Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

Photo courtesy of iStock

Photo courtesy of iStock

It’s hard to choose which was the bigger shock: a federal judge ruled Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, or the founder of a Republican gay-rights group quit the Republican Party. What could have ever driven a gay advocate from the GOP? Was it something they said?

Jimmy LaSalvia, the founder of the conservative gay advocacy group GOProud, recently changed his party registration to unaffiliated, writing on his blog, “I am every bit as conservative as I’ve always been, but I just can’t bring myself to carry the Republican label any longer.”

Why? It was the “tolerance of bigotry in the GOP. The current leadership lacks the courage to stand up to it — I’m not sure they ever will,” wrote LaSalvia.

Maybe that’s not fair. After all, when is the last time we invited Republican leaders to condemn anti-gay discrimination? And if we are going to invite the world’s worst law firm of Cruz, Boehner, Christie, Ryan and McConnell to do this, we should offer them recent examples of what their silence is tacitly accepting.

To wit, of sorts.

On his radio show, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said that “basic biology” dictated that acceptance of homosexuality would lead to the end of the human race and not, for example, floods, famine, plagues, or war.

“Its logical conclusion would be if it were normal it would be extinct, the human race would be extinct within time if it were normal,” said Perkins. “Biology says that only we exist as human beings is that a man and a woman come together and we procreate. That’s the reason that government has long recognized marriage is because it is the place in which children are born.”

When the Republican leaders rush to condemn this pestilent prejudice, I would appreciate it if they could answer a serious question: If marriage is for procreation, and my wife and I decide not to have children, do I still have to take out the garbage?

Not wanting to miss the crazy train, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Clown Car), scolded the federal judges who’ve been on the equality kick to get some “basic plumbing lessons.” He summed up the legal reasoning behind recent rulings striking down gay-marriage bans in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah thusly: “Basically, we haven’t seen any biological evidence to support marriage being between a man and a woman.”

Most Republican bigotry against gays ignores the whole “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights” and goes right for the fascination about what part goes where. Not so with Dave Agema, a former member of the Michigan House and a current member of the Republican National Committee, whose extremism in the defense of bigotry recently spilled over our borders when he took to Facebook to defend Russia’s “common sense” anti-gay laws.

Here’s what Agema calls “common sense”: Russia’s law outlaws gays from public displays of affection, including holding hands, expressing positive messages about LGBT people, broadcasting or printing news stories that feature gays or lesbians, and treating gay and straight relationships as the same. Also, the rainbow flag is illegal.

This defense of Russia’s legally enfranchised disenfranchisement finally drew censure from one Republican official.

“This is outrageous that a leader of the National Republican Party, my political party, is siding with an autocratic regime that believes in arresting political opponents, censoring reporters, jailing dissidents and eliminating free speech,” said Dennis Lennox, a precinct delegate in Michigan.

On his way out the door, LaSalvia credited this tolerance of anti-gay bigotry with why a recent Gallup poll showed that only 25 percent of Americans called themselves Republicans, an all-time low. It’s not that Americans are less conservative, he wrote, but that they were “too embarrassed to formally affiliate with a party that’s lost its way.”

Republicans can find their way back into the greater American family when they start speaking up about abhorrent comments such as those made by Agema, Gohmert, and Perkins. By remaining silent about anti-gay prejudice, Republican leaders leave the impression that they agree with a position that most Americans equate with not letting blacks or women vote. So here’s your chance, GOP.

Speak now, or forever hold your peace

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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There Is a Double Standard for Robertson and Kluwe

Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe posing for the NOH8 campaign. Photo courtesy of Joe Bielawa.

Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe posing for the NOH8 campaign. Photo courtesy of Joe Bielawa.

A reality TV star speaks out about gays and loses his job, albeit temporarily. Meanwhile, a professional football player speaks out about gays and loses his job, apparently permanently. Some conservatives argue that tolerance means what’s good for Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson is good for ex-Viking punter Chris Kluwe, even though the former denigrated homosexuals and the latter advocated for their equality. But to equate the cases of Robertson and Kluwe equates tolerance for an unthinking acceptance of prejudice.

“When we heard about Phil Robertson from progressives, we’d hear, ‘that it was his right to say whatever he wants, but everyone’s right to not watch or employ him.’ In the Kluwe instance from the same crowd we hear, ‘it’s his right to say whatever he wants and it was disgusting to fire him.’ There’s a double standard,” said Tim Young, director of marketing for the Liberty Alliance, a conservative new media venture. “The message is a hypocritical one from progressives. They’re only cool with your opinion if they agree with it. Otherwise you should lose your job.”

I should point out that Tim Young, despite his right-wing tendencies, is my friend, but he and I disagree when it comes to politics. That is, he’s wrong and I’m right. I tolerate his abject wrongness in matters political because I value his intelligence and humor, but tolerating his views does not mean that I accept them. Tolerance and acceptance are two different words because they are two separate concepts.

When Robertson’s views about gays, blacks, and women drew liberal censure, some conservatives such as Young saw the blowback as evidence of a lack of tolerance. Tolerance, for fans of dictionaries, does not require agreement. In fact, disagreement means that someone treated Robertson’s remarks seriously instead of ignoring them as the half-mad rantings of a reality TV star.

So when Young says that liberals are being hypocritical by defending Kluwe, he misses the point. If you’re not aware, Kluwe was the punter who alleged in an article for the sports blog Deadspin that he was cut from the Vikings because of his outspoken activism for marriage equality. Kluwe wrote that his position coach became so frustrated with his opinionated punter that he told a stunned players’ meeting, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”

For the record, the Vikings say that anti-gay prejudice has no place in their organization, and the team has hired outside counsel to investigate.

For his park, Kluwe doesn’t see any double standard in how he and Robertson were treated.

“I think that both Phil Robertson and I have the right to speak our minds, but we also have the right to the consequences of speaking our minds,” Kluwe said. “The Vikings were well within their rights to cut me if they wanted to, but I also get to tell my story and let society judge whether or not we want to live in a world where speaking out on behalf of other people costs you your job.”

If liberals and conservatives reacted differently to Robertson and Kluwe, said the latter, it’s because people applied the same standard, not different ones.

“I think the key difference between me and Phil is that he was speaking out against a group of people, while I was speaking out for a group of people who are being denied their freedom,” said Kluwe. “It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s very important.”

It’s not that subtle. Robertson has said that gays are “ruthless” and “full of murder,” an opinion he derives from a version of the Bible I was never taught in Sunday School. Kluwe took the radical view that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Where he got that idea, I’ll never know.

If there’s a lesson to be drawn from Robertson and Kluwe, it’s that we live in a country where it’s easier to get fired for fighting prejudice than for expressing prejudice, at least when it comes to gays. If you’re looking for a double standard, there it is.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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The President’s Political Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Official White House photo courtesy of Pete Souza

Official White House photo courtesy of Pete Souza

Despite what some called “Obama’s worst year ever” and what everyone agreed was terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Obamacare rollout, Barack Obama’s job approval rating has bounced back out of the 30s and into the mid-40s—not great, but neither the inexorable slide into oblivion that many predicted. Once again, the reports of Obama’s political death have been greatly exaggerated, begging the question as to why pundits seem so eager to pronounce his last rites.

On ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Matthew Dowd was the latest to eulogize the Obama presidency.

“A year ago today he was winning a 50 percent-plus victory, first person since Eisenhower to win two terms over 50 percent, everything seemed so great,” said Dowd. “Ever since the start of the second administration, it’s all gone downhill. His presidency, in my view, and the credibility of his presidency and the relevancy of his presidency is dramatically in question today, and I think he can’t recover from it.”

Dowd, whom I worked for briefly almost two decades ago when he was a Democrat, wasn’t making a partisan attack. Despite him later becoming a Republican who helped elect and re-elect George W. Bush, my disagreement with him here is neither personal nor partisan. I like Matthew but suspect he could be wrong.

Without ever earning a cool nickname like “the Comeback Kid” or a reputation for resiliency, Obama has made a habit of bouncing back. We turned our backs without checking for a pulse after Hillary Clinton won in New Hampshire, when Rev. Jeremy Wright god-damned America, and when Obama said “The private sector is doing fine” amid 9% unemployment. Pundits called him a dead man walking after his last “worst year ever” in 2011 when he tried to negotiate with congressional Republicans. We asked ourselves whether he could recover from his first debate with Mitt Romney, forgetting that Obama has rebounded more times that Dennis Rodman.

Yet here he stands, the president who plays his best when he has backed himself into a corner but who never gets the reputation as a clutch performer. We should respect someone who is always proving the naysayers wrong and repeatedly beats the odds. But here’s the thing with Obama—and the reason why I suspect the insiders always seem eager to attend his political funeral: Winning has never felt worse.

Obama has the bad luck to be a serious man in trivial times (Birthers, and truthers, and deniers! Oh, my!), to seek common ground with a party devoted to trench warfare, and to preside over an era of disruption that never feels like peacetime or wartime. He passed landmark laws to reform Wall Street, to make student loans cheaper, to create a new G.I. Bill, and to save the U.S. auto industry. He ended wars, torture, and Osama bin Laden‘s life. He recapitalized banks, repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and nearly doubled fuel efficiency standards. But instead of ticker-tape parades we feel cheated of both justice and satisfaction.

When Obama won in 2008 by putting red states such as Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia into his column, he dangled the possibility of a post-racial, post-partisan peace. Instead, he has had to defend the White House against a political war of attrition. We thought we were getting a Democratic Ronald Reagan and a long spell of feel-good transformation. Instead, we got the black Lyndon Johnson, leaving behind an impressive list of achievements as well as a country exhausted from tension, obstruction, and fighting.

We only feel good when he explains the world to us, but by now we’ve become conditioned to the disappointment that inevitably follows one of his speeches. He hasn’t lost his gifts. It’s just that we know they won’t change our lives.

Instead, those who make a living watch this White House swing wildly from Obama’s political victories (“everything seemed so great”) to congressional obstruction. An improving economy is likely to continue Obama’s recovery, but bad things will happen, both real (Benghazi) and manufactured (BENGHAZI!!). And the grand marshals of the Beltway parade will ask each other whether Obama could possibly recover, ignoring the fact that he always has.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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It’s Still Time for a New Republican Party That Talks Like Adults

gop likesHeckuva job with that rebranding, Republicans. They started 2013 hoping to rejoin modern America but ended it once again on the wrong side of history. By embracing Phil Robertson’s prejudice against gays and blacks and rebuffing Pope Francis’ call for economic justice, Republicans have made it clear that they would rather hold onto unchristian religious views than make the changes needed to win national elections again.

Almost a year ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal smacked his own party upside the head.

“We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults,” he said at the Republican National Committee’s winter convention. “We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.”

Republicans quickly made it clear that they had not had enough of that. Apparently expressing views abhorrent to most Americans has become a bedrock Republican value. Jindal has since walked the “stupid party” comments back. He’s walked so far back, in fact, that he has reached a time when open expressions of prejudice were not considered socially unacceptable.

In his interview with GQ, Robertson debated the comparative sexual merits of different orifices, called homosexuality a sin, and predicted that equality for homosexuality will lead directly to a broader acceptance of bestiality. That, and he remembered all the happy black folks picking cotton during segregation.

About the same time, Pope Francis criticized the “idolatry of money” and called “trickle-down” economics an “opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, [that] expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”

If you think that your religion teaches you that homosexuality leads to bestiality, I question your relationship to your God and to your horse. And I don’t have time to teach remedial economics to those who still believe cutting taxes for the wealthy leads to greater tax revenue, job growth, and shrinking income disparity. Homophobia and supply-side economics are political faiths with no basis in science or the Bible I studied in Sunday school.

Republicans think otherwise. Noted moral exemplar Rush Limbaugh called the Pope’s views “pure Marxism.” Sarah Palin, whose Nobel Prize for Economics got lost in the mail again this year, said the Pope’s analysis was “kind of liberal.” And Rep. Paul Ryan, who was raised on Social Security survivor benefits before he proposed turning Medicare into Groupon for Grandmas, condescendingly said, “The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina.” Yes, he called the Pope “the guy.”

Republicans have to attack the Pope’s views lest anyone notice that they have just cut off long-term unemployment insurance when there are three applicants for every job. What would you rather do? Call the Pope names, or explain why you cut food stamps for 47 million Americans—that’s 1 out of every 7 of us—during the worst long-term unemployment crisis since World War II?

Instead of taking a clue from a recognized churchman, Republicans treated Robertson’s anatomical analysis as if it were an expression of religious doctrine. When A&E briefly suspended Robertson, Republicans treated L’Affaire Duck as if U.N. troops had barricaded church doors. They compared him to Rosa Parks and hailed Robertson “as a hero for courageously revealing his self-truth and Christian ideals.”

“If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson,” said Sen. Ted Cruz on his Facebook page.

And Jindal, the oracle who inveighed against stupidity at the beginning of this year that celebrated it, completed his redemption when he said, “The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with.”

Robertson can say whatever he wants, and Republicans are free to say that a reality TV star—and a fried chicken franchise, for that matter—represent their religious views better than the Catholic Church. But Republicans will never rebrand their party until they become more like Pope Francis and less like Phil Robertson

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Time to Investigate Pearson in Texas

Photo courtesy of iStock

Photo courtesy of iStock

Thanks to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the charitable arm of testing giant Pearson will pay $7.7 million to end his investigation into whether it was illegally helping its for-profit parent company. This comes as a shock to Texans, where Pearson has an eye-popping $462-million testing contract, as opposed to New York where Pearson is only getting $32 million. The surprise isn’t that a special interest cut corners at taxpayers expense but that a state attorney general can investigate it. It’s simply not done here, but then again, why isn’t Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, now running for governor, investigating the Pearson Foundation?

In New York, Pearson funded its charitable foundation—legally—and then the foundation spent its money in a way that benefited its for-profit parent company—illegally. Among the verboten activities found in New York was that the Pearson Foundation “had helped develop products for its corporate parent, including course materials and software,” according to The New York Times.

Common Core is at the (pardon) core of the scandal in New York. Mercedes Schneider, a high school teacher with a Ph.D. and a healthy disrespect for corporate balderdash, did some digging and found that between 2009 and 2011, the Pearson Foundation gave $540,000 to Council of Chief State School Officers, one of two Common Core State Standards copyright holders. The Pearson Foundation also worked with the Gates Foundation to create courses based on Common Core that it sold to Pearson for $15.5 million.

This kind of hand-in-glove relationship between Pearson’s foundation and for-profit interests exists in Texas. In 2009 and in 2010, the Pearson Foundation gave two endowments totaling $400,000 to the University of Texas College of Education, home to the Pearson Center for Applied Psychometric Research where they do “cutting edge statistical and psychometric research and evaluation services to further educational improvements … and to inform educators, researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders in the education process.” And since 2000, these policymakers have given Pearson contracts totaling $1.2 billion.

There’s a “you get what you pay for” quality to academic research that dovetails with the corporate interests that fund it, creating the appearance of a conflict of interest. If the former had anything to do with the latter, the Pearson Foundation may have broken the law and is why the Texas Attorney General needs to take a close look at Pearson.

According to local custom, Texas has elected leaders openly hostile to regulating polluters, assault weapons, and exploding fertilizer plants—in short, everything except a woman’s uterus. And there’s ample evidence that state officials have put the lazy in laissez faire when it comes to providing effective oversight of Pearson’s massive contract.

A state audit last July revealed that the Texas Education Agency “lacks adequate processes for monitoring the contract.” For example, when Texas cut the number of required high school tests from 15 to five, the TEA had no itemized list of deliverables in the contract, so the state had to ask Pearson how much it should reduce its contract. Pearson, which cut its pay by 2%, could teach lessons to Scott Boras, the baseball agent who specializes in record-breaking contracts.

Along with rolling back testing requirements, Texas made it illegal for lobbyists for testing companies to serve on advisory boards and to make campaign contributions. It is not local custom to make it a crime to give a Texas politician money, but everyone knew that the provision was aimed at one person in particular—Sandy Kress, the architect of No Child Left Behind and, coincidentally, a Pearson lobbyist who served on several state advisory boards.

For a long time, Pearson has been allowed to operate without oversight or even much attention in the state where high-stakes testing was born. The recent settlement in New York and this summer’s audit serves notice that if we don’t know that Pearson has been breaking the rules in Texas, it’s probably because no one has bothered to look.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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A Letter From the Front Lines of the War on Christmas

Mural courtesy of Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Mural courtesy of Texas State Library and Archives Commission

To All Americans in the World—

Fellow Citizens & compatriots—

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Republicans under Santa Claus — The War on Christmas is all but lost — The walls cannot long withstand the cannonade of feigned outrage — our flag of embattled tolerance still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat.

The defeat has long been expected since the armies of commerce and Christianity joined forces, but even in our defensive posture we did not expect stores to bombard us with Christmas carols on Halloween. When the assault came, our disguised troops were extorting the populace for confectionery, leaving our front lines undefended. Now they’re selling Christmas trees out of our Tactical Operations Center.

Our lines overrun, we were powerless to stop Christmas’ assault. For every overhyped complaint about a religious observance on government property, there are thousands of Holiday pageants in public schools featuring songs of Jesus, miracles and mangers. Everywhere you look, homes blaze with colored lights. Normally sane men consider gifting their wives luxury sedans adorned with giant red bows and buying their children expensive electronics. Children pose urgent inquiries to their parents about the coming home invasion from this “Santa.”

Many inhabitants have happily laid down their arms and picked up Gingerbread Lattes. For all the preparations for merriment available to the eye, one must assume that the resistance has gone underground and remains in hiding.

Our allies are abandoning our War on Christmas. On television’s Glee, that noted haven for nontraditional values, a recent episode featured a Jewish girl, a gay man and a lesbian singing, “Hark now hear the angels sing, ‘A king was born today’/And man will live forevermore because of Christmas Day.”

My sons, I fear, have quit The Cause. My heart swelled with pride when I saw them inscribe lists of demands. Images of dictating the terms of surrender in the War on Christmas danced in my head, but these hopes were dashed when I chanced to look upon their note pads wherein they had listed LEGO products of such dizzying variety that I had to calm my nerves with a tonic.

I can find no safe harbor in this War on Christmas from the cloying appeals to purchase durable goods for loved ones. There is no refuge from the assumption that the Christ child is appeased by our obligatory and stressful preparations for the annual observance of his arrival. Our lives are henceforth measured in shopping days, and they are dwindling.

It seems I am the lone holdout in the War on Christmas. Tell my wife I loved her—even though she asked me to get the Christmas decorations out of storage and to untangle the lights so we can put up a tree. And I need to make my reindeer cookies, and send my parents their presents, and send out the Christmas cards… I question my own resolve.

Perhaps some who don’t celebrate this Christian holiday pleaded for tolerance in the public sphere, but the carols drowned out their voices long ago. Others might have mistakenly believed that in a pluralistic democracy all are welcome, even those who meekly ask for respect for their minority views. They have since been re-educated that tolerance is discrimination.

This War on Christmas caused needless acrimony and bloodshed, though the blood was as phony as the offense took at “Happy Holidays,” a term meant only to draw the circle of good tidings a little wider.

As long as conservatives insist on a politically rigid observance of Christmas, there will be others who remember talk of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, though they long ago abandoned their posts. The rebellion in this War on Christmas is over. I am tired.  My heart is sick and sad.  From where the Star of Bethlehem now stands, I will fight this War on Christmas no more forever.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Texas’ Second-most Conservative Senator Faces Entertaining Tea Party Challenge

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

For those who enjoy lowbrow political theater, it’s Christmas come early. Steve Stockman, a Texas congressman so far to the right he’s in danger of falling into the Gulf of Mexico, is challenging Sen. John Cornyn in the Republican Primary. Though Tea Party leaders were calling Texas’ senior senator a “traitor” who “surrendered” on Obamacare, the conservative case against Cornyn is thin. Stockman’s challenge demonstrates that nothing less than absolute faith is sufficient to survive in a radicalized Republican Party that no longer resembles the Party of Reagan, much less that of Lincoln.

Cornyn’s worst sins against the conservative orthodoxy were to bail out Wall Street banks and not voting with Sen. Ted Cruz to shutdown the government to kill Obamacare. Less remembered is his 2009 vote to prop up the housing market with $192 billion in stimulus spending, and if you’re into predetermined outcomes you can find more evidence of impurities, but that’s basically it. The bailout and the you-Cruz-you-lose tactic are essentially the whole case for taking on Cornyn in a Republican primary.

Actually, that’s not true, is it? Look at him. He looks like the very model of a modern major pragmatist, someone who prefers compromise to benefit the greater good than someone who would enjoy building the party up by burning the capitol down. The conservative clerics sense his hidden sanity and distrust how phony his protestations strike their discerning ears. Basically, Cornyn looks like he’s faking it.

Take, for example, Cornyn’s reason for supporting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage: “It does not affect your daily life very much if your neighbor marries a box turtle. But that does not mean it is right.” The logic is unassailable. Your neighbor would be wrong to marry an animal. It would probably bring down the property values, though to be fair, your neighbor could legally consummate that union in Texas where bestiality is legal.

His courageous stand against zoophilia notwithstanding, Cornyn didn’t need to torture logic to convince the High Church of the Flat Earth that he was a true believer. To a real movement conservative, marriage is between a man and a woman, full stop. Simply put, Cornyn doth protest too much. When he strains to show his loyalty, the flop sweat of anxiety soaks his collar.

That’s weak evidence for an excommunication, and there’s precious little evidence in the record of his disloyalty. In 2012 BC (before Cruz), the National Journal ranked Cornyn as the second-most conservative senator for voting with conservatives 93.8 percent of the time. The Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association, the Christian Coalition, and the National Right to Life Committee gave him 100 percent ratings.

In fact, you can’t find any room to Cornyn’s right on abortion. He voted to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program for unborn fetuses but against expanding healthcare coverage for children who were actually born. He voted to ban federal family planning grants to Planned Parenthood and against reducing teen pregnancy by funding birth control and education. He even thinks employers should be allowed to decide whether their employees get their contraceptives covered by insurance.

Therein lies the conundrum that is Cornyn. He speaks like a man smart enough to realize that birth control prevents unplanned pregnancies and thus reduce abortions. Despite all that, his voting record fails to convince the rightwing jihad that Cornyn shares their mission.

That’s why Cornyn was running scared even before Stockman’s announcement. Cornyn’s campaign ran an ad up touting that he’s “conservative — like you, like Texas,” a quality he demonstrates by shaking the hands of three people but never uttering a word other than “I’m John Cornyn, and I approve this message.”

This ad, like his voting record and his rhetorical excesses, did not appease the Tea Party mullahs who are thrilled Stockman is taking him on. For the next three months, Cornyn will trot out his conservative votes and increasingly reactionary opinions to convince the Tea Party that he’s one of them, but it won’t work. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they’ve made up their mind that Cornyn must be purified by the hellfires of a Republican Primary. It will be quite a show.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Women and the GOP: Apologies Don’t Matter Without Change

Photo courtesy of iStock

Photo courtesy of iStock

After losing the Virginia governor’s race because single women voted for the Democrat by a margin of 42 points, Republicans have found the solution. They will teach their candidates how to, in Speaker John Boehner‘s words, “be a little more sensitive” to the ladies. But Republicans painting over policy differences with pretty words piles insult on top of offense and will do little to close the gender gap.

Their problem goes much deeper than calling Texas’ Wendy Davis “Abortion Barbie” or “Retard Barbie” and making sexualized attacks on Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes—though it would be nice if Republicans would stop using sex to minimize women.

Apologies without change matter little. In this case women are only getting flowers and a stated desire to move on without acknowledging, much less fixing, the real problem. Republicans aren’t saying they will change, only that they will use nicer-sounding words when proposing policies diametrically opposed to the way women choose to live their lives in the 21st Century.

For example, they don’t like it when Republicans express Paleozoic attitudes on sexual assault, such as Todd Akin‘s infamous “legitimate rape” comment. Most recently, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-19th Century) theorized during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on military sexual assault that perhaps the young male soldiers just couldn’t help themselves around the opposite gender.

“Gee-whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur,” he said.

Here’s a tip for Republicans: The only proper opinion to hold on rape is that men should stop doing it. Sensitivity is not what is required here, but respect. To Sen. Chambliss’ comment, murder is also a possibility, but somehow a woman hasn’t shot him yet.

There is not a sensitive way to vote against equal pay for women, against funding to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women, or for closing Planned Parenthood clinics where women receive annual exams and birth control pills.

There is not a sensitive way to lie to women that oral contraception causes abortions. There is no sensitive way to hold a congressional hearing on the birth control mandate in Obamacare and not allow women to testify. There is not a sensitive way to call Sandra Fluke a “slut” for wanting insurance to cover her birth control pills.

Here’s another tip for Republicans, just because it’s the holiday season: If a doctor prescribes it and insurance covers it, it is medicine. The Founding Fathers did not envision Louie Gohmert making medical decisions for women, though to be fair, they did not envision women voting either.

“Speaker Boehner thinks women continue to reject Republicans at the ballot box because of a lack of sensitivity? Think again. Women don’t need Republicans to patronize, condescend or be delicate about their feelings. They need them to represent the values important to them and their families. No softer language learned in media training will convince women that the party that opposes equal pay, pledges to defund Planned Parenthood and proposes bans on their health care choices is the one looking out for their best interests,” said Lily Adams with the Democratic National Committee.

Women care about things other than what directly affects their reproductive organs, such as jobs, education, crime, terrorism, traffic, the environment, and retirement. They’re really not that different from men in this regard, which is the last tip Republicans are getting today.

Regardless, Republicans seem singularly focused on lady parts, a habit that grates even on the top Republican elected woman in Texas, Comptroller Susan Combs.

“Tell me that you give a flip about women’s interests,” Combs said. “If all you want to talk about is my biology, ‘Gee what happened to my brain?’ That is my point. It is not all south of the waistline.”Â

The better question might be what happened to the party that venerates individual freedom but does not respect women enough to make their own health care decisions. They can have all the sensitivity seminars they want, but until Republicans learn there is not a nice way to insult women, women will continue to vote against them.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Does It Really Matter If Texas Is Better Than California?

Photo courtesy of The Texas Tribune

Photo courtesy of The Texas Tribune

Here we go again. Pointing to a conservative study, Gov. Rick Perry proclaimed, “The discussion’s over. The debate’s over. The proof is in. Texas wins.” And who did we beat? California, of course. It’s enough to make you wonder if little Ricky got enough love growing up on the dirt farm. Someone get this kid a 4-H ribbon so the grownups can talk, because we’ve got some work to do.

How about just once we skipped the provincial chest thumping? Yes, Texas, you’re doing fine. The barbecue is the best we’ve ever had, I promise. Oh yes, that’s quite a lot of jobs, yessir. No one could argue that Perry has not created a low-tax, low-regulation utopia for the wealthy and incorporated.

So why is Perry still arguing this point? Does he really need this much validation? I have no idea what it feels like to trip over my own rainbows live on national television, but why isn’t the love of a good woman, the laurels from business magazines, and the grudging thanks of employed Texans enough to heal his injured ego?

Most assume Perry’s jet setting jobs tour is prelude to another presidential campaign, though “I’m right, you’re wrong” seems a strange message to deliver to voters in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri and New York. His compulsion to impose his superiority over other states comes across as defensive and insecure. Everything is bigger in Texas, including, it seems, our unmet emotional needs.

If Perry were secure in his legacy, then he’d stick with the economic argument. Instead, Perry tells extravagant lies. In January, Perry claimed that the “funding that we have seen in the state of Texas for public education has been pretty phenomenal” even though school funding has dropped 25 percent since 2002. It ain’t bragging if it’s true, but if it ain’t true, it’s not bragging. It’s just a sad, easily disproved, totally unbelievable lie from Perry, and it’s one of 27 that Politifact has identified as “false” and 14 as “pants on fire.” Bless his heart.

I wish that just once the provincial pom-pom squad would stop making us all look like anxious ninnies in this eternal struggle to prove our superiority over other, less-Texan states. Have some compassion for them, for they know not what they miss.

Instead, how about we ask ourselves a more interesting question: How can Texas be better? Doesn’t that open up a whole new range of blue skies? The alternative to the status quo in Texas has never been California. The choice Texas really faces is different: Do you want more of the same, or do you think Texas can do better?

That question leads to so many others:

If our economy is booming, why is there never enough money for schools?

If Texas is creating wealth, can we reward work as well?

Why can’t the booming industry responsible for ripping up our state highways pay to fix them?

Speaking of booming, why is it OK for fertilizer plants to keep the fire marshal from inspecting them to make sure they don’t kill the neighbors?

If our economy depends on the human capital educated at universities, how come Texas still has only three Tier I research universities while—forgive me—California has 11?

Is it time to ask why Perry has to go to California in the first place to poach companies? Texas is a great place to grow a company, but why is California a great place to start a company? What do they know about fostering education, collaboration, and innovation that we can replicate here? Instead of stealing their companies, how about stealing their secret recipe?

The opportunity is as big as Texas, but admitting that we have room for improvement is the first step. Unfortunately, “The discussion’s over,” according to Perry. It’s not. Let’s get Perry a big, shiny trophy to distract him while we have a grownup conversation about how Texas can be even better. Otherwise, we’ll still be mired in silly political squabbles about whether Texas is better than California, and the only answer we ever get will be an unsatisfying “it depends.”

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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What Can We Learn From JFK’s Assassination

Photo courtesy of macprohawaii / Flickr

Photo courtesy of macprohawaii / Flickr

Half a century ago, Sid Davis was the first journalist to learn John Kennedy had died. Instead of breaking the biggest the biggest news story in the world, he waited because he wanted to make sure he was right. It is hard to image a journalist making the same choice nowadays amid our modern cacophony of inaccurate reporting, but perhaps Davis has something to teach us.

On Nov. 22, 1963, Davis, then the White House reporter for Westinghouse Radio, was traveling with the presidential motorcade in Dallas. Through the kind of luck that happens to good reporters, Davis was the first to learn the news no one wanted to hear.

“We first heard the President died from a priest. At Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, we did not put that on the air. I heard a priest say it. I talked to Washington, and I said, ‘Don’t put me on the air. The priest here says the President’s dead. I don’t think we ought to use it.’ My boss agreed with me, so we waiting for the announcement to be made. Now for a reporter, you know how difficult it is to hold back on a story, especially if you’ve got the biggest scoop of the century. Seemed like an eternity waiting for the official word, but it wasn’t. Took a couple minutes.”

The 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination will provide an excuse for too much overblown rhetoric about America losing its innocence, as if the Civil War, slavery and the genocide of Native Americans never happened. Searching for lessons, we will sagely agree that we’re more cynical, but wiser now.

Are we really? The decision of Davis and his boss provides a concise demonstration of archaic notions of character in a business that has long since mislaid its greatest priority of simply getting it right. Regardless of what came later with the Warren Commission and the grassy knoll, the press did not make any big mistakes on the first televised national crisis.

Now the media is taking “breaking the news” literally. CNN (“the most trusted name in news”) messed up the Supreme Court’s Obamacare ruling, and that was written down and handed to them. A year later, the same network reported the fiction that “a dark-skinned male” had been arrested in connection with the Boston bombing. Recently, NBC and ABC misidentified the Navy Yard shooter.

None of these stories approaches the fever pitch of Nov. 22, 1963, but Davis knew enough back then to slow down and make sure he got it right.

“Thank God that I had the training that said, ‘Wait a minute Sid.’ What you do in a case like that, the adrenaline is flowing. ‘My God,’ you say to yourself, ‘the President of the United States is dead. Let’s go with it. Let’s take the bows.’ But there’s a greater need to be accurate and a greater purpose for the business,” said Davis at a recent visit to the LBJ Presidential Library.

Years later when Davis was the Washington bureau chief for NBC News, he held off on breaking the story that Ronald Reagan had been shot because he only had the word of an orderly. On the other hand, he also held off on reporting the death of James Brady even though the other two networks were going with the story. As easy as it would be for Davis to think he’s different, he instead credits mentors who learned the craft as war correspondents.

“A lot of the reporters that I worked with at the White House were World War II war correspondents. They were seasoned. They were great mentors. They were kind and helpful to young fellows to learn. And today there are no more of these guys around. There’s no one to learn from,” said Davis.

Davis is wrong. We’ve got him. Let’s take a lesson. Next time news breaks, let’s all take a breath before we put it back together. Maybe then we will have something more to offer people than an apology.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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