I Signed Up for the Ayn Ran Fan Club Dating Site
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal blew the lid off of the preeminent dating website for fans of Ayn Rand and her Objectivist philosophy. For the uninitiated, Objectivism is a system of belief that emphasizes “man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” In practice, this means being an absolute dick and believing rich people are noble and poor people are morally deficient. Anyway, the Atlasphere connects Objectivists around the world to each other, offers film and literature suggestions (FUN FACT: Objectivists really like The Shawshank Redemption and Les Miserables), and provides you with the opportunity to date people who aren’t moochers for a nominal fee of $9 a month.
I have been looking for both a new set of principles to guide my actions and a new place to score easy, casual sex, so this was an ideal time to join a new dating website. I decided to jump in and start mingling. First thing I had to do was set up my profile.
One of the first questions they ask you is about your appearance. I’m not sure what the difference is between “cuddly” and “very cuddly.” Seems like some kind of code word for fat. I picked “very cuddly,” as I figured Objectivists are looking for a man who likes to cuddle after they get home from a long day managing a train factory or whatever.
After finding cute ways to describe the fact that I am overweight, the questionnaire moved on to something called “narratives.”
The Continuing Stupidity of the Government Shutdown
Last night, a week after the start of the aggressively futile, pointless governmentshutdown. Barack Obama addressed the American people. He explained—he loves explaining things—that he and the Congressional Democrats were perfectly willing to sit down and talk about everything they disagree over, but first Republicans were going to have to agree to end the shutdown and also to raise the debt ceiling, which is arguablymore important for the economy. This is how Obama phrased his offer to negotiate:
“I am happy to talk with [Speaker of the House John Boehner] and other Republicans about anything… [but] having such a conversation, talks, negotiations shouldn’t require hanging the threats of a government shutdown or economic chaos over the heads of the American people.”
That might sound reasonable if you’re on Team Democrat, but conservative media outlets like the Daily Caller heard something different:
“President Barack Obama tried Tuesday to sway the public’s jaundiced view of the budget crisis with a mishmash of economic threats, campaign-style attacks on Republicans’ repeated offers of budget talks and numerous promises to reject any compromise […] Obama slammed the GOP as deadbeats and extremists, as kidnappers, as unserious and insincere […] The stream of invective and contempt reassures his supporters and motivates them to turn out in the 2014 election, but boosts the GOP’s long-standing distrust of the president’s willingness or political ability to negotiate.”
That underscores the absurd stupidity of the situation Republicans and Democrats are in—it’s hard to have a reasonable discussion when you occupy entirely separate universes. The two sides don’t even agree on who is losing the most from the shutdown. In the world of hard-right commenters like Erick Erikson, “Republicans are winning the shutdown fight, and Democrats know it,” while the Democrats can look at the polls and conclude that voters actually blame the GOP more than anyone else for the shutdown.
The Hidden Victims of the Government Shutdown
It’s been two whole days since the US federal government closed down all “nonessential” functions thanks to an extraordinarily stupid intra-Republican fight over defunding Obamacare. Currently, Speaker of the House John Boehner is trying to negotiate not just an end to the shutdown and the raising of the debt ceiling, but also a “grand bargain,” the long-sought-after, practically mythical deal in which Democrats agree to spending cuts in exchange for the GOP agreeing to increased revenue (a.k.a. tax increases). Some House Republicans now just want to get the government running again, and would presumably be willing to get together with their Democratic colleagues to get that done, but Boehner won’t allow that for fear of his party’s ultraconservative Tea Party wing.
Meanwhile, the government is supposedly closed, though if you’re not among the 800,000furloughed federal workers you might not even have noticed. National Parks across the country have closed, NASA has shut down operations, and a bunch of government websites went dark—but mail is still getting delivered, the military is still getting paid, and city services in Washington, DC, which were rumored to stop during the shutdown, arehumming along (for now). Heck, the Army and Navy college football teams are playing this week. It turns out that a whole bunch of government functions are “essential.”
The shutdown of nonessential functions did hurt people, however, often in ways that aren’t readily apparent. Here are a few people and groups suffering thanks to Congressional deadlock:
Kids with Cancer
We’ll start off with the most fucked. The National Institute of Health had to furlough 75 percent of its employees as a result of the shutdown, and that means they can’t conduct new clinical trials to test new cancer treatment—which in turn means that patients, including children and even children with cancer, won’t be getting medicine that could potentially help them. “For every week that the government shutdown continues, 10 children with cancer will not be able to begin their clinical trials” is how ABC News put it. Jesus Christ.
The US Government Shut Down Because Everything Is Stupid
At midnight last night, the federal government shut down because Congress couldn’t get its shit together. Explaining that to people from other countries, or Americans who don’t pay attention to the daily grinding and wailing from Washington, DC, is very difficult—when you talk about the shutdown, it’s hard to avoid sounding like a small child trying to communicate the rules of a game that you and your friends invented as you went along.Wait, you realize as you’re launching into an explanation of Ted Cruz’s filibuster, none of this really makes sense, does it?
To recap: Republicans hate Obamacare. Some of them—the hard-right, perpetually angry Tea Party types who are mostly in the House of Representatives—hate it so much that they’re refusing to pass a routine continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government’s normal operations unless Obamacare isn’t funded. Since Republicans control the House (and there are enough in the defund-Obamacare caucus for their opinions to really count—we’ll get to that), they can do this if they want. Yesterday, House Republicans continued to pass bills that dismantled parts of Obamacare even though they had no chance of passing the Senate or getting signed by president Obama.
Nope, the GOP Still Isn’t Libertarian
Above: Republican senator Ted Cruz speaking to a conference of social conservatives. When this guy is considered a leading figure in your party, you’re a long way from libertarianism. Photo via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
If you’re bored with the political news this summer—it’s not an election year and Congress is in recess after doing diddly squat for six months—you can always read about how the United States is having a “libertarian moment.” The idea is that after decades of being bandied about by eccentric middle-aged white men and collegiate stoners who made zines and unreadable websites, libertarian principles are finally entering the mainstream.
Most articles on the subject first bring up Rand Paul—son of Ron, hater of drones and the NSA, would-be friend of Silicon Valley’s money, painfully awkward ambassador of the white race, and the most prominent libertarian-ish politician in the country. They then go on to mention that Paul’s antigovernment views and relatively liberal opinions on social issues make him a model for how Republicans can attract the young voters who have largely abandoned the party. (VICE itself took this tack last year.) The “libertarian moment” discussions will also invariably feature polls that show a majority of Americans favor legalizing weed and gay marriage, both issues that libertarians have been talking about for years. (Name something, and libertarians will be in favor of legalizing it.) The final ingredient in the libertarian article recipe is the Tea Party’s influence in Congress. When the Kansas City Star wrote about this, the paper referred to senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and representative Tim Huelskamp (along with Paul, of course) as “libertarian Republicans” and noted their opposition to NSA wiretapping and Obamacare. If you’re keeping score at home, the equation generally works like this:
Young People Hold Antigovernment Views +
Rand Paul! +
The Tea Party’s Influence (a.k.a. Stranglehold) on Congress +
Americans Tolerating Weed and Gay People =
A Strain/Rising tide/Explosion/Pick Your Metaphor of Libertarianism in America
The thing is, I’m not sure this math holds up in the real world. To start at the bottom of the equation, it’s true that America is a far more tolerant place for gay people who want to celebrate their legal marriage by lighting up a fat blunt. But though those causes have libertarian support behind them, the pro-weed and antihomophobia movements have been fueled by liberals; it’s Democrats, not right-wingers, who have advocated for gay rights and tried to push marijuana legislation at the federal level. And many libertarians favor decriminalizing all drugs in the name of individual liberty, which is several steps further than most pot activists are willing to go.
Here Are All the Laws Passed by the Worst Congress of All Time
The 113th United States Congress got together at the beginning of this year to start the difficult task of governing the Most Powerful Nation of All Time. The Senate and the House of Representatives were tasked with writing new laws that would help solve the myriad problems facing the USA and negotiating compromises between the two parties, both of which controlled a chamber of Congress and therefore couldn’t do anything without the other. It was a difficult task, but of course the people elected these men and women for their superior wisdom, and they were therefore the lawmakers best suited to move the country forward.
Ha ha, no, just kidding. The 113th Congress is, by almost any objective standard, the worst Congress of all time. So far, it’s even more unpopular and inefficient than the 112th Congress, which was the least liked and least productive of all time until the 113th came along. When it comes to all the big stuff that really matters (immigration reform, getting the House and Senate together on a budget bill), lawmakers haven’t done shit all year.
The Abortion Rights Battle in Texas Comes to Term
The battle for reproductive rights is on in Texas. You might not have known that if you watch the 24-hour cable news channels, since during state senator Wendy Davis’ ten-hour filibuster against an extreme anti-abortion bill and the subsequent too-late vote forced by the Republicans last week, they were talking about muffins and George Zimmerman.
Media attention or no media attention, yesterday marked the second day of the second special session of the 83rd Texas Legislature, which governor Rick Perry called on June 26 so lawmakers could vote on the anti-abortion bill and a couple of other measures. “Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn,”Perry said, while meanwhile, the state of Texas was executing its 500th prisoner since 1976, a woman namedKimberly McCarthy. The big event yesterday, which drew hordes of pro-choice and pro-life protesters, was the second public hearing on the anti-abortion bill at the Capitol building in Austin.
What was happening inside the Senate chamber?
At this point, Davis was off the clock, so everyone was in the main room outside the chamber. Nobody knew what was happening, we’re all just checking Facebook and Twitter. Suddenly, a guy came running out of the chamber and got on the second floor and started screaming — everyone erupted and cheers and claps. For a minute, I thought it was over. The genius selling “Fuck Rick Perry” shirts takes off his shirt and starts waving it around, still hanging off the balcony. The cheering went on for ten minutes. I was like, “Hey, did it end? What happened?” The only answer I could get was, “I dunno.” It was so fucking loud, I felt like I was at a Slayer concert. My ears were shaking, everyone was losing their mind, and half didn’t know why.
—Scenes from Last Night’s Pro-Choice Protest at the Texas Capitol
The Voting Rights Act Is a Mess, but We Still Need It
The Supreme Court ruled today that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which said that some (mostly Southern) states and communities in the US had to ask the federal government for permission to change their voting rules and procedures, was unconstitutional. The majority of the court held that while the South used to be hella racist back in the 60s, things are now way more chill, thanks in part to the VRA, so the law doesn’t need to exist in its current form. Right-wingers celebrated this as a victory for federalsim (or whatever), while the MSNBC crowd mourned this as the destruction of one of the most important laws of the Civil Rights era—an NAACP official said, “Today will be remembered as a step backwards in the march towards equal rights.”
Now, I don’t think that every single person who opposes Section 4 is a racist. I know it’s not fun being called a racist. When I was in sixth grade, I was accused of being a Nazi because I was making a picture of B.J. Blazkowicz, the hero from Wolfenstein 3D, busting a cap in a Nazi’s ass. To portray this accurately, I had to draw the Nazi’s swastika armband, and according to some of my classmates, this made me Nazi. My teachers, fortunately, didn’t take any of this seriously because at 12 I looked like a rabbi in a Tazmanian Devil T-shirt. The following week, another kid wore highwaters to school and that took the heat off me.
You know what’s worse than being accused of racism, though? Having racism directed at you, which is something that happens in the United States fairly frequently. There were 2,924 racially-motivated hate crimes in 2011, the most recent year statistics are available for, and there was an actual lynching of an African-American in Texas as recently as 1998.
More statistics: According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 84 percent of white Americans approved of interracial marriage. But, framed another way, 16 percent of whites disapprove of interracial marriage. You can slice off part of the population, like Mississippians. Another survey, this one from Public Policy Polling, found that 46 percent of Mississippi Republicans, unbelievably, think that whites shouldn’t be allowed to marry blacks. That is some old-timey racism, of the sort that isn’t that uncommon in Mississippi—which is the whole reason the VRA exists in the first place.
If Republicans Want Young Voters, Maybe They Should Just Stop Being Bigots
The Republicans want me to vote for them. The GOP hasn’t talked to me yet personally, but a couple weeks ago they released a long report all about their well-documented failure to attract young people to their “brand” (Obama had a 5 million–voter edge among Americans under 30) and possible ways to solve that problem. I’m likely one of the voters they want to persuade—I’m young, I don’t particularly like the Democrats, and I didn’t vote for Obama last year. I agree to some extent with a lot of stuff Republicans say they’re in favor of, like limited government, letting state and local governments make their own laws, and a simpler tax system. If a Republican candidate for president was, say, opposed to the war on drugs and government surveillance programs, and in favor of closing prisons, I wouldn’t dismiss him out of hand, as I think a bunch of my liberal friends would.
The report documenting what the GOP can do to attract young voters, titled “Grand Old Party of a Brand New Generation,” lists several ways that Republicans can reach out to voters. “Capture the brand attributes of intelligence, hard work, and responsibility” is one, “Focus on the economic issues that affect young people today,” is another; there’s also a lot in there about how the party needs to be better with technology and social media. Then there’s this:
“On the ‘open-minded’ issue, yes, we will face serious difficulty so long as the issue of gay marriage remains on the table. In the short term, the party ought to promote the diversity of thought within its ranks and make clear that we welcome healthy debate on the policy topic at hand. We should also strongly oppose the use of anti-gay rhetoric.”