Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Did it all start with “You lie!” shouted by demented right wing congressman, Joe Wilson during a joint session of congress, to the President of the United States? Heckling, from a member of the people’s house? Not only was that only mildly reprimanded, but he immediately got an influx of campaign donations.
Or was it the “tea party”, a faux movement concocted by the Koch Brothers and lapdog Dick Armey, bussing in “grass roots activists” to town hall meetings in order to scream at Democratic congress members, or wandering Republicans, in rather frightening terms (one guy brazenly wore a holstered gun to an Obama speech).
Or was it the emergence of crazy person Glen Beck, aka Limbaugh 2.0, and Fox “News” hosting faux grassroots events and reporting they were real grassroots events (using canned crowd footage to bolster appearances). Beck also went on network TV to declare The President of the United States “a racist who hates white people”.
And how “unprecedented” was John Boehner saying “fuck you” to the President when he requested to speak at a joint session of congress? 100%. Never happened before, ever. Boehner was wrong, but craziness won again, because, don’t you know, “Obama caved”.
Or how about the Supreme Court of the United States and its ruling in “Citizens United”, bookending their vaunted “Bush v. Gore” case?
As Charlie Sheen would say “hello! Winning!”. Or as his co-star Gordon Gekko might say, “Crazy is good. Crazy works. Crazy cuts through and clarifies…”
Or did it start with 9/11, 10 years on, when the crazies bombed us, and the crazier Bushites said “we’ll take it from here, fellas”, and proceeded to scare the hell out of us and convince us that wiretapping is patriotic, torture is just “enhanced interrogation” and that war hero John Kerry was a coward.
Some call these events “unprecedented”. Indeed we’ve never seen these people and events before in our heretofore civilized, reasonable history. But unprecedented is too nice a word.
I call it crazy, and I suspect crazy is winning.
And sure enough, in November 2010, they managed to convince enough people, and disgust enough people (i.e., Dems) to stay away from the polls, that they scored a convincing victory in congressional races. The mad men filed into our Capitol not this time to “protest” but to take their seats, where once sat Henry Clay and Abe Lincoln now sat Rand Paul and Joe Walsh. And you know how it works with crazy people, and those voices in their heads: “You belong here. This is real. Complete your mission. You must now burn things down!” Hate government, but love the pay check. And the health care. Crazy.
When the crazy are convinced they have won, they don’t stop there. They get MORE crazy.
But the Debt Ceiling “debate”. Now that had it all: hostage taking, terrorist threats, and the bat shit crazy winning.
The Debt Ceiling “debate” that kept us and Chris Mathews in thrall for two weeks was the economic equivalent of crashing planes into the Trade Center – suicidal, and incredibly devastating. And unprecedented! It had NEVER happened before, not since the Debt Ceiling raising became a pro forma event in congress in 1917. It is a crucial device, enabling the government to honor past existing debt (not a “blank check for Barack Obama” per economic scholar Michele Bachmann).
Yet to hear the Republicans tell it, they were perfectly willing to let the ceiling go unraised, and allow the ensuing, international financial chaos (which they denied would happen, much as they scoff at global warming; all scare tactics just so Democrats can raise taxes and hurt corporations) - if their blackmail demands were not met; the blackmailing having to do with cutting taxes and cutting entitlements for grandma, presumably only Democratic ones. (Hey wait, as an aside, weren’t they worried about pulling the plug on grandma during the health care “debate”?)
But the mad man faction in the Republican membership - many of whom arrived in the November 2010 elections from Hell – vociferously harangued on talk shows to forget “negotiations”; they WANTED the calamity, (while naturally claiming there would be no calamity). Their mouths were watering about the number of social security checks that would not be issued, or the number of government funded projects that would be suspended, or the number of federal employees who would be terminated.
So naturally, poor tear stained John Boehner, who seemed to both play a hostage himself, and a power broker, wielding his crazy minions like a cudgel (“don’t make me unleash the hounds! I can’t stop them, you know!”), would be able to walk out of Presidential negotiations (unprecedented!) without fear of retribution.
The sane man in the White House, like most sane people when confronted with sociopathy, found himself at an 11th power impasse. The crazy guy is about to jump off the building, and take his hostages with him, or set off the doomsday device, evidently not concerned that he would go up in smoke too. Choose your analogy. Do you return crazy with crazy, and see if crazy blinks first, or do you defuse the situation as best you can, given the disadvantages of reason and sanity. And our damned constitutional structure.
In any case, through otherwise unacceptable means, i.e., pretty much giving into the crazies, the “crisis” was averted – well for the moment. Now it’s all in the hands of a “super congress” – starring on our side, of course, the one and only Max Baucus!?? -- to determine a way out of the deficit morass. It’s ok, take your time getting to the stalemate. 30 million Americans out of jobs, houses underwater, driving on crumbling bridges, they can wait.
Still, despite the “deal” to raise the ceiling, there was some injury to the 300 million or so hostages (i.e., we the people), to the extent that a reduced bond rating causes economic injury. And there was the real strategy: political injury. To the sane guy.
There will be no jobs, no taxes for the rich. Never mind the hungry and the homeless, such things might make Obama look good at re-election time. Unprecedented – just ask one time right wing freak now seeming like a reasonable progressive, Alan Simpson. Or the one time face of the now extinct “moderate Republican”, Chuck Hagel. Both are appalled at the relentless brinkmanship. “I swear, we’ll drive this bus off the cliff!”
The crazy is out of the bag, and, insofar as Obama is TIED in polls with even the lunatic Rick Perry, looking for what may well be the final victory they require in 2012.
The humanitarian Eric Cantor even wanted to hold up FEMA funding for the flood ravaged Joplin, Missouri some weeks ago – unless such funds were matched by cuts in, I dunno, say Medicare. But then in the last couple of weeks - and I give him mad props - he wanted to do the same to his own district, rocked in short order by BOTH an earthquake and Irene floodwaters. Shouldn’t he be getting a letter of warning from Pat Robertson? Do these guys believe in a punishing God or not? How much of a message does Cantor need?
And the story has been the same when stimulus bashing governors, such as Scott Walker, Rick Scott, and John Kasich, who joined the Luntzian chorus of “Mr. Obama, where are the jobs?” took office. They were then confronted with possible hypocrisy, so, despite suffering citizens, gulped and actually refused federal funding that would have built high speed rail systems etc. and put their people to work.
And so we come to the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and, more importantly, the tenth anniversary of post-9/11 America.
9/11 was a lesson well learned. Boy was it. Never mind Saddam Hussein, the United States was shocked and awed and beyond. And, oh how eye opening it must have been, not just for the neocons in power, but the alleged attackers, to see how fearful and manipulated could we be by some spectacularly crazy act.
But in Reality - where most of us live - looks can be deceiving. Just like on reality TV shows, are we watching people really being themselves, or just doing some very good play acting? How CRAZY were the 9/11 perps, hijacking those planes? How CRAZY are these tea party perps, hijacking our country? Crazy is as crazy does. Or does it?
But what did the crazy terrorists hope to accomplish on 9/11? Knocking off a couple of iconic buildings and killing 3,000 civilians, yes that’s frightening. We’d find ourselves asking in the days following who was next? But what else did they want to achieve? They didn’t really have to do much as far as scaring us, because the Bushites took care of that with their own unleashed zeal. Did they want to scare us out of Saudi Arabia and off the Middle East oil teat, and give up Israel? Or did they want us to engage in a costly holy war that would deplete our finances, kill many thousands more, and recruiting a whole new cadre of crazy zealots to terrorize other countries, to keep that war, holy or otherwise, going for freaking ever.
It’s funny but that all also sounds like a neo con wet dream. So it appears the two dreams merged. Out of that 9/11 tragedy, which somehow made a hero out of Bush instead of an incompetent idiot, came a neocon nirvana. They got their perpetual war (s), and a new bogeyman better than the Commies (“Islamofascism” – and guys like Frank Gaffney, we now find, are being paid millions to foment that fear). They plundered the US treasury, paid for paying with credits two “wars” that were really needless but excellent make work projects for generals, Black Water and Halliburton. No more New Deal hand outs cause, we’re broke don’t ya know – unless you are Exxon or Koch (“job creators”).
“Hello! Winning. Winning.” “Crazy is good.”
Or is it just sheer diabolical genius?
In retrospect, given the propensity for the neocons to do “unprecedented things”, crazy if you will, and considering how much they shamelessly exploited 9/11, it is disturbing – horrifying - to think that, well, let’s say, maybe the official 9/11 story may not be the actual story. Sure, stuff crazy conspiracy theorists, right? And easy to dismiss. After all, what Americans would believe that government officials would act soooo crazy, so psychopathically, to reap amazing benefits that, to them, aren’t all that crazy. But after the wars, the wiretaps and the outing of CIA agents, the Wall Street bailouts and tax cuts, and all the rest, wherein the ends justifies the means, and wherein a few dead people are simply the cost of doing business… the mind wanders to dark places. You think it can’t happen here? Operation North Woods was a plan by zealous generals, and signed off on by Eisenhower and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to themselves commit acts of destruction and murder in the United States, blame it on Castro and the Cubans to get public support for an invasion of the annoying Communist island. Yes, unprecedented outside of Nazi Germany. Eisenhower wasn’t able to pull it off before the end of his term, and the Kennedy administration, after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, said “no invasions of Cuba. Read more here: http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/northwoods.html.
And now what crazy plans are there afoot to wrest the presidency back in 2012? Yes it seems as if the Tea Party crazies have been exposed, and there seems to be buyer’s remorse with certain 2010 results – such as Scott Walker - but crazy doesn’t go down easy.
And neither does the relentless pursuit of bipartisanship, of working together, of negotiating with the crazy people. That, in itself is crazy, if not it’s not been made abundantly clear. In fact it’s just plain freaking nuts. By pop culture definition: insanity is repeating the same action over and over, and expecting different results.
Which begs a question, do such crazy people reside in the White House?
So what do we do? We are caught between the crazy and the seemingly sane guy (who nevertheless continues to hope that the crazy become sane). Memo to the White House: IT HASN’T HAPPENED YET! How many warnings did the Mansons need that Charlie just wasn’t right, and wasn’t going to get any better? Staying away from the next election is crazy; the Supreme Court is at stake, and there’s a shot at taking back the Congress IF the crazies don’t succeed in destroying the voting system.
All I can say is, Obama and progressives are in danger in November 2012, and whether it’s recognizing the truth or fighting fire with fire, we must ourselves do something “unprecedented”. There is little time to be stunned by this unprecedented behavior, although we are. There is little time to scratch our head in disbelief, just believe it is happening. There is little time to think about whether these are really crazy. No need, they are and they are winning because of it, convincing just enough people, and turning off just enough people and disenfranchising just enough people to make it work for them. And there is little time to figure out what to do, start figuring.
The sanest thing to do is probably to give up. But LOSING through acting sane would be very crazy. Time to do something utterly insane ourselves. And I hope Obama does just that on September 8th when Boehner finally allows him to speak before congress.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
On May 17, 1954 - which happened to be my birthday - the United States Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education. Public schools could no longer be segregated, effectively tossing out the infamous Plessy vs. Ferguson "separate but equal" ruling of 1896.
Leading the legal charge before the Supreme Court, representing Brown et al., was chief counsel for the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall, the grandson of a slave and imbued by his father to study the Constitution, where rests all hope for freedom. Brown v. Board of Education was a game changing decision, emboldening leaders like Martin Luther King, and was the first trumpet sound of the civil rights movement. Thurgood Marshall, even before this case, had long been a legal champion of the underdog, and in his career argued more cases before the Supreme Court than any other lawyer in American history. Marshall was born in Maryland, but was denied entry to the University of Maryland Law School - because of their segregation policy.
Stung by this injustice, it drove him to that area of the law, determined to defeat the legacy of Plessy vs. Ferguson. Indeed, as a 27 year old litigator, just three years after graduating from Howard University law school, Marshall successfully tried a case – Murray vs. Pearson - which ended segregation at Maryland Law School. He was appointed judge to the second U.S. court of appeals by JFK, where he tirelessly continued hearing civil rights cases. In 1965, served briefly but successfully as Solicitor General of the United States before being appointed by LBJ in 1967 as the first black man to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
During his distinguished 24 year tenure in the Supreme Court, this great legal champion was considered the "voice for the voiceless."
This was a great jurist, and humanitarian, the sort that we want to see on our U. S. Supreme Court.
Times have changed, and, one can almost pin point – pun intended – when the change started. Some might consider that time to be the when the Court was stacked with the highly partisan conservative additions of Antonin Scalia, William Rehnquist, Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor, all by Ronald Reagan.
They could use a fifth. Well, elections have consequences.
In mid 1991, the great Thurgood Marshall, last of the great liberals on the court, was in ill health, and reluctantly had to retire from the bench. Reluctantly, because the president who would name his replacement was one George Herbert Walker Bush. Marshall was none too pleased about the situation.
Time would quickly tell how justified was his displeasure.
There was a convergence of events that led to Bush’s disastrous selection. First, there was the rejection of Robert Bork, a Reagan appointee, four years before. Progressive groups protested his nomination as being “too extreme”, and he was defeated by the Senate. Resentment flared. The verb “to Bork” was born. When William “Roe vs. Wade” Brennan retired, Bush selected David Souter – who turned out to be a moderate in conservative clothing. Chief of Staff John Sununu, who had actually sold Bush on Souter, vowed that the next judge appointed would be a “true conservative”, and they would fight tooth and nail for his (or her) confirmation.
Just a few months later, they had their opportunity to get that fifth vote. And of course, in what can only be called irony, who should be the next justice to be replaced but the highly regarded champion of progressive ideals, and hero of Brown vs. Education, Thurgood Marshall. And who should be Bush's cynical choice to replace this progressive black man? Libertarian black man Clarence Thomas, an unremarkable judge on the court of appeals. But the Bush team needed a reliably conservative black man to nominate. There were not a lot of choices. Yet Bush called Thomas “the best available candidate”, presumably regardless of race. So things started off dicey for this candidate.
What were Thomas' bona fides? He had graduated Yale Law School, and worked for a time as Senator John Danforth's legal team in Missouri, and served briefly as head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, ironic since Thomas was skeptical of the whole affirmative action thing. Thomas, who early on had been influenced by Ayn Rand (uh oh) and considered himself a libertarian (uh oh), had only a year experience as a federal judge (also thanks to a Bush appointment). He had never argued a case in front of the Supreme Court. The ABA gave him a "satisfactory" rating and a 13-2 vote. No Supreme Court nominee in decades had received less than a unanimous vote. Surely not "the best available candidate".
And the heat was turned up when progressive groups promised to "Bork" Clarence Thomas. But the campaign was on from the Bush side. Bush and co. dared progressives in the Senate to deny a black man a place on the Supreme Court.
Before the Judiciary Committee (headed by Joe Biden), true to form, Thomas was mum and cute about his feelings on such things as affirmative action and abortion. He downplayed his beliefs in "natural law" and the writings of Ayn Rand.
And then along came Anita Hill.
Hill was a black woman attorney with perhaps a superior legal mind to Thomas', who worked his employ. And, a reluctant witness, she nevertheless busted him for sexual harassment. Of course it was mortifying and seriously called into question Thomas' judicial qualifications and temperament - if his weak legal career and libertarian views had not already. The Republicans did then what they have always done - they closed ranks.
Rather than consider Hill’s veracity, they simply saw her as a tool of the left, and sought to smear her. Part of their campaign was using a young unwitting conservative David Brock to write a quick book about her called "The Real Anita Hill" ("a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty"). Future Democrat Arlen Specter led the charge on the Judiciary Committee, suggesting perjury.
And then Frank Luntz or someone of that caliber crafted an indignant response for Mr. Thomas: "this is a high tech lynching." Race card, played hard. But strictly for show. Anita Hill was black (and, at this writing, still is). At worst it was “he said/ she said”. Where was the racism? Where was the “lynching”? The black man who has repeatedly questioned the value of affirmative action, and indeed oddly “blamed” affirmative action for letting him into Yale, (thanks in no small part perhaps to Thurgood Marshall’s past anti-segregation lawsuits) was now fully exploiting his blackness, O.J. - style. The ambitious Thomas was willingly playing Bush’s cynical game, hoping guilt ridden white Senators would be shamed into dismissing Hill’s accusations and supporting him.
The nomination went to the floor without a recommendation from the judiciary committee. But "the ends" is what has always counted for Republicans. And indeed, at the end of the day, the Republicans got their 50 votes plus one (in fact they got 52 votes in the Senate), and "Justice" Clarence Thomas squeaked into the door of the Supreme Court, never looking back. They had their fifth vote.
The contrast between the two justices could not be more palpable, in and out of the court. Whereas Marshall was Voice of the Voiceless, Thomas has been anything but. In fact, he famously seldom speaks during oral arguments. Whereas Thomas might be considered the Iron Man of justice, Thomas is merely Irony Man.
He has reliably been a fervent supporter of the powerful, voting to select George Bush the son, in the notorious Bush v. Gore 5-4 vote of 2000, and voting as part of the 5-4 majority in favor of Citizens United in 2009. Both can arguably called the worst decisions made by any Supreme Court, and both can arguably be said to have seriously changed the course of American democracy for the worse – in ways precisely the opposite to what Thurgood Marshall fought for. One can only imagine the votes had they been in the hands of the great Marshall, and how many of Marshall's great strides Thomas has sought to undo (along with his "5-4" pals).
But if Anita Hill’s warnings were not heeded in 1991, in 2011 they seem to have gained some heft. Is Clarence Thomas not just partisan but also dirty - and not in the pubic hair on the coke can sense.
Ethical concerns are now circling heavily around this man who so reliably has served the conservative cause on the highest court in the land. Have his vaunted pro-corporate votes on the court actually been well secured, (we won’t say “bought” at this juncture)? In one instance, he allegedly attended an all expenses paid retreat put on by the libertarian sociopath Koch Brothers, who well benefited from Citizens United, in Palm Springs in 2008. This shindig pre-dated the “Citizens United” case. Should not Thomas have recused himself, along with fellow partier Antonin Scalia? Further underscoring his lack of similarity to his auspicious predecessor is the somewhat distasteful spectacle of his wife, Ginny, wearing a buffoonish foam “lady liberty” head piece seated at the head of her Tea Party organization. Indeed she seems to be the mad hatter of the tea partiers, stridently opposing the Affordable Healthcare Act, which will surely find its way into a Supreme Court case. It is practically the dictionary definition of “conflict of interest”, yet Thomas remains defiant, and vows not to recuse himself.
Then there's the matter of Ginny's earnings, mainly from her right wing work. He failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars of Ginny’s income over a 10 year period on required disclosure forms. He simply wrote “none” in answer to the question. That would be lying and deception, again, per any dictionary.
And then there’s the curious emergence of Thomas’ wealthy right wing pal, Harlan Crow, who bankrolled Ginny’s tea party project to the tune of $500,000. Ol' buddy Harlan also treated the Thomases to luxurious vacations, and he contributed $150,000 to the construction of a museum in “Justice” Thomas’ hometown of Pin Point.
But there’s one more thing Harlan did for Thomas, with not a little irony. He made a gift of a bible that once belonged to the great civil rights advocate, Frederick Douglass.
Douglass once said "Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and it never will." Thomas by contrast once said "Good manners open doors that a good education will not." Not to mention a shitload of Harlan Crow money.
It is a good question where Attorney General Eric Holder will do anything about these accusations. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner was leading a campaign in the House to examine Thomas’ possible ethical lapses, but with not a little help from himself, the powers that be silenced him.
And so it goes, a long way from the coke can to the Koch Brothers, a career – not yet over – of treading on as many rights and freedoms as his predecessor sought to preserve. “Justice” Thomas has been ensconced, at Scalia's right hand, for lo these 20 years, sitting silently in Thurgood Marshall's seat, his tiny feet lost in Marshall’s enormous shoes.
Submitted for your approval as we celebrate the birthday of this nation, and where it’s headed, and the quality of those who are taking us there. We are a land of Lincoln, and a land of Bush. We are a land of Marshall, and a land of Thomas. One will prevail, but not both.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
This wrath of God twofer might’ve ended there, except leave it to the mind of man’s most heinous invention ridiculously close to the epicenter: nuclear power. In a deadly irony, this same nation of Japan, the only nation (that we know of) to suffer the devastation of deliberate nuclear explosions had brought upon itself, 66 years later, another radiation catastrophe. And in a sort of Hiroshima / Nagasaki revenge scenario, there remains danger, at this writing, that by sea or by air, this radioactive contamination could reach the west coast of the United States. “Biblical proportions” now seem an inadequate description.
But God can hardly be entirely blamed for the last third of the Japanese disaster. A scant 11 months after British Petroleum’s deep water drilling gambit exploded, and kept profusely bleeding black blood into the Gulf of Mexico for weeks, the work of greedy, short sighted men helped out immeasurably. They bet their profits against an earthquake in Japan. They seem to have lost the bet. Similarly, some years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers took short cuts building the famous breached levees protecting New Orleans, figuring the odds were enormous against a category 5 hurricane – we now know it was Katrina – hitting the area and uncovering their incompetence. “Who knew the levees could be topped?” declared Pres. Bush. Nuff said.
And, similarly, Halliburton allegedly cut some corners on their concrete pour at the BP Gulf of Mexico oil drilling site. They were just doing what they do, taking money and not putting it into their work. What were the odds their handiwork would give way when there was a precious mother lode of Texas Tea to be had? 11 men instantly paid the price for that lost gamble.
So, what were the odds a 9.0 earthquake would hit the northern coast of Japan, where sit archaic nuclear power plants, whose generating systems were locating below ground, where, say, a tsunami could destroy them and expose the vaunted fuel rods to meltdown? And it is not over yet, and may not be for a thousand years, per the nuclear clock.
Yes there was Chernobyl – exactly 25 years ago – but here was a nuclear meltdown considerably closer to home, considerably more in keeping with the times.
And one might guess the hidden evils of nuclear power by the company they keep: it is in the pro-big business lexicon to lump together oil, gas, “clean” coal and nuclear as our energy policy. Wind and solar are mocked along with steam driven cars, or damned with faint praise “oh yes, them too.”
So as might be expected, nuclear power has as fierce a lobby, and has purchased as many members of congress as big oil, big gas, and big Pharma. Even as Japanese kamikaze soldiers were risking their lives feebly attempting put their fingers into a radioactive dyke - which saw the government order U.S. citizens in the area to move 50 kilometers away from ground zero - U. S. Senator Lamar Alexander went onto the floor of the U. S. Senate to express concern about us pussying out on nuclear power (like, say, the one to be built in his state) just because of a little mishap. The mishap being a “China Syndrome” meltdown so close to China that it might well be called a “USA Syndrome”.
And so the voices of corporate puppets quickly checked in, in what might be called a preemptive action. The Republicans are familiar with preemptive actions.
It is all eerily reminiscent of Katrina tool Michael “Brownie” Brown arguing to continue to “drill baby drill” even as oil gushed into the Gulf – and blaming Obama for “politicizing” the disaster as a possible cynical means to bolster his argument against further off-shore drilling.
In any case, it seems as though their panic wasn’t necessary, or, more cynically, may have been heeded, as plans are afoot for both nuclear power plant building and deep water drilling.
These and meltdowns of various kinds are happening at an interesting time:
March 25, 1911. Just months after huge labor protests rocked New York City contesting the conditions for garment workers – and demanding unionization and workplace regulation - a fire broke out on one of the lowers floors of the Asch Building in lower Manhattan. Within 18 minutes, 129 of 300 women sewing machine operators on the 9th floor Triangle Shirtwaist Factory were dead. 17 men also died. Many burned to death, many jumped to their deaths. They were mostly immigrant women from poor families, ranging in age from 48 down to 14 years. Exit doors were locked, as was routine, to prevent workers stealing scraps of fabric. The guy with the key escaped to safety.
Cops who had battled these workers during the labor unrest now retrieved their bodies and belongings. When the city of New York refused to allow unions to conduct a mass funeral – fearing it would be used for “political purposes”, union workers refused work on April 5, and 100,000 people joined in a silent march. The workers became unwilling martyrs to a great cause.
The owners of the company who were at work in the offices on the 10th floor, also escaped. They were tried and quickly acquitted for manslaughter, and in the bargain collected a huge insurance payoff, amounting to $400 per victim. They did lose a civil suit, and were ordered to pay $24 per victim.
A corrupt Democratic machine ran New York in those days – it was called Tammany Hall. They supported business, period, and weren’t too keen on unions and workers, much less immigrants and the poor. Suffice to say the owners of the Triangle factory were well connected with Tammany Hall.
Tammany good old boy, Alfred E. Smith, the future governor of New York, ultimately did not fall into lockstep – such was the public outrage. He headed a commission to investigate the tragedy. Changes were made rapidly by the New York state legislature. Frances Perkins, FDR’s future labor secretary, and the first woman cabinet member, was a member of the commission and had been in lower Manhattan, watching shirtwaist workers jump to the sidewalks below. Perkins declared that “The New Deal was born on March 25, 1911”. For nearly 70 years since, the routine for American labor has been the protection of unions, and the regulation of workplace safety.
But something else happened in 1911: Ronald Reagan was born.
Nearly 70 years later, in January of 1981, he was inaugurated President of the United States. He was supported by forces long keen on fighting the New Deal, and its unions and regulations. Reagan was eager to oblige, as were his Republican progeny over the next 30 years.
One might said the attack on the New Deal commenced practically the same year it was born.
March 11, 2011. As we honor the 100th anniversary of the Triangle tragedy, governors of at least five states most notoriously Scott Walker of Wisconsin, as well as those of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Florida, led an obvious Koch Brothers fueled Republican gambit to gut unionized government workers of their ability for collective bargaining. Much of such bargaining involves not only pay and benefits, but also workplace safety – the very things the shirtwaist workers of 1911 fought for, and for which whose martyrdom paved the way… until another veteran of 1911, Ronald Reagan, started undermining their gains. In his strident pronouncements, Walker has often invoked the name of Ronald Reagan as his inspiration. Reagan, the one thing to come out of 1911 that Walker honors.
Wisconsin legislature Democrats walked out and famously disappeared to deny Republicans quorum - their version of a Mitch McConnell filibuster - to successfully prevent the legal passage of Walker’s draconian measure. Emphasis on “legal”. But Walker managed to do it through some illegal maneuvering on this day, two weeks short of the Triangle fire centennial. A judge has blocked the move. The governor ignored her. The judge blocked again. Now the governor and the state’s attorney general are “confused”.
# # #
But the thin dyke between us and the Republican nirvana of a Somalia West (or Texas), where there are many guns and little government, may have more holes than the Democratic Dutch Boy has fingers, with this ferocious war on labor that seems to be spreading – at least to Republican controlled enclaves.
Our political opponents have rocketed across the Rubicon of rationality, but they have crossed whatever the line is that the Rubiconians refer to as the Rubicon. They have not only deigned to touch the “third rail” of Social Security, but Rep. Paul Ryan (and a fellow Walker Wisconsian) has grabbed with both hands, and is apparently putting it on display in his trophy room – daring Democrats to challenge “without lying”.
They have gone to a land to the east of the east of Eden, west of the Twilight Zone, where Nixon, Eisenhower and even Goldwater would now be considered RINOs, if not socialist/communist/terrorists, and subject to birth certification. What is that if not a nuclear meltdown of our system, and, if these fanatical Republicans now in power, and their Supreme Court enablers have their way, the America we have known?
March 24, 2011. A day before the 100th anniversary of the Triangle shirtwaist factory tragedy, Governor Paul LaPage of Maine ordered a mural in the Department of Labor building to be erased… a mural that is homage to labor’s progress and achievements. Maine. A blue state, generally… where the "purple sisters", Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, are Senators, perhaps the last ones on the Republican side of the aisle (but probably not for long).
March 25, 2011. Exactly one hundred years after the tragic fire, at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, in northern Japan, the one on the verge of The China Syndrome after the March 11 earthquake/tsunami combo, two workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were hospitalized for radiation exposure after they stepped into radioactively contaminated water while laying electrical cables in the basement of the building housing reactor No. 3. At this writing, radioactive water is spewing into the Pacific Ocean, and its fate remains incredibly uncertain, not to mention the fate of the inhabits of the region, the food supply of the region, or indeed the livability of the region. The nuke builders took a shot, and, good grief, go know - up came snake eyes, a royal flush was dealt, the coin landed on its edge.
April 5, 2011 In keeping with the mendacious and hypocritical politics of our times, no sooner had Obama announced his intention to run for re-election in 2012 than opposition TV ads popped up.
The “drill baby drill” folks are sliming Obama for the BP oil spill, which they want to risk more of, and quickly.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
In November of 2000, Democratic Presidential nominee Al Gore “lost” the initial Florida count by 587 votes. Ralph Nader collected 97,488 votes. No doubt 587 of those Nader voters would ordinarily have voted for Al Gore, allowing for even 97,200 who just wanted to vote Green, loved Nader, hated both Democratic and Republican parties. Some could also argue, that, thanks to confusing “butterfly” ballot designing in heavily Jewish populated districts of south Florida, many of Pat Buchanan’s 17,000 votes were in error – magnifying the significance of the proactive Nader vote. Had GORE been awarded the 287 vote margin after the initial counting, and been projected the winner by all networks, perhaps then Antonin Scalia could not have been credibly concerned about any violation of George W. Bush’s “civil rights”, we would have avoided the HDDSCD#1 (Horrifying Democracy Destroying Supreme Court Decision #1 – Citizens United being HDDSCD#2) and, most important, avoided HDDP#1 – Horrifying Democracy Destroying Presidency #1, that of George W. Bush. I am being both pessimistic and realistic when I refer to Bush’s presidency as HDDP “#1” – because thanks to HDDSCD-2, I fully expect a HDDP#2.
The one thing well learned from the Cold War is that the scary USSR had one thing correct: Pravda. We scoffed at how that organ lied to its people. We scoffed, while others in our government learned.
But still, aren't there more of "us" than "them", more of "us" who are necessarily policy wonks but know what's good, and decent, and compassionate and American. More young people, more minorities. Why does more = less? Wisconsin – big blue state, (although yes, it did produce Joseph McCarthy in 1947). Why are they electing this guy? Ohio went blue in 2008, after Ken Blackwell and diebold's election theft of 2004. Well, in 2010, they went for Kasich. Maine's bluer than blue; even its two Republican senators are at least purple. But now they have some tea party governor.
Well, let’s look at the voting public. Who’s voting with glee? But also, who is not voting. Is Boehner’s crap REALLY “what the American people want”? Or just 20% of them, the ones that vote, and, the Koch Brothers. So after the relief of getting some non-Bush into office in 2008, and achieving victory for the amazing Barack Obama, wha happen? Well, many things. Perhaps Obama couldn't or wouldn't act as fast and as progressively as he could, given the disastrous (and well calculated) inheritance from Mr, Bush. Obama was confronted with a right wing megaphone on steroids.
But perhaps more sinister, he was also confronted with a rather demanding liberal class demanding a quick cure of Bushitis. They had expended time, money and enthusiasm on electing this "hope we can believe in". "We are what we have been waiting for" was absolutely correct. Then there was the healthcare "debate", where Obama faced the unique problem of being opposed with feudal error by those on the payroll of the health insurance companies and those who expected Canadian healthcare for all. He coughed up as much as he could to the first, and naturally still got spanked - they never are deterred by facts.
But the coughing up, despite the "first step" gains of "Obamacare", devastated liberals. Liberals, experts at the circular firing squad approach to such political defeats, decided the best approach in November 2010 would be to punish Obama by not voting. The right wing echo chamber naturally encouraged this discouragement with fervor, Polls were flouted that showed Obama's favorability numbers flagging, and relentlessly predicting Republican victories all over the country.
The Enthusiasm Gap grew, as the young folks, feeling betrayed and discouraged with fallen expectations returned to their Wiis. And with the immigrant demonization programs, most ardently displayed in Arizona, many brow people, concerned with confrontations at the polls - promised by Republican thugs - were skittish. And the extraordinarily strident "tea party" people, actually fueled by the Koch Brothers, Dick Armey and other anti-Demcoratic icons, were feverishly getting out the vote especially in local districts where they had been able to beat up Democrats and disloyal Republicans alike in those "town hall meetings" in 2009.
The irony of 2010 is that true progressives in fact did well. It was those scaredy cat Dems running as Republicans, such as Blanche Lincoln, were trounced by ACTUAL Republicans. Harry Reid survived, but, back to Wisconsin, the great Russ Feingold did not. Sure enough, Democratic voters stayed away, and quickly and eagerly filling the vacuum was a class of Republicans never before seen.
And so, Wisconsin has Governor Walker. And so, Wisconsin. But of course we know there's no real "Tea Party" ethos, as espoused in bumper stickers - stuff about smaller government, protecting our borders, and managing the deficit. That's the sizzle they are selling, with not a little undertow of racism (the frightened John Boehner can never completely dismiss the birthers, less he turn off a legion of haters who vote). No, we (the informed) knew what Scott Walker was up to, and it had nothing to do with responsible spending, and budget balancing; rather he is the initial cannon shot of a broad Republican corporate strategy - the war on the middle class, the war on the New Deal, the war on unions initiated by Walker's hero Reagan. Bust the unions, and then they aren't organized to support Democratic nominees. Strangle public services, such as heath and education, by withholding money, and people are too busy scrambling for survival or sufficiently dumbed down to worry about informing themselves on how to vote.
And then, as they always do, Walker busted himself. Punked by a journalist pretending to be his benefactor David Koch, Walker admitted to his real ploy, toady that he is. They implode, they always do. Is Frank Luntz working over time to save his ass, so that Kasich can do the same stuff in Ohio, and LePage in Maine, and Snyder in Michigan, and Daniels in Indiana?
But this battle raging now is the price of staying away. There is even talk among some of my progressive friends of "voting green" in 2012, as if the complete the deal.
Imagine how Citizens United beneficiaries are to take the White House in 2012, if for no other reason than to pack the Supreme Court with even more Scalias and Alitos. And there's not just money for TV ads, there's all manner of vote suppression in the works. Hosni Mubarak could have learned something from the take no prisoners approach. We mock him and Gaddaffi who will stop at nothing to maintain their power. Well, they have nothing on Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers. This is the price to pay for staying away.
History of sorts was made in 2010 - but about as opposite as possible to what happened in Egypt, which we admired and supported so much. They were clambering for democracy… while we are doing our best to discard it.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Mort Sahl, the great social satirist once famously said during the height of the red scare / blacklist era of the 1950’s: “For every American the Russians throw in jail, HUAC throws in one to get even”. His night club joke was based in cold reality. Any dissension on the part of journalists, politicians or commentators (or even actors and screenwriters) during those times the Cold Warriors routinely referred as anti-American, a traitor. Or Communist.
Sahl himself somehow got away with his puncturing of the powers that be, because other powers that be were getting tired of the brazen totalitarianism of the anti-Communism crusade, especially its obvious corrupt politicization. Sahl’s comment, and others, was a stinging underscore of the hypocrisy – getting people to shut up is not a proper exercise of the “freedom of speech”.
It also hurts our international lecturing. How credible is it to decry Russia of its taking political prisoners while in effect doing the same. No more credible than lecturing Russia on the honesty of its elections when we suffered through Bush v. Gore and Diebold machines. Even President Putin made this precise point to a sanctimonious Mr. Bush. And now we shocked, shocked to find that Iraq, our new democratic child, is torturing prisoners. After Abu Ghraib, might be a little tough to launch a huge protest.
Mort Sahl, to finish the thought, eventually had a radio talk show on KLAC in Los Angeles in the mid 60’s. It was extremely popular, lambasting the purveyors of the Vietnam War and resistors to the burgeoning civil rights movement. And latterly he along with guests Mark Lane and Jim Garrison, district attorney of New Orleans, suggested that John F. Kennedy may not have been murdered by a lone gunman. Perhaps, there was a bigger conspiracy, given dying witnesses, contradicting evidence, and, of course, Arlen Specter’s “magic bullet”.
Sahl, along with compelling information from Lane and Garrison, had us questioning, in a very plausible manner, the nature of The Warren Report. The implications were startling to me. The United States government could not be trusted? Had dark forces within the government – rogue elements in the CIA or FBI perhaps - killed John F. Kennedy? And certainly, given the backdrop of the specious rationale for continuing the deadly adventure in Vietnam, were dark forces in the government conspiring to lie to us about that, too? And why not, while young people were being drafted and killed in the ever obviously pointless war, obviously corporations were getting rich. Corporations who gave a great deal of money to political campaigns.
What else were we blissfully unaware of? Was the “Communist conspiracy” bullshit, too, just a tool to keep us in fear, and suspicious of “dissenters” so that we’d be content with our barbecues, tract homes and Pontiacs? Of course the danger for the corporations went beyond that. Did Brylcreem really help me get chicks? Were my history books telling the whole story? Mort had me questioning everything.
Not long after he mounted this on air contemplation of the murder of JFK, Mort Sahl no longer had a radio show, to our great disappointment, chagrin. And loss. No doubt the analog to the network CEO in the film Network must have said to Mr. Sahl, “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and for that, you will atone!” As Sahl himself once said, "If you maintain a consistent political position long enough, you will eventually be accused of treason."
Was, in the end, Sahl just an obsessed conspiracy nut? Many thousands of us, his loyal listeners, were convinced otherwise, but we had no great power except in perhaps numbers, or votes. Still, in the end, Kennedy was dead, LBJ ensured that the war raged on bigger than ever, and this particular a voice of dissent was silenced from the airwaves.
They could do that then. And they are doing that now. And, oh my, have they gotten so much better at it.
The bullets over Safeway in Tucson on January 8, 2011 should have been a surprise to no one. After all, how many times has this happened in just the last 15 years or so, starting with Timothy McVeigh’s attempt to start a holy war by blowing up some ATF agents, and a day care center, at the Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City? McVeigh was perhaps tinged by undiagnosed schizophrenia or PTSD after having experienced the first Gulf War. But additionally, he was most definitely besotted with relentless anti-government diatribe in books and media, which made sense to him. Ostensibly put over the edge by the Waco showdown, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He was put to death unrepentant, perhaps not a little puzzled his revolution didn’t start.
But of course, it did.
On Fox, right wing curmudgeon Bill O’Reilly relentlessly demagogued about “(George) Tiller the baby killer, murdering thousands of babies – for free!” – referring to the only OBGYN in Kansas (or even the greater Midwest) who would perform the medically necessary, and legal, “late term abortions”. Media Matters documented dozens of times O’Reilly invoked his catchy “Tiller the baby killer” on his program. And one day, in his church, Tiller was gunned down by an anti-abortion soldier who went to prison, likewise unrepentant, self-satisfied that he saved the lives of countless babies – and punished Tiller for the murder of others.
Glenn Beck, full of right wing piss and vinegar, after having helped run the community activist group, Acorn, out of existence, set his sights on something called The Tides Foundation – a similar nonprofit group, whose chief M.O. was basically to do good. Something they did rubbed Beck the wrong way, and from his bully pulpit, Beck harangued about them. And lo, a man with a gun embarked on a mission from his personal god to take them out. The California Highway Patrol interrupted said mission, mainly due to the man’s erratic driving. A shootout followed, then a court hearing. The man blathered on, using many of Beck’s words, about the evils of George Soros, the ACLU, The Tides Foundation and wanting to start a revolution.
As of election season, 2010, Sarah Palin, selected by one time sane U. S. Senator John McCain of Arizona to be his running mate in the ’08 election remained in the political firmament. Stung by the ’08 landslide, and then, of course, by such things as "Obamacare", Palin was there to help urge the conservatives and more specifically, the “tea party” to not be shy. “We don’t retreat, we re-load”. She even helpfully put out a map of targeted congressional districts – folks who had voted for healthcare and other bad things. They could easily be spotted on the map with gun sight markings. A cluster could be found indicating Arizona districts. One of them belonged to Gabrielle Giffords, a “blue dog” Democrat in district 8.
The anti-government zealotry, the gun metaphors, gun talk and indeed guns themselves were becoming more and more visible, particularly, it seems, since Obama’s election. In 2009, one guy even showed up to an Obama town hall speech in Arizona, with a huge weapon strapped to his leg. This was the summer of the healthcare “town halls” – beleaguered congresspeople lambasted, their meetings made chaotic, mainly by perfomers bussed in by Dick Armey’s “FreedomWorks” organization. Funded by the Koch Brothers, FW didn’t want this healthcare reform to pass. And so they advanced the myth, via willing TV cameras, that there was an angry, frustrated “grassroots” movement of “regular folks” against it. No doubt some real people got sucked into this bogus reality show. But really the biggest screamers were basically Jerry Springer Show attendees whose next gig was to disrupt otherwise civil discussions of the healthcare reform.
Violence is a useful tool, not just actual guns but the fierce anger and threats – it scares people. And congressmen and Senators are people, too. So they also get scared. And the media puts it all over the top. The overwhelmingly right wing voices sympathize with the yellers as if they are truly representative of the American public, and the remaining press seldom reported the Dick Armey busses.
And so, 50 years after Mort Sahl was fired, after a lot of work and wisdom, and the purchasing power of Rupert Murdoch, the corporate media was making sure the people got the story they wanted them to get.
Not long after the bullets flew at Tucson, piercing the brain of Representative Giffords and killing six others, including 9 year old Christina Taylor Green, speculation emerged – speculation based on prior events – as to what happened. Sarah Palin had provided the gun sight map to district 8, Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly and others had provided the frightening, generic rhetoric about the enemies on the left: “they are out to kill us!” Even Nevadan candidate Sharron Angle suggested there are “second amendment remedies” if the election didn’t come out as needed.
All it took was a guy crazy enough to actually take matters into his own hand.
And not long after Palin’s bull’s-eye map went viral – as did Gabrielle Giffords’ own words warning against such murderous rhetoric – the right wing media went viral, “correcting the record.” Palin herself became the victim, whimpering about being blamed for what a crazy man had done. Batshit crazy old bat, Rep. Virginia Foxx of South Carolina, said based on the readings of the guy, he was a “leftist”. Palin said the same, while trying to be, you know, civil and put this above the political fray. Others said “he was a just crazy guy. Period.” Except crazy guy didn’t shoot his family, the cab driver who drove him to the shopping center, or bagboys at Safeway. Crazy guy left a small paper trail, albeit suggesting he was indeed unglued – and, via YouTube, as a sign of the times, a video trail – which in part clearly indicated Giffords was his target. Was he a Palin fan? Who knows other than two + two = you know the rest.
But the overpowering volume of the right wing noise machine does its works and it is how it now does its work. By overpowering. There will be no discussion of aiding victims of mental disorders, which may have helped the Tucson shooter (and the Columbine shooters, maybe McVeigh and maybe others), no discussion of banning 30-bullet clips for hand guns, or even perhaps raising the price of bullets (Chris Rock suggests “$5,000 per bullet. Believe me, if a bullet cost $5,000, there would be no such thing as innocent bystanders.”). There has been, however, some discussion of Giffords resigning her post despite the rapid and miraculously recovery she was making!
Who can say whether enticing crazy people with guns is really in the back of their minds – I guess only the most awfully cynical among us - but once that crazy person uses that gun, or that explosive device, they cannot quibble with the results - no more than Bush and Cheney could quibble with the benefits reaped from 9/11.
And then there was Keith Olbermann. For me, the modern day equivalent of Mort Sahl and so many other voices not merely of “the left” but of “the Truth”. Again, in an act of “civility” called for in the wake of the Tucson tragedy, Olbermann took down his best segment “Worst Persons in the World” on his very next broadcast. Was Olbermann himself making the pointless point of attempting to make an example of liberal kindness, as if there will be some in return? Bill Maher essentially said, “Why is he pandering to people who don’t get the joke. Fuck them!” Olbermann was a small voice, given the loud din, in the wilderness, but a righteous one. Like Sahl, he opened up the worm cans on stories heard nowhere else. He had the saber-like wit to go with it, adding to his charm and power. He had been reprimanded and “suspended” –for two days – in November for having contributed personally to political campaigns – one of them the ill-fated Giffords; this while an entire NETWORK – Fox – admitted to being basically a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party!
That may have been fair warning that Olbermann’s days were numbered. Indeed, with dramatic suddenness, Olbermann said Friday (January 21st) was his last show. A symbolic gesture of civility? Or way too coincidental to the merger of NBC and Comcast? Way too coincidental to happen just in time for the State of the Union address – which no doubt Olbermann would cover alongside blabbermouth Chris Mathews. Way too coincidental to happen just in time for the new right wing congress’ takeover. The voice is silenced, and that in itself, warrants a Special Comment.
Whatever, they’ve done it again, as they did to Mort. A favored voice is out of the picture, way too coincidental to believe it has nothing to do with these dramatic and tragic times. They could just not afford that voice to be heard.
The bullet through the congresswoman’s brain was tragic, but it worked. It ravaged, it silenced, it frightened, it warned.
I leave with one last musing from Mr. Sahl: "There were four million people in the American Colonies and we had Jefferson and Franklin. Now we have over 300 million and now we have Palin and Boehner. What can you draw from this? Darwin was wrong!"