Saturday, December 13, 2014

Stop - You Guys Are Killing Us

In response to a New York Times article on whether or not those in the Bush administration responsible for torture should be pardoned, a commenter named Randy F. offered this suggestion:

“how about we give them medals for making hard decisions during a time of war – we were attacked, remember?”

What Randy F. may be forgetting is that we were attacked at Bunker Hill in 1775, at Fort Sumter in 1861, and Pearl Harbor in 1941. Yet neither General Washington nor President Lincoln nor Franklin Roosevelt suggested that we sanction torture because “we were attacked.”

In fact, our enemies, the British, burned Washington DC to the ground in 1814, and the Soviet Union threatened to annihilate us with nuclear weapons during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, yet none of these existential threats to our nation led us to play the “We were attacked, so it’s time to authorize torture” card.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few Americans who agree with Randy F., claiming either that what our government did was not torture, or that torture under the circumstances was justified. Vice President Cheney, during a Fox News interview, argued that, “We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack,” adding, “We were successful on both parts.” He characterized the recently released report on CIA torture as “full of crap.”

Why are people like Cheney ready to throw out normal standards of decency in the face of threats much less ominous than many we have faced in the past? Is it unprecedented fear or self-serving arrogance that has brought about this new American attitude?

It is true that we were the only major power of World War II that did not suffer horrendous destruction from enemy bombing of civilian targets, so perhaps we have been singularly naïve in a way that has heightened our reactions. The shock of seeing thousands of civilians killed in terrorist attacks in the heart of two of our major cities made us suddenly mindful of our vulnerability. Perhaps Britons, Germans or Japanese would have been less shocked at such tragic losses, given their memories of World War II.

But would any American leaders have sanctioned torture in 2001, or is there something about Bush and Cheney that made them more likely to do so? It is true that there is something about the right wing mentality that says, “If this doesn’t affect someone I know, then it’s not my problem.”

Dick Cheney, for example, who is “severely conservative” on almost every issue, took a stand in favor of gay rights when faced with his daughter’s lesbianism. Republican Senator Rob Portman underwent an identical adjustment in attitude. In 2013 he suddenly declared his support for gay marriage, attributing this change to his son coming out as gay.

And John McCain, the one Republican forcefully speaking out against torture, is famous for having endured torture in Hanoi. Would he be more like his fellow Republicans, Bush and Cheney, on this issue if he himself had not had to endure torture?

Whatever it was that made our leaders give torture thumbs up, I hope the release of this report helps return us to our old way of thinking, the way of Washington, Madison, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy. We were unquestionably a better country when our leaders considered it profoundly immoral to waterboard, to rectally hydrate, to torture to death through hypothermia, and so on.

And what to do about our shameful past on this issue? Honestly, I have no hope for Dick Cheney, but I would be mightily impressed if George W. Bush were to step forward, admit that we engaged in these grossly immoral acts, and apologize for them.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Immigration Reform: Obama vs. Everything Good and Sacred

President Obama’s unilateral action on immigration reform has thrown the opposition into confusion. The president’s program will grant millions of undocumented aliens (1) authorization to work, and (2) protection from deportation. Those benefiting are immigrants who have no criminal record and who have been in the U.S. for at least five years. Some immigrants are disappointed with this, particularly those who have lived in the U.S. for 4 years and 364 days.

But the strongest backlash comes from the Republican Party which is hostile to the program because it violates their most fundamental principles, the ones that say anything Obama does is un-American and evil. Quite a few of them have accused President Obama of trashing the Constitution and becoming even more of a hideous dictator than he already is.

The New York Times quoted contractor Joey Hartline of Alabama who said he wanted President Obama “…arrested and tried for treason.” According to Mr. Hartline, Obama’s reform is an act of “domestic terrorism.”

But Hartline, an ordinary citizen, is only echoing his state’s Republican leadership. Congressman Mo Brooks, for example, wants to throw Obama in jail for five years. Five years doesn’t really seem that long which puts the Honorable Mo Brooks in danger of being accused of liberalism, especially when it comes on the heels of his claim that he would do “anything short of shooting” undocumented immigrants to stem the alien influx. His unwillingness to shoot immigrants places him well to the left of many Alabama Republicans.

Other Alabamans have been similarly unrestrained in their language. Kyle Davis, a former state trooper, angrily declared his opposition to immigration reform because “…a big majority of them’s dirty” (NYT). 

Mr. Davis obviously belongs to the Tea Party wing of the GOP, aka, the “them’s dirty” wing.

Texas Republicans are naturally unwilling to let themselves be outdone by these Alabamans. Senator Ted Cruz, for example, compared Obama to the Emperor Cataline, who tried to overthrow the Roman Republic, and Representative Lamar Smith said that through his executive order, Obama had declared war on the American people. I’m pretty sure that’s against the law, so we might want to wait to see how many years Representative Smith thinks the president should spend behind bars.

From South Carolina, Republican Trey Gowdy, who leads the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, denounced President Obama in a bitterly partisan attack which he insisted reflected neither a Republican nor a Democratic perspective.*

The visceral hostility of Tea Party Republicans has put the GOP leadership in a bind. People like Speaker John Boehner and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell want to express their vitriolic hatred of Obama, but they nevertheless recognize that immigration reform will help the people they truly care about, i.e., those people who happen to be corporations.

Cheap labor is good for profits, and cheap labor is exactly what immigrants have long supplied to the American economy. Furthermore, GOP leaders are worried that going along with the “them’s dirty” mentality of many Tea Party types makes it harder for Republicans to pretend not to be racists.

The Establishment GOP narrative agrees with the Tea Party base in claiming that Obama is both totally incompetent and an all-powerful dictator. For example, according to this narrative, in a clumsy, doomed-to-fail Stalinist maneuver, Obama provided health care to millions of impoverished Americans.

  First, I offer zem insurance, and zen, I enslave zem!   Mwahahahaha!

So what options does the GOP leadership have? As of now confusion seems to reign, but that may not continue for long. According to my mole in the Republican Establishment, who has been known to sometimes tell me the truth, the GOP leadership is planning to make no move to formally oppose Obama’s executive order, but will mount a major publicity campaign to keep the loyalty of the “them’s dirty” voters. This campaign will include a constant barrage of legalistic criticism aimed at the president. Strategist Ana Navarro, for example, admitted that President Reagan granted amnesty to immigrants through an executive order. Her legalistic argument was that Reagan could do this but Obama could not because, unlike Obama, Reagan was a trusted leader.

Beyond this, my inside source leaked to me a secret GOP plan to motivate the base with a contest in which the winner will be that voter who comes up with the most effective anti-immigrant sound bite. Previously publicized phrases such as “calves as big as cantaloupes” and “them’s dirty,” will be disqualified, but Party leaders believe this still leaves plenty of room for inventiveness. The winner will receive an attractive painting on black velvet depicting Mitch McConnell kicking Cesar Chavez in the groin.

Can this two-pronged attack offer any hope of holding the GOP together until 2016? As they say in Texas ¿quién sabe?

                                    Cesar Chavez 1927-2003

*Note to politicians: never forget to follow up your partisan onslaughts with the claim that your issue is “neither Democratic nor Republican.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hell Is for Sleazos

There was a time when the only citizens who enjoyed “Second Amendment rights” were those belonging to a well regulated militia.

But, since conservative presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan, began packing the Supreme Court with conservative fanatics, the originalist, common sense interpretation of the Second Amendment was rejected in favor of a looney interpretation in support of gun profiteers.

Even Justice William Rehnquist, a  conservative Nixon appointee, regarded the newly emergent pro-gun court as guilty of fraud (his word) in its bizarre interpretation of the Second Amendment.

The amendment, in its entirety, reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

In other words, gun ownership is not an inherent right for every nut case or conspiracy theorist in America.

The post-Reagan justices, however, (by five to four majorities) have decided that gun ownership is indeed the “unalienable right” of such nut cases or anyone else who, for any given problem, likes to keep murderous options on the table.

God willing, we will see a Democratic president in the White House after 2016 and she or he will put normal human beings on the court who will return the Second Amendment to where it stood for 200 years – as an adjunct to well regulated militias.

Part of our problem is that there are some rather cunning conservatives who are much better than the rest of us at conjuring up misleading verbiage. The very use of the phrase “Second Amendment rights” is an example of this. The gun lobby supporters have effectively created the impression that this amendment has nothing to do with militias, when, in fact, that’s all it has to do with (or did, until the court fanatics began to pretzelize its logic). The country would be well served if we could insist on the originalist phrase “Second Amendment militia rights.”

Speaking of language, even the very name of the NRA is dishonest. The real purpose of this organization is not to serve the interests of gun owners (the majority of whom want to see tighter regulation of gun sales). No, the NRA’s purpose is to serve gun manufacturers and sellers. Since these profit-driven industries are focused on maximizing profit, they will do anything to boost sales, and if this means the school shootings will go on, that’s not, apparently, a problem for them. And the NRA promotes their agenda, not the interests of the gun owners who favor tighter regulations. So, I have to believe that we will all benefit if, instead of saying NRA, we were to refer to this organization as the “NRA Gun Sellers’ Lobby.”

A little awkward, admittedly, but so much more honest than simply “NRA.”

While we’re on the topic of honest language, there are a few more phrases, foisted on the public by cheesy propagandists that need to be modified or replaced. One of these is “job creators.” Republicans spout this term when they want to continue the trend that diverts all of America’s wealth into the hands of those who are already super-rich. “Don’t raise taxes on the job creators!” is the slogan, implying that taxing Donald Trump will mean that your unemployed brother will never get a job.

But the real job creators are the middle class and the poor. The so-called “job creators” only create jobs when these ordinary citizens boost demand by spending their money. These people, the middle class and the poor, have the potential to create jobs, or at least they do when conservative policies don’t break their economic backs as happened in 2008 (and 1929).

Think about it: if people like Mitt Romney and Donald Trump really are the “job creators,” why the hell didn’t they start creating jobs in 2008?

Even the phrase “free market” is 90% bullshit. I think conservatives like to toss it around because the word “free” is closely tied to the idea of all that is good in America. But how “free” are so-called free markets?

When WalMarts started taking over retail sales in towns all across America (except for parts of Vermont!), the immediate result was that thousands of small business families that had operated freely for generations were crushed. “Theoretically,” these families could have got their hands on several billion dollars in loans, established contacts with slave-labor manufacturers in Asia, employed illegal tactics to stifle unions, funneled money to members of Congress who would write laws in support of their practices, and then competed “freely” against WalMart on its own terms. But only “theoretically.”

In reality, their only freedom, once their longstanding family businesses were bankrupted by WalMart, was the freedom to accept minimum wage jobs at WalMart, often shaped so as to strip them of benefits.

So is this capitalist market really free? As an Animal Farm pig might have said, “In capitalism, all of us are free, but some of us are freer than others.”

Because of the deceptively positive tone of the phrase “free market,” I recommend that every time some right-wing pundit tries to promote lower taxes and looser regulations on “job creators” for the sake of the “free market,” we call Bullshit! on his or her use of the phrase “job creator” and, furthermore, insist that he or she replace “free market“ with the more apt term “capitalism.” “Capitalism,“ I believe, is more morally ambiguous, and hence, more accurately represents what goes on in the corporate-dominated economic arena in which we now struggle to survive.

When Dante toured Hell, he found the Fourth Circle occupied by sinners whose souls were driven by Greed. Their punishment included spending eternity pushing huge weights, representing the wealth they had grasped at in their mortal lives. Here, I think, is where Dante might have encountered the “job-creating” Walton family, had 14th century Florence been afflicted by WalMarts.

Fourth Circle Dwellers with Their Money Bags

But where should the NRA Gun Sellers’ Lobby end up? Well, there is the Seventh Circle, reserved for the Violent. But maybe they’d have to migrate back and forth between the Seventh and the Eighth, the latter dedicated to those guilty of Fraud.

I don’t know, though. After this week’s killing in Seattle, and especially after the Sandy Hook children’s massacre of 2012, I’m inclined to think the NRA Gun Sellers’ Lobby belongs in the center of the Ninth Circle; I suspect this organization might be an avatar of Satan himself.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Who's a Fine Upstanding Governor?

I usually ignore political commercials because I assume that they are just like commercial commercials - i.e., thoroughly dishonest. Nevertheless, I have managed to catch glimpses of a couple of the ads being run by the Charlie Crist and Rick Scott campaigns. Based on these, I might be tempted to conclude that Florida’s candidates for governor both belong behind bars.

But this conclusion would only be half true, because Charlie Crist does not, in fact, belong behind bars. The GOP has accused Crist of being dishonest over and over again because in 2010 he migrated from Republican to independent to Democrat. In fact Crist did make this two-step party switch, but he did this because (a) he is an ambitious politician, and (b) the Republican Party has morphed into a lunatic ship of fools dominated by the likes of Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell.

To be fair, not all Republican are as nutty as Ted Cruz. Some of them incline more toward the thuggish side, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, for instance – who Rick Scott recently brought down to Florida as his upstanding character witness. Governor Christie dutifully declared that Scott, unlike Charlie Crist (the party switcher!), is a man of “honesty and integrity.”

And who would know more about honesty and integrity than Chris Christie?

One of Charlie Crist’s commercials included a video of Rick Scott sitting mournfully for a deposition looking anything but innocent. I haven’t bothered to track down the trial for which Scott was deposing and during which he apparently kept saying, “I don’t recall,” and taking refuge in the Fifth Amendment, but I’m guessing it related to his old company, Columbia/HCA. This is the Texas-based corporation that was found guilty of fraudulent billing practices, illegal kickbacks and other shenanigans and from which Scott was forced to resign his position as chairman and CEO.

No sooner did Scott successfully avoid indictment in the Columbia/HCA case and make his way to Florida than he managed to win the 2010 gubernatorial election here. Once in the governor’s mansion, he continued his obsession with medical issues. One of his favorite policies was requiring various state employees and welfare recipients to pee in cups in order to prove that they are drug free. This policy has been judged unconstitutional, but Scott has dedicated $381,654 of Florida’s budget to appeal this decision.

If this appeal succeeds, I wonder how my good friends and fellow professors at the University of Central Florida will feel about being told to step forward with their cups full of evidence. Or my friends in the teaching profession. Or anyone who works for the State of Florida for that matter or who benefits from welfare.

Scott has also been obsessed with cutting funding to public health departments. One result of this is that more people than ever are forced to seek care at privately owned medical centers – like those of Solantic, a company in which Scott’s wife holds controlling interest. As Rick Scott is no doubt aware, Florida law does not bar governors from implementing policies from which their family members profit.

Thank you, Florida legislators.

I will stop thinking about this race right now because currently it is “too close to call,” and I really can’t bear the thought that we might have to face another four years of …