Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

December 29, 2014

Those on the rightward fringe apparently believe that life is one vast conspiracy, that the government or others of the establishment are lying to them constantly. The truth about the world and, most importantly, the keys to happiness are simple and within reach of all if only the veil is lifted. Or, perhaps more accurately, there is an industry devoted to helping disaffected people to think along those lines.
For whatever reason, I have been the recipient of emails since mid-November that are aimed at that fringe. They include these titles: Tea Party Politics, Tea Party Bulletin, Survival Joe, Liberty 24/7, Conservatives United, The Right To Bear, 2d Amendment Insider, Preserve Freedom, Patriots and Politics, and Patriot Health Report. Others (Investor Insider, Gold Silver Central, Natural Health Online, and Health and Wellness Today), probably derive from the same sources. The total of these messages, over forty-four days, is 269, six per day.
There are two themes to many of these communications. The first is the grabber, which may play on paranoia: "What will you do when the government barges into your home and SEIZES your guns TOMORROW. . . and FEMA tries to cram you into one of their camps like sardines?" or on partisanship: "This Former Marxist Destroys Liberal Ideas in Just 4 Minutes (VIDEO)" or on anti-government suspicion or resentment: "At this moment, a shocking cover-up involving Obama, Congress and the FDA is threatening the lives of over 45 million Americans. . . including you."
The second is a commercial pitch: subscribe to a newsletter or buy a book, often to learn health secrets. For example, drawn in by this headline, "Welfare Fraud is a Huge Problem & this Shocking Interview Proves It (VIDEO)," you are led to "Weird Trick Restores Your Vision." You can cure all known vision limitations by means of the weird trick, knowledge of which is suppressed by the establishment, which makes money from exams, surgery, glasses, etc. Other health tricks, alleged to cure Alzheimer’s, shed weight, cure diabetes, etc. appear repeatedly.
I’ve clicked on a number of the links to commercial pitches; each of them is presented by a "video" (text which someone also is reading). As shown by the preceding item, sometimes there is an element of bait and switch. Another example is found on Tea Party Politics. It begins, "Fellow Patriot, Obama's sinister new agenda is unfolding. There's a reason why he's disarming millions while hoarding enough ammo for a 30 year land war. Sandy Hook's got nothing to do with it. It's way darker than that. . . and it's all explained in this controversial video. . ." That sounds like something to do with gun control. However, the pitch is about a supposed food crisis, and the solution is to buy an "aquaponic" system which will grow food without soil as well as raising fish. Result: buyers will eat while others starve during the troubles ahead.
Some messages go directly to the commercial pitch, without anything seemingly relevant to the page. One 2d Amendment Insider leads off with "The Eyecare industry is FURIOUS at this woman who stumbled upon a ground-breaking system to restore anybody's vision to 20/20 in as little as 2 weeks!" and then gives us the same "weird trick" video described above.
Survival, in one form or another, is a recurring theme. On Patriots and Politics, we can buy a "Fight Fast Pen." It is, we are told, a real pen, "but it also doubles as a very nasty tool to protect yourself and loved ones." Conservatives United offers the "Stinger Spy Pen," apparently a different device. Tea Party Politics will tell us how to build an unregistered AR-15. It also offers a "killer throwing knife" and throwing instructions. Following the warning about seizing guns and FEMA camps, Survival Joe ("Helping the average Joe prepare for the coming crisis") advertised "The Complete Survival System" (a book).
Apart from self-defense, there is advice to buy gold to avoid the "dollar crash" or a collapse of the investment markets. On Conservatives United, I learned of an "underground bank account" (also "secret" and "hidden") which allowed someone to turn $27 into $886,000 in four years. It turned out, after much evasion and repetition, to be about Bitcoins. Apparently the pitch hadn’t gone on long enough, so then we were touted to a book denouncing Obamacare and another on keeping our information secret.
In some of the ads the anti-establishment theme is underscored, and the sales pitch ramped up, by telling us that we must act quickly, because the government or some other evil force will shut the offer down.
The "videos" seem to go on forever. The one for aquaponics was described as "very short," but ran more than thirty minutes; one about Alzheimer’s was described as taking five minutes but went on for forty; Bitcoin, etc. lasted for about forty-five. I’ve have had the patience only to listen to a few to the end, but they all seem to move at a snail’s pace. It would be amazing if many people were able to stick with one of these tedious, repetitious pitches long enough to learn how to buy whatever is on offer.
Apparently these advertisers think that conservatives are very patient and have little to do, in addition to being anti-establishment and gullible.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

December 16, 2014
The right continually bleats about how exceptional America is or, as Fox’s Andrea Tantaros puts, how awesome we are. Rush Limbaugh worries that we do not emphasize American exceptionalism enough. Therefore, he has assumed the burden of properly indoctrinating our youth in that belief through a series of "Rush Revere" books. There are three so far, each subtitled "Time-Travel Adventures With Exceptional Americans." The notion of education of the young by Rush is a bit frightening, but he is indeed illustrating American exceptionalism; what other country would have, as a major political influence, anyone so aggressively, deliberately ignorant?
If one needed another example of our negative exceptionalism, consider torture. The Senate released a study of our record on that subject, which ought to give the right pause. Instead their reaction has been to defend the practices (Cheney would "do it again in a minute"), or complain that reporting on — and criticizing — a practice the whole world knows we indulged in is going to cause a backlash from terrorists, or claiming that it’s a plot to distract attention from Benghazi or the IRS or whatever the latest faux-scandal might be.
Sadly, a poll showed that over half the population approves of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," with only 30% disapproving. The column by Andy Borowitz [90] disclosing that Cheney will lead a "torture-pride" march slips from humor to near-reality.
How have we reached this state? One explanation is offered by Andrew Bacevich:
Since at least 1940, when serious preparations for entry into World War II began, the United States has been more or less continually engaged in actual war or in semi-war, intensively girding itself for the next active engagement, assumed to lie just around the corner. The imperatives of national security, always said to be in peril, have taken precedence over all other considerations. . . .
. . . The size, scope, and prerogatives accorded to the so-called intelligence community — along with the abuses detailed in the Senate report — provide only one example of the result. But so too is the popular deference accorded to those who claim to know exactly what national security requires, even as they evade responsibility for the last disaster to which expert advice gave rise.
. . . As long as the individuals and entities comprising that [national security] apparatus persist in their commitment to permanent war, little of substance will change. . . .[91]
There’s not much likelihood of a major alteration of governmental, political or popular attitudes toward the national security state. Even Mr. Obama’s diplomatic recognition of Cuba, a modest step away from the Cold War, has met with opposition. The Washington Post expressed disapproval because Cuba still isn’t living up to our standards which, in the current context, is more than a little tone-deaf.

90. 91.