Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

March 23, 2015
Every now and then I look at what I’ve written and decide that I sound like a one-note scold, constantly painting a dark picture of the state of the nation, the culture and politics. It can’t be that bad. Then I read a newspaper. It is.
Consider The Seattle Times edition of Sunday, March 22. On the front page of the local news section was an article about a man who has settled claims against King County and the State Department of Corrections arising out of an incident in which he was shot sixteen times by a King County Deputy Sheriff and a Corrections officer, who were part of a team serving a warrant on the son of the owner of the house where the unfortunate man lived. He was in bed when shot. How many categories does this incident fall under? The danger posed by guns, police officers with inadequate training, hiring of policemen who are too nervous and fearful to be trusted, our gun-cursed society which makes them fear everyone . . . . At least race wasn’t involved this time.
On the same page was a column commenting on a story making the conservative rounds about how Seattle’s new minimum wage law (not yet in effect) is causing restaurant closures. The myth had its beginning on the web site of the Washington Policy Center (Improving lives through market solutions), which tied the ordinance to "a rising trend in restaurant closures." There isn’t any, but no matter. The tale was picked up by The American Enterprise Institute (Freedom Opportunity Enterprise) which described the situation as follows: "Seattle’s new minimum wage law government-mandated wage floor that guarantees reduced employment opportunities for many workers goes into effect on April 1 and already the city has seen a number of restaurant closings and job losses . . . ." (Typesetting in the original) And so on around the loop to the right; a living wage is a liberal policy, which interferes with the market, so it’s evil. No doubt it also interferes with underpaid workers’ freedom of contract.
On the business page was a column aptly titled "U.S. snoozes while rest of world invests in infrastructure." It pointed out that we are plagued with collapsing bridges, that we need more public transportation, and that addressing the problem would create jobs, both during construction and after. However, there’s a problem: "lack of political leadership and the consequences of wars and tax cuts." Freely translated, that refers to Republican fiscal priorities, which brings us to Paul Krugman.
Krugman noted in last Friday’s New York Times that we’ve moved well beyond the point of principled, rational disagreement about economic policies. Facts and performance do not seem to matter to Republicans; the story is always the same: cut taxes, but spend more on the military, and make up part of the deficit by cutting social spending. He describes the last as : "savage cuts in food stamps, similarly savage cuts in Medicaid . . . and an end to Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies." People would go hungry and lose health care coverage, but who cares? Those cuts don’t balance the budget, so there are "magic asterisks," promises to find revenue or cut something else, the latter probably being Social Security, Medicare, and other benefits for ordinary folk. The result would be even more upward redistribution. Krugman pointed out that this sort of budgetary fraud is a recent phenomenon, and peculiar to the GOP. The Bush administration "was no slouch when it came to deceptive presentation of tax plans, but it was never this blatant. . . . So, no, outrageous fiscal mendacity is neither historically normal nor bipartisan. It’s a modern Republican thing." Perhaps GOP budgetary fraud is peculiar to the Obama years, but contemporary Republican-conservative-right wing policies, attitudes, rhetoric and behavior are the result of a longer-term development.
An insight into the change in Republican politics was offered by Elizabeth Drew in November, 2013. The occasion was a memorial service a few days earlier for Tom Foley, former Speaker of the House. In a column on The New York Review of Books blog,[49] she described the praise given Foley and the atmosphere of bipartisan warmth which reflected the civility of Foley’s time. Ms. Drew noted that Foley and the GOP leader, Bob Michel, met once a week throughout Foley’s speakership. "Such an arrangement now is unimaginable."
Foley was an emblem of a seemingly distant past, one increasingly difficult to remember or imagine. "The fractiousness that had been developing almost from the day he stepped down as Speaker, having been defeated for reelection in the Republican sweep of 1994, reached its apogee at the hands of some of the very people sitting there paying tribute to him." One of those was Newt Gingrich, who became Speaker in 1995, and who did much to change the atmosphere. Michel, in his tribute, with his hyper partisan successors in the audience, said, "I only hope that the legislators who walk through here each day will find his spirit, learn from it, and be humbled by it." That wasn’t likely to happen and hasn’t.



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

March 10, 2015
Almost from the moment he entered on the national stage, Barack Obama has been accused of treason by the right and, if anything, it’s become worse. Consider the web site which asks people to sign a petition to impeach him for treason "for adhering to, aiding and abetting the enemies of this country by using taxpayer money to finance the Muslim Brotherhood's global jihad and working to replace our Constitution with a Shariah[sic]-compliant, New World Order, Socialist/ Communist agenda."[39] 
Another right-wing page complained that the government’s reaction to the potential spread of Ebola was inadequate, leading to this conclusion: "This severe inaction by the President has left me little doubt that he is actively seeking to destroy America. . . .[I]naction when action is required by the President is dereliction of duty. . . . It makes him an enemy. Barrack Obama is committing treason."[40]  Or, according to one of the great minds at Fox, referring to a speech by Mr. Obama on climate change, "It is almost treason for him to be focusing like this."[41]

On one of Alex Jones’ hysterical web sites, we find this: "When the president of the United States, Barack H. Obama[,] accepted rotating status as chairman of the United Nations Security Council, he committed high treason . . . ."[42]  This claim is based on an alleged violation of Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, which provides in part:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.
Leaving aside whether a rotating chairmanship is an "Emolument, Office, or Title," and whether the UN is a foreign state, Jones, or whoever wrote this bit of nonsense, simply made up the notion of treason. The clause makes no mention of it, nor of any penalty. The author acknowledged that, so turned to the "lost" Thirteenth Amendment, which largely copied the original clause, but added: "such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States, and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them." The failed amendment is a favorite of the daffier members of the right wing. It specified a penalty, but still made no mention of treason. That conclusion lies solely in the minds of the Obama-haters.
That mind set is graphically summarized in a web site accumulating scurrilous anti-Obama posters, many of them screaming "Treason!"[43]
Occasionally Republican officials have joined the chorus. Consider the State Senator in Maine who posted a picture of Mr. Obama supposedly saying "Why haven’t I done anything about ISIS? Because I’ll deal with them at the family reunion."[44]  A Republican national committeeman accused the President of treason because he is "blowing up the Constitution everywhere he goes."[45]  A Republican member of the New Hampshire Legislature has called for the formation of a commission to bring charges of treason against President Obama for "giving aid and comfort to the enemy and attempting to overthrow our government from within." This apparently has to do with immigration.
"Treason" not only is thrown about irresponsibly, it isn’t used with anything resembling consistency. An example: referring to the holdup in funding the Department of Homeland Security, GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson declared that if Obama "does stand in the way, particularly of things that are vital to the security of this country, then we can start talking about treason" So if Congress plays fast and loose with funding because it wants to make a point about immigration, that’s OK, but if Obama demands a clean bill, that’s treason. Carson’s own definition would apply if Congress had carried out its threat not to fund: "If things are done to the contrary to the security of this country, whoever does them is guilty of treason."[46]
Contrast these accusations with the Republican invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. That was done in a manner designed to insult the President, which alone demonstrates a singular lack of patriotism. It was known that Netanyahu would criticize Mr. Obama’s attempt to reach an agreement with Iran regarding nuclear weapons, a sensitive, difficult, critical initiative which could go far to stabilize the Middle East. To invite a foreign Prime Minister to attack that initiative was bad enough. To applaud his interference with negotiations, to applaud this line — "Well, this is a bad deal. It's a very bad deal. We're better off without it" — is worse. To threaten war as an alternative, as Republican Senator Ron Johnson did, is still worse, and he took it a step further: "if Israel believes its threatened and it takes military action, the United States has got to back our strong ally."[47]  Even in the abstract, that is an extreme statement; it would allow another country to drag us into a war of aggression. Given the policies of Israel under hawks such as Netanyahu, it is a proposal to put foreign policy in the hands of a nervous, bellicose regime.
As if that were not enough, forty-seven Republican Senators, in order to make entirely clear their lack of patriotism, to say nothing of their arrogance, bias, ill-will and foolishness, interfered yet further by sending an open letter to Iran in effect telling it not to bother negotiating with Obama because Congress might undo any agreement.[48]  Governor Jindal and ex-Governor Perry have added their names.
Is any of this treason? Not by any reasonable definition, but let’s apply the right’s version to itself. Consider the inevitable reaction if Mr. Obama had invited a high official of another country — one with a record of oppression and abuse — to the White House and had turned over the podium at a press conference so that he could lay out American foreign policy. Or, perhaps to make the parallel closer, imagine that the President, during a State of the Union address, had done the same. Cries of treason would be deafening, and would not be confined to the fringe.
Last month I noted the tendency toward hypocrisy in "conservative" politics. I underestimated the extent.




41. Audio link at 


43. US540&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=uy_-VK7TG cSzoQSSroDACA&ved=0CCcQsAQ&biw=1097&bih=561


45. _1_tea-party-president-barack-obama-commander   




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

February 23, 2015
The opening of the 114th Congress and the beginning of the race for the 2016 GOP nomination brought several quotations to mind, for example: "A Conservative Government is an organized hypocrisy."[35]  Think of McConnell claiming Republican credit for the economic upturn, GOP claims that the Keystone pipeline will create jobs or energy independence (while voting against requiring American steel and against banning the export of the oil), or various Republican politicians expressing concern for the poor.
"Conservative" in the quote refers to the British political party, but it’s perfectly applicable to the current Republican Party, which so describes itself. Whether Republicans (at least in their present incarnation), are in fact conservative in any meaningful sense is another question. Often their attitude is one of fierce, irrational resistance to change, as if change would somehow turn America into something foreign, as if we would lose our identity. However, the threat-to-America cry mostly is mere blather; any real conservative knows, as Jacques Barzun put it, that "identity is compatible with change."[36]  Garry Wills, citing Cardinal Newman, put it more affirmatively, defining conservatism as "continuity within development" and "identity within change."[37]  We can progress and still be ourselves.
As an example of irrational resistance to change, consider the right’s attitude toward potential climate disaster. We must take action, and soon, but they refuse to face facts. When the seas rise, they will stand at the shore like King Canute, forbidding the tide to come in.
Sometimes the right does indeed want to change, but usually toward the past. Wills disapproved of the use of "reactionary" as a way of distinguishing true conservatism from its aberrations. However, his quibble was semantic: everything reacts. I think that "reactionary" still is a useful term, but we must distinguish between positive and negative uses of the past, and reserve the term for the latter. We should return to past practices if doing so will make help people live better lives: if, in effect, we are recapturing a sensible moment, whether progressive, conservative or politically neutral. An example would be the return to public management of public functions, as was the case before the rush to privatize, a bizarre example of which is the privatization of prisons. As an example of a destructive return to the past, consider proposals for abolition of the Federal Reserve System and the income tax.    
Another quote captures the attitude on the right toward liberals, more specifically toward Mr. Obama: "Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds."[38]  Accusations of treason and talk of impeachment, even of jail, ramped up once the election was safely over and Republican politicians needn’t worry about offending Democrats so badly that they might — what a concept — vote. Giuliani and friends now question whether the President the people elected twice loves America and whether he is a Christian, thereby showing their patriotism and Christian charity.


35. Benjamin Disraeli: The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, p. 251
36. From Dawn to Decadence, p. xviii  

37. Confessions of a Conservative, p. 64

38. Henry Adams: Oxford Dictionary of Thematic Quotations, p. 296

Saturday, February 7, 2015

February 7, 2015
Joni Ernst is the new darling of the right in part because she packs a gun. She brags that she takes her "beautiful little Smith & Wesson . . . virtually everywhere." Following the line of the NRA, which endorsed her, she "strongly disagrees" with the proposition that "[m]ore restrictive gun control laws are needed now to protect public safety."[10]  Positions like that are a menace.
I assume that Senator Ernst no longer wears overalls, so her darling firearm must be in her purse. She may think that a handbag is a safe location, but that’s hardly true if children are around. A few days ago, a three-year old reached into mom’s purse, pulled out her gun and shot both parents. Mom is eight months pregnant; a two-year old sister also was in the room. [11]  On December 31, a two-year old found a gun in his mother’s purse while they were at a Walmart; it went off and killed her.[12]
Children often are the victims of gun possession. In November, a three-year-old boy was shot in the face by a four-year-old neighbor, apparently with a gun owned by the victim’s parents. Each parent accused the other of negligence: mother claimed that father had left a gun in a night stand and in a car with children; dad accused mom of leaving a handgun in her purse. Both said they were responsible gun owners.[13]  In August, a four-year-old girl was shot in the foot by her two-year-old brother, who found a gun under a couch.[14]  The same month, a three-year-old girl was accidentally shot by a five-year-old boy.[15]  Last March, a five-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed himself with a gun he found somewhere in his home.[16] 
It isn’t just toddlers who accidently fire guns. Men shoot girlfriends,[17] wives,[18] daughters,[19] sons [20] and brothers.[21]  Women also sometimes accidentally shoot others [22] or themselves.[23]
It isn’t even safe to be at home, innocently weaponless. A man "handling a rifle" accidentally shot his upstairs neighbor through the apartment ceiling.[24]  A teenager who was playing with a gun accidentally fired a shot through a wall into a neighbor's home. [25]
The gun lobby doesn’t want restrictions at gun shows because, you know, people there are familiar with firearms. On January 13, 2013, at the Dixie Gun and Knife Show in Raleigh, North Carolina, a shotgun accidentally discharged and wounded three people. Two other gun shows that day, in Ohio and Indiana, produced one wounding each. It was the inaugural "Gun Appreciation Day."[26]
Gun nuts advocate and often succeed in passing open carry laws. The daffy excuse is that an armed citizenry can protect against bad guys; what they do is endanger everyone else. Take the case of a man, on a public sidewalk, whose gun went off, killing a woman walking on the opposite side of the street.[27]
Training and experience will cure that, surely. However, a man teaching a friend, in his garage, how to clean his gun, accidentally discharged the gun, first striking a twelve-year-old girl in a car passing by, and then, "distressed by the inadvertent shot," fired again, striking himself in the left thigh.[28]  All right, let’s suppose the teacher wasn’t really trained; people should go to firearms-training classes. A Florida man accidentally shot himself in the leg after leaving a firearms safety class.[29]  A man in Virginia let off a shot while in class, wounding himself in a hand and his wife in a leg.[30]  Perhaps they weren’t good students. An instructor in Ohio fired a bullet that bounced off a desk and into the right arm of a student. Apparently he didn’t know that the gun was loaded.[31]  A firearms instructor for a Texas police department shot himself in the hand while teaching family members how to handle a gun.[32] 
These are not isolated incidents.
Police, by necessity, must have firearms, or at least we assume so. However, as shown by the previous item, even police personnel are involved in accidental shootings. In January, an off-duty police officer in Mississippi accidentally shot his roommate in the head while showing off a new revolver.[33]  Last March, a Pennsylvania state trooper fired his gun while taking it apart for cleaning, killing his pregnant wife.[34]  Both off-duty accidents and the overuse of guns on duty demonstrate that they are not entirely safe in police hands either. Better training and more rigorous selection procedures would help, and so would the demilitarization of police departments, both as to equipment and tactics; serving a warrant does not require a swat team. Officers who cannot handle difficult situations without shooting to kill should be retired. 
Keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and other obviously irresponsible people would be a step forward, but the number and variety of accidents demonstrates that not many people can be trusted with firearms. The more guns there are, the more likely that irresponsible people will have them. Unfortunately, the United States has more guns per capita than any other country. Possession of guns, or at least of handguns, should be drastically limited. 
However, that won’t happen soon. The country is in the grip of an insane gun culture, which must be relegated to history’s dust bin. All of the excuses for allowing everyone to be armed — suspicion and hatred of government, the illusion of self-defense, our supposed pistol-packing past, a peculiar definition of "liberty" — must be exposed for what they are: fantasies which are dangerous to civilized life. Unless and until that happens, we’ll continue to shoot each other and allow our children to do so.


11. mother?akid=12746.268890.qGu1rh&rd=1&src=newsletter1031268&t=3      









23. ;







30. backfires-man-shoots-self-and-wife?lite  





Friday, January 23, 2015

January 23, 2015
The Republican Party’s lack of seriousness, of substance, was reaffirmed by the choice of Joni Ernst to deliver the rebuttal to the State of the Union address. Assigning it to a freshman Senator indicates the party’s unwillingness to deal seriously with issues. Sen. Ernst complied by telling us that "rather than respond to a speech, I’d like to talk about your priorities."[4]  It’s reassuring that she knows what they are.
One, it appeared briefly, is dealing with a slow economy and political gridlock: "The new Republican Congress . . . understands how difficult these past six years have been. For many of us, the sting of the economy and the frustration with Washington’s dysfunction weren’t things we had to read about. We felt them every day." Is she about to acknowledge that Republicans caused the dysfunction and opposed any attempt to spur the economy? Hardly; she didn’t even stay on that topic, but instead wandered off to a tale of her hardscrabble upbringing and down-home values.
Returning to the subject, she said "We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs." What will she do about it? We don’t know, except that "too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare." Apparently she hasn’t read the news about health care recently. As to stagnant wages, she opposes an increase in the minimum wage, among other reactionary stances.[5]  Her solution to unemployment is to build the Keystone pipe line. We could create far more jobs and protect the environment with any number of other infrastructure jobs. 
She suggested that the President should cooperate with her plans. She had earlier hinted at impeaching him,[6] but perhaps if he behaves, he can serve out his term. "You’ll see a lot of serious work in this new Congress," we were told. However, she apparently will consider legislation with her cramped notion of the government’s powers always before her: she also has hinted, broadly if ungrammatically, at nullification. "You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. Senator, why should we pass laws that the states are considering nullifying?"[7] 
Nullification would be her most restrained solution. She also has endorsed the notion that federal officials attempting to implement Obamacare be arrested by local law enforcement.[8]  Speaking to an NRA gathering, she declared: "I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere. . . . and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family -- whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important."[9]  This is the approved, official face of the 2015 Republicans.
Most of her speech was standard right-wing blather. She ended with the usual paean to "you, the hardworking men and women who make the United States of America the greatest nation the world has ever known." Great, that is, except for the awful condition that it has sunk to, which she vows to change.


4. republican-response-full-text

5. ernst-opposes/18096415/




9. Wesson-to-defend-against-the-government

Thursday, January 8, 2015

January 8, 2015
Articles on the new Congress over the past few days were given rather different slants. One was captioned "Republicans eager to prove they can govern." More realistic were headings stating "GOP-led Congress ready to defy Obama" and "Clashes Ahead: Republicans Ready to Fight Obama Agenda".
The best, though, came from Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker. In a column entitled "Unskilled Workers Report for New Jobs,"[3]1 he reported that the "new hires, who have no talents or abilities that would make them employable in most workplaces, will be earning a first-year salary of $174,000." They are the beneficiaries of a "a federal jobs program that provides employment for people unable to find productive work elsewhere." As with most federal programs, this one has its detractors: "Some critics have blasted the federal jobs program as too expensive, noting that the workers were chosen last November in a bloated and wasteful selection process that cost the nation nearly four billion dollars."
Mr. Borowitz commented that the newbies would work only 137 days a year; that, however, seems to me to be the only silver lining.


3. jobs?mbid=nl_ BOROWITZ

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

January 7, 2015
There was a provocative column by Andrew O’Hehir on Salon last Saturday, entitled "The NYPD’s mini-rebellion, and the true face of American fascism."[1]  He used the recent behavior of the New York Police Department and Sinclair Lewis’ dystopian novel It Can’t Happen Here as his points of departure. The novel, published in 1935, posited an authoritarian American government modeled on the German and Italian governments of the time. Although O’Hehir aptly described the story as "melodramatic . . . and . . . highly specific to its era," he thinks that "certain aspects of Lewis’ fascist America still resonate strongly," and that the New York police unions’ protest against Mayor de Blasio "carries anti-democratic undertones, and even a faint odor of right-wing coup."
He’s certainly right that many of the police officers and their union have acted irresponsibly, and that their defiance of the mayor is little short of open rebellion. He’s also correct to criticize the secrecy, spying and militarism of the national government, which he describes (with some slight exaggeration) as "a vast subterranean ‘deep state’ no one can see or control." However, I have two quarrels with his analysis.
The first is the use of the term "fascist." Apart from historical reference to Italy under Mussolini, it has no exact meaning, and attempts to define it have been unsuccessful. Using that word is like the right calling liberals communists; it creates more heat than light.
The other criticism— and I confess to some uncertainty about it — is of O’Hehir’s belief that Sinclair Lewis’ "clearest insight came in seeing that the authoritarian impulse runs strong and deep in American society . . . ." O’Hehir refers to support for the police "from ‘true patriots’ eager to take their country back from the dubious alien forces who have degraded and desecrated it." Certainly there is a great deal of rhetoric along that line. It is only sensible to worry about a government, present or future, which has too much power, which it uses badly, and which has too many secrets. I expressed a similar concern, and worried about authoritarianism, during the Bush-Cheney years. [2]  However, that focus ignores the strong libertarian streak in contemporary American conservative politics. There are more on the right who wish to tear down government than those who want it to be stronger (except, of course, for the military).   
However, Mr. O’Hehir certainly is correct in this observation: "We still comfort ourselves with mystical nostrums about American specialness." The constant bleating about exceptionalism distorts history and ignores present sins and failures. He’s also on target with this description of views on the right: "[T]hese worldviews rest on the idea that America is not defined by its democratic institutions, but by a mystical or spiritual essence that cannot be precisely described — but is understood far better by some of its citizens than by others."

The last, I think, defines the current right-wing position. It is an attitude, not a philosophy.


See my note of January 7, 2007