Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day

Thursday, April 17, 2014

April 17, 2014
HLN, formerly CNN Headline News, apparently ran out of facts or sensible commentary about the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines plane. On March 21, It turned to a psychic, one Lisa Williams, to help locating the missing aircraft. She offered a summary of her technique: "Naturally, I don’t actually have hard, concrete evidence," she acknowledged. "I think any psychic who has hard, concrete evidence can’t do their job correctly. . . . They’ll just work on what they know, so I tend to work off what I don’t know."[22] 
That could serve as the motto of the political right, for example in its attitude toward climate change.
A somewhat similar disdain for facts is present at the Supreme Court, whose decisions in campaign-finance cases are based on not knowing something which everyone else in the country knows: the injection of vast sums of money into politics has a corrupting influence. The Court’s see-no-evil mindset isn’t the only flaw in that line of decisions. Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC reflect a flawed definition of corruption, an intrusion on separation of powers, and partisanship. More on that later.
A final — no, merely another — example of defiant ignorance was provided by an angry Nevada rancher who disputes federal control of land he uses for grazing cattle. His reasoning: "I don’t recognize [the] United States Government as even existing." That’s only a somewhat more extreme statement of personal or collective secession than those put forth by hyper-libertarians and nullifiers.[23]


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March 26, 2014
Present-day conservatives behave as if they were determined to validate a number of familiar aphorisms, chief among them Santayana’s dictum: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Often they illustrate a variation on the theme: "We don't simply forget; we re-remember. Memory is a rewritable CD that is constantly being rewritten. And rewritten in a particular way: one that both makes sense of the story to us and makes it more comfortable for us."[19]  That observation was made in an entirely different context, but it aptly describes the way conservatives view history. They conjure up a past (and a present, for that matter) which supports their fixed ideas.
For example, they re-remember that New Deal economic policies didn’t work (and that austerity did), that Great Society poverty programs made poverty worse, that unregulated business operates in the public interest. A new history of the Reagan administration is created. Tony Judt offered this critique of that mindset: "Those who cheer the triumph of the market and the retreat of the state, who would have us celebrate the unregulated scope for economic initiative in today's ‘flat’ world, have forgotten what happened the last time we passed this way. They are in for a rude shock (though, if the past is a reliable guide, probably at someone else's expense)."[20] 
Obamacare is Marxist tyranny or, for a switch in historical malpractice, anything the administration does or liberals propose (such as taxing the rich) is an echo of Nazism. The conservative Supreme Court re-remembers what its prior decisions held. Nullifiers re-remember constitutional history.
Mental aberrations such as these seem to be immune to correction by facts. A recent study found that providing accurate facts which debunked a mistaken view only made conservatives more likely to believe the false information. For example, two groups of people were shown a quote from G. W. Bush stating that cutting taxes increases revenue. One group also was shown statistics that disproved his claim. That group was more likely to believe Bush’s claim than those not shown the correction.[21]   We’ve known for some time that conservatives are able to ignore or deny inconvenient facts, but when facts increase belief in misinformation, argument seems hopeless. That aberration is one of several pushing us toward the collapse of democracy: an uninformed or deluded electorate cannot govern itself wisely or protect itself from political predators.
We’ve operated on the Jeffersonian assumption that free exchange of information will lead to good decisions. Fox and its clones have made any such view obsolete, and they seem determined to aid the predators.
19. Timothy Garton Ash, 2002/ nov/ 16/fiction.society
20. Reappraisals,
p. 143. He made the same observation as to attempts to resurrect Marxism.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February 26, 2014

Several of the local Starbucks shops have removed comfortable seating and substituted tables and hard chairs. Perhaps this is meant to cater to the business-meeting or laptop clientele, or maybe some people lingered too long. Whatever the reason, it has limited my options, as I’m an easy-chair type. My usual choice these days is a shop next to a Safeway, which leads to the following observations during a visit in December. For some reason I didn’t inflict them on the web at the time but, though stale, they still are relevant, if not especially important or original.
Perhaps because I tend to be a pessimist — although I prefer to attribute my attitude to being unusually perceptive — I harbor thoughts about cultural decline. (Actually, I find it puzzling that anyone over the age of forty could not be aware of that development, but never mind). There are so many significant indicia of that trend that the following examples will seem trivial, but here they are anyway:
The story begins at the gym (sorry: fitness center) I use twice weekly. It provides towels (small) for mopping the brow and semi-large — large by the standards of the underfunded organization — for showers. The drill is to toss them, when used, into bins provided for the purpose. Instead, a growing number of those frequenting the men’s locker room drop them on the floor, leave them on benches or in showers or stuff them into lockers, anything to avoid the ordeal of carrying them twenty feet (on the way out) to the bin near the door.
After my workout, I stopped at Starbucks. When I left there, I found several carts from the adjacent Safeway abandoned on the sidewalk, some distance away from the grocery store, which is in the opposite direction, and nowhere near any of the return areas. Proceeding toward my car, I spotted a parking slot covered with trash: cups, napkins and other bits of paper; someone had cleaned out his (messy) car and left the debris for someone else to clean up.
Back to the gym: while riding the stationary bike, I glanced at one of the tv monitors which, as usual, displayed Fox "News." Actually, it was Fox Business "News," but no matter. There was no sound, but a display at the bottom of the screen asked whether the wealth gap really is a problem. Those who can ask, and more so those who deny it, are of the same class as those who litter and abandon carts. The smug and comfortable and their admirers may not dump trash on the ground, but they are soul mates to those who do: both are of the I’m-more-important-than-my-fellow-man, let-the-little-people-cope sort.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

February 23, 2014

Some reports show that viewership of television news is declining. If NBC Nightly News is typical, that’s not surprising. Hard news makes up little of any broadcast, and commentary or context rarely appear, even when the story screams for it, as with climate change. 
NBC has taken another step down. It is broadcasting the evening news from Sochi, for no apparent reason other than to promote the network’s exclusive coverage of the Olympic Games. Also, the program devoted sections of two broadcasts last week to the advent of Jimmy Fallon as host of the Tonight Show, also an NBC program: news as corporate advertisement.
A clip from a Conan O’Brien show is circulating on the web which demonstrates the vapid, insubstantial, derivative nature of local television news. It shows twenty-four news "anchors" delivering the same "report’ about shopping for oneself at Christmas: "It’s OK, you can admit it, if you bought an item or two, or ten, for yourself."[18]1 The origin of the script isn’t revealed, but it is identical, a few fluffs and variations aside, on each broadcast. It’s amusing to watch the newsreaders emote in an attempt to convert a handout into something original, but it’s another indication of how badly we are served by news media.
Are voters uninformed? Considering that the alternative to right-wing propaganda on Fox is self-promotion or inanity on other channels, it is not surprising.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

February 16, 2014

I haven’t written anything for a while. It is not a limitation of material that poses the challenge. It is that one can say that the world is going to hell in only so many ways, and that saying so repeatedly, even with variations, even with new instances, convinces the reader that the writer is obsessive and therefore unreliable, to say nothing of boring. However, . . .
Last month I ran out of anything to read — actually, there were several books waiting to be read, but nothing I was in a mood for (shouldn’t end a phrase with a preposition) — so, for no specific reason, I took from the shelf The Collapse of the Third Republic, William L. Shirer’s account of the fall of France in the Second World War. It is in part a history of the defeat in 1940 but also of the weaknesses of French politics and society — back to 1871 — which led to that result. When I read it the first time, years ago, I probably thought that the French were a hopeless lot with an exceptionally dysfunctional culture and government. Now some of their problems seem uncomfortably like ours. Reading The Collapse led me to reread part of Tony Judt’s The Burden of Responsibility, which discusses three French thinkers, notably Léon Blum, Premier of France in the Thirties. It reenforced the impression that we are on a road traveled before.
Take, for example, the attitude toward business, wealth and taxes. In early Twentieth Century France, Shirer tells us, "the entrepreneurs convinced themselves to an extent that today seems highly amusing that they were operating a free market open equally to all and that they owed their success and their profits to the virtues of the ‘free-enterprise’ system, which rewarded those with imagination, initiative, and ‘know-how’ who were brave enough to take risks."[1]  That may have been amusing in 1969, when The Collapse was published, and when we seemingly had learned better, but now it simply describes us equally well.
In the Twenties, French governments, facing fiscal disaster, "declined to do anything at all, even to face their problems." France had just emerged from World War I. The parallel to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hardly is perfect, but there are similarities in attitude and policy: "Instead of raising taxes the government raised loans, a habit it had acquired during the war, when taxes. . . were scarcely augmented despite the dire necessity." We went further, and cut taxes while waging war. "It seemed obvious that taxes would have to be raised and some financial sacrifices made by those best able to afford them. But this did not seem obvious to Parliament,"[2] nor has it to Congress.
Parliament, like Congress, did not operate in a vacuum; the attitude of the wealthy controlled. "The selfishness of the moneyed class in avoiding any financial sacrifice to help put the country back on its feet later struck many French historians as shocking. The possessors and the manipulators of most of the country's wealth simply contrived to escape shouldering a fair share of the burden of paying for the war and the reconstruction."[3]  Capital was stashed abroad. Rebuilding after the devastation of WWI was a greater challenge than our recession and our crumbling infrastructure, but attitudes are strikingly similar. Again, the surprise of historians was felt years ago.
We hear cries from many on the right that taxation is theft, that it’s their money, not the government’s, that they can use it so much more productively. That, too, is an echo. A member of the Chamber of Deputies pointed out a truism of taxation, "you have to take the money from where it is," to no avail. "The answer of the business and financial interests was given in the Chamber by one of their spokesmen . . . : ‘We are told you have to take the money from where it is. I maintain that first you have to leave it where it is.' And that is where it was left."[4]
In addition to the self-interest of the wealthy, a lack of understanding or acceptance of economic truths hampered efforts. "Ignorance of economics on both the Right and the Left played a role in compounding the mess. On the Right, bankers and businessmen were trying to apply classic nineteenth-century capitalist doctrines to the twentieth century, whose problems, were much more complex. On the Left most of the politicians . . . had little comprehension of the problems of financing a state . . . ."[5]  Our ignorance, or refusal, is the more reprehensible because the self-defeating theories we cling to have been disproved by experience.
The refusal to learn is more general, sometimes amounting a disdain for modernity, a rejection of science, of facts. Judt described France’s "nostalgic denial," the "propensity for preserving the past in the face of a threatening present."[6] Republican presidential candidates must proclaim that they disbelieve in evolution, and the right denounces climate change as a hoax.
There is a parallel also in the attitude of many toward the head of government. Léon Blum was the leader of the Socialist party, and Premier for a year during the critical Thirties. He was vilified, partly for his policies, but primarily because has was a Jew. "How, his enemies howled, could such a man represent French interests?" He was not a real Frenchman. The prospect of Blum’s actually becoming prime minister was too much. "Your arrival, Mr. Prime Minister, is without question a historic date," he was told in the Chamber of Deputies. "For the first time this ancient Gallo-Roman land is to be ruled by a Jew. . . ."[7]   We have copied this ploy: destroy a political enemy by making him the Other. Jews and blacks certainly have been the classic Others, and now Muslims have been added to the list, so Obama also is a Muslim. Blum was denounced for putting Jews in the Cabinet; Obama is "an avowed racist" for expressing sympathy for Trayvon Martin.
If merely categorizing by race or religion is not enough, add the claim that the Other is a foreigner. In one story, Blum was accused of being a Bulgarian, but that was too mild: "The prime minister, coming from a wandering race, dumped in the Ile-de-France by a chance that might as easily have deposited him in New York, Cairo, or Vilna, [is] the leader of a people foreign to his flesh."[8] Obama, of course, is a Kenyan. "How [Blum] hates us! He resents us for everything: for our blue sky and our soft air, for our peasants who walk in clogs across French soil and whose ancestors were not camel dealers, wandering in the Syrian desert with his Palestinian friends. . . ."[9]   Obama "has no idea how the American system functions, and we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia . . . ."[10]  In contrast to the Republican "course for the country," Obama’s "course is extraordinarily foreign."[11]
Nor only foreign, but sinister. "Between France and this cursed man, we must choose. He is the very incarnation of everything that sickens our flesh and our blood. He is evil. He is death."[12]  As with Blum so with Obama. According to a 2013 poll "20 percent of Republicans said they believed Obama is the Antichrist, while only [!] 6 percent of Democrats agree."[13]  On quieter days, he is merely (and simultaneously) a communist and a fascist.
Reactions become violent. A right-wing publisher declared of Blum, "Here is "a man to shoot down, but in the back . . . human detritus who should be treated as such."[14]  Obama is a "communist raised communist educated communist nurtured subhuman mongrel" and "gangster" and should be punished for treason.[15]  Or shot: a Christian American Patriots Militia leader announced in 2013, "We now have authority to shoot Obama, i.e., to kill him. His willful violations and alienation of our Constitution, . . . and corruption of all the three branches of government . . . reveal the dictator that he is."[16]  At a town hall meeting in February of this year, a Republican Congressman carried on a chat with a woman in the audience who had announced that Obama "should be executed as an enemy combatant." The Congressman either agreed with her or saw nothing unusual in her rant.[17]
The Third Republic had come into being more or less by accident in 1871, and those on the right — monarchists, the military, business and the clergy — never accepted it, and wanted to bring it down. That sentiment persisted until World War II, exacerbated by right-wing admiration for fascism. Nothing on that scale has developed here, but we see manifestations of a similarly destructive attitude. Republicans in Congress shut down the government and threaten to destroy its creditworthiness, partly to gain specific ends, partly because they dislike it and its president. The tone was set in January, 2009 by party leader Limbaugh — "I hope he fails" — and Republican have reflexively opposed nearly everything Obama has supported, even a conservative health care plan. Nullifiers and other states-righters want to weaken the federal government, allowing the states to be (more) reactionary. Many see tyranny in every attempt to improve life; some dream of replacing the government with a regime of their own. Gun nuts want to turn the country into an armed society, every nut his own posse. When something awful happens, such as 9-11, or the Boston Marathon bombing, or the Newtown shooting, conspiracy theorists claim it’s a "false flag" operation, something perpetrated by the government. These are not healthy trends.
Any parallel to France is, of course, ironic, as the American right is so disdainful of that land; how embarrassing to be like it.


The Collapse of the Third Republic, p. 78.2. All quotes in this paragraph Id., at 153
3. Id., at 154
4. Ibid
5. Id., at 160
6. The Burden of Responsibility, p. 8
7. Id., at 75-76
8. Id., at 76
9. Id., at 77
11. According to Mitt Romney. 12. The Burden of Responsibility, p. 77
14. The Burden of Responsibility, p. 76
15. So saith Ted Nugent (lack of punctuation in the original report).
16. The article cites other threats.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

January 8 , 2014

The new year produced some interesting opinion pieces.

In The Washington Post Ruth Marcus headed her December 31 column "Edward Snowden, the insufferable whistle blower." That aptly described her view, which is that Snowden is personally repulsive. "Insufferable is the first adjective evoked by Snowden’s recent interview with Barton Gellman in The Post, but it has numerous cousins: smug, self-righteous, egotistical, disingenuous, megalomaniacal, over-wrought." That is an oddly-focused reading of Gellman’s interview and of the situation. After all, the important issue is whether Snowden’s disclosures harmed or helped the country. Snowden maintains the latter, and apparently Gellman does as well, as he aided in the release of the secret information. Ms. Marcus hinted at a substantive issue — "Not for Snowden any anxiety about the implications for national security of his theft of government secrets" — but only as part of the discussion of his character which continued for several more paragraphs.
Eventually addressing the core question, she conceded problems with the surveillance program but concluded, on no obvious grounds, that oversight isn’t as weak as claimed, the degree of invasion of privacy isn’t all that serious, the NSA folk have been truthful as to the limited nature of their snooping, and national security has been compromised by the disclosures.
Odd that she didn’t condemn Gellman, and her paper, for aiding and abetting.
The New York Times, in its house editorial of January 2, concluded that Snowden "was clearly justified" in believing that the only way to expose overreach was to leak documents. It recommended clemency: "Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight."
Jonathan Capehart, Ms. Marcus’ colleague at the Post, reacted to that suggestion by essentially repeating her remarks. In a column on January 2 captioned "No clemency from Snowden’s self-importance," he too concentrated on his personal disdain for Snowden and quoted Marcus’ list of synonyms for "insufferable." He acknowledged some merit in Snowden’s argument but in effect conditioned clemency on gagging Snowden because he is just too smug. Their approach seems to be an extreme instance of elevating style over substance.
On January 1 the Times ran a column by Michael Moore on another controversial topic: health care. He made no attempt to defend Obamacare as a policy choice, with good reason. It was "conceived at the Heritage foundation, . . . birthed in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney," and adopted by Obama, who apparently hoped that conservatives would not attack their own offspring. Moore acknowledged that it is better than nothing, but thinks that states should go further, by adding a public option or, as proposed in Vermont, a single-payer system. Given the paralysis in Congress, that may be the only way forward.
On January 1, in a column on Truthout entitled "The Year of the Gun," William Rivers Pitt presented a litany of deaths by gunfire. The most appalling category is the death of children, by accident, from guns left lying around. He cited a study showing that "each year approximately 7,500 children are admitted to U.S. hospitals with gunshot wounds and more than 500 children die during hospital admission from these injuries." Another Truthout article on January 2 pointed out the increasing militarization of police — think of all the clips of SWAT teams with assault rifles — and its contribution to our gun culture.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

December 11, 2013
A few days after Christmas in 2011, I listed several measures of our economy which demonstrated that the pre-redemption Scrooge would be right at home in twenty-first century America. I won’t revisit the entire list, but it’s clear that the situation has not changed, at least not for the better.
At that time, the six Walton heirs possessed wealth equal to the total wealth of the bottom thirty percent of the American population; now it’s forty-two per cent.[142]   The six own about half the stock of Walmart, which continues to support its, and their, exalted financial position by paying its employees substandard wages. That was dramatically illustrated by a photo of a donation box in an Ohio Walmart, asking employees (associates) to "donate food items so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner." Apparently that is not the only Walmart conducting such a drive, and no wonder: like McDonald’s’s and other prosperous large companies, Walmart pays its "associates" very little, one reason that the company had a profit of $15.7 billion in 2011. It did manage to give its CEO a compensation package of $17.6 million, so it isn’t entirely heartless. (His compensation was 796 times that of the average employee).[143]
By one measure, one in six Americans lives in poverty.[144]  Whatever the exact number, this is a disgrace, a moral outrage, and a national failure. As an article in The Nation put it, referring to homelessness and food stamp cuts, "In a minimally functioning political system, there would be a debate about potential solutions to these unfolding disasters."[145]
Conservatives tell us, repeatedly, that we are a Christian nation. Shouldn’t we then rally around efforts to help the poor? Isn’t that in the spirit of Christianity? Well, no, according to many amateur theologians on the right. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) supported cuts to SNAP (food stamps) by citing 2 Thessalonians 3:10: "For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat."[146]  One of his colleagues, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), hid behind the same passage.[147]  Leaving aside whether they took the quote out of context — and the consensus of those who can speak with authority appears to be that they did — how does it apply to children, the elderly, the disabled and the large segment of recipients who are, in fact, employed? It is simply an excuse, an offensive excuse, for playing the I’ve-got-mine game, which seems to form the core of Republican politics.
Using Christianity to defend such attitudes is not confined to members of Congress. According to Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, there is "nothing more Christian" than "not locking people into a permanent dependency on government handouts, but making sure they are participants in their own upliftment and empowerment so that they in fact through the dignity of work and can break from the plantation of big government." In true reactionary spirit, he would privatize charity: "We are not lacking in churches in church communities across this nation in making sure that basic human needs are met without creating another government program that establishes rules that have very low expectations for self-discipline."[148] Is private charity adequate to the task? Of course not, but never mind. Tony Perkins, also of the Family Research Council, can’t find a relevant text: ". . .the government has a responsibility to care for the poor? That’s not what the Scripture says."[149]
Gary Bauer, President of American Values and a self-described evangelical Christian, asserts that "nowhere in the Bible are we told that government should take one man's money by force of law and give it to another man."[150]  That is not a new thought among the preachers of the gospel of property. Pat Robertson showed the way:
God's order recognizes the sanctity of private property. The eighth commandment, "You shall not steal" means that the God of Jacob forbids a citizen to take what belongs to another citizen. . . . In God's order there are no schemes of wealth distribution under which government forces productive citizens to give the fruit of their hard-earned labors to those who are nonproductive.[151]
There are, happily, exceptions. Rev. David Beckman and Rev. Gary Cook, of Bread for the World, opposed cuts in food stamps and countered the Perkins-Bauer argument by citing Biblical references to aiding the poor. More to the point, why should a supposed Christian require an express commandment to support programs which help people? Has Christianity been reduced to an excuse not to care, to prevent government from doing what we fail, inevitably, to do adequately as individuals?
Fox "News," the secular arm of the comfortable and uncaring, added mockery to the mix, in the form of an idiotic stunt in which a "reporter" posed as a beggar — for an hour; talk about deep research — then returned to the studio to claim that begging is a sweet deal, that most on the street are phonies, and that those who give are enablers. The mandatory blonde added, no doubt from a wealth of objective data, that other beggars are "scammers," apparently meaning that begging is so profitable, to say nothing of dignified, that it beats work.[152]

How about the minimum wage? Raising it would aid those at the bottom, diminish glaring inequity, lessen the need for food stamps and — here’s comfort to the nervous prosperous — dampen any tendency toward more drastic measures — so it must be universally supported. Well, no. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) told the National Journal that he thinks the country should get rid of the minimum wage. "I think it’s outlived its usefulness," he said. "It may have been of some value back in the Great Depression. I would vote to repeal the minimum wage." So would Senator Lamar Alexander. Sen. Marco Rubio declared: "I don’t think a minimum wage law works."[153]  Speaker John Boehner apparently subscribes to the job-destroying argument: "When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it."[154]  His guess (excuse, cover) is more ideology than fact.
Increases in the minimum wage have lagged behind average wages, productivity and increases in income for the top 1%. The last is, strictly speaking, irrelevant, but it is an image of our increasing inequality and the creeping conversion of a democracy into a plutocracy. Had the federal minimum wage tracked increases for the one per centers, it would be $28.34, not $7.25.[155]  Some states, including Washington, have enacted automatic increases, to match inflation. Our current minimum is $9.19, the highest in the country (followed by Oregon and Vermont), and will increase to $9.32 on January 1. A total of nineteen states have minimums above the federal rate. However, many only match it, five are lower and four have no state minimum; raising the federal rate is of critical importance in those states.
Rand Paul doesn’t want to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits. Anything beyond 26 weeks "do[es] a disservice to these workers." Why is that? "When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy."[156]  Ah yes: it’s such sweet deal that people will snooze in those hammocks Paul Ryan fantasizes about. Actually, unemployment benefits are a stimulant to the economy — more money to spend creates demand — which will create jobs, which in turn will allow more people to return to work.[157]
Meanwhile, corporations make lots of money, pay little in taxes, squirrel cash away overseas and expect taxpayers to bid for their presence, in effect contributing capital but receiving no stock in exchange. (A formerly local company, one of the Dow thirty, symbol BA, is currently the most notorious).

145.Michelle Goldberg, "Poverty Denialism," November 25, 2013
151. The New World Order (1991), pp. 241-42, emphasis in the original.
156. html