Saturday, December 8, 2012


"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.  Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?"  demanded Scrooge.  "Are they still in operation?"

"They are.  Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh!  I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge.  "I'm very glad to hear it."

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth.  We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.  What shall I put you down for?"

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.

"You wish to be anonymous?"

"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge.  "Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer.  I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry.  I help to support the establishments I have mentioned -- they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there."

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.  Besides -- excuse me -- I don't know that."

"But you might know it," observed the gentleman.

"It's not my business," Scrooge returned.  "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's.  Mine occupies me constantly.  Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew.  Scrooge returned his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

                                   ~ A Christmas Carol, Stave the First, Charles Dickens

There were many in the England of the 1840s who cursed Charles Dickens. He was popular and he wrote discomforting things about the status quo, things that threatened the quo of those with status. How dare he? But time passes. We’re elevated the lessons of Dickens’ novella to canon taught us in many forms. Yet here we find ourselves 169 years later and the Scrooge of Scrooge and Marley is still alive and well, unreformed, unreconsiled with his nephew, uncaring that Tiny Tim will die, forging further links on that weighty chain of ledgers and cash boxes.

Let us consider, please the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This treaty states that the signatories will respect and promote equal human rights for people with disabilities. It was modeled on the U. S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. This Convention the United States signed during the administration of George W. Bush. However, as an international treaty our Constitution requires that it must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the United States Senate. Thus it was that the Senate held a vote on Tuesday, December 4, 2012.

The treaty had the solid support of Senate Democrats as well as some notable Republicans including John McCain of Arizona, Richard Lugar of Indiana and even Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Former senator and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, himself a disabled World War II veteran, came to the Senate floor in a wheelchair from his hospital bed at Walter Reed Hospital to support the treaty.

There was a time in our history when that support would have meant certain passage for the treaty but we live in greatly devolved times. Since the 1960s and particularly since the Reagan Administration the Republican Party has increasingly fallen under the thrall of the racists, bigots, John Birchers, NRA fanatics, “Objectivists”, “Libertarians”, religious fundamentalists and the lunatic subscribers to Human Events all of whom came out to oppose equal rights for people with physical or mental disabilities but who, unlike themselves, have a current diagnosis.

Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma led the opposition and brought in that paragon of logic and decency, former Senator Rick Santorum to argue both that because we already have the ADA the treaty is superfluous and that it would open the United States to interference with our “sovereignty” should other nations intervene to impose on us laws we already have. With the typical lunacy of this group of right-wing extremists they saw no contradiction in their arguments. They did, however, collect 36 other senators on the side of wrong and injustice to vote with Lee and Inhofe to kill the treaty. Passage required at least 66 votes but managed to garner only 61.

And lest we think of this as an aberration caused by 38 men whose tinfoil hats are protecting them from the controlling messages from those U. N. Black Helicopters that they are certain hover somewhere nearby I would offer the further embarrassment of the Republican lunatic fringe in the Senate. Where the defeat of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was patently insane this next act is so thoroughly craven that it beggars all comparison.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky thought he had a surefire way to embarrass his Democratic colleagues. On Thursday, December 6th he called up a vote on a bill which would have given President Obama authority to bypass Congress in raising the Federal debt ceiling. The vote would require a simple majority of senators. Most probably McConnell figured that the bill would quickly fail a Senate vote after which Republicans could taunt that even Democrats refuse to support the President’s proposals.

Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, took the matter to his Democratic caucus and returned to the Senate floor to say that he thanked Sen. McConnell for calling up the measure and that he was happy to vote.

Suddenly Sen. McConnell found himself painted into the same inescapable corner in which he’d thought to strand the Democrats. So what was his reaction? He mounted a filibuster of the vote on the bill he himself had called to the floor.

People are dissatisfied with Congress. The remarkable thing is that more people don’t understand that it is the Republican minority, especially in the person of Mitch McConnell, that has denigrated Congress thoroughly since 2009. We cannot have a Congress, House or Senate, that does the work of the nation as a whole while we have the craven partisanship of Mitch McConnell and the lunatic paranoia of Lee, Inhofe, Rand Paul, Eric Cantor and the rest of the escapees from the right-wing asylum. Luckily, if the Republicans continue bringing forward candidates like the crop in 2012 there’s some reason to believe that a House majority and a 66 Democrat Senate may be in our future and a period in which Congress can redeem its reputation should not be far behind.