Banter M Issue 44

In this week's issue of Banter M:

It's All Over But The Drowning - Chez Pazienza writes about the prospect of his hometown Miami succumbing to rising water levels due to catastrophic climate change, and wonders how his seven year old daughter will navigate a planet plunged into chaos. 

Bernie Sanders' Sandy Hook Problem - Bob Cesca examines Bernie Sander's perplexing stance on protecting gun manufacturers from litigation, and reveals that while preciously on the fence about to who to vote for in the Democratic primary, this issue may have have decided it for him. 

You Say Establishment, I Say Establishment - In a heartfelt essay, Tommy Christopher explains where his political biases come from.  "I am guided, above all, by ghosts, by what I would describe as my personal Holy Spirits," writes Tommy. "They are people like Matthew Shepard, the young man who was murdered for being gay, and whose name this law bears, and Brandon Teena, the trans-man who was the subject of the film Boys Don't Cry, who was raped and murdered by the same sorts of hateful cowards," he writes. 


It's All Over But The Drowning

by Chez Pazienza

I don't know when it finally hit me. It probably had something to do with Miami, the city I was born in and in which I grew up. It probably had something to do with finding out that my hometown was already sinking into the ocean. I haven't lived there for some time now and so I wasn't aware that every so often, even on sunny days, sea water rises up through storm drains and sewer grates on trendy South Beach and turns its streets into rivers. I remember how relentlessly flood-prone the Beach always was, having lived there myself for some time -- how flooding can sometimes leave cars almost window-deep in water -- but that was from the near-daily tropical rain Miami isn't nearly notorious enough for. This, this new phenomenon, is flooding caused by nothing more than the undulations of the tides. Miami Beach, Miami and so many other coastal parts of the state of Florida are facing an environmental apocalypse. Because of course, if an apocalypse of any kind were to begin anywhere, it would have to be in Florida.

Earlier this month, the tide sensors at Virginia Key, just off the City of Miami, registered eight inches higher than normal and in January they showed water a full foot higher than predicted. It's nearly impossible to impress upon anyone not living with this threat day in and day out just how serious climate change is right now, and just how drastically it will be altering the lives of millions of people in Miami and Florida in general in just a few years. Not decades or centuries -- years. By 2025, conservative predictions put parts of Miami underwater. It's such an indisputable truth that Miami real estate companies are already planning for a new era where luxury high-rises are built on high ground. What that means for those not able to afford to live in relative comfort, well, you do the math. The fact is, though, that Miami is changing. My hometown will be transformed completely by nature over the next few decades and there isn't a damn thing that will stop it. Pretending there's no problem won't help and even recognizing there's a problem won't do much at this stage. The damage is already done. It's all over but the drowning now.

It's an odd thing to face a legitimate existential crisis. Not the melodramatically tragic kind, tinged with poetic ennui, but the kind that truly grapples with the end -- with the mortality not your own but that of a civilization. But if you pay attention to the news on global climate change and genuinely understand what's happening, it's nearly impossible not to be crushed under the weight of a deep, punishing depression. The futility can be overwhelming. And that's exactly what a piece in The Atlantic last month attempted to grapple with: the loss of hope that comes with knowing we've destroyed ourselves. The article, written by journalist Madeline Ostrander, grapples with the question of whether to have a baby knowing that child and adult will face a future defined by storms, flooding and dustbowl conditions, all the result of the man-made climate change that's "remaking life on earth." What's ahead for those of us already here is without question. What would be to come for the unborn next generation -- well, it's something none of us could imagine actually living with. 

"Even in the restrained language of science, the future holds unprecedented difficulties and disasters. For many people, these problems were an abstraction, but as an environmental journalist, I knew enough to imagine them in front of me," Ostrander writes. "Driving across the bridge to my house, I pictured city beaches drowned by the rising sea. Watching the news, I wondered when the next colossal hurricane would strike the Gulf of Mexico or the mid-Atlantic. These thoughts are not paranoid. According to scientists’ predictions, if society keeps pumping out carbon dioxide at current rates, any child born now could, by midlife, watch Superstorm Sandy–size disasters regularly inundate New York City. She could see the wheat fields of the Great Plains turn to dust and parts of California gripped by decades of drought. She may see world food prices soar and water in the American West become even scarcer. By 2050, when still in her 30s, she could witness global wars waged over food and land. 'It does make me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have kids.'"

Now, as a species there have always been alarmists in our midst. In fact, a trope in post-atomic age fiction has seen consternated liberals lamenting the notion of bringing a child into a world that exists under the specter of a mushroom cloud. But this is different. There was always the strong possibility that the better angels of man's nature would triumph and the world would step back from the nuclear brink. Now, however, it's too late. Even if we were to decrease carbon output significantly -- a near-impossibility -- it's too late for parts of the world. And those changes will have a ripple effect that will impact billions in every corner of the globe. The Atlantic article references the Zero Population movement and draws a parallel between the number of people on earth and the addition to the strain on our environment, and, should you wish to get really cynical, you can even make a morbid joke about the Idiocracy-style population growth that continues unabated and which perhaps creates more reactionary dumb-shits unwilling to see there's a problem at all.

While I'm semi-joking there, there's little doubt that one of the most infuriating and ultimately enervating realities of the climate crisis is that there are so many people in positions of power but without any kind of science background having the gall to dismiss the facts. The idea that a clown like James Inhofe, someone who trusts a book written 2,000 years ago by people who knew nothing about anything, is willing to dismiss out-of-hand the overwhelming scientific research and climate science is nothing short of criminal. At this point, if you're in government and you deny climate change, either ignoring it or actively working against curbing it, you should be thrown out of the world on your ass. No one denying climate science should be taken seriously at this point -- and if you're able to exert any kind of influence to the effect through legislation or policy, you should be considered a threat to humanity. At this point, anyone not on-board needs to be sidelined completely for the good of all of us and future generations.

I have a seven-year-old daughter and it's hard to imagine what her life is going to look like as the planet is plunged into chaos in diverse regions and at far more regular intervals. Right now her life is great. Part of that is because she has no concept of how the world around her is changing. But she will at some point. The nature of this change is that while it's happening quicker than most of us could've fathomed, it's still a gradual process and that means that, like me, she'll probably have the opportunity to actually witness the world around her being transformed. Maybe some of her first memories will be of walking on the beach in Miami but they'll feel like a dream because, well, there's no beach there now so how could it ever have happened? I'll have had more time with South Florida as my home so for me the rest of my life -- what's left of it -- will be concern and sadness seeing what's becoming of it when compared to what I remember from most of my life. I won't see the worst of it, though. That's for those who outlive me.  

Near the close of the Atlantic piece, Madeline Ostrander writes about women who've made the conscious decision not to have children, knowing what's ahead. Maybe you can say that they're being irrational voices of doom -- you can say that, although it can easily be argued with -- but given the reality of what we're facing and the fatalistic depression that can come with it, it's not a surprising decision. The only way to make it through your day knowing what's ahead is to both fight tooth and nail for others to listen and to try, at least for a while, to put it out of your mind. But it's always there. The reality is always there and it isn't going anywhere.

Next: Bernie Sander's Sandy Hook Problem - by Bob Cesca

Bernie Sanders' Sandy Hook Problem

Believe it or not, until this week I was more or less undecided about my vote in the Democratic presidential primary race. On one hand, I think Hillary Clinton is uniquely and superbly qualified for the job. On the other hand, Bernie Sanders' position on Wall Street speaks directly to the chunk of my brain that's still reeling from the Great Recession and all of the harrowing consequences I faced during that time.

This week, Bernie may have lost me for good.

As many readers of The Daily Banter are well aware, gun control is one of my top-shelf issue areas and hence one of the topics I cover most often here. It's also one of the issue areas where I'm firmly planted on the extreme left. I haven't always been this way, but the Sandy Hook massacre changed everything. For example, I'm not exaggerating when I say the Second Amendment has outlived its vagueness and must be repealed or clarified. I also think most firearms should be banned and confiscated. Enough is enough -- it's time to get the guns.

Regarding Sandy Hook, it's a topic that continues to resonate with me, perhaps more so than even 9/11. The images continue to spring to mind every time I hunker down to write about it: teachers using their bodies as human shields to defend their six- and seven-year-old students from an onslaught of rounds fired from Adam Lanza's AR-15 assault rifle; the look of shocked terror in the tear-soaked eyes of the parents; the 20 young lives lost in a senseless display of consumer-available firepower. All of it.

I can't imagine, therefore, how anyone, especially Man Of The People Bernie Sanders, can take sides against the families of those 20 children -- 20 children who will never know what first-love is like, who will never know what it's like to succeed in a career, who will never know what it's like to send their own children off to school. But Bernie did it anyway, in both words and congressional vote. Not only did the far-left Vermont senator vote in support of protecting gun manufacturers from litigation, but during his Daily News editorial board interview this week, Bernie defended his position when asked about the Sandy Hook families and their lawsuit against Remington, the makers and marketers of Lanza's AR-15.

Is Remington liable for the wrongful deaths of those children and teachers? Maybe, maybe not. But from what we've observed on many occasions in the past, it's a process that mega-corporations often must endure -- knowing how some of these corporations earn their profits on deadly consumer items. In this case, the most popular firearm in America and one that's been used in way too many gun massacres. 

Do the list... The Umpqua Community College massacre. The Aurora movie theater massacre. The Portland Food Court shooting. The Santa Monica College massacre. The Sandy Hook massacre. The weapon of choice? The AR-15.

So, are the manufacturers to blame? It's not really for me -- or Bernie Sanders -- to decide. Ultimately, it's up to judges and juries, because that's how the system is designed to work. Judges and juries are tasked with deciding these lawsuits based on the merits of the individual cases. And guess what? The gun makers earn a large enough profit to defend themselves, especially knowing they've got NRA money backing them, too. A $15 billion industry can handle its own legal battles without Bernie advocating for them.

For some screwy reason, perhaps as a result of lobbying by the NRA or due to the landscape of Vermont voters or a combination of both, Bernie has chosen to take the side of gun makers, defending them against lawsuits by the families of victims. Bernie Sanders: the career congressman who, conversely, believes that corporations should be held accountable for the recession (a posture I agree with, by the way) inexplicably believes that when it comes to marketing guns designed solely to kill human beings, these particular seldom-regulated corporations should receive blanket congressional protection from liability.

And now the Bernie cult of personality -- indeed, most of the progressive far-left -- is lined up in support of one of the GOP's most prevalent agenda items: tort reform. Yes, far-left grassroots activists have taken to social media to defend corporations that market in deadly weapons against the victims of one of the most tragic events in American history. What's abundantly clear is they're not with Bernie due to the merits of his position -- they're obviously with Bernie because of Bernie. There's no other way to explain why the far-left, which has always supported lawsuits against corporations for malfeasance, has lined up in the decidedly pro-corporation category on this particular issue. 

The most often cited excuse is that Lanza and other shooters merely used their AR-15 rifles as designed. It's staggering the tone-deafness and insensitivity of this argument. Cigarette smokers also use their products as designed. Should this become an excuse for thwarting the series of lawsuits against Big Tobacco? Wall Street, too, used the system as designed to enrich itself. Bernie and his people certainly don't believe the big banks should be granted congressional tort protections.

Again, why does this one corporation deserve Bernie's support, while all other corporations are on his hit list? It doesn't make sense unless we look at it through the prism of political reality. Bernie needed gun people, and to an extent the NRA, to win various elected offices in Vermont. Period. There's simply no other way to explain this glaring contradiction in his platform. Corporations are liable for screwing us -- except the corporations that sell weapons of death for profit.

More than anything else, the fact that Bernie has lined up against those grieving families, even if he believes it's on principle, is unforgivable to me. He doesn't even regret it. Stacked in formation with my other points of skepticism, it's extraordinarily difficult to line up with any candidate who takes sides against the Sandy Hook families -- or any families of gun massacre victims. And, frankly, I'm not sure how thinking, feeling human beings of any party or faction can endorse such a position.

Shame on you, Bernie.

Next: You Say Establishment, I Say Establishment - by Tommy Christopher

You Say Establishment, I say Establishment

by Tommy Christopher

Ever since this presidential campaign began, and really since I've been writing commentary about politics, I've faced charges that I'm "biased" for this candidate or "in the tank" for another, often on the same day. Lately, it has mostly been from good friends of mine in the progressive media who think I "love" Hillary because they'll read something critical that I've written about Bernie Sanders, and ignore all the criticisms I've made of Hillary -- or praise I've written about Sanders. I'm actually afraid I might lose friends over this, but I hope I don't.

But I've also faced the same accusations from Hillary Clinton supporters, who wanted me tarred and feathered for, to use just one example, suggesting that it would be politically wise for her to say "I'm sorry" for using a personal email server, which she eventually did, and which turned out to be a very wise move.

After almost nine years, I'm used to it, and have largely given up trying to explain the difference between an informed analysis of a candidate's merits and "bias." If you don't want an opinion, hire a stenographer. This election, my assessment has been, and continues to be, that Hillary Clinton is the better candidate, based on every bit of expertise I've acquired in these nine years. That doesn't mean my assessment won't change, but based on the facts, I don't think it will. Bernie won't suddenly become a foreign policy pro, and Hillary's email "scandal" won't amount to shit. The rest is all largely academic.

But I still admire Bernie Sanders, I still think both of them need to be pushed to do better where they need to, and be recognized for their strengths. I'll still always call them like I see them. 

This specific charge of "bias" has come to bother me more and more these days, though, especially coming from friends, and I've finally figured out why. 

A few months ago, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton got into it because Bernie called activist groups like Planned Parenthood and Human Rights Campaign part of the political "establishment," and Hillary acted like he'd punted a baby. At the time, it pissed me off, because I didn't really like what either of them was saying, and I pretty much stayed out of it. 

But to a certain degree, Bernie was right, just not in the way I suspect he meant it. The whole incident put me in mind of a day I spent on Capitol Hill back in 2009... my very first.

It was May, and the U.S. House of Representatives had just passed the Matthew Shepard Act, adding protections to existing law for victims of crimes based on the victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The bill was then headed to the Senate, which is where I spent several days following a group of citizens who were trying to persuade their senators to support the inclusion of transgender people in the final bill.

This wasn't the kind of lobbying that has given this kind of work a bad name. These aren't well-funded corporate hacks trying to carve out a sweet deal for their industry. They were ordinary Americans who joined together to make it harder for the government to ignore their voices.

They were members of the National Transgender Center for Equality, and they wanted their elected representatives to go to bat for their right to exist, safely, in the United States.

The hate crimes bill in question did not involve enhanced penalties for these crimes, which was a common misconception. It provided resources and funding for investigation, enforcement, and training. It did, however, amend existing hate crimes laws to include several new classes of people for protection.

Hate Crimes and the Constitution

Critics of hate crimes laws argue that they violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 

Here's a good summation of these arguments:

However, we don't differentiate between murder for profit and murder for a particular animus of hate. Doing that creates a subtle but significant change in which the state has suddenly become the arbiter of thought, determining different outcomes based on thought despite the similarity of crime. The First Amendment arguments are obvious, but Jazz Shaw thinks this also violates the Fourteenth as well:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Long story short: When you pass laws which assign greater guilt to certain parties for committing the same crimes, based on nothing more than what they were thinking at the time and the "class" of citizens who were the victims, then you are providing unequal protection of the laws. You are assigning a higher value to the lives, liberty and property of some victims than others based on their sexual orientation, their race, skin color, religion, etc.

The problem with these arguments is that they assume that a hate crime is the same as a non-hate crime in every respect except the speech. Hate crimes, however, are attacks on an entire group of people. You wouldn't treat an attack by a foreign power on the United States the same way you would a first-degree homicide, and the same principle applies here. The individual act is a threat on the larger population. 

Transgender Equality

It helps to know what transgender means. It can be confusing to the uninitiated. Here's NCTE's definition:

Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to people who live differently than the gender presentation and roles expected of them by society. There are many kinds of people who fit this term and the rest of terms describe some of them.

The rest of the pamphlet I linked goes into detail about the spectrum of people covered by the term, including transsexuals at various stages of transition, intersex people, and cross dressers. Terminology can be a minefield even to well-intentioned people, but most transpeople I know are very patient if your heart is in the right place.

Transgender people have played an unusual part in the LGBTQ movement. While they are often its most visible members, and hence lightning rods for the movement's opponents, they have also been left behind at times when the movement made progress. 

For example, most of the people involved in the Stonewall Uprising would qualify as transgender, yet when it came time for negotiations on the Employment Non Discrimination Act, prominent gay rights advocates were willing to exclude transpeople to ensure its passage.

Lobbying Congress

That Monday and Tuesday, I accompanied members of NCTE as they met, strategized, and went to Capitol Hill to lobby their congresspeople. I sat in meetings between them and legislative aides to Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. These people met with their senators with no influence to trade on, not very many votes to leverage, really only with their own humanity on their side.

I listened as they told their stories to the young legislative aides, who listened intently.

Lorianne Blake, a transwoman and NCTE member, told the story of an attack she endured at the hands of a group of young men. She was traveling on business, and had left her hotel to find a place to eat. A group of young men accosted her, yelling, "Hey, it's a dude in a dress!" 

They chased her and beat her badly. When the police questioned her, they never asked her about her attackers, their descriptions, or anything. They only wanted to know what she was doing walking in public.

While Lorianne spoke, I was moved by the softness with which she told her story. Not a trace of anger or bitterness, just a plea for the safety that others enjoy.

Lorrianne also talked about how she had been discriminated against in the workplace, dismissed form her job without explanation. The NCTE was also lobbying for inclusion in upcoming ENDA legislation.

Sheryl Courtney-Evans told her story with energy and humor. She was waiting for a bus when some men in a passing car started to shout come-ons at her. Then, she says with a smile, "the penny dropped for one of them. He shouted, 'That's one of them expletive expletives!'"

The next thing she knew, she says, she caught a pint bottle to the head. She says they sped off only because of approaching traffic.

She also spoke with compassion about employment discrimination in this economy, and the depths that it forces some transpeople into.

Monica Helms showed Senator Chambliss a photograph of her son, a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She talked about how her son, even as he faced peril in a combat zone, was more worried about her safety than his own. She reminded the aide that this bill is not about enhanced penalties, but that it sends a message to people that it is not OK to target transpeople.

Juliana Illari, like me, is an ally of the trans community. She is a professional lobbyist who lent her expertise to the NCTE delegation. We both have friends and loved ones in the transgender community, and recognize that it is our responsibility to stand with them. 

The legislative aides we talked to seemed very receptive, they nodded attentively and made all the appropriate faces as these women told their stories, but it was a doomed mission as far as getting these senators' votes was concerned. The bill was eventually passed as a rider to a defense appropriations bill.

The whole experience was at once inspiring and crushing, because these people were so gracious and courageous, and yet fighting such disgraceful resistance, and I'll never forget what they told me when I asked why they even bothered with the likes of Chambliss. This was something I discussed with all the NCTE members as they met before heading out to the Hill, about a hundred of them, and they all told me the same thing: they've had to fight this same fight against Democrats and other gay rights groups all along, the Republicans are just another group of people that have to be brought along. 

Most of them specifically named Human Rights Campaign as an organization that has not only resisted trans inclusion every step of the way, but as one whose functions at which they had personally experienced feeling unwelcome, at best, and open hostility at worst.

It was a shocking revelation for someone who is difficult to shock, and it made me really angry. I had long grown accustomed to Democrats fighting cowardly rear-guard actions against discrimination, like that whole DOMA vs. Marriage Amendment theory, but even within the activist "community," there was a city hall to fight.

So that's why I stayed out of the Hillary/Bernie "establishment" fight, because they both pissed me off, and I didn't really have time to explain why. Bernie's inference was that these activist groups were acting out of poorly-informed selfishness, which is insulting, but Hillary was failing to recognize that there actually is an activist "establishment" that shuts people out as surely as the political establishment does.

The bottom line here is that if you want to know where my fucking bias is, it is with those folks who were shut out by those Republicans and their fellow activists alike, and even with those same activists when they are shut out by Republicans and/or Democrats, but mostly Republicans.

Not a lot of what I write is all that important, but to the extent that any of it is, to the extent that I'm not just trying to make an argument or get a laugh or to get paid, I am guided, above all, by ghosts, by what I would describe as my personal Holy Spirits. 

They are people like Matthew Shepard, the young man who was murdered for being gay, and whose name this law bears, and Brandon Teena, the trans-man who was the subject of the film Boys Don't Cry, who was raped and murdered by the same sorts of hateful cowards. They are people like Emmett Till, tortured and murdered for talking to a white woman, and Stephen Biko, murdered by police in South Africa for opposing Apartheid. They are people like Alex Spourdalakis, the autistic boy who was murdered by his mother and an accomplice, and whose murderers were practically praised in the media for doing so because his disability was so hard on them.

Their sacrifices haunt me, their final moments, wondering if any of them had any idea what they would mean to the world, what changes they would never get to see on this plane of existence. I'm under no illusion that I'm adequate to the task of doing them justice, or even of being able to keep them in my thoughts for more than a few moments at a time. They make us all failures, every day, especially me.

But they are also my bias, my only bias, so when I hear someone suggest that at any level of my being, I give a good fuck whether Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton becomes president beyond what good I think will result in the world, it pisses me off. They'll both be better than a Republican, but they will also fail my ghosts. That's what I will always care about, and pretty much nothing else.