Thursday, May 31, 2012

JC Penney: Doin' it Right! Sort of.

The last time I wore clothes from JC Penney's was, I think, when I was young enough that my mom still chose my clothes for me. But I'd like to buy something from them now to show my support for and approval of their pro-gay ad campaigns, which include a lesbian couple in a Mother's Day ad and a real-life gay male couple plus their two kids for an upcoming Father's Day ad. Except -- you know the stereotype about gay men having kickass fashion sense compared to their hetero bothers and sisters? Yeah, well, it's great that Penney's has openly gay men in their advertising but they need to hire a few more for their design staff, if you get my drift.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Saving Saverin

I strongly suspect future American historians will point to the Eduardo Saverin brouhaha as another milestone on the road leading from "America: a free country, more or less" to "America: bit of a totalitarian hellhole, eh?"

Saverin is one of Facebook's co-founders: born in Brazil, acquired US citizenship in the late 1990s, now living in Singapore. He recently renounced his US citizenship in order to save tens of millions of dollars in US income taxes after the Facebook IPO. This offended congressman Chuck Schumer so much, he proposed punitive new legislation that would not only impose super-high exit-tax bills on rich expats like Saverin, but ban them from ever setting foot in the USA again.

The idea that anyone who gives up US citizenship should never, ever be allowed back in the country, even as a tourist, sounds ominous in more ways than one. Do we really want to make it impossible for super-rich expats to spend any of their money here again? More importantly, do we really want to be the sort of country to lash out at anyone who dares leave the Motherland or Fatherland or Homeland or whatever the hell other Creepyland we seem determined to emulate? Are we so insecure that we must punish anyone who feels anything short of unconditional nationalistic love?

Don't mistake this as an apologia for the superrich; I believe the US tax code should be reformed so that certain mega-wealthy people who actually live here shell out far more tax money than they currently do. But the United States is the only country in the world to insist that all of its citizens owe annual tribute whether they live here or not. Every other nation on Earth collects income tax only from people actually living and earning income there; only Uncle Sam is rapacious enough to demand tax revenue from its citizens even when they're on the opposite side of the planet.

A friend of mine who supports Schumer's anti-Saverin crusade asked: "Would you give up your citizenship for 1.5% of your net worth, especially when that also means that you can never set foot back in the US?" But I countered that a more relevant question would be: "If I'm a dual citizen and my primary residence is in another country, is it worth keeping my US citizenship when doing so requires me to pay extremely high taxes and adhere to near-punitive bank regulations which no other country in the world imposes on its citizens?"

Other anti-Saverin arguments I've heard sound eerily similar to old East German Communist propaganda speeches justifying the Berlin Wall to its residents:
We no longer wanted to stand by passively and see how doctors, engineers, and skilled workers were induced by refined methods unworthy of the dignity of man to give up their secure existence in the GDR and work in West Germany or West Berlin. These and other manipulations cost the GDR annual losses amounting to 3.5 thousand million marks.

Lousy ingrates, getting college degrees here in the people's glorious socialist republic and then having the gall to want to live somewhere else. How dare they not work to enrich their government! How dare Saverin not pour money into US coffers for the rest of his life!

Of course, by that logic, how dare I not send money to the commonwealth of Virginia every year? I've lived in Connecticut since the late 20th century but, during my childhood, Virginia spent money to educate me (more or less) in public schools from grades 2 through 12, then spent more money subsidizing my four-year bachelor's degree at a state university ... and the ink barely dried on that degree before I packed bag and baggage and got the hell out of state, and Virginia's seen nary a dime out of my pocket since. 

Still, if a Virginia tax official tried presenting me with a bill today, I'd invite him to attempt biologically impossible acts involving the insertion of his elbows into his own nether regions: just because I lived there then doesn't mean I owe them now. Similarly, a US citizen and Facebook stockholder living full-time in Singapore shouldn't owe any more US taxes than would a Singaporean citizen and Facebook stockholder under the same circumstances.

Our being the only nation on Earth to impose tax in such situations is behind most of the recent upsurge in US citizenship renunciations. It's not people leaving the country in a huff; it's people who already live elsewhere, and would probably like to keep their US citizenship if that didn't entail such onerous tax and regulatory burdens -- for example, many foreign banks won't even accept accounts from US citizens because the US government paperwork requirements are too outrageous.

America could get away with that back in the 1950s or 60s when, if you wanted a stable, peaceful and rich country to invest your fortune, the US was not merely the best game in town, but pretty much the only one. But times have changed. Nowadays, it appears, US citizenship is no longer so uniquely valuable that multi-billionaires happily enjoying citizenship in other countries will pay handsomely and jump through complex annual hoops for the dual privilege of a US passport, too.

Granted, from a US budgetary perspective it really stinks that Saverin will no longer help pay for the drone wars and the drug wars, the TSA cancer machines and the secret CIA torture prisons, and all the other wonderful free-country things our government values enough to go into debt for them. Still, lashing out at Saverin and others like him won't solve the problem. Why don't we fix whatever makes US citizenship less desirable than it was, rather than lash out at those who no longer desire it?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Suffer, Little Children

This is not a joke, for all that it sounds like one: Former priest Thomas Harkins allegedly molested so many children, even the Catholic Church was no longer willing to tolerate it. So he was defrocked, and is now happily employed as a TSA supervisor in Philadelphia. (Not even a run-of-the-mill agent, mind you, but a supervisor.)

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, so don't forget to eat barbecue and drink booze in honor of all the men and women who died so that sociopaths with no marketable job skills would have the freedom to molest air travelers and draw a paycheck for doing so.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Perplexing Prison Rape Controversy

Over at the Daily Dot I take a look at the online controversy over the justice department's new anti-prison rape guidelines. Wait -- why is there an anti-prison rape controversy, exactly?
So, to recap: the justice department under President Obama (a Democrat) passed guidelines to comply with a nine-year-old law passed under President Bush (a Republican), and a list of all senators and congressmen who voted for it back then covers the whole political spectrum. That makes the guidelines a bipartisan or even a non-partisan issue, right?  One where everyone nods and says “Thank you, Captain Obvious” before going on to tackle some controversial issues?

In the real world, we hope so. On Twitter, not even close.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Grand Unified Theory Of Birtherism

Today was an important milestone in the life of any feral genius. I read my umpty-millionth political discussion thread completely derailed by off-topic ranting, and have reached the following conclusion: "Birthers" must be deep-cover Democratic operatives.

That's why, whenever you read an online discussion about the myriad ways Obama is trashing the constitution, the Birther Demos inevitably appear en masse and derail the thread with off-topic rants about Kenya, or presidential middle names typed in ALL CAPS because the names contain words like HUSSEIN which clearly does NOT originate from any of the countries in EUROPE so how can this be LEGAL [blah blah].

I imagine the Birthers all hanging out in their extinct volcano hideaway, and whenever an Internet discussion thread mentions the term "Obama" plus TSA or NDAA or "close Guantanamo" or other keywords, a red light flashes and a siren blares and the Birther Keyboard Commandos all slide down their brass firepoles and rush to their computers to type comments like "Of COURSE he wants to FORCE all Americans to convert to ISLAM because that's what people BORN IN KENYA and named HUSSEIN do...."

Not that Obama and the Democrats are the only ones cynical and sleazy enough to pull off such a Machiavellian conspiracy. I'm also convinced the 9/11 Truthers were all deep-cover operatives on the payroll of the GOP. That's why, during the eight years of the Bush administration, any online discussion of the myriad ways Bush trashed the constitution was derailed by Truther Repubs who inevitably appeared en masse to derail the conversation with rants about thermite and/or the Mossad flavored with a dash of numerology a la "The attacks were on NINE ELEVEN because NINE ONE ONE is the EMERGENCY number and ...."

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Modest Proposal For Political Conventions

I have always lived in obscure, unimportant American cities or suburbs, never in "international-class" cities like New York, Chicago or Boston. This is mainly for economic reasons; all my life -- or at least, all my life when I was old enough to have a good idea of what things cost and what money was worth -- those cities have been hellishly expensive, too expensive for me to live there on whatever lower-middle-class income I had.

But living in smaller cities doesn't merely save money; it saves aggravation as well. For example, I don't have to worry about Chicago turning into a prison camp to keep a few VIPs safe and happy during the upcoming NATO summit. Nor need I worry about my city hosting the Olympics, or a Democratic or Republican convention. I won't be late to work because traffic stopped in all directions to spare the presidential limousine the indignity of waiting at a red light like some (pardon my French) ordinary American citizen. Eeew.

I say to NATO the same thing I say to political party conventions: there's a LOT of empty space in America, including a lot of empty space already set up with plumbing, fiber-optic and electrical connections. Go build a tent city in a fairground or campground rather than tie up traffic in a major city and make life miserable for its residents. (I'm still annoyed by the time my partner and his colleagues were forbidden from going on the rooftop break area of their own office building because His Highness President Obama was in town, and the time before that when my colleague's husband found a good chunk of Manhattan off-limits to ordinary people because His Highness President Bush came to town. Or was it His Highness the Wannabe Presidential Candidate who never got elected but still qualified for Secret Service protection? I disremember; all I know is, I'm getting damned tired of the constant idea that millions of ordinary workers in a city must be inconvenienced whenever a few VIPs deign to come to town.)

At least when Britain pulls stunts like this, turning London into an Orwellian hellhole for the upcoming Olympics or whatnot, they're honest about it: "We have a hereditary aristocracy of people who are legally superior to you because they were squeezed out of aristocratic vaginas rather than proletarian twats, so of course we'll inconvenience a whole city full of worthless twatspawn to let a few aristocrats party down. It's not like we subscribe to any notions of equality before the law."

And it's not like America subscribes to such notions anymore, either. We only pretend to.

P.S. Not that anyone's counting, but according to Blogger software, this is my six-hundredth blog post.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Presidential Milestones

So: If Bill Clinton was our first black president, and Barack Obama is our first gay president, might Mitt "Scissors" Romney one day be our first gayhair dresser president? (A gayhair dresser is, of course, something entirely different than a gay hairdresser.)

When Sad Sacks Go Scapegoating

The 1980s were in many ways a glorious time: Sarah Palin as a political entity did not exist, and I made it through the decade with my own spotless mind mostly unsullied by knowledge of Gallagher, though I might at some point have vaguely known "Oh, yeah, some guy smashes watermelons onstage and gets comedian cred for it." I definitely know, from reading the baby album my mother assiduously kept during my initial few years of life, that on my first birthday I threw large chunks of cake off the edge of my high chair, watched the chunks smash themselves against the floor below, and laughed my adorable baby laugh at what I then felt was the pinnacle of human comedic achievement.

But (I'm not bragging here, just stating a fact) I stopped finding comic value in smashed food around the same time I started kindergarten, which might explain why I never got into Gallagher as a teen -- because I was too old for his target audience. Still, I guess I did know a bit about Gallagher after all, enough at least to feel disappointed when a friend showed me this two-year-old article in The Stranger: Gallagher Is A Paranoid Right-Wing Watermelon-Smashing Maniac.

I cringed at this part:
Then Gallagher gets a tin pie plate. He opens a giant can of fruit cocktail and pours it in. He opens a can of some Asian vegetable—water chestnuts, maybe—and pours that in, too. "This is the China people and queers!!!" he screams and takes his sledgehammer to the thing with a fury that is no fun at all. Wet chunks of China people and queers fly everywhere. The hateful, bitter old man laughs. I cannot believe Bill Hicks is dead and this motherfucker is still touring.
Another friend of mine suggested Gallagher might have been driven over the edge due to family problems; apparently, he had some shiftless brother try stealing his act, and a cartload of relatives hoping to catch a free ride on the "celebrity in the family" gravy train.

Still another friend of mine made similar excuses for teen mother turned reality star Bristol Palin last week, after Palin defended the traditional American family by criticizing the president, the president's pre-teen daughters, gay people and the TV show Glee.

Confession: I sneered a bit when I shared this on my Facebook page, noting "When I worry about the decline of the traditional American family, I always seek advice from unwed teenage mamas who dropped out of high school. So does the Wall Street Journal, apparently." I later noted, with mock contrition, "I need to stop being so catty regarding Miss Bristol, though. There but for the grace of 60 IQ points go I." 

My soft-hearted friend then protested, "I can't get catty about Bristol Palin, because fuck, if I were a teenage pregnancy case and my mom was in a national political campaign, I'd be screwed up too."

Which was my initial thought, too, until I realized: vast is the difference between screwed up and mean-spirited. You can be a depressed and screwed-up mess (as I arguably was at the age Bristol Palin was first thrust into the national spotlight), but that doesn't automatically make you mean enough to take your misery out on an entire class of people you don't even know. In many ways I qualified as an unhappy teenager and young adult, but never dealt with it by lashing out at gay people, China people, black people, different-religion-than-me people or any people who I knew bore no responsibility for my unhappiness.

If I could speak personally to the likes of Gallagher or B. Palin I'd urge them to quit blaming gays or "China people" for whatever they think's wrong with America. More to the point, I'd urge them to quit blaming these groups for their own unhappiness.

That's the problem with kicking a scapegoat -- it's not only bad for the scapegoat but bad for you, wasting all that time and energy on the scapegoat rather than your actual problems. We could deport or even murder every gay person and China person tomorrow, and Gallagher would still be a miserably unhappy old fart who's justifiably mad at his family. Glee could be canceled and every queer in America turn frat-boy hetero tomorrow, and Bristol Palin will still be a high-school dropout whose kid's babydaddy abandoned her. Gays and Glee didn't make Levi Johnston a stupid irresponsible horndog or Bristol Palin wont to sleep with him sans effective anti-pregnancy precautions, anymore than "China people" made Gallagher's family become reprehensibly greedy.

Dealing with your problems is better than deflecting them onto others, guys. Trust me on this.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Take Us To Your Leader

It's not every day, nor even every month, that I defend a government agency against critics who accuse it of wrongdoing. Indeed, I do this so rarely that when it actually happens, my psyche responds like an American digestive system exposed to Third World water supplies: I have no tolerance for it, so it makes me sick.

Thus was I in a state of highly snarkified piss-off yesterday when I wrote this article discussing the latest YouTube anti-NASA conspiracy theory for the Daily Dot: our solar system's filled with advanced alien races "they" don't want you to know about. As usual, I included a paragraph or two explaining why a government agency is being stupid:
NASA’s facing some pretty stiff budget cuts this year. Assuming rob19791’s allegations are true—and that’s obviously a huge assumption—it seems odd that NASA would try hiding the alien’s existence rather than milking it. If advanced alien races really are buzzing through our neighborhood, surely even the most tight-fisted congressman would vote to give NASA extra money to observe them?  
Longtime readers of this blog might recall a few years ago, when I started getting thank-you letters from 9/11 Truthers after one of their bigwigs quoted one of my articles out of context to make me sound like a Truther as well. I remembered that when I wrote the NASA piece; with luck, it'll never get me quoted at UFO conferences.

One Question For Mitt Romney

Everybody does dumb things in high school, but sociopathic acts of homophobic assault are, thankfully, much rarer. If you haven't developed a conscience by age 17 -- if you get to be that age and still can't  understand that "it's wrong to assault people" -- are you even capable of growing into a decent human being by that point?

Not that it matters, if you're as rich as Mitt Romney; human decency is for those who can't afford good lawyers. Although in light of recent reports about his glory days as a high school bully, I wish reporters would stop asking his views regarding the right of gay people to get married, as I'm worried about a more fundamental right: Mr. Romney, have your views evolved enough that you support the right of gay people to wear unconventional hairstyles without a gang of vicious pack animals holding them down and forcibly cutting their tresses?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Another Week Of TSA Terror

How many freedom fingerbangs did your tax dollars pay for this week? Let's take a look:

In Fort Lauderdale, TSA agents yanked an 18-month-old girl and her parents off a flight because the little girls' name was on the No-Fly List. This was an enormous surprise to anyone fool enough to believe the odious propagandist Blogger Bob, who assured us back in 2010 that there are no children on the No-Fly List.

Speaking as an underemployed journalist, sometimes I kinda wish I could suffer a minor head injury that left my intellect intact but completely disabled the "conscience" and "empathy" portions of my brain. Because if that happened, I could get a blogger job with the TSA, which would be MUCH easier and more lucrative than any journo gig I've held to date: pulling shit out of your ass is WAY easier than doing actual research to report actual facts. Here, watch this: "TSA is the vital front line in our war against terror." "TSA agents are highly trained professionals who respect the constitutional rights of Americans and the human rights of all." "The only names on the No-Fly List belong to people who deserve to be there." Tell me that's not just as good as anything Blogger Bob has done. I dare you.

Perhaps hoping to assure Americans that TSA and other anti-terror security theater measures are actually useful and necessary, the CIA announced that it had exposed another dreadful terrorist plot. Except -- oopsie! -- the would-be bomber turned out to be a CIA double agent. The CIA is like the FBI: very good at uncovering terrorist plots instigated by its own undercover agents, useless at anything else.

Not content to merely turn America into an authoritarian hellhole where sexual molestation is mandated for anyone wishing to travel, the US government is assiduously bullying foreign countries into adopting the same TSA terror tactics to use against their own populations. TSA is also rolling out more scanners to irradiate travelers in American airports.

Slow news week, in other words.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Giving Credit Where Due

Today, a scant 3.5 years into his four-year presidential term, Obama finally stopped beating around the bush and made history as the first sitting US president to speak in support of gay marriage. This still makes him a mega-wuss by ordinary principled human being standards but -- I must admit -- by modern US politico/presidential standards it's pretty damn good. So, kudos to him.

He still needs to do something about TSA, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, medical marijuana, drone wars and a thousand other issues, of course, but he did legitimately say something decent today. Now if he's only try doing something decent once in awhile.
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