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“HO, HO, NO!: The NRA’s Twisted List For Santa

You might have heard that the U.S. Senate last week finally voted to confirm the president’s nominee for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

You also might have wondered what all the fuss was about. The vote on America’s top doctor was held up for nearly a year, thanks to a campaign by the National Rifle Association. Dr. Murthy was endorsed by the medical community, but the NRA’s lobbying machine turned his nomination into a political battle. All because Murthy believes that gun violence, which kills an average of 86 Americans every day, is a public health issue.

For most of us, acknowledging that America has a gun violence problem is stating a fact. For the NRA’s leadership, it’s heresy.

The gun lobby’s goal is to expand its customer base—and boost gunmakers’ bottom lines, no matter the risk to public safety. So a new surgeon general committed to reducing gun violence isn’t what the gun lobby wanted for Christmas.

The NRA’s wish list looks more like this:

• Guns for felons. The NRA has fought for the rights of felons to buy and own firearms. That means successfully restoring gun rights to convicted murderers, robbers, rapists, and people guilty of transferring explosives to international terrorists.

• Guns for terror suspects. The NRA has opposed efforts to block terror suspects from buying guns. Today the FBI can stop terror suspects from boarding a plane, but not from purchasing firearms.

• Guns for domestic abusers. The NRA objects to restraining orders that require domestic abusers to give up their guns. This year, six states—including Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana—defied the gun lobby and enacted laws that will help keep guns out of the hands of abusers.

• Guns for the mentally ill. The NRA opposed a new California law that will help prevent gun deaths, homicides and suicides both. Police and family members now can present evidence to a judge, who can order temporary custody of a mentally ill person’s guns for a brief, emergency period.

• Gun gag orders. The NRA objects to doctors asking patients basic questions about gun ownership. For example, before Congress repealed it in 2012, an NRA-authored gag order barred doctors and military officers from talking about guns with service members at risk of suicide.

• Guns on campus. The NRA has pushed for “campus carry” laws—despite near unanimous opposition from college presidents, law enforcement, and parents—and for arming educators in K-12 schools.

• Guns in bars. The NRA has pushed to allow guns in bars—despite the fact that 40 percent of people convicted of homicide had been drinking alcohol at the time of their offense.

Guns in restaurants and grocery stores. The NRA supports the open carry of guns in cafes, burrito shops, and the produce aisle. They reiterated their position in June, after a staffer first made the mistake of calling open carry demonstrations “weird” and “scary.”

• Gun lawsuits. The NRA wants the ability to sue local officials for passing laws that protect public safety. They push for so-called “preemption” bills in statehouses—which allow them to file expensive lawsuits against towns, cities, and even mayors and city commissioners.

• Guns for everyone, no questions asked. The NRA opposed Washington State’s gun-sale background checks ballot measure this year. The measure passed with 59 percent of the vote. Like background check laws across the country, it will help keep guns out of dangerous hands, reduce gun crime, and save lives.

That’s the gun lobby’s wish list for America—more guns for everyone, everywhere, anytime.

The new surgeon general certainly has his work cut out for him. But in 2014, numerous states passed common-sense public safety laws, showing that the momentum for gun safety is building. And just like Dr. Murthy’s confirmation, that’s bad news for the NRA.

 

By: John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety; The Daily Beast, December 23, 2014

December 24, 2014 Posted by | Gun Lobby, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“2013, The Year In Whiteness”: Grievance Mongering Became An Uglier And Even More Lucrative Racket

Maybe it was the very fact of enjoying a wonderful Christmas with my family and friends, against the manufactured backlash to a nonexistent “War on Christmas,” that let me appreciate the perilous mental state of a small but noisy and paranoid swath of white America. Somehow over the holiday it became clear: 2013 was the year white grievance mongering became an uglier and even more lucrative racket.

Fox News has been peddling the phony “War on Christmas” for years, of course, but it took new Fox phenom Megyn Kelly to give it an explicitly racial cast. Not only did Kelly wage war against the menace of a black Santa – declaring nonsensically that the fictional character of Santa Claus “just is white” – but when she was called on it, she made herself out to be the victim of politically correct bullies, race-baiters and Fox haters. Suddenly it was clear: The imagined war on Christmas has become an equally farcical war on whiteness in the minds of those sad right-wing warriors.

The next week, “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson also became a martyr for the white right, after A&E briefly suspended him for holding forth on the nastiness of gay sex while insisting African Americans were happy in the Jim Crow South.

The new hysteria and hypocrisy was crystallized by one surreal fact: While paranoid white righties were fighting for their allegedly endangered right to celebrate Christmas (with their white Santa), they could watch a “Duck Dynasty” Christmas marathon on A&E, underscoring that there’s neither a war on Christmas nor on bigoted pseudo-Christians like Robertson. But there’s a lot of cash to be made, and fear to be stoked, by claiming both.

Kelly and Robertson and kindred spirits like Sarah Palin charted a bold new civil rights frontier in 2013: fighting for the right of white people to say false, stupid and bigoted things without facing criticism, let alone paying any real penalty. Palin has long made herself out to be a victim of mean liberals, but this year her anger-mongering took on a more explicitly racial tinge. She bashed Jeb Bush for casting aspersions on the fertility of white people — Bush did make an admittedly stupid remark about immigrants being “more fertile,” but if you thought that would get him in trouble with immigrant groups, not whites, you thought wrong – and later in the year declared her inviolable right to equate the federal deficit she wrongly blames on our first black president with “slavery.” She closed the year announcing she stands with Phil Robertson, even though she had to confess to Fox’s Greta Van Susteren that she hadn’t read the GQ interview that got him in minor temporary trouble.

2013 was also the year that George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of an unarmed black 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, allegedly in self-defense, becoming a cultural hero to some of that same paranoid white right. If you have the misfortune of stumbling into the Twitter sewer that is TheRealGeorgeZ’s timeline, you’ll find an exaggerated sense of white grievance (please spare me the insistence that Zimmerman is Latino; he has seemed uninterested in identifying as such, at least publicly, and in any case his Latino heritage wouldn’t necessarily erase his whiteness).

TheRealGeorgeZ alternates between tweeting Bible verses and attacks on his “haters.” Of course, like Sarah Palin he’s a big Phil Robertson supporter, tweeting Dec. 20:

I guarantee everyone 1 thing, Phil Robertson is not losing sleep over getting to spend more time fishing, loving his family and The Lord.

— George Zimmerman (@TherealGeorgeZ) December 21, 2013

Robertson has come in for more criticism of his anti-gay remarks than his inanity on race, although it’s a little hard to take any of it seriously. Apparently the Robertson boys are yuppies dressing up as rednecks for profit, and A&E is laughing with them all the way to the bank. But the way the right has made Robertson a hero for his crude racial and homophobic remarks shows the way victimhood has become a crucial part of the white grievance industry.

Of course the stoking of white grievance is nothing new. It was at the heart of the GOP’s so-called Southern strategy, which always had a crucial Northern component: deliberately inflaming the anxieties of white working-class Southerners and Northern “ethnics” about racial and economic change. I have been someone who tried to see and point out the elements of those grievances that weren’t racial, but real: the genuine erosion of economic stability and opportunity for the white working and middle classes. (I wrote a book about it.) And early in 2013 I endured my own mini-backlash for suggesting, in “How to talk about white people,” that sometimes Democrats and social-justice advocates talk about race in ways that are unnecessarily divisive and punishing to whites.

I was honestly unprepared for the criticism, but I understand it better now. To suggest that there’s any way that the rhetoric of either “people of color” or racial liberals is to blame for white paranoia and racism seems like the essence of victim blaming. Of course that wasn’t my intent; I would argue that it stemmed from a very human impulse to try to feel you have some kind of control over forces you don’t. Sadly, or not, I realized this year that liberals have very little control over the way white people respond to racial change (though I will always argue that economic populism has more power to build cross-racial coalitions than the pro-Wall Street, multiracial neoliberalism practiced by too many Democrats over the last 20 years.)

I’m optimistic nonetheless. A little under a year ago I wrote an obituary for former New York Mayor Ed Koch, outlining how the formerly liberal Democrat rode a wave of white fear and grievance into Gracie Mansion in 1977. I couldn’t know it at the time, none of us did, but New York was about to elect its first Democratic mayor in 24 years, a staunch progressive on racial issues with an African American wife and two biracial children. An ad that tried to depict Bill de Blasio as an anti-police lefty who’d lead New York back to the crime and chaos of the ’70s and ’80s backfired; so did the ravings of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, which did so much to help elect Koch.

De Blasio’s landslide win, among every racial and ethnic group, showed that white New Yorkers are ready to embrace the city’s multiracial future and tackle its lingering racial and class inequities. The mayor-elect’s influential “tale of two cities” is largely, though not exclusively, a tale of white and non-white New York. Red state demagogues can mock New York as a lonely blue island irrelevant to the rest of the country. But the city helped invent both liberalism and the backlash that tore it down. I’m going to bet that the de Blasio coalition has more influence, in the end, than Phil Robertson or George Zimmerman, Megyn Kelly or Sarah Palin. A noisy, paranoid white backlash against racial change may be inevitable, but it will also pass. That’s what scares them.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 31, 2013

January 1, 2014 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why The Religious Right Is Losing The War On Christmas”: The Season Is Not Owned By One Religion, But Rather Everyone

The annual “war on Christmas” took an unexpected twist this holiday season, when the UK-based website the Freethinker published the ironic headline “First known casualty in America’s 2013 ‘War on Xmas’ turns out to be a Salvation Army member“.

A woman attacked a bell ringer in Phoenix, Arizona because she was angry at being wished a “Happy Holidays” instead of honoring Jesus’ birth by saying “Merry Christmas”.

In another act of Christmas violence, unidentified arsonists tried to torch one of the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s billboards that proclaimed “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” – a reference to an ancient celebration of the Roman god of agriculture.

The Gospel According to Fox News preaches a tale of Christian persecution running rampant through America. While others around the world face imprisonment or even execution for their religious beliefs, Christians in the states suffer the indignity of facing a holiday season sans baby Jesus Christ’s omnipresence in the public square.

Instead of sharing parables of the Beatitudes in practice, Fox’s Meghan Kelly’s chose to push forth the blatantly racist proposition that Jesus and Santa are white; the line between Fox News and the Daily Show’s parodies have now become almost indistinguishable.

Kelly added to her extensive mythmaking repertoire by claiming that the American Humanist Association (AHA) is denying toys to poor children. Roy Speckhardt, executive director of AHA, recounts his televised appearance with Kelly where he tried to discuss how Samaritan Purse’s Operation Christmas Child tries to use public schools as a workforce for their presents for conversions program. He noted:

It’s hard to take seriously a program that expects poor kids to convert just because they receive a Christmas present and a pamphlet about Jesus. If only it were so easy to convert, and de-convert, kids would be getting presents from all sorts of groups.

Fred Edwords, the national director of United Coalition of Reason offered this perspective on the history of the war between evangelical Christians and atheists:

The religious right started this whole “war on Christmas” myth when a few years back they launched their organized attack against calling the trees erected at the capitol and White House “Holiday Trees”. They also boycotted major businesses that said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. As a result, their pressure effected some change, and they gloated on their success. But then humanist and atheist groups decided to launch awareness campaigns during the winter holiday season, reaching out to those who may have felt excluded by all of this nonsense. And the religious right went ballistic. After awhile, however, these campaigns got predictable and became less effective. So fewer of them were launched. But the religious right was still there – never having needed atheists to prompt them in the first place. And this year is making that reality abundantly clear.

Crossing the front lines to the atheist base, one finds a spirit of fun and playfulness seems to have replaced the angry atheist persona of yesteryear. For example, instead of protesting the presence of a nativity scene in the Florida State capitol, an atheist chose to erect a Festivus Pole made from beer cans.

This pole was designed to commemorate the infamous holiday popularized by the television show Seinfeld joins other displays in the rotunda including a nativity scene, posters from atheists, and a crudely-made Flying Spaghetti Monster. (A petition to include a similar satanic display was denied.)

According to David Silverman, president, American Atheists, this shift from activism to pluralistic accommodation “sends the clear message that the season is not owned by one religion, but rather everyone, and reinforces the idea that Christianity is one religion of many. While this is correct, ethical, and American, it’s a clear defeat for those who prefer the old days of inequality.”

A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Group points to a shifting toward such pluralism, with close to half of Americans (49%) surveyed agreeing that stores and businesses should greet their customers with “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” instead of “merry Christmas”, out of respect for people of different faiths. This number is up from 44% when they conducted this survey in 2010.

Michael Dorian, co-director of the documentary Refusing My Religion notes, “many now understand that most people – whether believers or nonbelievers – can appreciate the holidays and just want to celebrate the season by socializing with friends and family, and that can be easily achieved with or without the trappings of religion”.

As the number of Americans who understand what it means to live in an increasing pluralistic country continues to grow, those faithful to the Fox News brand of Christianity – and its need to be ever dominant and combative around the holidays – will continue to look ever more foolish and out of touch.

 

By: Becky Garrison, The Guardian, Published in Business Insider, December 24, 2013

December 25, 2013 Posted by | Christmas | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Santa Sure Is A Colorful Guy”: Pondering The Wisdom Of An Unexpressed Thought

Many of us who grew up believing in Santa Claus can recall that moment when we started having our doubts.

If we were lucky, we had a special someone in our lives willing to quash the ugly rumors for a little bit longer.

That was my mother. She had her reasons. She was only 8 when her parents divorced and handed her off to grandparents, who raised her. She faced hard realities at a young age. After she became a mother, she saw it as her maternal mission to wring out every bit of life’s magic for her four children.

My mother had a gift for the alternative narrative. This came in handy when, at age 7, it dawned on me that Santa was a little too ubiquitous in Ashtabula, Ohio.

How could Santa be at Hills Department Store, J.C. Penney and Kmart on the same day? That was what I wanted to know.

My mother laid out the facts with the expertise of someone who’d just had that very conversation with Santa’s missus.

I was right, she said, to suspect that Santa could not be everywhere. The brilliant Mrs. Claus — in Mom’s stories, the wife was the genius in every marriage — came up with the idea to hire some of the elves to fill in for him. They had photographic memories, Mom further explained, so they were able to pass along to Santa the wishes of every single child who sat on their laps.

Whew. She was good.

I met my first black Santa at our fourth-grade Christmas party, in 1966. He looked suspiciously like my classmate’s father, which I duly noted to the clueless child, in front of my mother. The little girl burst into tears, and I was grounded for a week, which gave me plenty of time to ponder the wisdom of an unexpressed thought.

In the spirit of Christmas, I want to thank Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly for stirring up that memory after she insisted last week on her show that Santa is white, and so was Jesus.

Well, let’s talk about Jesus. He was a Jew who lived 2,000 years ago in the Middle East. The odds that he was white are about as good as my chance of waking up as a natural blonde tomorrow.

Some have defended her, saying this was the version of Jesus she knew as a child. I get that, but we’re living in the grownup world now. The portrait in our living room made Jesus look like a blue-eyed white guy with an enviable tan, but I don’t recall ever thinking about his race. I was far more obsessed with his demeanor.

Why, I asked my mother, did Jesus never smile?

She had no patience for this line of questioning.

“He has a lot on his mind,” she’d snap. She wasn’t big on glum Jesus, either; I just knew it. Her Jesus was a happy warrior for justice.

Back to Santa. Kelly’s glib assertion that Santa is white — not coincidentally, white just like Kelly — triggered the usual round of derision and ridicule, mostly from liberals. I winced as some of them insisted on national television during the day and at dinnertime that Santa Claus does not exist.

“Little ears, little ears!” I yelled to nobody who was listening. Why must we liberals be more factual than necessary?

Kelly deserved criticism. She is a highly educated white woman who exhibited an astonishing lack of awareness for how children of color yearn to see themselves in their heroes, fabled or otherwise.

That is why she reminded me of my far less educated mother. Mom grew up in a rural patch of white America and then spent her entire adult life in a small but diverse town full of people she might never have met had she stayed on the farm.

These encounters chipped away at her youthful biases. By the time I had blown it with Santa’s daughter at that fourth-grade Christmas party, my mother saw the world as far more complex than she had been raised to believe.

Little girls imprisoned in their own homes for bad behavior have plenty of time for reflection. Still stinging from my mother’s reprimand, I asked whether she thought Santa could be black.

I don’t remember her exact words, but I still recall her message: Santa is magical, and so he can be whoever we want him to be.

I am grateful for a mother who didn’t care which Santa we saw landing on rooftops. She just wanted her children to feel the magic for as long as we could.

I still believe in Santa Claus.

For my grandsons, you bet I do.

 

By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, December 19, 2013

December 24, 2013 Posted by | Christmas, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , | Leave a comment

“White Like Me”: Why The Debate About Santa’s Whiteness Actually Matters For Politics

It might seem that an argument about whether Santa Claus and Jesus are “really” white is nothing more than an opportunity for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to make fun of people on Fox News, and not a matter with actual political consequences. After all, Santa is a fictional character whose current visual representations here in America have their origins in early 20th Century newspaper and magazine illustrations, but he’s portrayed in different ways around the world. But before you dismiss this as just silliness, let me suggest that it does have important political effects.

In case you missed it, a few days back, Fox News host Megyn Kelly responded to an article about black kids wishing they could see a Santa who looks more like them by saying, “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.” She went on, “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure. That’s a verifiable fact—as is Santa.” After being roundly ridiculed, Kelly claimed she was joking, though it certainly didn’t sound that way. Then her colleague Bill O’Reilly followed up with a little history lesson, acknowledging that Saint Nicholas was born in what’s now Turkey, yet asserting emphatically that he was, in fact, white. Responding to the assertion that Jesus wasn’t white either, O’Reilly said, “If you go to modern-day Turkey … they don’t consider themselves—the Turks—to be non-white. And if you go to the Holy Land, Judea, back then, they don’t consider themselves to be non-white there. That’s just history.”

I’m not going to bother going into detail about what a howler that is on both counts, but what’s interesting is how O’Reilly is under the impression that even 2,000 years ago, people living in what is now Israel would have had an idea of whiteness that included them. For O’Reilly, “white” seems to mean something like “people I now like,” but in America, whiteness has always been a fluid category. For example, at one time in our history, Italian-Americans weren’t considered white, and many people think that over time, Hispanics will end up being brought into the white category as well (if for no other reason than so whites can remain the majority).

Now here’s why this matters for politics. As you surely know, Republicans have a problem with minority voters. In 2012, President Obama won not only 93 percent of the African-American vote and 71 percent of the votes of Hispanics, the nation’s largest minority group, he also won 73 percent of the votes of Asian-Americans, the country’s fastest-growing minority group. That’s partly a result of a general ideological orientation, and partly a result of disagreement over particular policies, particularly the opposition of Republicans to comprehensive immigration reform. But even more important is the fact that Republicans routinely communicate hostility toward minorities. Mitt Romney got a lot of flack for advocating “self-deportation” of undocumented immigrants, i.e. making their lives so miserable that they’ll leave the country. But that was only one comment in the context of a primary contest in which the candidates were trying to outdo each other to see who could express the most antipathy toward immigrants. And if you’re Hispanic or African American you get a constant stream of messages that conservatives don’t like you and your kind of people, and don’t think you’re American.

The alienation of minorities has to be constantly renewed and maintained, and conservatives, both politicians and media figures, do so with vigor and enthusiasm. This kind of policing of the racial and ethnic borders is heard loud and clear in minority communities. The insistence that Santa is white, the constant race-baiting from people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, the ugly comments that inevitably crop up whenever immigration is discussed, the actual policy positions of the Republican party—all of it combines into a clear message from conservatives and Republicans, one that says, “You’re not like us, and we don’t like you.” Come Election Day, people don’t forget.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 17, 2013

December 22, 2013 Posted by | Racism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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