nor will he be a gun-totin’ redneck.

I believe that restricting gun ownership will reduce these types of events, but certainly will not eliminate them. Thanks to the rise of the car, cheap oil, and suburbia, America lost its way almost a century ago. Only a return to high-density urban development, as the nation once achieved so spectacularly in Manhattan and Chicago, can complete the job of civilising its population.

Election 2012: America’s Tipping Point?

Fox News team looking sad
Why the long faces?

America has two broad histories: what happened, and what Americans think happened. America’s brutal history is hard to square with its talk of liberty and equality, but the schizophrenic nation somehow manages to blend reality with fiction almost seamlessly. The fairy tales start from the nation’s very beginning. The Enlightenment in Europe was proposing radical new ideas: that science and reason should triumph over religion and superstition; that tolerance and fairness should triumph over persecution. Americans are sold a story in which the early settlers were chased out of a barbaric Europe that refused to tolerate their religious beliefs; in reality, the Enlightenment was challenging the most intolerant religious factions. Those Christian zealots who fled to America weren’t running from intolerance, but fleeing because their right to be intolerant was under threat.

These origins created a contradictory, fractured nation: a constitution based on the Enlightenment, but a population that was strongly opposed to Enlightenment values. As a result, America has always been an outlier when measured against other continents. More religious, more violent, less tolerant than other countries of similar levels of wealth; clinging on to slavery long after the Atlantic slave trade had been outlawed by the British; creating racial segregation laws unlike anything seen in post-medieval Europe (with the exception of Nazi-era antisemitic laws).

For most of its history, the US white majority has been strongly racist and deeply religious. The civil-rights era laid the groundwork for true equality in some future time, but it frightened and enraged the white majority. The Republican Party, once the party of abolition, embraced its infamous Southern Strategy to mop up the white racist vote that had once belonged to the Democrats.

For decades, this strategy worked. From 1972 until 2008, there were six Republican presidential terms and only three Democratic ones. But predictable changes were happening. America’s social values were inevitably becoming more progressive, for several reasons: in post-civil rights America, young people of different races were – slowly at first – beginning to mix with each other; immigrants from around the world were bringing new ideas; the population was urbanising; and, thanks to the Internet, Americans were becoming exposed to a global market of ideas from which most had been previously excluded. Republicans were dominant, but their dominance was reliant on a shrinking base.

The tipping point arrived quietly at some point in the past decade. With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, it seemed America had passed a point of no return. The symbol of a black President gave an unmistakable message of change. The Republicans needed to accept and embrace the changes in society, and many attempted to. But they were tangled in their own past. A huge segment of Republican support was right-wing, racist and religious. With some help from Fox News and cash from corporate backers, the so-called Tea Party movement emerged; an enraged backlash against inevitable change. They successfully seized the Republican agenda, removing moderates from office and shifting the party to the extreme right. Their calls to “take back our country” failed to mask the unmistakable screams of a lynch mob.

The Republicans became perfect moron-watching material. Every week would produce a new story so outrageous, I would have to check multiple sources before tweeting or blogging about it; attacks on women’s reproductive rights, rejections of mainstream science, attempts to include religious orthodoxy in mainstream education, witch-hunts against Muslims.

The life of a Republican presidential candidate was made impossible – how to present yourself as far-right to the angry, white, religious Republican base while simultaneously as centrist to the wider electorate?

I believe Obama’s 2012 victory is more significant even than his 2008 win. This time, he was an incumbent with a varying record in office. This time, the novelty factor of a black candidate was no longer in play. The US economy is not in great shape. He has faced relentless campaigns trying to prove that he was born outside the US or labelling him a Muslim. Yet he won. The screams of rage from the right this time are louder than before. Because this time, his victory can’t be blamed on some kind of black sympathy vote, or on John McCain’s suitability as a candidate. The 2012 victory demonstrates the existence – for the first time ever – of a narrow progressive (or at least centrist) majority in America.

Obama’s win wasn’t the only sign of this. Two states voted to legalise recreational use of marijuana, and four voted in favour of gay marriage. The screams of rage are in mourning, not just for an election defeat, but for an America where white, Christian, racist males dominated. This was best summed up by the right-wing Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly on election night when he glumly stated: “the white establishment is now in the minority“.

The Republicans need to embrace the new reality, but that’s easier said than done. A constituency of white, Christian racists still exists, and it numbers in the tens of millions. In a multi-party democracy, the Tea Party could form its own political party, but in America’s enforced duopoly, they have nowhere else to go, and so the chance that the Republicans can move towards the centre is remote.

Unfortunately, the Republican swing to the right has taken the most important issues off the US agenda. Climate change, inequality and the corporate threat to democracy were barely mentioned in the election campaign. Big oil and corporate power were the winners.

One thing is certain – the US religious right is still huge, is angrier than ever, and still controls the House of Representatives. Now cornered, expect its last stand to be spectacular.

US Elections For Dummies

That tricky choice: more drone strikes and torture or more drone strikes and torture?

As we approach another US Presidential election, increasing numbers of non-Americans are watching proceedings with great interest; however, the US electoral system is a strange thing, and many foreigners fail to understand its subtleties. As a non-Yank who takes a great interest in US politics, I felt I should explain US elections to those foreigners who would like to follow events in the run-up to November 6. So here is the MoronWatch quick guide to American elections.

Only Two Parties?

That’s right, the American system is carefully engineered to ensure only Democrats and Republicans have any chance of winning. To outside observers, used to multi-party democracy, this seems a little strange. America, in its usual efficient way, has optimised democracy to the bare minimum. Cuba, of course, has a one-party state. America has TWICE the number of parties that Cuba does, and is therefore twice as democratic. And what better measure of democracy could there possibly be?

To ensure no other parties have a chance, the Ds and the Rs have things sown up. For example, in the current run of presidential debates, the parties signed a legal contract promising not to debate with any other candidate, thus creating an unbreakable duopoly and excluding any possible third-party candidate from gaining any publicity. The media plays along with the game, ensuring that alternative candidates are seen as little more than cranks. And when force is needed, it’s freely used; indeed, when Green Party candidate Jill Stein tried to attend this year’s debate, she was arrested and held by New York police. Smell the democracy!

No Spending Limits?

Outsiders have a quaint idea that elections should reflect the will of the people. America is smarter than this (as are other advanced democracies such as Cuba, Zimbabwe, etc). The People, as everyone knows, are idiots and shouldn’t be allowed to make any serious decisions. Presidents should instead be chosen by the nation’s cleverest people: CEOs. Unlike many democracies, America imposes no spending restrictions, and even allows third-parties (such as corporate front groups) to run political advertising. The election result is thus a simple matter of money.

So corporations fund the campaigns and the campaign that spends the most money wins. Simple! Which party do the corporations prefer? Both of them! Since both parties represent corporate interests, it doesn’t really matter to corporations which one is elected. They fund both parties to make sure that they, rather than any accountable body, control the system. If one of the parties suddenly questioned the rights of corporations to own and run US society, that party would lose its funding and the other one would win. The system is balanced and fair (unless you’re some kind of commie who believes in “one person, one vote” type stuff).

No Progressive Party?

Real democracies represent all parts of the political spectrum, but that can be messy, and result in the people actually choosing their government; so the enlightened system in America (like that in Cuba) ensures this doesn’t happen. Most societies split into two parts – conservatives (those who think the past was great) and progressives (those who aren’t so sure about that). So the main political parties tend to represent various flavours of these strands. America has evolved beyond this crude system; since progressives tend to be uneasy about corporate power threatening democracy, they had to be excluded from the electoral process.

Instead, Americans are offered a simpler choice: pro-corporate sane people vs pro-corporate insane people. This means that a knowledge of politics isn’t necessary for voting in America, since the parties disagree on very little anyway. Just decide whether you think raped pregnant women should be forced to carry their babies to term or not, and your choice is simple.

Make Up The Rules As You Go Along

Here’s the best thing about US elections: if the vote doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t even matter! You simply ensure the voting machines will give the right answer, people have trouble voting, and the supreme court is packed with your friends.

Why bother with elections at all? Why not just allow CEOs to nominate the next President at a secret meeting? Americans are proud of their semi-democratic past, and voting reminds them of the days when they actually used to have some control over national policy. Besides, the corporations who make rigged voting machines would be very upset to lose all that business. As with many African nations, which have so carefully copied America’s version of democracy, the US enjoys going through the motions of voting, secure in the knowledge that the rich people who own everything will still be in power after election day.

So Does Voting Make Any Difference?

Yes. Despite the fact that both parties are largely funded by the same interests, small changes of direction can make a big difference. The Republican party has been taken over by people who will happily start a nuclear war, since they believe God’s on their side and they’re guaranteed a spot in heaven whatever happens. And the difference between “nuclear war” and “no nuclear war” is pretty significant. Romney has signalled a more aggressive attitude towards Russia, China and Iran if he’s elected, which is bad news for global stability and the economy, but good news for the oil and weapons companies that back him.

So here we go again: through some joke of history, the entire future of global humanity rests on the whims of a handful of badly-informed morons in a handful of swing states. If there is a god, he has a wicked sense of humour.

Todd Akin Attacked For Being Stupid (Being Evil Is Fine)

Todd Akin, Moron
Can This Man Tie His Own Shoelaces?

Moron-watching is made both easy and fun, thanks to US Republicans. Barely a day passes without an insane outburst from a leading Republican politician or supporter; sometimes the utterances are so stupid, I have to double-check the source to check it’s not The Onion or some other spoof site. But invariably, the reports are true, and the stories are a gift to moron-watching. Whether they’re passing laws to make climate change illegal, labelling contraception campaigners as sluts or inventing Islamic infiltration of government, the Republicans provide endless moronic hilarity.

I often wonder if they’ve peaked – how could they possibly continue to match this level of craziness? But if I was in any doubt, this week, Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin came to the rescue. Akin’s comment was on a familiar subject – the ongoing attempt to deny abortions to American women, even in the case of rape or incest. In most developed countries, that would be enough for the speaker to dismissed as a lunatic. But in the US, such people are not only listened to, but elected to political office.

If Akin had merely argued for abortion to be denied to rape victims, he would have been almost part of the mainstream. But he took things further, by answering as follows in response to a question on the subject:

From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child. (video)

Akin’s comment, unusually, was attacked by fellow Republicans, and he has been under pressure from within his party to stand down from the Senate race (fellow moron-watchers will be delighted to hear that he resisted that pressure). But he’s not under attack for wanting to deny the right to an abortion to rape victims, but simply for his idiotic misunderstanding of science (something which is normally a Republican badge of pride).

Denying abortion to rape victims is almost mainstream Republican ideology; indeed, Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan also appears to take this view.

Perhaps Akin’s fellow Republicans are really most upset at Akin’s suggestion that God provides for some kind of “natural abortion” when women are raped – hardly a message that supports the anti-abortion side of the argument.

So it seems the Republican Party has no problem with Akin’s abhorrent views; they simply objected to them being spoken out loud, especially in such a moronic fashion.