AR-15, Swiss Army knife — good for both home and battle

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I showed Swamp Rabbit a copy of the recent court ruling on assault weapons in California. He read the first paragraph out loud:

Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for both home and battle, the AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR-15 type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.

Swamp Rabbit laughed. “You must have got this from the Onion. Ain’t no federal judge would compare an AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife. Looks like some looney wrote this. Or an AR-15 salesman.”

“Well, there you go,” I said. “A looney or a salesman. Or both.”

But the author of the ruling that struck down a three-decade ban on assault weapons in CA was indeed a judge — a guy named Roger Benitez, called “unqualified” and much worse by the American Bar Association when nominated for the judgeship back in 2003, but appointed anyway by George W. Bush. (The next Republican POTUS, Donald Trump, would be even more adept than Bush at choosing unqualified judges.)

Swamp Rabbit read more and seemed to become even more incredulous. Benitez wrote that most people “who own and keep the popular AR-15 rifle and its many variants do so for lawful purposes…” but conveniently left out the fact that, in this country, assault weapons were used in the seven deadliest mass shootings in the past decade.

The judge also wrote that “More people have died from the Covid-19 vaccine than mass shootings in California,” a fittingly Trumpian lie and a telling indication of Benitez’ notion of jurisprudence.

I couldn’t help but ask Swamp Rabbit if he remembered the guy who, in Las Vegas in 2017, used his assault rifle, or “home defense weapon,” to kill 58 people and wound nearly 700 in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

“I remember,” Swamp Rabbit said. “I don’t even want to think about how bad the slaughter would have been if he’d had one of them Swiss Army knives.”

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Not forgetting is hard work (a history lesson)

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“When was the last time you thought about history?” I said to Swamp Rabbit, who was playing a video game on his phone. “Here, check this out.”

I made him read the laughably creepy anecdote that starts Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Kundera describes future Czechoslovak President Klement Gottwald standing bareheaded in the bitter cold, speaking to a big crowd in Prague, 1948. Foreign Minister Vladimír Clementis steps onto the balcony, takes off his fur cap, and graciously places it on Gottwald’s head. A photograph is taken. A few years later, Clementis is arrested and executed on a trumped-up charge of treason. Communist censors airbrush him from the well-known photo.

Kundera wrote of the doctored photo: Where Clementis once stood, there is only bare palace wall. All that remains of Clementis is the cap on Gottwald’s head.

“It’s easy to erase history,” I said, in case Swamp Rabbit had missed the point.

“That don’t make no sense,” he replied. “You can’t erase something that actually happened. What about all them peeps who watched the speech and knew the dude was there that day?”

“They forgot about him,” I said. “The modern world is fast-paced. One memory has to make room for the next. Who has time to fuss over what happened yesterday?”

“That’s what history is for, Odd Man. If something is important, it’s gonna end up in the history books.”

I told him he was being too simplistic. A lot of important stuff gets left out of history, or expunged. Or watered down to the point where it no longer reflects what really happened. History books often leave out unpleasant or inconvenient truths. The powers-that-be are happy to help people forget events that could be a threat to the status quo.

“The Tulsa Race Massacre, for example,” I said. “Hundreds of black people killed, their neighborhood burned down, but the entire event was airbrushed from history. Most people knew nothing about it until it turned up as a subplot on a TV series called Watchmen.”

Swamp Rabbit was unconvinced. “That massacre was a hundred years ago. Nowadays, them history books get things right.”

“Really?“ I said. “What about those yahoos at the U.S. Capitol who tried to overturn the election results? Only five months ago and already the Republicans are trying to make us forget. They’re saying the yahoos were tourists or non-violent protestors, or that the violent ones were really leftists. A lot of people believe them.”

“And a lot of peeps don’t,“ he said. “What’s your point?”

“My point is it’s important to keep the bad guys — Communists, Nazis, Republicans — from replacing history with bullshit. Not forgetting is hard work.”

“Too hard for me, I guess,“ he said. “I forget why you brought up the subject.”

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The GOP insurrection has only just begun

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It was 80-some degrees but not too humid, a perfect day for swamp creatures great and small to put off work and laze in the sun. Swamp Rabbit was bored, of course, and determined to find news that would put me in a bad mood.

“Check it out,” he said, climbing onto my porch with his laptop and directing me to a story with this headline: “73% of Republicans blame ‘left-wing protesters’ for Jan. 6 riot.”

This was two days before Republicans used the filibuster to block approval of a bipartisan congressional commission to investigate the causes of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“The Republican senators have it all figured out,” I said. “They know they can blow off the commission because rank-and-file Trumpers don’t want it to happen.”

Swamp Rabbit pretended to be shocked. After all, the Jan. 6 attempt to break the U.S. government was unprecedented, unless you count the siege of Fort Sumter and the Civil War that followed. Republicans can’t pretend the MAGA mob stormed the Capitol without encouragement from Donald Trump and his gang. They can’t pretend the rioters were just tourists, or that 147 congressional Republicans didn’t vote on the same day as the siege to overturn election results in states Joe Biden won fair and square.

“Yes they can,” I replied. “What’s the point of telling lies about an attempted coup if you don’t tell big lies? Republican senators know the people who elected them expect them to lie. That the truth isn’t welcome because it would mean rejecting Trump and what he stands for, which is the same thing they stand for.”

Swamp Rabbit was playing devil’s advocate to get me worked up. “You’re way too cynical, Odd Man. If you’re right, it means the Republican Party ain’t gonna abide by election results no more.”

“Thank you for stating the obvious,” I said. “The insurrection was and is about doing away with the laws that ensure fair elections. The Republicans’ next step is to pass voter restriction laws that ensure unfair elections. They’re working on it.”

He pretended to be angry. “This American democracy thing is almost three hundred years old, Them Trumpers can’t just all of a sudden throw the whole system out the window.”

I tried to tell him that Republicans have been lying with impunity for decades thanks to the docile media and complacent establishment Democrats. But they weren’t quite ready to tell the Big Lie — i.e., the election was stolen — until 2020, when the liar-in-chief was turned out of office and they realized they would have to game the system to regain control of Congress and the presidency.

Swamp Rabbit shook his head. “They can’t get away with it. Not if all the peeps get out there and vote in the midterms.”

“That depends on who’s allowed to vote,” I said. “And who’s in charge of counting the votes.”

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Time waits for no one (especially timid Democrats)

Drag_My_Feet_Along_The_Floor__by_XX_moo_XX.jpg (900×621)Swamp Rabbit had a confession to make. “The closer I follow the news, the less I understand what them Dems are up to. What am I missing?”

He’d been trying to figure out why Democrats in Washington, D.C. weren’t pushing harder to pass the For the People Act, which would prevent Republican state legislatures from imposing Jim Crow-ish voter restriction laws and redrawing district lines. I told him establishment  Democrats don’t push for anything. They “reach across the aisle” to establish bipartisan support for their bills, even though they know they will get their hands smacked and achieve nothing.

“Yeah, but Biden got all them Covid vaccinations done like he promised, and another round of stimulus checks and money for childcare providers and Obamacare,“ he said. “And he wants to pass a giant infrastructure bill and fix all the sabotage that nasty jackass Trump did to the environment laws. But things ain’t looking so good no more.”

Swamp Rabbit had had his first drink at 10 am, like Hemingway in Cuba, but it wasn’t yet noon, so I figured he might still be half-sober. “So what’s your point?” I said. “The last time the subject came up, you were all in. You said Biden and the other Dems are doing okay, considering they’re up against a bunch of Republican jackals who tried to help Trump overthrow democracy.”

He told me he’d reconsidered.  The Democrats have a slim majority in the House and are 50-50 in the Senate only because of the miraculous election of two Democrats in Georgia. And now Republicans want to stall a vote to prevent the For the People Act from ever being passed.

“My point is time’s running out,” he said. “Game over if Republicans get them majorities back in the mid-terms. The Dems gotta remind people every day they want to make voting rights stronger and raise the minimum wage and tax the rich and so on. Especially in them states with DINO senators like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Gotta shame ’em. And they gotta get rid of the filibuster.”

This time I played devil’s advocate. “Sure, but how do you get rid of the filibuster if the DINOs want to keep it? How do you stay on message if some in your tribe are Dixiecrats and neolibs who dont really want to change anything?

He sighed. I dont know. Thats why I asked you, Odd Man. I see you dont know either, so I might as well just have another drink.

Footnote: Art by jameslsy at James Lee | Facebook

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Grilling tips from the Ugly American

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“Here, read this column,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Some peeps ain’t content to just mess up the planet, they gotta brag about it too.”

It was a piece by a Washington Post columnist who is peeved because the food website Epicurious, citing concerns about climate change, has stopped publishing new beef recipes. He writes, “Canceling beef recipes won’t make a dent in climate change, and this stunt reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how to effectively address the real crisis.”

Hmm. I thought the real crisis was that the Amazon Rainforest is now emitting more carbon dioxide than it is storing because its trees are being burned and chopped down at a furious pace to make way for more cattle grazing. Put another way, the rainforest is dwindling and the air pollution rate exploding as the worldwide demand for beef increases.

But the WAPO guy pushes all that aside and focuses on his culinary accomplishments: “…I’ve honed my methods and perfected techniques for cooking rack of lamb, rabbit, bison, venison and quail. Not to mention five cuts of pork. Nothing, however, beats what comes from cattle.”

“See what I mean?” Swamp Rabbit said. “The chump brags about how much meat he eats, which is like braggin’ about how many trees you chop down.”

I cautioned the rabbit against over-criticizing. The WAPO guy concedes there is a problem. He says Epicurious, instead of banning beef recipes, should post articles encouraging consumers to eat less beef.

“Ain’t that a hoot,” the rabbit said. “Meanwhile he’s stuffing his fat face with enough beef to fill a soccer stadium in Brazil.”

“Now, now,” I replied. “No need to stoop to ad hominem attacks.”

“F*** that. This guy is the Ugly American. Ain’t no way he should get space in a major newspaper to brag about it. The Washington Post should be ashamed of itself.”

“Enough!” I said, noting how angry he was. “I’m gonna mosey over to my shack now to cook dinner. You want a hamburger?”

“I’ll take mine with cheese if you got it.“

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Tech changes. Cop culture doesn’t.

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Scott Olson/Getty Images

Swamp Rabbit was yapping about the Derek Chauvin trial. “Too bad he was wearin’ a mask. I wanted to see the look on his face when the judge read them guilty verdicts.”

I recalled watching Chauvin on TV last May, when his knee was on George Floyd’s neck and people on the sidewalk were staring at him. The look on his face said What are you going to do about it, call the cops? 

“Ain’t no way he gets convicted back in the day,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Maybe things are changing. ”

Don’t get carried away, I told him. Technology has changed — the pervasiveness of smartphones being the prime example here — but cop culture remains pretty much what it always was. Cops have each other’s backs, just like outlaw motorcycle gang members. Their unwritten code discourages reporting or testifying against brother officers (and sisters, sometimes) who commit crimes. Some of Chauvin’s brothers turned against him in the end, but only because his crime was on video and especially gruesome.

“You ain’t telling me nothing new,” Swamp Rabbit said. “But the pressure is on. What about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act?

“What about it?” I said. “Some state and local reforms have been made, but that federal bill won’t pass without support from Senate Republicans. The same gang that blocks all progressive bills. They even fought to block the presidential election results.”

“But the Floyd verdicts change all that,” the rabbit insisted. “Republican will look like racists if they don’t do the right thing.”

“Most Republicans are racists,” I replied. “That’s one of the reasons you can usually count on them to do the wrong thing.”

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‘The Troubles’ in N. Ireland pale in comparison to ours

Boy and flaming car outside Divis flats.
Belfast in the bad old days. Photo by Jez Coulson

I was reading about the possible renewal of “the Troubles” that wracked the north of Ireland in the last three decades of the 20th century:

The instability has been accelerated by the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. From the moment Brexit was passed, concerns about self-determination and national allegiance again stood front and center in a society deeply divided between those who support Northern Ireland’s constitutional status within the U.K. (unionists, most often Protestant) and those believing that the north of Ireland’s true home lies with the Republic of Ireland (nationalists, most often Catholic).

Unionists reject Brexit and the existence of an entity called Northern Ireland. Loyalists accept Brexit and want to remain British citizens. The two sides are unlikely to reconcile anytime soon. In fact, recent rioting might be a harbinger of the sort of strife that resulted in almost 3,600 deaths before a peace accord was reached 23 years ago.

“I wanted to go over there this year to find out if the Belfast Cowboy has lost his mind, but now I’m scared because of the Troubles,” I said to Swamp Rabbit. “Everybody thought they were over. How can people live with such madness?”

Swamp Rabbit put down his glass of Jameson and chuckled. “You must be trippin’. We had about 500 murders last year in Philadelphia alone. Don’t tell me about no troubles in Ireland.”

I took a minute to check the statistics. OK, the murder rate in the United States is much higher than it is in most developed countries. In recent years, there have been more than four times as many murders in the U.S. than in the U.K.

“But statistics can be misleading,” I argued. “The higher murder rate in the United States reflects our greater ethnic diversity and economic inequality. Murders in Northern Ireland during the Troubles tended to be politically motivated and reflected the –”

“Stifle it, Odd Man. A body is a body. The bottom line is you’re a lot more likely to get mowed down in North Philly than in Northern Ireland.”

Swamp Rabbit wanted me to name another so-called civilized country where cops get away with shooting unarmed kids. Where cops think it’s okay to slowly kill a handcuffed suspect in broad daylight, in front of witnesses. Where mini-massacres happen on a regular basis because of the easy availability of assault weapons.

“Biden has the flag at the White House lowered to half-staff every time there’s one of them mass shootings,” the rabbit said. “The way things are going, he might as well keep it there year-round.”

Footnote: The Troubles in Ireland arguably started hundreds of years ago. Troubled Belfast in the 1940s was immortalized in Carol Reed’s aptly named film noir Odd Man Out.

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Hey Joe, your name should be DINO

Swamp rats can sometimes be spotted from my backyard

We absorbed the pandemic’s impact in stages, imagining the tireless little beasties at the root of the problem. The billions of stealthy insurgents eager to bond with human cell receptors, using spike proteins as battering rams to enter the cells and pollute them.

Now it’s almost over, fingers crossed, and we can rest up at my shack in Tinicum and talk about the promises Joe Biden made while running for president. He has already delivered on the covid-19 relief bill and seems to be trying to get more stuff done, but a big obstacle threatens to undo him and the country.

“Ain’t no way around it,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Joe Manchin is a DINO — a Democrat in name only. He likes the filibuster rule and thinks raising taxes on the rich is radical.”

He read from a news story about how Manchin

…on Monday began raising objections to President Biden’s legislation to fund infrastructure investments by raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. Derailing the tax hike would be a lucrative gift to both corporate CEOs in general, and to private equity giants whose executives bankrolled the lawmaker’s 2018 campaign and funded a super PAC that boosted his closely contested reelection bid.

I confessed to being confused. Sure, U.S. senators typically have less integrity than crackheads. West Virginia’s Manchin, for example, is more beholden to his rich financial backers than to poor constituents who need the jobs that the infrastructure bill could generate. He’s clearly more concerned about corporate tax rates than about jobs. The question is, why do people who aren’t wealthy vote for such a man?

“Because they’re too dumb or lazy to know any better,“ Swamp Rabbit said. “Because it’s either vote for him or for some Republican who’s even more of a rat. Because he loves guns and the unborn. I live in a swamp, how would I know?“

I reminded him that the Senate has 50 Ds and 50 Rs, and that the infrastructure bill would crash and burn if Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema, the DINO from Arizona, voted against it.

“The media keep saying that the New Deal-era Democratic Party, the party of the working class, is making a comeback,“ I noted. “Do you think Manchin got the memo?“

Swamp Rabbit snapped open a can of beer. “He got the memo, but he ain’t about to let no new deal mess up his old deals.“

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Voting rights expansion vs. the filibuster

James Stewart filibusters as Mr. Smith. (Real filibusters are much less noble and don’t require speeches.)

We were watching the filibuster scene from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a hit movie in 1939 and a great example of director Frank Capra using his corny genius to convey big, inspirational ideas. His hero in this one is James Stewart playing a rookie senator who makes a marathon speech against corruption and then collapses in a heap on the Senate floor. Truth and the American way prevail despite this setback.

Swamp Rabbit looked puzzled. “If the filibuster is so great, how come Bernie and them other Democrats are trying to get rid of it?”

I explained to him that the filibuster, although it looks noble in the Capra movie, has rarely been used to accomplish anything good in the modern-era U.S. Senate. The rules allowing for its use are byzantine. Let’s just say that, thanks to those rules, most bills require 60 votes to pass (three-fifths of the Senate) instead of a simple 51-vote majority.

I told Swamp Rabbit that the filibuster was a favorite tool of segregationists trying to stop passage of civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960.

He looked even more puzzled. “Is that what Jimmy Stewart was doing? Trying to stop black peeps from getting their civil rights?“

“No,“ I said. “His filibuster was to stop a shady appropriations bill backed by a corrupt senator played by Claude Rains,“ I said. “Rains, you see, was trying to use Mr. Smith to — never mind. You’d better just watch the whole movie.“

But Swamp Rabbit was on to something. Democrats in the House recently endorsed a voting-rights bill called the For the People Act (House Resolution 1). Republicans want to prevent the bill from passing in the Senate (of course) but they can’t do this unless the filibuster rules stay in place. The ball is in the Democrats’ court. They won’t be able to pass any progressive legislation unless they use their slim 51-vote majority to kill the filibuster. As recently noted in the progressive publication Jacobin:

[The Democrats’] hemming and hawing over the filibuster is needlessly stalling the implementation of huge swaths of their agenda during what could be the only, brief opportunity they have during Biden’s presidency to put their platform into law. Their majority is so razor-thin, after all, that it could end at literally any moment.

The headline on the Jacobin article put it this way: “If the Democrats Don’t Kill the Filibuster, They’re Screwed.”

James Stewart couldn’t have said it any better.

Footnote: Democrats can’t use the reconciliation procedure to pass the For the People Act with their slim majority because the bill isn’t budget-related.

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South Dakota lawmaker channels ‘founding fathers’

“Check this out,” Swamp Rabbit said.

It was the sort of message you might see from a grumpy old white guy at a run-down barroom in, let’s say, South Dakota:

“Wait a minute,“ I said. “This guy is really a senator? A member of the United States Senate? This tweet must be a joke.”

“Mike Rounds is a member of that august body, and that ain’t no joke,“ Swamp Rabbit said. “Look him up.“

So I did. Rounds is a standard-issue empty-suit Republican in a sparsely populated Republican state where being ferociously pro-business counts for everything. He’s a college graduate but he apparently didn’t take any American history courses and possibly couldn’t pass a basic civics test.

A respondent to his tweet noted that the last of the Founders, James Madison, died 50 years before South Dakota became a state. Another tweeter facetiously asked, “What did the Founding Fathers think about Hawaii, Alaska, or any of the other 37 states that have been added since their time?“

Yet another noted that the Founders didn’t intend for slavery to end or for women to get the vote, so basing your arguments on what the Founders would have wanted is a dubious exercise. And that Washington, D.C. (pop. 700,000 or so) is just as deserving of statehood as South Dakota (pop. roughly 900,000). Rounds, of course, wouldn’t dare admit this because D.C. is heavily Democratic and Black.

“He’s tapping into the two major Republican concerns,“ I told Swamp Rabbit. “One is fear of a permanent Democratic majority in Congress and the other is, as Public Enemy would say, fear of a Black planet.“

“My fear is that Republican crackers like Mike Rounds are gonna hold on to the power even though most peeps in this country are against them,“ Swamp Rabbit said.

“The Democrats in Congress are in charge for now, so it’s up to them to be bold and make the necessary changes,“ I noted.

“Right,“ he said. “That makes me even more scared.“

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