Shelley Mays, The Tennessean

How Did I Miss That? Lions and Snakes and Duck Dynasty, Oh, My!

Steve Russell

Last Friday, Andrew Hamblin, pastor of the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tennessee, and star of the National Geographic channel reality show Snake Salvation, was arraigned on charges of unlawful possession of venomous snakes. The misdemeanor charges resulted from a raid on his church that yielded some 50 snakes, including cottonmouths, copperheads and rattlesnakes. Hamblin promised to make his trial “a fight for freedom of religion.” Cousin Ray Sixkiller observed that if the state wanted to wipe out religious snake handlers, the most efficient way might be to just let them keep doing what they are doing.

A controversy boiled over this week involving Melissa Bachman, star of Winchester Deadly Passion, who posted a picture of herself smiling broadly over the body of a magnificent male lion she had just killed in South Africa. While the kill was legal, lions are expected to go extinct in the wild within 10 years from a combination of using lion bones for traditional medicine in Asia, poisoning by farmers, and trophy hunting. The killing of the dominant male in a pride, as Bachman was preening over, sets off the killing of the dominant male’s offspring by other males. Cousin Ray and I are disqualified from having opinions by Cherokee traditions against trophy hunting, but I did hear Ray mumble something about paying to see the lions stalk Bachman.

Completing a trilogy of reality TV news, a second Congressional election in the Old Confederacy has gone against the Tea Party. This time, the Tea Party of Louisiana and the AstroTurf outfit Freedom Works lined up with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to support the loser, who also outspent the winning candidate, newly elected Rep. Vance McAllister. The winning endorsement was conferred by the stars of Duck Dynasty, backing up Cousin Ray’s longstanding opinion that Washington attracts “political quackery.”

Liz Cheney, daughter of George W. Bush’s Vice President, is running against incumbent Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi (having moved to Wyoming for the purpose) claiming to represent a new political generation against the 69-year-old Enzi. At the same time, she is trying to find political real estate to the right of the conservative Enzi, leading her to come out against gay marriage. This week, her sister Mary’s wife, Heather Poe, reminded Liz “in fifteen states and the District of Columbia you are my sister-in-law.” Cousin Ray snorted his coffee at the idea that Liz Cheney represented the wave of the future and, when he quit coughing, added, “pass the popcorn.”

On Monday, the Dow Jones Average topped 16,000, an all time high. Knowing that all Cousin Ray has in a portfolio is his granddaughter’s math homework, I asked him if any of that prosperity was trickling down to him? He remarked that Wall Street prosperity seems to trickle on Tahlequah rather than to it, and the look on his face told me not to continue the conversation.

Also on Monday, George Zimmerman, who became a celebrity by killing a teenager who was armed with only candy and iced tea, was arrested again, this time for threatening his allegedly pregnant girlfriend with a shotgun. This is Zimmerman’s second run-in since his acquittal with domestic violence involving a weapon. He was not charged after allegedly threatening his wife with a pistol. He’s also had three traffic stops that only became news because of his celebrity. “Life,” said Cousin Ray, “in the fast lane.”

On Tuesday, Matt Lauer interviewed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on the Today show. Lauer asked Ford what would happen if he got a call in the wee hours and the City of Toronto had some terrible emergency and the Mayor was ripped out of his gourd? “That could happen to anybody,” Ford replied. “It could be worse,” said Cousin Ray. “If Ford was an Indian, he’d have to be sober and a role model.”

Mayor Ford’s defense to the charge of cocaine use has spread to the US. Newly elected Tea Party Congressman Trey Radel (R-FL) appeared in a District of Columbia Superior Court Wednesday to answer charges of possession of cocaine. His office released a statement claiming he struggles “with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice.” In his brief legislative career, Rep. Radel voted in favor of requiring food stamp recipients to take a drug test. “What’s the problem,” asked Cousin Ray, “a guy who makes $174,000 a year ain’t on food stamps?”

Late the same day, Rep. Radel pled guilty, took a leave of absence for treatment, and promised to donate his salary while in treatment to charity. The treatment he is getting was ordered by the court as a condition of a one-year probation. He was also fined $250. Radel is on the libertarian end of the Tea Party, and he had joined liberal Democrats in sponsoring a bill to end mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession. Leading Cousin Ray to ask if the issue was liberty or self-interest?

Also on Wednesday, the Council of Economic Advisors reported that inflation in health care costs is at its lowest level in 50 years. Lawrence O’Donnell suggested on MSNBC that the only way to get this noticed would be to stamp it “top secret” and slip it to Wikileaks.

Thursday news was dominated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to trigger the “nuclear option” and wipe out the filibuster except for legislation and Supreme Court Appointments. Approximately half of all the filibusters of executive appointments in the history of the US have happened to President Obama. “Now that it only takes 51 votes instead of 60,” Cousin Ray asked, “do you suppose they’ll do anything?”

Texas has floated an innovative defense to the Justice Department’s attempts to get its voter suppression laws thrown out for violating the Voting Rights Act: “It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.” Cousin Ray gives Texas points for honesty and suggests that if minority voters want their ballots counted, all they have to do is vote Republican. Did I mention that Ray is a Republican?

This week at the Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain, American director Peter Sellars opened an opera first performed in 1695, The Indian Queen. The subject matter, Spain’s treatment of the indigenous people of the Americas, remains controversial. According to the New York Times, “some spectators booed at points and several left half-way.” Sellars commented the next day: “What we saw last night is that, even if the Conquista might not seem like a burning issue for Spain right now, wounds are slow to heal and music can touch people in places where some just don’t want to be touched…. It is the kind of music that helps understand what religious conversion at gunpoint can mean and how do you start worshiping overnight a new God, the day after your people have been massacred.” Cousin Ray suggested that adding a rousing chorus of “Hail to the Redskins” might placate the Spanish opera fans