Monday, May 11, 2009

Reality (TV) Check

One of the more absurd issues that the neo-fascists who disguise themselves as Republicans and Libertarians have is their apparent inability to distinguish fact from fiction. The list of examples is long and runs the gamut from the absurd in Dan Quayle's inability to discern that Murphy Brown was a fictional character played by Candace Bergen to the horrifyingly serious in the "ticking bomb" scenario incessantly dragged out to justify the Bush Administration's torture policies despite the lack of any evidence that the scenario exists outside of the Fox (of course) series 24. Despite the genuine danger of the phrase "Republican principles" becoming a synonym for cognitive dissonance as well as an oxymoron the ultra-right wingers continue down this dead end path.

As one example there's the inability of Fox flacks like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to make up their minds as to whether the Obama Administration is bringing socialism or fascism to America. That may not be the best example because it smacks more of a bunch on impotent, frustrated hacks flinging epithets at the Administration in the hope that one will stick and give them the focus that they currently, utterly lack. There is also the attempt to attack same-sex marriage by lumping the practices of some committed, loving couples with a catalogue of bizarre sexual practices and inclinations that only the neo-fascists themselves seem to know about. (We won't even consider the motives that have those "family valies"-types eagerly combing the literature of pervertions for new terms to get all breathless and sweaty over.)

But now we have proof that right wingers are unable to distinguish fact from fiction. A study by three researchers from Ohio State University titled The Irony of Satire has found that conservatives have convinced themselves that Stephen Colbert is one of their own. Yes. I am not making this up.

Colbert's personna is a satire of Bill O'Reilly in all his smug, self-satified, self-righteous, neo-fascist venality. According to the study conservatives find Colbert funny and know that he's satirizing some of their icons but they have convinced themselves that Colbert does this with a wink and a nod, that he's really one of them. Perhaps their limited self awareness entails a rationale of, "I think he's funny so he must think like me." Whatever the illogic involved it is simultaneously hilarious and disturbing. Colbert is anything but in sync with the ultra-right wing claptrap spouted by those he satirizes but clearly there is a core of neo-fascists who can convince themselves of anything. After all, Dubya still had a core of support in the range of 20 to 30 percent of the population as he left office. A similar percentage of the population were convinced that Richard Nixon had done nothing wrong while in office. At our peril we consider them idiots. They are not. They are something far more disturbing and dangerous. They are people who will pervert any reality contradictory to their ideology into something that reinforces their own bankrupt view. It is the same willful ignorance that fires the deniers of evolution, the Holocaust, that pursued collectivization in Stalinist Russia in the face of widespread famine, that massacred the Tutsis of Rwanda and littered the killing fields of Khmer Rouge Cambodia with bodies.

When the neo-fascists mistakenly adopt Stephen Colbert we laugh but that is the absurd and comic flip side of a dark and dangerous record that is playing itself out in a broken world and American economy, unnecessary and unwinnable wars and degradation of civil and human rights. The real reality is not a television show and it is not funny.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Backtracking Slightly

Maybe I'm just vacillating. But first, a digression.

There is a wonderful Terry Gilliam movie that appeared in 1981, Time Bandits. Suffice it to say that it's a film with which every child in the range of 7 to 14 years old will identify and in which parents will find much to love as well. Without spoiling anything in any significant way toward the end of the film Sir Ralph Richardson's Supreme Being intervenes to render David Warner's threat less serious with the result that the cast must collect all the bits of charred and glowing "pure evil" lest they infect the world further. But, of course, they miss a piece that young Craig Warnock's Kevin can't get to before he's transported back to his bedroom in the present. Kevin's house, you see, is filling with smoke because his hopeless, clueless parents have attempted to cook a roast in a microwave. The Fire Department appears and Sean Connery, whom we've previously seen as an heroic Agamemnon, in fire gear, gets the family out onto the lawn along with the smoking microwave. Kevin's parents open the microwave to find what they think is a spoiled Sunday roast but which Kevin recognizes as the unretrieved shard of pure evil. Despite Kevin's shouted warning, the parents reach for the evil and disappear in an explosion, no doubt to reappear as creatures in a Ramsey Campbell or Clive Barker novel. We know that Kevin will be all right because Sean Connery is there to take him under his wing and so the movie ends. (My apologies for the spolier but the ending is hardly the point of the movie.)

That unretrieved bit of pure evil is, of course, Dick Cheney (also an old supervisor of mine named Kathy Vadala) who embodies in every way the vilest, most despicable darkness in the American soul. I have previously written that we must have an open investigation of the crimes of the Bush Administration in order to purge our nation of the evil it represented. I based that conclusion on the recurring nightmare of Cheney's reappearances to croak about how the Obama Administration is destroying America. Yet now I'm not so sure.

I still think that a public airing of the Bush Administration's crimes will make it hard for the ne0-fascist Republicans to repeat them in the future but I am backtracking on the timing. Cheney's latest appearance - they are getting fairly regular by now - leads me to wonder about his motives. His motives are necessarily nefarious. That's beyond question. It's which nefarious motive that has me worried.

President Barak Obama (I just love that construction!) consistently says that he wants to look forward rather than back. I can't argue with that intention. As he's stated himself, Obama has two wars, the Middle East, a failing Pakistan, an insanely childish North Korea, a schizoid Iran, problematic relations with Latin America, a major economic crisis, properly funding Social Security, a crisis in health care and the dismemberment of government that's taken place over the last 40 years to worry about. And did I forget to mention the hysteria over the non-pandemic of N1H1 flu or the search for a new Supreme Court Justice? He obviously has enough crises to keep him off the streets and out of trouble for a week or two.

Now let me suggest to you that Cheney, whose ego is almost as enourmous and comprehensive as his evil, keeps coming out to croak his vileness in order to challenge Obama. I am sure that he believes that he can hand Obama his head in a debate and that a concerted attempt to silence him can only disrupt the new Administrations plans. Taking up Cheney's croaked challenges would only further polarize the Congress and the nation. It would also, in some more mindless circles, make Cheney the sympathetic victim of the great, implacable Obama Socialist Juggernaut ( a registered trademark of Fox News).

So I am going to backtrack. I still think that exposing the Bush Administration's crimes and removing from serious consideration from Federal Office all those who participated in those crimes is essential for the mental and political health of this nation. Yet for now I think it is also essential to ignore Cheney and the other strident neo-fascists. Marginalizing them is nearly as effective as prosecuting them and, at the moment, far more important.

President Obama needs to focus on undoing the damage that Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Poppy Bush, Gingrich and Dubya have done and the damage that Carter's impotence and Clinton's political cravenness allowed to continue. If he continues to demonstrate what effective government can do to relieve the burdens the neo-fascists have shifted from the wealthy onto the middle class, the Republicans, Libertarians and their ultra-right wing sponsors will remain out of power for at least the next 30 years. In that time we will have ample opportunity to consign the Alberto Gonzalezes, John Yoos, David Addingtons, Jay Bybees, Condoleeza Rices, Cheneys, Bushes and others who violated their oaths to uphold the Constitution to the hell that they so richly deserve. For now, ignore the bastards. They don't deserve the air time that Fox gives them let alone the exponential increase that prosecution would provide them.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Empathy Antipathy

It's so very Republican, isn't it? After all, if one understands the concept of empathy and actually has empathy for others one can't be a Republican much less a "Conservative" at least as defined in the last four or five decades.

Empathy is the ability to understand and feel the distress, pain, and the sting of injustice visited on others as if it were your own. Further, it is the ability to translate that understanding, that feeling into the will to prevent further distress for yourself and for the others with whom you empathize. Clearly that is a dangerous thing. If we have empathy we will want to do horrible things like improve treatment and conditions for whiny, special interest groups like wounded veterans. We might be moved to stop traditional practices like racial, ethnic and religious bigotry and even that great tradition of lynching. We might disrupt traditional families by insisting that women have a right to education, work outside the home and flee abuse by the men in their lives. No. Empathy is something that leads to the destruction of the world as it was meant to be.

But perhaps I'm being too harsh about Republicans, Conservatives and their thinly disguised cousins, Libertarians. They do have empathy. They have shown it when they've defended the six and seven figure bonuses to the financial whizzes who drove their companies into bankruptcy. They show it every day when they insist that we must remove onerous regulations that keep disease and poisons out of our food and drugs. They even show it when they seek to protect the populace from evil drugs like marajuana by insuring that those people whose pain and suffering it eases never get it. In short Republican, Conservative and Libertarian empathy knows on which side its proverbial bread is buttered. Right Wing empathy is always bought and paid for.

What the neo-fascists really rail against is empathy for the great many people whose lives are made worse while they forcefully protect their rich friends. Those rich friends are the ones who fund their campaigns and, when out of office, pay for their fellowships at the American Enterprise, Cato and Manhattan Institutes, Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution or for their chairs at neo-fascist incubators like Pepperdine University.

If we get involved in empathy we would be rejecting the greatest of the neo-fascist prophetesses, Ayn Rand. The alleged philosophy of "Objectivism" is nothing but the apotheosis of an utter rejection of empathy. No. We can't have that. Atlas Shrugged is second only to the exerpts of The Bible that fundamentalists prefer (no Matthew 25 in those Bibles) as holy writ.

Let's take a famous example, the recently corrected travesty of Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Lilly Ledbetter went to work for Goodyear in its Gadsden , Alabama plant in 1979. When she started working there she was recieving pay comparable to the men doing the same job and who had similar experience but over the years and unbeknownst to Ms. Ledbetter, a gap began to open. In 1997, on the verge of retiring she found that she was making $3,727 per month. That's a very nice pay check that I would have happily receieved. But at the same point the men doing her job were receiving a minimum of $4,286 per month and as much as $5,236 per month. There was ample evidence that Ms. Ledbetter's sex was the sole factor in the difference of roughly $500 to $1,500 per month reduction in pay. Goodyear had not only discriminated in Ms. Ledbetter's pay but had kept the information about that discrepancy secret for most of two decades.

So I think that most people would see Ms. Ledbetter's treatment as unfair. You wouldn't want your mother, daughter, sister or wife treated like that. However, if you're reaching that conclusion you are falling in to the dangerous role of a "fellow traveler" of empathy. You should thank whatever god to which you pray that there are five Supreme Court "Justices" who are Republican and Conservative enough to be utterly unaffected by empathy. Writing for his fellow protectors of business over labor, wealth over poverty and crime over justice, Samuel Alito threaded a very fine needle and rejected Ms. Ledbetter's argument. Sure she'd been victimized by Goodyear and sure that victimization represented illegal discrimination but Lilly Ledbetter hadn't filed suit soon enough.

Say what?

You see, Ms. Ledbetter's lawyers had argued that every time Goodyear cut a pay check for Ms. Ledbetter the company committed a distinct act of pay discrimination. The law included a limitations clause requiring that the discrimination claim be filed within 180 days of the act of discrimination. Judge Alito along with Antonin Scalia, Scalia's Houseboy, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy decided that argument was wrong. Goodyear had decided to discriminate against Ms. Ledbetter way back in the 1980s and though Goodyear had kept the fact secret and Ms. Ledbetter's typical human clairvoyance was somehow impaired she hadn't filed suit soon enough. A judicial wag of the finger went to Goodyear with a stern admonition to behave and Lilly Ledbetter got a simple, "Sorry. Go fuck off."

Now if Alito, Scalia, Thomas (included soley for completeness; not seriously), Roberts or Kennedy had succumbed to that dangerous empathy for Lilly Ledbetter all manner of evil would have flowed from the decision. Ms. Ledbetter would have recovered the back pay unfairly withheld from her with interest and damages for discrimination and the cost of the settlement might have been so great that Goodyear and even other companies might have decided that they'd better not do the same to their employees. In short, Goodyear would have gotten a lesson in the "personal responsibility" that Republicans, Conservatives and Libertarians always insist is lacking in the poor who don't pay the bills for those Republicans, Conservatives and Libertarians.

In 2008 Congress attempted to remedy this situation albeit too late for Ms. Ledbetter. But the Republicans in the Senate, also unaffected by empathy, filibustered the bill to death. Had it made its way through the Senate there is no doubt that George Bush, whose sole claim to empathy was his desire to limit the persecution and suffering of the noble Lewis "Scooter" Libby, would have vetoed the bill that President Obama has since signed.

So as we look for a Supreme Court appointment worthy of the title "Justice", watch out for that code word "empathy" and the horrors that it could visit on our nation. If there were a majority on the Supreme Court with empathy we might find all manner of horrible decisions coming down as some empath "legislates" from the bench. We might see decisions that hold mortgage originators responsible for defaults by home buyers whose incomes the originators inflated, foreclosures might be stopped in cases where the lenders lied about the terms of the loans or withheld information from the borrowers. Food processors who allowed their plants to use unsafe and unsanitary practices or introduced poisons into their products to boost profits might be held responsible for those acts. Even companies that illegally evade taxes might be called on to pay their fair share. The consequences for the Republicans, Conservatives and Libertarians would be dire. Their sponsors might not have sufficient disposable income to finance their campaigns and the fellowships that keep them on the cable news networks in spite of their lack of anything relevant to say. William Kristol might disappear from view entirely.

So let us not fall into the trap of empathy. I certainly hope that the fundamentalist preachers will get on this anti-empathy bandwagon. Clearly it's an assault on Christianity whenever we get involved in something like empathy that boils down to an odious statement like, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me."