Category Archives: Jamie O

Supremely Anti-Democratic

Cartoon of four current and one former Supreme Court justices throwing dirt on a grave with a tombstone that says Public Trust in the Supreme Court.

Yeah, I know, this is an old image because there’s a couple of former guys in there. But you get the point.

Back in September, U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Former Workplace Creeper Clarence Thomas gave a speech at the University of Notre Dame. In it, he chastised judges for becoming too political. “The court was thought to be the least dangerous branch and we may have become the most dangerous,” he said.

Then a huge Vortex of Irony formed over Justice Thomas, and pulled him and all attendees into a void, never to be seen again.

Not really, but such criticisms are rich coming from the Federalists Society’s 2016 keynote speaker. The Deeply Hurt Feelings of the Supreme Court’s Conservatives theme also popped up later that month, when Sort of Whiny Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito called for the manager over criticism of fairly clear attempts to sink Roe vs. Wade via the Shadow Docket, which is a real thing and not a Marvel movie title. Again, at Notre Dame (which seems to be the hot spot for conservative justices to go gaslight), Alito said he believes all this media complaining is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate them. He singled out Atlantic writer Adam Serwer for direct attack. Proving you really should be careful when going after a sharp mind, Serwer clapped back:

Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island also chipped in his two cents on Alito yesterday in a Salon editorial.

The Supreme Court has never really been all that small-d democratic, but starting in 2000, it became anti-democratic in earnest. Ezra Klein shook the Very Serious People with his Vox piece in 2018 that pointed out this slide to anti-democracy, starting with Bush v. Gore to Citizens United to the Shelby County v. Holder decision. The latter pretty much gutted the Voting Rights Act and saw Chief Justice John Roberts curiously claim that racism was over. People got mad at Klein for daring to make such statements about one of our branches of government, but really, when you take out the institution worship-thinking and look at the evidence, it’s hard to make an argument he’s wrong.

Some of this is really a statement of a system in deep, deep need of reform, such as the Electoral College. Five of the nine justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote. Unfortunately, such reforms are hard to pull off, as it is hard to imagine the Electoral College going away.

The Supreme Court itself has been the subject of reform talks. Double-unfortunately, this is even harder to pull off, largely due to these strange ideas about the Supreme Court that many Americans hold. There’s this belief that the number of justices was a sacred creed handed down by the Founding Fathers. It’s not. But people against increasing the number of justices often seem to insist it is.

The current lifetime appointments rule may be an easier place for reform, and there are indications that President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court commission report, to be released today, may indicate an openness to term limits. Another potential place for reform is how justices are appointed. An unbiased observer would have their work cut out for them defending Mitch McConnell’s Merrick Garland shenanigans, which by the way, did not involve Turtle Person Mitch breaking any set rules of the Senate.

All of this has lead to a crashing approval rating for the Supreme Court. Not that it matters to the five conservatives, who are obviously there to serve a minority of Americans. It’s no wonder they are not really the cool kids anymore, as they haven’t put together a great track record over the last 21 years, and I haven’t even mentioned the mystery of who paid off Brett Kavanaugh’s debts. All the solemn granite statues and institution-talk about hallowed ideals do not matter a damn in the face of all of this. Might be time for all of us who care about this nation to pry ourselves loose from the mythology.

The last word goes to Mia Weinberger, who brings us a hip-hop-style tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsberg (let’s hope one day we expand the court so we don’t have to worry our system hangs on whether a sick elderly lady survives another year). None of this is her fault, to be sure.

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These Dogs Are Not Dogged By Stereotypes

Four native teens hanging out in front of their house

The kids of Reservation Dogs plot their next move in a quest for California.

My Native blood comes from my father’s side of the family. His education about Native ways was supplemented by visits to my grandmother a few times a year. She married a white man who was a terrible, abusive alcoholic, and in many ways, I feel like this was the entire relationship between Natives and non-Natives in America in microcosm. She loved him despite his many faults (although I would argue my grandfather had pretty much no redeeming qualities, unlike America – we have pretty good food, for example).

One of the things I learned from them was how deeply full of shit our country was about Native history, and how terrible portrayals of Natives are in the media. These portrayals have greatly clouded the average American’s perspective of Indigenous people. When I was on a powwow drum for several years, I experienced this first-hand. We’d get asked questions like “why don’t I hear you do the DUM-dum-dum DUM-dum-dum DUM-dum-dum” and we’d have to explain nicely that’s a movie thing, not a real Native drum song. People would sometimes get offended because that’s what the colonialist does when the conquered question the narrative. We understood these were people raised on movies featuring wild Indians woo-woo-wooing and Rock Hudson speaking pidgin English, but it was frustrating.

But recently, we’ve seen an improvement in Native-related media, with non-Native directors taking steps to make things right, and Native voices creating their own media. A great new example of this is the FX/Hulu show “Reservation Dogs.”

Reservation Dogs follows the story of four teenagers, Elora Danan, Bear, Willie Jack, and Cheese, growing up on an Oklahoma reservation and dreaming of a new life in California. This dream leads them to commit crimes to pay for their escape, including a heist of a potato chip truck in the opening episode. The show is historic in that it has an all-Indigenous writers room and directing staff. It is also extremely funny.

The stars Paulina Alexis (Willie Jack), Lane Factor (Cheese), Devery Jacobs (Elora) and D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai (Bear) are relative unknowns, but there are some familiar faces. Veteran actor and American treasure Gary Farmer plays the elderly relative of one of the kids who tries to sell 15-year-old weed in a world where pot is legal and much better. Zahn McClarnon (you may know him from the TV series Fargo and Westworld) is excellent as a tribal police officer, and standup comic Bill Burr is wonderful in a dramatic role playing coach-turned-driving-instructor who helps Elora deal with a recent trauma.

The comedy is classic Native humor and a good introduction to that world. Real-life Native rappers Lil Mike and Funny Bone are a delight as two bicycle-riding guys who sort of serve as a hip-hop Greek chorus, but the real comic weapon is Dallas Goldtooth as the “Unknown Warrior.” The Unknown Warrior is a spirit guide to Bear, who meets him at first whenever he is knocked unconscious. You initially see the spirit guide as a stereotypical warrior astride a war pony, but you soon learn he’s kind of a goof. He died at Little Big Horn, but not in a noble way (a rather ridiculous way, in fact). The next time Bear encounters him, you hear him war-whoop and then you see him urinating next to a dumpster.

Trust me, these are jokes at your expense, White Person, because white stereotypes of Native Americans are a long-time deep source of humor for the Indigenous community. But they’re not mean-spirited, just funny because the odds are good that in the hands of a white showrunner, this character would fit the Noble Savage stereotype. But he certainly doesn’t.

Other aspects of modern Native life, such as reservation health clinics, are covered in the show, and there are also some nods to Native mythology (the episode that included the Deer Woman was sublime and Kaniehtiio Horn was born to play that role).

Overall, the show is excellent, likely to make some top 10 best shows of the year lists, and is currently available on Hulu. And the good news is it has been renewed for a second season. What better day to begin streaming it than today, Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

The last word goes to Native singer-songwriter Anne Humphrey, who packs more Native history in one song than most hear in 12 years of school:

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Of Bathrooms & Moral Panics

“Horace, fetch me the Fainting Couch, this instant!”

One of the many things that kind of drives me batty about our current society is how we really are good at misplacing our priorities. For an example, look no further than last weekend’s women’s room confrontation between Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema and a progressive activist group Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) over the Reconciliation Bill, aka Joe Biden’s Agenda.

I’ll start by saying filming someone in a bathroom is not something I think is a good idea for various reasons, not the least of which is the collateral damage of someone who might just be in there to answer nature’s call and are not expecting to be a bystander in the current reconciliation bill fight. Maybe wait outside for her. And to be truly fair, Sinema could have said “please give me a minute, I can come out and answer a few of your questions.”

That said, the pearl-clutching that ensued was both frustrating and entirely predictable. It was reminiscent of the June 2018 Sarah Huckabee Sanders incident, where the Red Hen restaurant owner asked her to leave, based on her, well, let’s see…oh yes, blatant lying and supporting the tyrannical nut job we had for a president. Trump had pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal the previous month and the controversy over the appalling child separation at the border was in full bloom, but Sarah the Liar not being able to get past the cheese course before getting the heave-ho was the deep deep focus of the DC punditry. “Civility!” cried the columnists before collapsing on the Fainting Couch.

“Civility!” is the battle cry now, as it was then, and before. But civility often doesn’t get the job done and is used by more powerful interests to shut people down. Just look at ACT UP, the LGBTQ rights group that used some loud tactics to get people to give half a damn about AIDS during the 80s. ACT UP members were frustrated that their loved ones were dying and how it was being ignored by people in power. They weren’t being heard. Did they get results? Just ask a certain famous doctor.

See, these tactics that have the pearl clutchers rolling around on the Fainting Couch likely wouldn’t happen if the targets would do the thing that requires the least amount of effort: listening. Sinema has been rather fastidious at not listening to her constituents. She’s quite good at it. An activist posted on Twitter that following her into a bathroom was an act of desperation:

Twitter post describing how Sinema has continually ignored requests for meetings

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Guest Post: Trump’s Lawyer Wrote, Shared Coup Plan – See Page 37

Jamie O is back with some media criticism. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.

-Adrastos

Trump’s Lawyer Wrote, Shared Coup Plan – See Page 37 by Jamie O

I hold a degree in journalism/communications. It’s served me pretty well. I have a good job as a science writer for a big university. It’s interesting work, as they say. My degree has also given me sort of an inside-baseball view of how journalists are trained, and to be honest, the training needs to be updated.

I say this because a lot of the DC media is covering politics as if it’s still the 1980s (when I was getting my degree, in fact). You are taught in journalism not to hold bias (or at least control it). You get a quote and information from each side of an issue, and that’s pretty much that. It was simple and good and if one person wouldn’t comment, you’d write “Sen. Reddnose declined to comment.” Then you hit the bar like any worthy hard-nosed journalist as you call it a day.

Problem is, that climate might as well included dinosaurs roaming Capitol Hill, as long ago figuratively that world is compared to this one. Conservatives have bulldozed the unwritten ethics, mores and traditions of American politics that once were the bedrock of our entire political system. For example, as the New York Times’ Ezra Klein has pointed out, Mitch McConnell broke no rule of the Senate when he refused to put Merrick Garland through the confirmation process. But he did break one of those “you can’t do that” sort of rules that our system relied on for decades. Since then, American politics has seen a lot of conservatives crossing a line you weren’t supposed to cross, erasing it, and then drawing a new one, then crossing that. This includes levels of lying that would be considered political death just 10 years ago.

Among the many issues with this is the media hasn’t really adjusted, despite the events of the last six years. The headline style of “Democrats see little risk of inflation but Republicans disagree” from the 1980s has evolved into basically “Experts say the world is round, but some disagree.” It demands a different sort of news coverage, one that acknowledges what exactly is going on, a clarity of the current. The most recent poster child for this is the Eastman Memo.

If you are not familiar with what the Eastman Memo is, It is a memo written by a former Trump lawyer that outlined a six-point plan for former Vice President Mike Pence to basically treat the Constitution like a woman that is not his wife (read: purposely ignore it) and toss the rightful 2020 election results. You can read it here.

This should have been a moment in American history where all DC journos were in a state of hair-on-fire, speaking-in-tongues urgency. After all, this is clear evidence of a president of the United States overseeing a literal coup attempt. Right? Well…as my link showed, CNN certainly covered it. Various columnists, such as the New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent covered it. But outside of that, there was limited coverage of the memo in the newspapers, and the network evening news programs ignored it.

It may be tempting to write this all off as no big deal, because they didn’t pull it off, right? On the other hand, it’s not like conservatives are apologetic about January 6. In fact, the GOP has been as suspicious as a teen stoner refusing to let his mom search his room about it. They certainly put enough effort into blocking the Congressional investigations.

This is all alarming because a lot of smart people are sounding alarm bells, including a former Republican, about the growing threat to democracy. Even more alarming, as was shown in this week’s Margaret Sullivan Washington Post column, network news types were pretty much “eh, no big surprise” about the memo. Which brings me back to my college journalism days…I had a professor one time tell us that her answer to people who complained that the media was full of bad news and very little good news was “when bad news is so common it stops being news, we’re in a lot of trouble.”

Are we there now? Apparently, many national news outlets say yes.

Guest Post: I’ll Have A Medium Pizza, Hold The Mask

We’re still trying new things in the post-Athenae era at First Draft. This time, it’s a writer who was recommended by Cassandra. In this instance, her prophecy is looking pretty darn good instead of dire.

I give you the first post by Jamie O aka Blue Man In Red Land.

-Adrastos

Blue Man In Red Land: I’ll Have A Medium Pizza, Hold The Mask by Jamie O

 My wife and I live in a small town in central Pennsylvania about 10 miles west of State College. By small town, I mean, small town. Not a person who lives in a large urban center’s idea of a small town with say population 10,000, but a truly small town of just 600.

We moved here from Pittsburgh in 2002. Prior to this, I lived all my life in a blue city environment (I grew up in York, PA, a small Democratic city). The town I live in now is decidedly not blue. Trump took our town 67%-30% in 2020.

Like a lot of small rural Pennsylvania towns, things are not great. The poverty rate is around 20%, and the median household income is just over 32,000. My wife and I joke that if we moved, we’d drop the median even more. It’s also very white, and I would imagine the COVID vaccination rate is quite low.

This brings me to the town’s pizza parlor, which is run by a very nice Central American family. They provide a dash of diversity to our white-and-camo populace. The food is pretty good and we’re regular customers, and they were good about masks and social distancing. I wanted to be sure to support them and help them through the pandemic. We had conversations about COVID, and they said they were doing okay and were very adamant about the importance of masks, vaccines, and social distancing. But about a month ago, I noticed that their masks were gone.

This was sudden. One day I stopped in to pick up a pizza and inside there were about a dozen other customers and three employees. I was the lone masker. Did I get stares? Oh, you betcha. A couple of old boys wearing camo hats and smirks gave me the stink eye for being one of those silly libs who give a darn about others.

I’ve returned to the pizza place a few times since, and no masks remains the new policy. Being a bleeding-heart, I am not really mad at them because I think I understand why. I have empathy for them. I imagine there are challenges to running a business as a Hispanic in a community where some of the populace are programmed to wonder if you are “an illegal.” Despite this, the community embraces them. They do well and my neighbors speak highly of them. But just imagine telling someone in a MAGA hat to put on a mask if you are a brown person. Can’t be easy.

Maybe one day, they got a threat and decided it wasn’t worth it. Hard to say. But the suddenness of it makes me wonder. I don’t want to abandon them, so now when we order, we get food during off hours, having late lunches or early dinners. Risk assessment, you know. Have to weigh when the mouth-breathing horse paste enthusiasts are in there, and try to avoid them whenever possible.

Having to consider when it is safest to order a pizza to avoid picking up a virus from a conspiracy theorist. What a ridiculous time to be alive.