Thursday, January 18, 2018
Since the Prevaricator-in-Chief called Haiti and the many nations of Africa "shithole countries" many news outlets have chosen to post headlines that posit that there is a "debate" over whether Trump is a racist. There is no serious debate over the matter. There are the "Trump-is-god's-annointed" faction led by Faux News and the faux-CHRISTIAN evangelical right-wing that insist that he's not racist or at least no more than their racist selves and then there are people with unclouded brains still connected to their brain stems who have settled the matter for themselves by acknowledging that he's the most racist president in the United States since Woodrow Wilson and possibly since Jefferson Davis.
If anyone should know about "shitholes" it's Trump's ass lickers like Sean Hannity, the hydra of Fox and Friends, Alex Jones, Richard Spenser, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Robert Jeffress, Paula White, Stephen Miller and a host of other alt-right racists. Yet these are the very same sleazy opportunists who come galloping to Trump's defense. They claim he didn't say what he, in fact, did say using Trump's own self-serving denial as if it might be fact.
Let us consider for a moment another of the Prevaricator-in-Chief's recent remarks . I quote:
“Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace, and do not represent American values or American fairness,” Trump said. “So we’re going to take a strong look at that. We want fairness. You can’t say things that are false — knowingly false — and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account. We’re going to take a very, very strong look at that. And I think what the American people want to see is fairness.”
Trump is a congenital liar. He is also disgraced by his own total lack of self-awareness. Whether those two irrefutable facts are exacerbated by a decline into senile dementia or not is a subject still, unlike his racism, actually open to debate. Yet that self-serving statement on liable laws is absolutely hilarious. Trump has libeled former President Obama. He is obsessed by continuously libeling Hillary Clinton. He has libeled most of his primary opponents in 2016 at one time or another.
Yet the most important fact is that there is no Federal libel law nor has there ever been anything even vaguely resembling such since the Supreme Court struck down the Sedition Acts of the 1790s in 1964. Trump doesn't know this because, as I have observed in the past, he is a moron. He has no knowledge of our laws and of few of our traditions. He has no knowledge of these things because he doesn't care to have that knowledge. Ever since Trump was a boy becoming a "self-made billionaire" because his Daddy made him one, he has been coddled and "yessed" by sycophants who have made him seem more intelligent and successful than he actually was. As long he wielded as such power as he had through ghost writers, assistants, lawyers and in heavily scripted and edited television appearances Trump's ignorance, racism, bigotry and incompetence got largely filtered out.
What most of those around him did not count on was that the presidency would unchain his ego. Winning the presidency has confirmed in Trump's limited mind the delusion that everything about him is the greatest, the most, the ne plus ultra. To Trump everything is about him. In his clouded mind the sun, the moon and all the planets revolve about Donald J. Trump who is the axis on which the Earth itself turns. That consummate egotism is even a factor in his "America First" policy because all other nations must be "shitholes" if they are not acolytes of Donald J. Trump. Also Trump's egotism allows him to be a thorough racist while claiming to be "the least racist person you'll ever meet". Racism is an evil thing. Since nothing about Donald J. Trump can possibly be evil, therefore, he can't possibly be racist. It is the same reasoning that allows a man who was 6 feet, 2 inches tall in his twenties to be 6 feet, 3 inches tall at age 71.
In George Orwell's 1984 Big Brother requires nothing less than the absolute, unquestioning love and submission of all his people. In Big Brother's world war is peace, submission is freedom. In Donald J. Trump's America lies are "alternate facts", racism is egalitarianism, truth is "fake news", criminality does not exist because all acts of the president are good and just, libel by Donald J. Trump and his minions is truth while truth by others exposing Trump's lies and criminality are libel. How long will it be before Trump explicitly claims the mantle of "Big Brother"? He has already told the marks he's conned that he's the only one who will tell them the truth. And how could that "alternate fact" from the "least racist person you'll ever meet" ever be a lie?
Sunday, January 7, 2018
Whether in the dark recesses of a closet or amongst the dust bunnies under the bed some children fear that there is some horrid monster lurking where light seldom reaches ready to slither out in the darkness to devour them. The fur, scales, claws and fangs may vary but the ravening evil of the monster remains regardless of the special form that monster takes. This insatiable, ever hungry monster lurks just out of sight ready to destroy and devour the unsuspecting.
We have spent over half a century alternately debunking those imaginary monsters in books like Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and Mercer Mayer's There's a Monster in My Closet as well as the monsters, Cookie, Grover, Oscar, Harry and Sweetums of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show while simultaneously reinforcing their existence in movies like Poltergeist, Gremlins, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween. For every "cute, furry, old Grover" there is a Freddy Kreuger lurking somewhere in a deeper, darker corner of our psyche.
Children in the dark aren't the only ones for whom monsters lurk in those deep, dark recesses. America as a nation has a monster in its closet and not just one. The monsters in our national collective closet come out far more often than we like to admit. Groups like The Minutemen, The Order, private militias, The Aryan Brotherhood, The World-Wide Church of God, the various neo-Nazi groups and Ku Klux Klan affiliates, the Westboro Baptist Church, the Oath Keepers lurk in the shadows. Meanwhile a raft of fundamentalist evangelical groups that falsely allege that they are both religious and Christian such as the 700 Club, Bob Jones University, Jim Bakker's ministries, the Family Research Council, etc. cloak themselves in religion so as to remain tax exempt while venturing out into the light to spew their poison. Similarly, a crew of Internet, radio and television talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Matt Drudge, the thugs at Breitbart, James O'Keefe III and the curious crew at Fox News seek the light to pervert the national dialogue and recruit for the monsters behind them in the umbral darkness.
Starting on June 16, 2015 we have seen an opening of the closet door. The noisome, eldritch monsters used to hide in the darkness have gleefully slithered out into the light in "free speech" demonstrations from Charlottesville, Virginia to Berkeley, California and Orlando, Florida to Seattle, Washington. Our Orange Fuhrer has given voice and permission to the monsters to come out of the closet and rage about murdering opposing demonstrators and accusing those who stand up for genuine free speech and true American values such as kindness, decency, diversity, neighborliness, and even democracy itself of being the heralds of Fascism.
I have written elsewhere about the attempt by the right wing to pretend that the Fascism they propound is actually a left wing movement. The fact is that the actual Fascists need to pretend that their movement is not a contemporary manifestation of the political philosophy of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. If their historically challenged supporters realize that the Republiscum are looking to undermine democracy in favor of their preferred totalitarian oligarchy their electoral majorities even in the most benighted areas would evaporate.
These closet monsters of the ultra-right-wing, "the alt right" as they characterize themselves, are really a racist, nationalist totalitarian death cult. They partake of the racism and bigotry of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, the nationalism of the anti-globalist, anti-United Nations and anti-free trade factions that hark back in name and spirit to the pro-Nazi America First movement of the early 1940s. They are totalitarian Fascists who believe that all control should be in the hands of a plutocratic corporate oligarchy that is deregulated while the population is heavily regulated as to voting, assembly and personal freedoms though they make an exception for personal freedom in owning firearms as long as it's they who own the bilk of them. They are also a death cult whether it's the fetishizing the military dead in monuments or actively seeking a nuclear holocaust as the fundamentalist evangelicals do to bring about their fantasy of a "Second Coming" and a "rapture". I believe that it is most useful to view these monsters as cultists because, whether the political or religious aspect is most prominent, they all evince the group think and mindless following of cults. They all drink their own particular kind of Kool-Aid though, unfortunately for the rest of us, it doesn't contain cyanide.
This monstrous lunatic fringe has always existed, swelling and contracting with external forces in our nation. Economic disparity among classes, uncertainty in politics, fears generated by self-interested parties and particularly this last, fear, unreasoning, overwhelming fear swells their numbers. As they swell these cultist closet monsters, like cockroaches, feel emboldened to seek the light until such time as the general population turns on them and they find the need to scurry back into the dark recesses of the nation where they fester and multiply like noxious bacteria on the wounds and fears of our nation.
Currently the chief cockroaches are out in the light in the White House, in Cabinet offices, corporate boardrooms and in demonstrations on the streets of cities. We need to get the most noxious of these into roach motels, our prisons, to keep them out of society where the disease they carry may spread to others. Once the most noxious are gone the rest of the roaches will scurry behind some wall and remain unseen until our nation once again loses its mind and allows a lunatic thug to lead again and tell these monsters that they can again leave their closets to horrify us.
Saturday, January 6, 2018
This is a difficult subject because there has been so much insanity during the year just now passing that it's hard to know where to begin. Even so, chronology always gives us a framework and a plausible excuse So I will start at nearly the beginning. I was traveling on January 20, 2017. I was on my way from Schenectady, New York to Windsor, Connecticut. In consequence i mercifully missed the inauguration. The next morning I entered my friend, Richard's, kitchen and heard Scott Simon on the radio speak the horrible words, "President Trump", at which point I nearly dissolved in tears.
A couple of days later I was again in transit from Windsor, Connecticut to Somerville, Massachusetts. As we were unloading my bags from his car I was not paying attention to where my hand was placed and my friend, Richard, was not paying attention to it either. The tip of the middle finger on my left hand got crushed in closing a car door. There was much pain and almost as much blood. Fortunately I was traveling with some first aid materials so I got the wound bound up reasonably well.
When I got on the Lakeshore Limited for the trip to Boston's South Station an African-American woman of about my age spontaneously took me under her wing, helped me get situated in a seat one row in front of her seat, helped me get my overcoat off and then stayed with me until we had to part to go our separate ways at South Station. She was wonderful and kind. I am still ashamed that I never got her name or have a way to thank her properly. As I struggled with my bags into the subway in Boston doing not very well with the struggle. A sweet voice said, "Would you like some help?" It was a tall, lovely, well dressed woman in her 20s who helped me get organized and to the correct subway platform. Once again, I did not get her name or give her mine during our brief encounter but I am still grateful for her help and kindness.
In short 2017 began for me personally in many acts of kindness from the time spent with my oldest daughter and her children to that spent with old friends to the random kindnesses of those two women on my trip to Boston. Unfortunately my nation has not been so lucky. The lesson from my experience on my trop to Boston I think is that we can still be kind to one another despite the terrible viciousness of the current mal-Administration. That said let me point out a few highs and lows of 2017 as it stumbles to a close.
- One of the epithets of satan is "the father of lies" implying that all lies come from him. Now I don't believe that there is a god or a satan but, for the moment, let's suppose that there is a "father of lies". If theree were such a creature who is all falsehood wouldn't the first thing he told anyone be, "Everyone else lies to you. I'm the only one who tells you the real truth,"? Wouldn't "the father of lies" characterize all attempts to expose his lies as "fake news"? Wouldn't he, the great crook of crooks., characterize anyone who opposed him as "crooked"? Wouldn't "the father of lies" characterize all attempts to end his dominion as an attempt at a "coup"? And wouldn't "the father of lies" depend on gullible and disaffected people to trust him and act on his lies, conspiracy theories and distractions from the truth? Those questions are the questions that ultra-right-wingers and other Trump supporters ought to be asking themselves but are too invested in his lies to even consider.
- Despite the wishful thinking of Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Hannity, Jean Pirro and other Trump asslickers there are facts and lies. If they aren't facts they are lies. Alternative facts are lies dressed up to disguise their actual nature as lies. No matter what shade of lipstick they try to put on that pig, it's still a lie.
- I have been a gun owner in the past. I had never heard of a Bump Stock. There is no point to an accessory that turns a semi-automatic weapon into a reasonable facsimile of a fully automatic weapon other than to mow down people while evading the long-established controls on fully automatic weapons in the hands of civilians. After an initial reaction supporting a prohibition on bump stocks the fanatic scum who control the NRA have reverted to type and now are stymieing legislation to prohibit bump stock sales. Clearly Wayne LaPierre and his NRA believe that their "good guy with a gun" is Stephen Paddock just before he fired the first shot.and quite possible there after.
- Evangelical fundamentalists simply started as the kind of Christian one would find in a ward for the brain dead on life support. They don't want to think about the meaning of their religion in the contemporary world. In fact, they have contempt for the contemporary world and focus on apocalyptic scenarios that invariably save the fundamentalist and his or her friends and damn everyone else. We used to hear from such folks that (their) morality was fixed and based on "god's law" as opposed to the "situational morality" of others. With the heavy evangelical support for Trump and Roy Moore these con artists and their conned have given up all claim to immutable moral authority as well as the fiction that they are a religious movement rather than a ne0-Fascist political movement cloaked in a tissue of religion for tax purposes.. The CHRISTIANS aren't Christians at all. The emperors like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jr, Patrick Graham, Bob Jones III, and James Robison, despite the tailored suits that their compliant sheep provide for them, they have no clothes and are not a pretty sight.
- Though I've done it, calling Trump a Nazi is not entirely just. He's a painfully insecure moron whose emotional development was arrested somewhere between age 3 and 6, a poseur oligarch with no taste and authoritarian/totalitarian tendencies. He's a little man sexually and intellectually probably in the early stages of the senile dementia we now call Alzheimer's disease.. In short there are many parallels to Adolph Hitler but he hasn't and perceptible charisma and can't orate his way out of a simple sentence. So I hereby apologize for calling Trump a Nazi in the past and in the future. He's just a Nazi wannabe which is certainly scary enough.
- I despise football. Truthfully I'm no great fan of any sports although baseball with its nearly 2 centuries of tradition and a certain amount of grace is tolerable. Football has always been a subject of my special and intense derision. I come by my antipathy to football from countless negative contacts with football jocks and former football jocks from my boyhood onward. Everyone of the football players with whom I have had personal contact has been a coddled, self-centred, mindless, knuckle-walking thug whose connection to humanity has been tenuous at best. And, as a footnote, everyone of those players with whom I've had the displeasure of personal contact has been white. Yet thanks to Colin Kaepernick's noble and decent stance against racism and Donald Trump's attempts to characterize the first noble thing I've been able to discern in football as unpatriotic subversion, I have been forced to think kindly of football players for the first time in my life. Just as Trump made Megyn Kelly a journalist, he's made football less despicable to me.
- Speaking of despicable, is there anyone on Faux News who isn't? If any Fox employee says, "The sky is blue." I need to check out a window quickly because it's probably green or red the amount of truth one can get out of any given Fox broadcast would fit in a thimble and leave plenty of room for the fattest finger.
- The Republiscum Party has been more of a criminal conspiracy than a ploitical party since the 1920s but only since the Nixon Administration has it been exclusively a criminal conspiracy. If Americans weren't such idiots in so many ways enough of my countrymen might have noticed that they were being fleeced and conned and have reduced the Republiscum to a vestigial representation in a few particularly benighted areas so that they could never muster anything like a majority or even a substantive minority again. We just can't count on our fellow citizens to be that smart unfortunately. If I were more optimistic I would hope that there are many more like the 2 women who helped me last January when I was in need. I wish that there were as fervently as I fear that there aren't.
- I don't care much that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the legislative leaders in their respective houses of Congress, are 77 and 67 years old respectively. They are both smart politicians. What I do care about is the Democratic Party running candidates for everything from the lowliest local board to the highest offices in the nation and running people in their 20s, 30s and 40s for those offices. My baby boom generation is large and still active but we have had our day, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pelosi, Schumer and many others are the senior leaders who need to be mentoring their successors and planning to get out of the way so that younger men and women can lead from here on out. I wrote it a year ago and want to emphasize it again. The people who should be our leaders for the 2020 elections and, also for 2018, should be of the generation born between 1965 and 1980 give or take a couple of years. If you watched the Howdy Doody Show as a child you are already too old to be our next president. If you watched Sesame Street before commercialism and Elmo turned it into just another expression of suburban values, you're the person we need in office now.
- We have always had neo-Nazis, Klansmen, other bigots, white supremacists, self-styled militia men and "Minute Men" and lunatic evangelicals. Add most of Fox news to that list of hate groups. What we haven't had was these cockroaches out in the light, even in the light from Tiki Torches. Vampires and cockroaches scurry away into the darkness when we shine light on them. However, in the anti-light of the Trump Administration it's o. k. to be part of one of these hate groups (and, yes, the fundamentalist evangelicals are hate groups of the most profound kind; they hate the entire world as it is and wish it destroyed for the fulfillment of their insane perversion of what salvation looks like) and stay out of the dark corners in which they normally lurk.We need to be rid of them by sending them back into the darkness where they belong and Trump and his scum along with them.
- The bigots have latched onto the concept of "Freedom of Speech" as a way to confuse the public about their right to spout their poison. Let me suggest that the kind of speech protected by the 1st Amendment to our Constitution requires both a speaker and a willing listener. Freedom of speech is meant to protect the exchange of ideas among thinking persons. Spouting bigotry whether it comes from some white supremacist screed or some chart Sean Hannity's fevered brain has constructed is not an exchange of ideas or even genuine thought. Still, a case can be made for allowing every lunatic to spout his nonsense. Yet the presence of a willing listener is where the lunatic spew of bigots fails in the equation that defines protected speech. If Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter want to spew their special brands of hate they have a right to do so. People who want to listen to their poisonous sludge are welcome to do so but that does not mean that those who oppose their views shouldn't be allowed to express their opposition. It also means that the broader community that includes people of all views should not be paying such scum to spout their bigotry. If, for example, a university pays for one of these scumbags to come and poison the conversation with their hate the students who oppose the neo-Fascists' views have a right to shut the whole thing down for misuse of their funds. On the other hand, if some group of campus bigots wants to invite Yiannopoulos, Coulter, Ricgard Spenser, Wayne LaPierre, Michelle Bachmann or some similar lunatic bigot to speak and pays their vastly inflated speaking fee out of its own funds, the opposition may demonstrate - free speech is, after all, free speech - but has no right to shut down the event because they are bot being forced to support, even indirectly, this waste of money. One person's freedom of speech is absolute in his own mind and to like-minded listener but ends when it abridges another's freedom of thought and speech. If we keep in mind that Freedom of Speech requires both the speaker and the listener the confusion that bigots seek to create fades away like the insubstantial fog it really is.
- Much like Freedom of Speech, one's Freedom of Religion also has limits. My religious practices or lack thereof are absolutely protected in private, in my house of worship and among my co-religionists. When my religion leaves those spheres and ventures into the public marketplace it is likely to run into the religion of others whose beliefs may well differ from mine. At that border where my belief system encounters someone else's belief system I have no right whatever to impose my beliefs on the other person. My freedom of religion does not permit me to impose my beliefs on another thereby infringeing on hios or her freedom of religion. If I am a baker in Colorado or a florist in Washington State I have no right to espress my religious beliefs when that deny other people my otherwise publicly available services. My freedom of religion or lack thereof is absolute within myself but so is that same freedom in every other person. You may oppose abortion or the use of contraceptives but you are infringing the absolute rights of others if you demand that your particular views be imposed of others who do not share them. If your freedom of religion supercedes mine then freedom of religion is meaningless for both of us.
- The claims for the Republiscum tax bill of 2017 come right out of George Orwell's 1984. Tax cuts for the wealthy are "middle-class tax cuts". Bringing home to the U. S. corporate cash currently parked in other countries will "create jobs".Theur assyrances come directky ffrim the NewSpeak Dictionary. Whenever a Republiscum says he's cutting taxes on the middle class you can be sure that no one but those who are already rich and paying that Republiscum's bills are going to get tax relief.
- I used to think that Republiscum existed on a scale of despicable monsters just above child molesters. I have Roy Moore to thank for the correction that, no, Republiscum are just below child molesters because they would promote one for high office.
Tuesday, January 2, 2018
Following the terrible mass murder in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017 Fox News' primary neo-Fascist lunatic (now that Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly are gone) Sean Hannity voiced his pre-teen fantasy. The heroic Mr. Hannity opined, "This guy's got a machine gun. O. k. How they gonna take him on without a weapon? Or if it's happening within a crowd...if they were in San Bernardino...do you want Sean Hannity, who's trained in the safety and use of a firearm in that room so when they drop the clip and start to reload you've got a shot; you've got a chance?"
Trevor Noah took Hannity's fantasy of heroics apart with more humor than his Faux News colleague did at the time Hannity was speaking but Hannity's fantasy remains.
I think that fantasy of never to be accomplished heroics is not just driving Sean Hannity to carrying around unnecessary weapons. I would suggest that the whole NRA sponsored fantasy of "a good guy with a gun" confronting the bad guy with a gun is just so much juvenile heroics. As a boy I took to the woods with my cap pistols and whether the current hero was Davy Crockett or Wyatt Earp or the much more elegant Bat Masterson I gunned down many an imaginary drunken cowboy, Ike Clanton or other bad guys lurking behind Connecticut trees that had seen nothing more dangerous than woodpeckers.
As an adult I became an owner of real firearms. They were almost always similar to the guns my boyish cowboy heroes carried. I had a pair of black powder revolvers like the Colt and Remington pistols carried during the Civil War, a Ruger .22 pistol designed to look like a Colt Peacemaker, a 12 gauge shotgun with external hammers, a Winchester .30-30 commemorative rifle and a Harrington and Richardson Trapdoor Springfield. I also had a World War II vintage M1911-A1 .45 semiautomatic pistol, a Smith and Wesson M27 .357 Magnum and the pistol I liked best a Interarms Mauser 9mm Luger. I liked that last pistol best not for any associations with Imperial or Nazi Germany but for its extraordinary pointing quality that put it on target almost without thinking. There were a couple of other guns as well. All of them were stolen during a break in at our apartment in August of 1979. The Ruger .22 resurfaced years later having been confiscated from a drunk threatening some neighbors but the others disappeared into the hands of one criminal or another. Even now, nearly 40 years on I have occasional nightmares about what damage they might have done.
What inspired my acquisition of those firearms was an incident in which a man who was drunk and beset by the DTs tried to get into my apartment in the wee hours of the morning while my wife and baby daughter were asleep in their respective rooms. I was able to shut him out and call the police who apprehended the drunk quickly. He was one of their regulars. Still, I couldn't get to sleep for hours that night because I was shaken. What if he hadn't been drunk? He came to my door as someone in distress. I opened the door to him as any decent person would to someone who seemed upset about something. It was only after the door was partway open that his liquor breath and story that he needed to hide from the Martians who were hunting him even as we spoke revealed the nature of his fear that I had something to worry about. Though I tild him that he should run down the nearby stairs and that I would wait for the Martians to tell them he'd gone the other way that he tried to push his way into my apartment. That was what frightened me, that and the what ifs. What if he hadn't been drunk? What if he'd had cronies? What if he or they had wanted to harm my wife and daughter? What if I weren't strong enough to beat back the attack with one of my kitchen knives? That was when I bought my first firearm out of fear and misplaced heroics.
Unlike Sean Hannity and the little boys who think that "open carry" will make them the men that they secretly know they are not, I grew out of my fascination, mostly. There are still companies that make replicas of the 1874 Sharps buffalo rifles that I would dearly love to own more because of their 19th Century elegance and grace than anything else. No matter. I have neither the money nor the serious interest to indulge in that fantasy let alone my horror of shooting so magnificent an animal as a bison and aging eyes that make my shooting skills ever more unreliable.
The fact is that there are little boys wandering about with AR-15s and AK-47s who think that having such weapons gives them power when, in fact, it only makes them pitiful. There are videos of a couple of instances where an alleged "good guy with a gun" blasts away at a would-be robber endangering by-standers more than the villain. And, of course there are the little boys who are bent on making their own warped version of heroics like George Zimmerman whose heroic defense of his neighborhood culminated in his murder of Trayvon Martin the dastardly invader armed with a candy wrapper. Also there have been several shootings of people who stopped at a stranger's home to ask for directions only to be met by a shoot first homeowner so angry and afraid that he couldn't or wouldn't understand what the person on his porch wanted. Cliven Bundy, his family and the lunatic "militia" men who gathered to his defense claim a god-given right to land and land use that has no establishment in law and is simply a way of avoiding payment for use of a resource that belongs to everyone in this nation, not just a cult of ranchers in arid land.
The fantasy of heroics in the minds of little boys like Sean Hannity drives the gun rights argument in the United States. Charlatans like Wayne LaPierre drum that fantasy into little boys' heads regularly. The ultra-right-wing blatherers on Faux News, Sinclair Media outlets and on talk radio spout fantasies of "black helicopters" and "jack-booted thugs", pawns of those less than 1% of the population that conspires in their bigoted minds to establish Sharia Law or take from its rightful white owners civilization to be handed to the degraded dark races. which thugs are out to get poor, defenseless, loyal citizens who want, need, must have assault rifles and stockpiles of ammo for the coming attack on liberty. It's all nonsense. It's fear-mongering at its worst abetted by apocalyptic religious fanatics who would see the world burn so that they could be translated to a paradise that exists no more than the Land of Cockaigne or Big Rock Candy Mountain.
Unfortunately little boys like Sean Hannity never really grow up. They are still out with their cap guns fighting imaginary bad guys behind every tree while the real bad guys, the George Zimmermans, Dylann Roofs, Adam Purintons, Stephen Paddocks and Devin Kelleys proudly assert their rights based on a heavily edited 2nd Amendment. Those murderers and become the real bad guys with guns even as they assure themselves that they are the "good guys" with guns just like that littlest, most pitiful boy, Wayne LaPierre told them they were.
Sunday, December 31, 2017
Everyone gets exercised by Gerrymandering of Congressional districts. It is troubling but it is also a symptom rather than the disease.
I have written about this before. The U. S. House of Representatives set its membership at 435 in 1927. In 1927 the U. S. population stood at approximately 119,035,000 persons. As of 2017 the best estimate of the nation's population is 325,340,000. Even the mathematically challenged will notice that there is a substantive difference in those 2 figures. The difference is 273%. Over the 88 years since Congress set its membership at 435 the nation has changed from one that was nearly evenly split between urban and rural (in 1929 the advantage had been slightly toward urban since the 1920 census) to the current division in which the U. S. population is more than 75% urban and only a little more than 24% rural. As I've written before we do not need a U. S. House with 267% more representatives. A House membership of 1187 would be pretty unweildy especially as that would mean that every nutball faction would have a significant contingent much like the current, Orwellian named "Freedom" Caucus. But a House of around 668 members (based on the overall population of the country, 662 when apportioned by states) would be more representative of the population.
First let me point out that the U. S. House was designed in the Constitution to be a body representative of the population. According to the Constitution every state must have at least 1 representative sitting in the U. S. House. After that representation is supposed to changed based on population. That link between the population and the membership of the House is why the Constitution mandates a decennial census. The census exists specifically to reapportion the House Until 1920 the membership of the House grew as the Constitution and the framers of that document intended with each census and the admission of each new state. That is why we had 66 Representatives in the first Congress and have had 435 since 1929 and, note that the number of 435 did not change despite the admission of 2 new states, Alaska and Hawaii, in the 1950s. It has only been since 1920 that the House has refused to adjust for population growth. A coalition of rural interests both Democrat and Republiscum has fixed the membership at 435. That number was defensible into the 1940s but has not been a reasonable limit since at least 1950. The point is that keeping the House at 435 representatives actually violated the Constitution's imperative that there be roughly equal representation for all of the people of the United States.
Let me suggest that you, reader, look at two irrefutable facts that make keeping the House at a membership of 435 a crime against the people of this nation as well as against the Constitution.
The first example is the election of Donald Trump as U. S. President in 2016. Trump's electoral map gave him enough Electoral College votes to become president largely by grabbing rural states with disproportionate representation. The Electoral College consists of the total number of representatives and senators from each state. By skewing representation toward rural states and away from largely urban ones this places greater power in the hands of a state like Iowa or Kansas than new York or even California with their far greater populations and greater number of representatives.Take Wyoming, for example. In the last year Wyoming has lost population according to the U. S. Census and now stands as a single Congressional district at about 487,000 persons. Montana, just to its north, has a population of 104,000,000 with one lone representative also. Were the House reapportioned based on Wyoming, Montana would have 2 Congressional districts because its population is more than twice Wyoming's. New York with a population of about 19,750,000 people would have about 40 Congressional districts as opposed to its current 27. Iowa currently has 4 Congressional Districts but, if equalized for Wyoming, would gain 2 more districts while California, with a current 53 districts would have 80 or 81 districts.
With an Electoral College of 651 or 762 members (based on 551 or 662 Representatives plus 100 Senators) a president would require at least either 434 or 508 Electoral College votes to win the presidency. If the 2016 election were played out with a 762 member Electoral College Donald Trump would have fallen short of the 508 votes needed. He would have had 440 Electors while Hillary Clinton would have had 322. The Electoral College vote would have been inconclusive which would have thrown the election into the House of Representatives where each state got a single vote regardless of its population. Trump would probably still have won by carrying 30 states to Clinton's 20 but the outcome would have been far less certain given the many reservations about Trump expressed even by members of his own party.
Let me also point out that it would be far more difficult though still possible to Gerrymander 662 Congressional districts to exclude some racial or ethnic groups than it is to Gerrymander 435. That is precisely why the fuss over Gerrymandering is both justified and a waste of time and energy. We should really be looking to change the composition of the U. S. House of Representatives to create smaller districts more consonant with the intentions of the Constitution than they are at present.
As the second reason why changing the composition of the House is essential and urgent is the just recently passed Republiscum tax bill that limited for the first time in our history the deductibility of state and local taxes. This change in the law falls heaviest on those states that voted Democratic in 2016 while changing little if anything for states that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. A much more evenly divided House, withh more substantive representation from more urban states, could not have imposed such a burden solely for ideological purposes.
Not all of the additional Congressional seats will be filled by Democrats nor will all be filled by Republiscum. Who will fill those seats are representatives who have a closer connection to their constituents, whose districts can't regularly meander all through a state picking out "safe" populations, whose constituents will more often have some diversity of identity and a commonality of interests. That commonality of interests is, perhaps the most important factor of all because a district of farmers undiluted by a large urban centre will have common interests on which to cast their votes. Primarily urban districts will have a commonality of interests on which to cast their votes too. Mixed districts will be smaller and need to come together to reach understandings and compromises that honor the interests of all rather than one, simple dominant group. And that, dear reader, is what the men who sweated through the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia intended for our nation. Perhaps we would do well to honor those intentions as we did for early a century and a half after they were expressed in the Constitution.
The U. S. Supreme Court could intervene and declare the persistent 435 membership of the House to be in violation of the Constitution but the presence of 5 Republiscum on the court makes anything like the one man, one vote decisions of the 1960s highly improbable. In fact a slightly less ideological court has already refused to hear a case that would have made Wyoming the standard for Congressional districts.
The current Congress won't change the composition of the House nor will a chamber dominated by Democrats should the 2018 elections change control of that body. Only if we start at the grassroots and demand a House that is truly representative of the nation's population will we ever get beyond Gerrymandering and purely partisan legislation. If the citizens are incensed by having their will diluted by being packed into ever larger Congressional districts ever more subject to perverse Gerrymandering then and only then will we regain some control of our democracy. Citizen control of our democracy! That's an interesting idea, now, isn't it?
Thursday, December 28, 2017
I give you the organization of ultra-right-wing lawyers and jurists that calls it self, in the typically Orwellian fashion of the neo-Fascists, The Federalist Society. was founded by some ultra-right-wing law school ideologues at Yale, Harvard and the University of Chicago in the early 1980s to promote the "strict constructionist" or "originalist" view of the Constitution that it cannot mean anything that is not expressly stated in the Constitution. The Society's early impulses were to attack "legislating from the bench" which the Society's members saw as attacks on their ultra-Conservative ideology. They have since deemphasized that initial bugaboo of theirs because their justices do a lot of legislating from the bench in favor of their preferred ideology (vide District of Columbia v. Heller and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores or Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission as but 3 examples).
The Federalist Society claims to be the central defender of the "originalist" interpretation of the U. S. Constitution. We should note that "originalist" is a new term replacing "strict constructionist". The term "strict constructionist" became inconvenient when the Society's ultra-right-wing members began flouting Constitutional interpretation that goes back to the George Washington Administration in decisions such as those that I have cited above. The Society that insists that the Constitution is a "dead" document in that it only and ever means only what it meant in 1787 plus a few amendments that their funders like. It uses a silhouette of James Madison as its logo despite the fact that Madison and Alexander Hamilton argued in The Federalist Papers that it must be a living document able to respond as they arise to unforeseen changes that time and the needs of the nation impose on it. That position, the "dead" Constitution that the insufficiently late Antonin Scalia championed, is and always was a fraud, It was simply an extreme interpretation meant to preclude any ability of the Federal government to respond to the predations of local and state governments on the rights of individuals as in Jim Crow laws, imposition of sectarian religious requirements on the general population as in anti-contraception and anti-abortion laws and the like.
In previous decades The Federalist Society contented itself in putting forward right-wing legal scholars for judgeships. Robert Bork, Antonin Scalia and Alex Kozinski being prime examples. We were spared Robert Bork as a Supreme Court justice as much because he was low enough to fire the original Watergate Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox, as his bizarre ultra-right-wing interpretations of the Constitution. Bork was dishonorable enough to blindly follow orders and fire Cox after Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Assistant Attorney General William Ruckelshaus had enough decency and personal integrity to refuse that demand from President Richard Nixon as he tried to cover up his criminal activity.
Now that the neo-Fascists have taken over our government we have dispensed entirely with honor, decency and integrity and The Federalist Society has taken over the role of vetter for Federal judgeships from the "Liberal" (i. e. not bought and paid for by the Koch Brothers, Mercers and Mellon-Scaifes) American Bar Association. This organization of far-right thinking and far-right minded and far-right beholden lawyers has done its due diligence and brought forth the likes of Brett J. Talley, a nominee for a Federal judgeship in Alabama who was so unqualified that he had the good sense to withdraw his name from consideration rather than face full disclosure of his ignorance of the law. Next we have Matthew Spencer Petersen who couldn't even explain points of law that first year law students should know. Mr. Petersen had so little self-respect that he submitted to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, exposed his total ignorance and only then had the decency to withdraw his name from consideration. Also we have Thomas Alvin Farr nominated to the court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Mr. Farr was the counsel for the late (but no where near late enough) Senator Jesse Helms. For those with short memories, Sen. Helms was a Bible-thumping, homophobic racist who based hid campaigns on dividing the people of North Carolina on the old lines of hate and fear abetted in that bigotry by Mr. Farr.
Then comes the case of Judge Alex Kozinski who's been on the Federal bench of one sort or another since 1982. Judge Kozinski seems to share with his Supreme Court colleague, Clarence Thomas, an affinity for pornography. Now Judge Kozinski has resigned from the U. S. 9th Circuit under a cloud of sexual harassment accusations redounding to the astute vetting by The Federalist Society.
The Federalist Society starts from the view of the Constitution as an immutable and unquestionably dead document. Their view is a kind of legal fundamentalism. As the CHRISTIAN fundamentalist insist that their Bible is the inerrant word of god and not open to interpretation (despite the fact that fundamentalists are reinterpreting Biblical texts to comport with their blinkered, bigoted view of the world) so The Federalist Society would have the Constitution as inerrant and immutable as long as there are interpretations they dislike open to legal review. When it comes to reinterpretations that their funders like, however, The Federalist Society is all for chucking decades and even centuries of jurisprudence in favor of that new interpretation.The Heller, Hobby Lobby and Citizens United decisions are all such, what is called by the ultra-right-wingers "legislating from the bench". The Federalist Papers, the very documents from which the society, in an appallingly Orwellian spirit, takes its name specifically describe the "right to keep and bear arms" as a function of "well regulated" state militias, what we now call the National Guard. In the Federalist Papers we are told that corporations are not persons and therefore our republic is proof against the depredations of wealthy self-interest. Finally, we are told that the church is one sphere while the public marketplace is an entirely different sphere and that dissension and conflict arise from mixing those spheres while a peaceful, communal nation requires keeping those spheres separate. Even so The Federalist Society, bought and paid for by wealthy ultra-right-wingers and supported by ideological extremists of the political right in the law, claims the right to vet appropriate judges for lifetime appointments to the Federal bench.
In a just society we expect judges to be fair and open to reasonable argument based on our laws. We codify our laws specifically because we expect judges to look at the history of decisions in similar cases and use those prior decisions as the basis for a decision in the current case before the judge. The Federalist Society stands that understanding on its he3ad. Their preferred judicial candidates are inherently biased toward interpretations of the law preferred by the extremes of the political right. They care nothing for fairness or reason. Ideology is the be-all and end-all of their interest in any candidate for a Federal or state judgeship.
We have seen the effects of biased judges throughout our history whether it was the judges who condemned alleged witches is Salem, Massachusetts in 1792, Webster Thayer who condemned Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti to death on slim evidence, the judges who were complicit in the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II or the Nazi judges tried at Nuremburg for their ideological decisions condemning Jews and other subjects of Nazi hate down to Connecticut Judge Simon S. Cohen who overturned a jury verdict to acquit a political ally and Roy Moore in Alabama, a theocrat who does not believe in law or the Constitution at all. We need fair and impartial judges, not ideologues who place their biases ahead of reason, fairness and mercy. Such judges are not, indeed never, those sponsored by The Federalist Society. While The Federalist Society remains ascendant in vetting judges for the Federal bench our democracy is in danger, a danger that extends into the far future given the many years some of these ideologues may serve.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
So Doug Jones and not Roy Moore it seems will be the next senator from Alabama. I feel like I have been drowning for months and just managed to come up for air. I've taken a deep breath. This, however, is the Bizzaro world in which Donald Trump is President of the United States and Republiscum still control both Houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. That deep breath is going to have to last me into 2019 when, hopefully, we will have a Democratic controlled Congress and the greatly deserved impeachment of Trump, Pence and their neo-Fascist tribe.
The talking heads are already jabbering about "historic elections" (which, given that Alabama has not had a Democratic senator in some 25 years is a term of some justice), and an end to Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, reversal of control in the U. S. Senate, renewed respect for women, and victory, Victory, VICTORY!
The 2018 Congressional elections are 11 months away. The one real lesson that we can derive from this election in Alabama is the same one that we learned from the campaigns of Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana in 2012. That lesson is that when the Republiscum loonies and neo-Fascists speak what is actually on their clouded, malfunctioning minds enough of the general public is sufficiently horrified to insure that they lose elections. I for one hope that the Republiscum keep finding plenty of Roy Moores and Todd Akins and Christine O'Donnells to run against decent and sane Democrats. We cannot, however, count on the Republiscum being that stupid so often. As they have done in the past they can be counted on to recruit racists, rapists, lunatics, lunatic evangelicals, neo-Fascists, anti-Semites and other right-wing bigots who are schooled to keep their mouths shut until after they are sworn into office.
The great danger we now face is the typical danger for Democrats. We on the left love victories. We yearn for them and when we get one we dust off our hands, say with Little Jack Horner, "What a good boy (or girls or gender non-specific person) am I!" and consider that we've won. We go home, settle down with a drink of our preference and go to sleep until the next noisy election wakes us. In the coming year there will be 469 races for seats in the U. S. House and Senate, not just one in Alabama. The interest of voters and contributors will be pulled in nearly 469 different directions. The Gerrymandering, voter suppression and billionaire donors will be more effective in elections that are so fragmented. While the Republiscum are working to maintain their control of Congress our good Democrats will be sleeping off that congratulatory drink waiting for a presidential year or engaging in internecine battles between the Bernie Babies and establishment people over ideology instead of uniting to win everywhere regardless of ideological purity. That is why I expect to feel as if I'm drowning for at least the next 12 months. And maybe until January 20, 2021.
Congratulations, Doug Jones! Breathe everyone. Enjoy the drink! But get back to work in the morning or as Bertolt Brecht said at the end of World War II, "Don't rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again."
Monday, December 11, 2017
Many years ago there was a Ken-L Ration dog food commercial that had a catchy jingle that I have always liked, with a few modifications as the expression of belief that I hear from people who claim to be religious. The jingle goes as follows:
My god's better than your god!
My god's better than yours!
My god's better 'cause he gives me salvation.
My god's better than yours!
I think of that as a sort of corollary to Mark Twain's observation, "Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion--several of them."
Please follow me back through the centuries. We could go back to the Crusades a millennium ago but let's not go back quite so far, just 600 years to Halloween in 1517. The European world was reeling from several influences. The round world was a fact just established 25 years before. Moveable type and the printing of books was still relatively new but learning was spreading and people were beginning to get their information from print rather than from the pulpit. Islam had been driven back across the Strait of Gibraltar making Europe "Christian" for the first time ever. On that day a priest named Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Cathedral and the Protestant Reformation begins. What also begins is nearly 300 years of wars over religion and the right to worship in various ways, not just Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy but in an exfoliating plethora of disciplines all of which insisted that they and they alone were the one, true route to salvation.
In 1534, British monarch Henry VIII, besotted with Anne Boleyn, could not get an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon from the pope so he separated the Church of England from the Church of Rome precipitating religious wars that roiled England for the next 200 years. During those two centuries support for religion remained strong but the belief grew that it was possible for the various Protestants sects to live side by side in peace and that was even possible for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Jews and Muslims. By 1775 Puritan New England, polyglot New York, Quaker Pennsylvania, Catholic Maryland, Anglican Virginia and other states with other religious majorities found common cause in revolt against the British throne and found that they could work quite well with one another as long as they avoided religious issues. Thus when many of the same men who governed the Revolutionary colonies came together to draw up a new Constitution in 1787 they again avoided religion.
In the debate over adopting the Constitution a number of flaws in the document came to light one of which was that very absence of a mention of religion. While it is true that they were Christians of one sect or another that does not mean that they intended to create a Christian nation. In fact, they specifically wanted no such thing. The drafters of our Constitution saw the struggles among monarch of various faiths as an evil of which they had had far more than enough. The framers of the Constitution resolved that issue of the Constitution's silence on religion by specifying that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." That language pretty clearly establishes that the United States cannot be "a Christian nation" no matter how involuted and convoluted the arguments of some evangelicals may be. The muddiness come in when we get to the "free exercise thereof".
From 1789 onward the "free exercise" of religion has meant freedom to worship within one's family and selected religious community. The religious world has been a private affair. Once one ventures into the public sphere the free exercise of religion fades away into secular egalitarianism. This fading of the "free exercise" of one person's religion occurs not as an affront to that person's religion but because the exercise of that one person's religion may unintentionally become and affront to another person's equally valid free exercise of his or her religion.. We are all free to exercise our own religion in so far as it does not impose one religion on another. In the public marketplace the exercise that is free in private must take a back seat to the freedom of others.
Thus the baker of wedding cakes or the florist who prepares wedding bouquets has every right to believe what he or she wishes but cannot decide that those honestly held religious beliefs allow him or her to refuse to serve any person in the public marketplace. To do so affronts the customer's freedom generally and, potentially, the customer's religious freedom as well.
The U. S. Supreme Court in the wrongly decided Hobby Lobby case carved out a new niche for religious fanatics to impose their beliefs on their fellow citizens. That same court seems poised to deepen that niche unless more rational heads prevail in the Colorado Baker and Washington Florist's cases. If the five right-wing justices find for the baker and the florist 228 years of our history will be trodden into the dirt. Religion that the framers of the Constitution sought to excise from governmental concern will become an ever increasing matter of government establishment. While Congress will not have made any law prohibiting the "free exercise" of religion the Supreme Court, displaying unconscionable religious bias, will have established religion opening our society to the religious wars that those who sweltered through the summer of 1787 sought to ban forever from our nation.
Some years ago a dear friend of mine and I were having a dinner of Chinese take-out with her mother. Emma Catherine was in her late 80s and was a life-long Southern Baptist. The topic of religion came up and her daughter, my friend Anna, said, "Rob's an atheist, you know." Emma Catherine nearly dropped her dumplings. Startled and both afraid and angry she looked at me fiercely saying, "You can't make me believe it!" I answered her, "I would never want to make you believe anything, least of all my lack of faith. Your faith gives you great comfort and I'm glad it does. I would never want to take that from you." I don't want anyone to believe as I do though I'm gratified when I find others who agree with me. I don't want to impose my lack of faith on anyone. I also am glad that others find solace in their own particular faiths. I have a daughter and son-in-law who are conservative Jews and a close friend who is an Episcopalian minister. I am glad for them in their faiths. To keep our civil society civil we must decide that the boundary that religious practice and belief must not cross is the boundary of the public marketplace. We establish religion there at our peril and as a rapid descent into conflict and incivility.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
I fear that we have already passed the point I feared that we would reach on my last post. First, however, let's look at the case of Judge Roy Moore of Alabama.
Moore is ostensibly a CHRISTIAN theocrat. He is not a Christian in the sense of a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather he is an Old Testament and Revelation CHRISTIAN who mixes religion with politics for his own ends. Whether Roy Moore actually believes in as much as half of the crap he spews in public I rather doubt. If he actually believes all of it that only makes him exponentially a greater danger to American democracy. In any case, Moore has exploited religious farragoes to raise his profile and build a political base of the easily led evangelicals. Roy Moore has a darker side, however, as if such a thing were possible. He's a pedophile. It's not just the women who have related his advances toward them when they were as young as 14. The confirmation has come from Moore's own mouth. While vociferously denying that he knew these women Moore has admitted that he had his eye on the woman who became his wife from the time she was 14 or 15 years old. He has also admitted to not dating girls unless he got the approval of their mothers. Implicit in that admission is the fact that the girls dated were young enough to require parental approval for their dates. We also know that Roy Moore was banned from the Gadsden, Alabama Mall because of his behavior toward teen girls.
I want to be clear here. Roy Moore has not been charged with or convicted of any crime.The worst of which he has been accused is child molestation, a crime but one with which an assistant district attorney could easily avoid being charged. It's too bad that Chris Hansen wasn't at work unmasking predators of children 40 years ago. Had a Chris Hansen been around to expose Roy Moore all those years ago we might well have been spared his whole career. Unfortunately we have not been so lucky. The bottom line on Roy Moore is that he is an admitted pedophile, has molested a couple of teens in the past and now had wrapped himself in the flag and Bible to pretend that he is god's anointed and deserving of Alabamians' votes.
If you are a CHRISTIAN or even an actual Christian I would suggest that you review the 25th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. I would further suggest that Jesus explicitly says there that it is one's deeds and not words that define those who will sit at the right hand of god. By their deeds shall you know them. Today's evangelicals in Alabama know Roy Moore's deeds and choose to judge him on his words instead. If those evangelicals turn out to send Roy Molester to the U. S. Senate we will know by their deeds that conservative evangelicalism has nothing to do with religion, least of all Christianity, These evangelicals are simply a tax avoiding political movement cloaked in a false Christianity and brandishing crosses that some amongst them unabashedly burn. They are the army of theocracy believing all manner of pseudo-historical bullshit that keeps them militant in public but docile in the pews as a chosen but persecuted minority. If you are disappointed, distressed and unable to understand the causes of your condition come unto to your preacher all ye who labor and are heavy laden and he will tell you who to blame. He will tell you that you are persecuted like the ancient Christians thrown to the lions in the Roman Colosseum. Your preacher will tell you that Liberals take money out of your pockets to give to others that you don't like such as African-Americans, Hispanic immigrants, immigrants generally and especially those less than 1% of Moslem-Americans whom they falsely and irrationally claim are working diligently to impose Sharia Law on the over 74% of Americans who identify as Christians. One thing that your preacher will neglect to point out is any genuine sense of the absurd. No, your right-wing evangelical preachers will tell you that Roy Moore is god's anointed because when Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," it was because he'd spotted an underage hottie in the group at play.
To sum up, Roy Moore is an admitted pedophile and child molester. He has committed crimes in the past and clearly does not believe in our Constitutional government in the present. Though he has never been convicted of a crime against children he has been twice found unfit for office nit because he is being persecuted for his religious beliefs but because he does not believe in Constitutional government. He is manifestly unfit for any public office let alone the U. S. Senate.
Now let us turn to people who have behaved reprehensibly but not criminally, the distinguishing. characteristic between our next subject and Roy Moore. Allow me, please to start with the most odious.
On December 5th I read in the Daily KOS digest of the case of American Nazi, Tony Hovater of Carlisle, Ohio. I am no Nazi sympathizer. My father and uncle fought the Nazis in World War II. The very existence of American Nazis is an affront to their deeds and their sacrifice and, indeed, to the sacrifice of all of those who fought against Fascism in the 1940s. Yet I find little to rejoice about in the treatment of Tony Hovater and his family. This man and his family ascribe to an odious political philosophy, one that is repugnant to me and should be to every decent American but firing him, his wife and brother-in-law because of his disgusting political beliefs and the viciousness of some people on my side of the political spectrum is simply wrong. It smacks of the Blacklists of the late-1940s and 1950s. Do we really think that making this fool homeless, impoverished and hounded is going to make him less of a Nazi? Have we learned nothing from the experience of our own friends who were blacklisted nearly 70 years ago? Did blacklisting make Dashiell Hammett, Lionel Stander or John Henry Faulk less Liberal? Hardly! Yet I am supposed to view the retribution visited on Hovater as a good thing. It is not a good thing. It is a way to turn a fool who has allied himself with a disgusting political philosophy into a martyr for the Nazi cause and possibly into a greater danger to us all.
In my worst moments I could take pleasure in Tony Hovater's misfortunes. Yet that doesn't last long. If he has behaved criminally, please bring charges against him but do not ostracize him for his disgusting political beliefs. That is simply wrong and, in fact, a matter of criminal discrimination. I also call down shame upon those who sent him death threats and threatened his employer. That behavior is criminal. If we are to maintain the superiority of our system of fairness and laws to his system of bias and hate we had better uphold the lwas and the fairness lest we ourselves become the mirror image of Hovater's odious beliefs.
Similarly the attacks on Al Franken have seemed to me much like those on Hovater or the rush to judgement in Woody Allen of which I've already written. To me the attacks sounded like the hysterical accusations of rape and incest that I heard a quarter century ago from women appalled by Allen's relationship to Soon-Yi Previn. Let's be clear. Franken's behavior may have been crass and sophomoric but his humor has always tended toward crass and sophomoric.
There is some reason to believe that Senator Franken has been set up by some ultra-right-wing activists and that one or more of his subsequent accusers may have piled on for political reasons or personal profit but regardless of whether those things are true or not Franken's behavior is of a decidedly lower order than that of actual predators like Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly or Harvey Weinstein. In those cases women's careers were determined by whether or not they provided sexual favors to the predators in power. There is no evidence whatever that Senator Franken before or after his election to the Senate abused his power to harm any of his accusers or anyone else. Even Franken's first accuser, Leeann Tweeden, would have had more to complain about had she ever participated in one of Bob Hope's USO Shows than she's had to complain about with Senator Franken.
Initially Senator Franken chose to submit to an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. This is the established and time honored way of dealing with such complaints. An Ethics Committee investigation affords both the Senator and his accusers the opportunity to present their cases in a quasi-judicial proceeding and requires that the senator accept the judgement of his peers. In such an investigation we would learn of the motives of Senator Franken's accusers. Those motives may be genuine distress at a violation. They also may be something more. A full investigation would allow us all to know and, most importantly, in a "nation of laws", would afford all parties their legal rights to be heard and a just outcome to be reached.
Some years ago I was called for jury duty in a case of a man who had threatened several fire and police officers. During the voir dire one of the attorneys asked the jury pool if a police officer accused a person of some crime would you accept that as true? Most of those in the pool nodded and raised their hands to say that the police officer's word was good enough to establish guilt. I kept my hand firmly in my lap so the attorney asked me why I was not with the rest of the group What I answered was, "I used to live in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1692 there about 20 people were executed as witches simply because they were accused by some of their neighbors. I don't believe in witches and absent any reliable evidence, I don't believe in any simple accusation."
As accusers piled on Senator Franken's colleagues made the political decision that, given the egregiousness of Roy Moore and Donald Trump's behavior accusation was sufficient to end Senator Franken's career He had not worked to deny advancement to any of his accusers nor had he paid them off out of government funds as Representative John Conyers did. Purely from the perceived need to appear "holier than thou" Senator Franken's Democratic colleagues took him to the gallows on the strength of his unquestioned accusers and figuratively hung him without so much as the travesty of the Salem Witch Trials. In doing so those colleagues have weakened their position and done a disservice to all the women assaulted and demeaned by other powerful men. I don't know what the Ethics Committee investigation would have found. It is as likely that such an investigation would have recommended that Senator Franken be expelled from the Senate as it is that he would have been cleared of all charges or censured in some less dramatic way. The fact is that now we can never know what a legal procedure would have concluded and that is dangerous, un-American and something we should have known better than to do since 1692.
Finally, as a coda to this rush to judgement we have the case of Garrison Keillor. On the strength of one accuser Keillor has been ostracized by the institution that he more than any other performer built, Minnesota Public Radio, and National Public Radio for which Keillor's Prairie Home Companion has been a major building block. I don't know and cannot know whether this accusation was the only one lodged against Keillor in the last 40 years or the 40th in the last year but because no one outside of the public radio world knows the causes, the speedy dismissal of Keillor seems unfounded and precipitous. It looks like the "witch hunt" of which some of the most egregious offenders claim to be victims and which others may actually be victims in the future.
What I find remarkable is the willingness of women who should know better to ascribe to this rush to unsubstantiated judgement. Has it not been the fate of women for centuries to be diminished, ignored and dismissed. Men have been able to avoid punishment for their bad behavior toward women simply by accusing women of "hysteria" or vindictiveness on the flimsiest of grounds and found acceptance by other men. The object of gender equality is not to do unto them as they did unto me but rather to end the dismissal of women's concerns and elevate them to the level of men's. We do not need a regime of female chauvinism to replace that of male chauvinism. The object is equality.
The interests of all involved will ultimately be best served by pursuing legal actions in these cases. We will have a body of law establishing the validity or lack thereof if accusations of sexual misconduct. We will have precedents for punishment of representatives and senators and, perhaps, even presidents. We will establish clear and enforceable standards of conduct, standards that, unlike the laws regarding rape and employment discrimination, we clearly do not now have in any generally agreed form. Women no less than men should be eager for establishment of such standards for without them who knows which of us will be carried to the figurative gallows by some "witch hunt" real or imagined.
Monday, November 27, 2017
Let's get some things out of the way at the start. Sexual assault in all it's myriad degrees is as unacceptable in any form as violence against women, or, indeed, violence against anyone, man, woman, transgendered, gay. It just isn't to be tolerated. It is a crime. Even more so are attacks against children who are, by definition, weak, manipulatable and not fully formed in their abilities to discern what is appropriate and what is not. The main issue in violence and sexual predation against women and, indeed, against children is power. Much as the athletes against whom I have railed elsewhere, powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski or Strom Thurmond had power and a privilege that enveloped and coddled them. Their power and privilege protected them until it didn't. Each of their cases is different but the commonality is power, the kind of power which the very adult actress, Liv Ullman, when dating Henry Kissinger called "the ultimate aphrodisiac." I would suggest that the aphrodisiac may affect both parties in an extremely limited number of cases but in the vast majority of cases it is just fogging the man's brain.
I will also admit to being less enlightened in my past. Not dramatically so but I will admit to having given an uninvited shoulder massage to a woman co-worker complaining of tightness in her neck. I also admit to losing my temper with two of my daughters and physically hurting them on one occasion each. Those are acts for which, in the cases of my daughters, I felt awful about immediately.. The shoulder rub is something that happened over twenty years ago has never been repeated nor will it be. Behavior that might have been acceptable though annoying at an earlier time isn't excused but if it has been abandoned years ago and isn't occurring currently it seems to me a lesser issue than behavior that is current and on-going.
Let's also acknowledge that we are in a period of transition in our attitudes. As in any period of transition we are looking, like the Roman god Janus both forward and back. We have formulated newer attitudes and, if you will, morals while we have not yet completely replaced the old attitudes and morals. Because we are in this transition period and looking in both directions at once a person accused of some unacceptable behavior under the new morality may be hounded even for offenses that would have been seen as distressing but, perhaps, less offensive under the old. That said let's proceed to set that aside for the moment to take up the topic at hand.
The behavior of Harvey Weinstein toward women is outrageous and deserves every bit of punishment to which he has been or may be subjected. So is the behavior of many other of those accused who have not learned that their behavior is or was wrong. Similarly the sexual harassment and or assualts, whether successful or not, by other men in power in business, entertainment, politics and elsewhere are reprehensible. Those men - and so far they all are men - deserve public disgrace and personal loss as they continue their criminal behavior.
In the midst of this avalanche of charges, resignations, firings and usually justified ruined reputations a couple of persons stand out. The first is Bill O'Reilly, multiple harasser of women and formerly one of the chief neo-Fascist pontificators at Fox News. Poor Widdle Biwwy tells his listeners that he's the victim of a conspiracy. Never mind the millions that he personally and his sponsors at Fox had to pay out to his victims over the years. Never mind the fact that Poor Widdle Biwwy has always insisted on "personal responsibility" for any person or class or race he doesn't especially like yet now refuses to take personal responsibility himself. Let's just say that Poor Widdle Biwwy represents one end of the spectrum of abusers, the end which denies everything including the manifest facts. Though, since Poor Widdle Biwwy has been denying facts for most of his life, why should he stop now?
On a different extreme of the abuser spectrum is the writer, actor, comedian and director, Woody Allen. Of all the people in the movie industry who have spoken out courageously about sexual harassment and worse since the Weinstein/sexual abuse scandals broke Allen is the one I most wish had kept his mouth shut. Given Allen's history in the break up with Mia Farrow and his subsequent marriage to Soon-Yi Previn he would have been well advised to avoid all comment on the subject. Mr. Allen's comments, while somewhat less offensive in context than in the typical sound bite, clearly scratched a scab off an old an incompletely healed wound.
I want to dwell on Mr. Allen's case for a bit because I believe that he and I share some circumstances.
Back in 1992 when the Allen-Previn liason became public in August, 1992 Soon-Yi Previn may well have been just shy of her 22nd birthday. She now claims her date of birth is October 8, 1970 though that date is not precisely known. Ms. Previn might have been as young as 19 in 1992. An affair with Woody Allen may or may not have begun when Ms. Previn was as young as 17. It is impossible to know her exact age and there is a lot of dispute over when her affair with Allen began. In 1992 Mr. Allen was 58 years old. If you want to say that there is something creepy about a relationship between a 58 year old man and a 22 year old woman I will not argue with you. Allen's attraction is certainly creepy. Ms. Farrow, Ms. Previn's adoptive mother at the time was 47 years old and 11 years Mr. Allen's junior. It is also worth noting that Ms. Farrow married 50 year old Frank Sinatra when she was 21 and that Mr. Sinatra had purportedly had an an affair with Ms. Farrow's mother, Maureen O'Sullivan. The most certain fact is that Ms. Previn through no fault of her own comes out of a family with a very messy and complicated history. Regardless of that the age difference makes the relationship of Allen and Previn somewhat cringe worthy. Still, how can we condemn a young woman for falling in love with a funny, attentive older man? How can we condemn an older man from being attracted to the youth and beauty of a younger woman? We even have celebrated such relationships in story and song. Take, for one example, Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics from South Pacific:
"And when your youth and joy invade my arms
And fill my heart as now they do.
Then younger than Springtime am I.
Gayer than laughter am I.
Angel and lover, heaven and earth,
Am I with you."
With that cringe factor as a given I vividly recall the women with whom I worked going ballistic about Woody Allen. The terms "rape" and "incest" poured out like milk on morning cereal. Relative to the concept of incest, that is simply impossible. Ms. Previn is and was no blood relation to Mr. Allen or to Ms. Farrow for that matter. Mr. Allen may have been a father figure (Ms. Previn denies that she ever viewed him as such.) but screaming "incest" is even more inappropriate than the relationship given the age discrepancy.
As for the rape allegation, I was struck by a certain cognitive dissonance on the part of these women with whom I worked. They would fight to the death for the right of a 12 or 13 year old girl who wanted an abortion or contraception on the grounds that it was the child's body and only she had the right to make decisions for it yet they insisted that Soon-Yi Previn could not decide who she loved though she was at least 19. It seems to me that one can't have that both ways. Either young women can make decisions about their bodies and sexuality or they can't. If Soon-Yi Previn was incapable of making a decision to begin a sexual relationship with Mr. Allen then perhaps even younger women shouldn't be allowed to to make decisions on contraception or abortion for themselves. Let's be clear that I don't believe that. I believe that we should give some respect to decisions that children in their teens want to make. I know that it's a fraught area because the teen years are themselves a fraught period of life. I would not make the same decisions now at age 68 that I made in my 30s or 40s let alone those I made in my teens. However, a 12 year old who's become pregnant after a rape should by default have the right to an abortion if she wants one. Similarly a somewhat older Soon-Yi Previn deserves our deference and respect when she decides whom she loves.
Now we need to switch perspectives once again. I can well imagine the fury of Ms. Farrow when she discovered that a woman she thought of as her daughter was having an affair with her lover and artistic partner. Some of the best movies the Mr. Allen has made were those he made between 1982 and 1992. In fact I can't imagine a run of finer films that any director has made than those that start in 1983 with Zelig and end in 1987 with Radio Days, especially the absolutely sublime Broadway Danny Rose and Hannah and her Sisters. The creative partnership of Allen and Farrow may well have been the high point of Allen's career. Thus Ms. Farrow was losing more than a lover. In her fury I am sure that she wanted her lawyers to pursue issues like rape and incest. I am just as sure that her attorneys told her that those avenues were very short dead ends. So what is a woman betrayed by both her lover and her daughter and in her righteous fury to do? I would suggest that as days went by and the brain-fog such fury creates began to clear Ms. Farrow decided to hit Mr. Allen in the place that would hurt him most both personally and publicly. I believe very strongly that she cooked up the child molestation charges against Mr. Allen as an insidious and perfect revenge.
Examinations of Ms. Farrow and Mr. Allen's jointly adopted daughter, Dylan, were ambiguous at best yet a Connecticut court severed Mr. Allen's parental rights with Dylan and in the ensuing 25 years Ms. Farrow's insistence on their existence have made it impossible to determine whether the scars of child abuse that Dylan Farrow alleges are real or simply like a temporary tattoo. Dylan certainly believes that they are real scars. From her point of view they are unquestionably real. It remains to be seen whether those scars result from heinous acts by Woody Allen or equally heinous acts of revenge by Mia Farrow.
In the interests of full disclosure my personal situation probably informs my attitudes in Mr. Allen's case because my relationships with my daughters too have suffered from a vindictive woman, their mother.
My first wife and I have three amazing, beautiful, intelligent and accomplished daughters. Our oldest was, in my wife's mind, supposed to be the child of her and her college roommate. It was not something that she fully understood or even clearly expressed herself but she insisted that our daughter's first and middle names "had to be" her roommate's first name coupled with her own. It happened that our work schedules made me the primary care giver for that daughter. My first girl and I bonded during her first year and that bond has managed to survive though strained all these many years later. That bonding, however, resulted in an abiding jealousy in my wife that expressed itself in many ways. When my wife became pregnant with our second daughter she determined that she was not going to permit a similar bonding to take place. My wife announced that she would quit her job once the new baby arrived. We could not afford to lose her income but she was determined and quit to raise our second daughter. In my wife's mind our second daughter was hers and our first daughter was mine though they were both equally ours. Some years later when she was pregnant with our third daughter my wife announced that she was having this baby for her friend and coworker. That friend had found that she was infertile. I thought that was a magnanimous gesture that would bring another friend into our family circle. I did not know that my wife had realized, with my inadvertent help, that she was a lesbian and that she had fallen in love with that friend and coworker for whom she would leave our marriage when our third daughter was 3 months old. In my now former wife's mind our third daughter was her child with her new partner rather than with me. How do I know this? I know it because of my former wife's statement to me before our daughter was born and because she has since announced to our daughters that she had the oldest for me, the middle for herself and our youngest for her new partner. It can't get more explicit than that.
My ex-wife also worked for the Massachusetts Department of Social Services dealing with abused and abandoned children. When one is a hammer everything looks like a nail. I must admit to a couple of instances of bad parenting. In one instance my middle daughter was misbehaving and screaming because she did not want to go on a trip to an event for her older sister. I had found that she was lighting matches and burning cotton balls dipped in rubbing alcohol when I'd left that middle daughter at home alone a couple of weeks before. I told her mother about the behavior and that that daughter would not be left alone again. We were in a Volkswagen Beetle. I was in the driver's seat. I reached back into the back seat to try to grab her. In that awkward motion I hit her in the nose and caused a nosebleed. I was immediately embarrassed and sorry but the incident was sufficient for my ex-wife to insist that our middle daughter, the one you will recall that she had for herself, not visit me for a time and that we go into counseling with a therapist of her choice. The therapist was predisposed to think all men abusive which only worsened the situation. On another occasion a few years later I held my oldest daughter's arm too tightly and backed her up against a wall when she was behaving badly at a dress shop. My ex-wife has magnified these incidents, propagandized our daughters and they now insist that I beat them.
When I was a child my mother was very liberal with spanking, usually with her hand but often with a belt. I hated that abuse and vowed not to use such abuse toward my daughters. I never intentionally hurt them and certainly never beat them either with my hands or any other object. In fact my whole parenting life has been an effort not to treat my children as I was treated. That I was imperfect in my attempts I must admit but I was never so imperfect as to descend to abuse. So you must forgive me if I see in the situation with Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and their children a parallel to my situation. I cannot know for certain what transpired between Mr. Allen and Dylan Farrow over 25 years ago but I believe that many who think they know, including some of those far closer to the events than I, may believe that they know things that never took place outside the vengeful mind of Mia Farrow and that such a scenario is at least as likely as the scenarios others have spun for themselves based on as little hard evidence as I have.
Again, I must point out that Woody Allen would have done well simply to avoid comment on the current wave of sexual abuse scandals. We would all do well to reserve some judgement in some of these cases. If there is a large preponderance of evidence available to the public, then, by all means, form an opinion and let's bring the abusers before a court where possible and meet out punishment commensurate with the length and breadth of the inappropriate and even criminal behavior. However, where the length and breadth of the misbehavior or crime s very limited or indeterminable let's be somewhat circumspect in lumping the minor offenders with the worst. To lump them together hurts the goal of changing the mindset that allows for such behavior. If the punishment for the least offensive is the same as that for the most offensive ultimately there will be a justifiable reaction against the excess that could undermine all the positive results from this watershed moment. That would be a true shame for all of us.
We are all imperfect creatures. I would never think of engaging in sexual activity with a person who had not made clear that she was interested in such activity. Invading a woman's body against her will is at best inappropriate and at worst criminal. That is something that simply must stop regardless of the age and power distributions between the participants. As imperfect creatures we need to be clear that we aren't good at "reading signals" given by one person to another. In fact, there is probably more bias in the "reading" than anyone would care to admit. Like the 1,000 monkeys with their 1,000 typewriters who could eventually type out all of Shakespeare, in between the accidental serendipity of some words or phrases appearing there is bound to be mountains of unintelligible gobbledygook. Perhaps we should assume by default that the alleged signals one purports to be "reading" is actually the gobbledygook and not the Shakespeare.