Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page


In History, Social commentary on December 31, 2011 at 3:47 pm

For those of us who consciously lived through December 31, 1999, there will never be another New Year’s Eve like it.

New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for people to reflect on the major events of the previous 12 months.  Some of these are highly personal.  Others were shared by the entire country.

Some of these remembrances inevitably bring pleasure.  Others bring pain.

But at the heart of every New Year’s Eve celebration is the fantasy that you get to start fresh in a matter of hours.  And with that fantasy comes hope–that, this time, you can put your sorrows and failures behind you.

New Year’s Eve, 1999, was marked far more by apprehension and fear than joy.

  • Fear of Y2K–that our highly computerized, globally-interconnected world would crash when the “19” at the start of every year was replaced with a “20”.
  • Fear of Armageddon–that Jesus would return at any moment to destroy mankind (except for those 144,000 righteous souls He deemed worthy of salvation).
  • Fear of the Millennium itself–of ending not simply another decade and century but an entire thousand-year period of history, and thus losing our historical ties to the familiar highlights of our own (and America’s) past.

And, especially where Y2K was concerned, the TV commentators were quick to stoke our anxieties.

For those of us living in California on December 31, 1999, the day began with news reports of celebrations of the New Year in such distant countries as Australia and New Zealand.

“So far,” each of these reports ended, “there have been no reports of Y2K-related outages.”

But the underlying message was clear: Stay tuned–it could still happen.  And this message kept blaring for the rest of the day and into the evening.

At 9 p.m. California time, I turned off a VCR and turned on a local news station to watch celebrations–or chaos–unfold in New York City.

If the lights went off in New York at midnight Eastern time, then, in three more hours, the same would happen in California.

When I saw lights glittering in Times Square, I felt reasonably certain that Y2K would probably be a dud.

Long before New Year’s Eve, TV newscasters had repeatedly warned that, when midnight struck on January 1, 2000, the three places you did not want to be were:

  • In an airplane.
  • In an elevator
  • In a hospital.

Countless numbers of people in America and around the world stocked up on food, water, batteries and other essentials for dealing with an emergency.

Along San Francisco’s Powell Street–a major center of tourism and commerce–store owners boarded up their doors and windows as New Year’s Eve approached.  Many closed earlier than usual that day.

Merchants and police feared widespread rioting and violence.  If Y2K didn’t set it off, then fears of a heaven-sent Apocalypse might.

Fortunately, these fears proved groundless.

Three people I know decided to throw an “End of the World” party.  They didn’t believe the world was coming to an end.  But they decided to throw an “absolute last blast” party as though it were.

Among the items they stockpiled for this occasion:

  1. Country pork spareribs
  2. Yams
  3. Crabs
  4. Apple cidar
  5. Black olives
  6. Fresh cranberries
  7. Avacodos
  8. Chocolate chip ice cream
  9. Lambrusco
  10. Gin and tonic water
  11. Root beer
  12. Smoked cheese
  13. Pumpkin cream mousse cake
  14. Chocolate cake

It was definitely an unforgettable night.

New Year’s Eve 1999 is now 12 years distant.  But there may be some lessons to be learned from it:

Each year is a journey unto itself–filled with countless joys and sorrows.  Many of these joys can’t be predicted.  And many of these tragedies can’t be prevented.

Learn to tell real dangers from imaginary ones.  Computers are real–and sometimes they crash.  Men who died 2,000 years ago do not leap out of graveyards, no matter what their disciples predict.

Don’t expect any particular year to usher in the Apocylapse.  In any given year there will be wars, famines, earthquakes, riots, floods and a host of other disasters.  These have always been with us–and always will be.  As Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

Don’t expect some Great Leader to lead you to success.  As Gaius Cassius says in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “Men at some time are masters of their fate.  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

Don’t expect any particular year or event to usher in your happiness.  To again quote Lincoln: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

If your life seems to make no sense to you, consider this: The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once noted: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”


In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on December 28, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Texas Congressman and Presidential candidate Ron Paul is under attack–from the Right.

The anti-abortion group Personhood USA fears that Paul is not fully committed to its goal of granting fertilized embryos the same Constitutional protections now afforded to American citizens.

Less than a week ago, Paul became the fifth Republican presidential candidate to sign a petition written by Personhood USA.

In doing so, he pledged to “support a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.”

When the libertarian Paul signed the Personhood pledge, he included a clarifying statement that seems to allow states to decide how to enforce such an amendment.

“A Human Life Amendment should do two things,” Paul wrote. “First, it should define life as beginning at conception and give the unborn the same protection all other human life enjoys.

“Second, it must deal with the enforcement of the ruling much as any law against violence does–through state laws.”

In an open letter to Paul, Personhood USA opposed that line of reasoning: “How exactly does Rep. Paul uggest we ‘protect rights at the federal level?'”

The group believes that allowing individual states to decide how to enforce federal laws allows states to apply different standards of enforcement.  This, in turn, contradicts the Federal nature of the protection.

In Paul’s “clarifying statement,” he had written:

“The Fourteenth Amendment was never intended to cancel out the Tenth Amendment.  This means that I can’t agree that the Fourteenth Amendment has a role to play here, or otherwise we would end up with a ‘Federal Department of Abortion.'”

Of course, a “Federal Department of Abortion” is precisely what groups like Personhood USA want to see created.

The open letter demands: “How will the rights of unborn children (our posterity) be federally protected in NY or California, where a majority of the people are in favor of the legalized murder of unborn children?”

Therein lies the fundamental contradiction–and hypocrisy–of the radical Right.

On one hand, when it comes to causes they support, Rightists demand a “hands-off” approach to government regulation.

As they see it, corporations should be allowed to

  • pollute as much as they want;
  • pay their employees as little as they want;
  • avoid paying workers compensation or unemployment;
  • pay little or no taxes;
  • churn out useless or even unsafe goods;
  • put out deceptive advertising;
  • discriminate against job-seekers and employees as much as they want.

Thus, agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the Internal Revenue Service should be abolished.

And since Medicare and Social Security serve an aging population that’s not made up of millionaires, Rightists want these programs shut down.  Remember the roar of approval that went up at a Republican debate over the thought of an uninsured patient being left to die?

But when it comes to causes they dislike, only the most punitive government measures will do.  Thus:

  • The Drug Enforcement Administration should have its budget and agent-force greatly expanded, to go after pot-smokers and pill-poppers.
  • The FBI should declare all-out war on the pornography industry.
  • Abortion should be re-criminalized–especially at the Federal level.  Doctors who perform abortions and patients who get them should be hauled off to lengthy prison sentences.
  • Certain forms of birth control–such as those that prevent an unfertilized egg from attaching itself to the womb–should be criminalized.
  • The right to divorce should be sharply restricted–especially for women.
  • Homosexuals should not only be forbidden to marry, but should be rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps, where they will be prevented from “contaminating” heterosexuals.

And when Rightists call for “downsizing government,” they do not include the military.  How else could President George W. Bush have waged an unprovoked war against Iraq under the lie that it held “Weapons of Mass Destruction”?

When Rightists campaign for office, they ignore or downplay the inherent contradiction between these two different sets of priorities.

It’s like the story of an ancient arms-peddler who claimed to offer a spear that could penetrate any shield–and a shield that could repulse any spear.

At first, his listeners were excited.  Who could resist the promise of weapons that would make their user invulnerable?

Then an old man stepped out of the assembled mob and pointed out the contradiction: Either the spear could penetrate the shield, or the shield could deflect the spear.  But one of them had to prove false.

The question was: Which one?

The same holds true when Rightists campaign for office.

Perhaps the easiest way to sum up the agenda–and tactics–of the Right is to remember the warning of Ernest Hemingway: “Fascism is a lie told by bullies.  Because Fascism is a lie, it is condemned to literary sterility. And when it is past, it will have no history, except the bloody history of murder.”


In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on December 27, 2011 at 1:33 pm

“How many men ever went to a barbecue and would let one man take off the table what’s intended for nine-tenths of the people to eat? The only way you’ll ever be able to feed the balance of the people is to make that man come back and bring back some of that grub that he ain’t got no business with!”
– Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long, 1934

Campaigning for the Presidency, Mitt Romney was speaking to a crowd of hundreds at the Iowa State Fair.  He was being pressed about raising taxes to help cover entitlement spending. Suddenly, a heckler suggested raising corporate tax rates.

Romney responded: “Corporations are people, my friend.  Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets. Human beings, my friend.”

Mitt Romney

The line earned him a sustained round of applause from the crowd.

If it’s true that corporations are people, then they are exceptionally greedy and selfish people.

A December, 2011 report by Public Campaign, highlighting corporate abuses of the tax laws, makes this all too clear.

Public Campaign is a national nonpartisan organization dedicated to reforming campaign finance laws and holding elected officials accountable.

Summarizing its conclusions, the report’s author writes:

“Amidst a growing federal deficit and widespread economic insecurity for most Americans, some of the largest corporations in the country have avoided paying their fair share in taxes while spending millions to lobby Congress and influence elections.”

Its key findings:

  • The thirty big corporations analyzed in this report paid more to lobby Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, despite being profitable.
  • Despite making combined profits totaling $164 billion in that three-year period, the 30 companies combined received tax rebates totaling nearly $11 billion.
  • Altogether, these companies spent nearly half a billion dollars ($476 million) over three years to lobby Congress.  That’s about $400,000 each day, including weekends.
  • In the three-year period beginning in 2009 through most of 2011, these large firms spent over $22 million altogether on federal campaigns.
  • These corporations have also spent lavishly on compensatng their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

Among those corporations whose tax-dodging and influence-buying were analyzed:

  • General Electric
  • Verizon
  • PG&E
  • Wells Fargo
  • Duke Energy
  • Boeing
  • Consolidated Edison
  • DuPont
  • Honeywell International
  • Mattel
  • Corning
  • FedEx
  • Tenet Healthcare
  • Wisconsin Energy
  • Con-way

The report bluntly cites the growing disparity between the relatively few rich and the vast majority of poor and middle-class citizens:

“Over the past few months, a growing protest movement has shifted the debate about economic inequality in this country.

“The American people wonder why members of Congress suggest cuts to Medicare and Social Security but won’t require millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes.

“They want to know why they are struggling to find jobs and put food on the the table while the country’s largest corporations get tax breaks and sweetheart deals, then use that extra cash to pay bloated bonuses to CEOs or ship jobs overseas.

“….At a time when millions of Americans are still unemployed and millions more make tough choices to get by, these companies are enriching their top executives and spending millions of dollars on Washington lobbyists to stave off higher taxes or regulations.”

Assessing the results of corporate tax-dodging, the report states:

  • Using various tax dodging techniques, including stashing profits in overseas tax havens and tax loopholes, 29 out of 30 companies featured in this study succeeded in paying no federal income taxes from 2008 through 2010.
  • These 29 companies received tax rebates over those three years, ranging from $4 million for Corning to nearly $5 billion for General Electric and totally nearly $11 billion altogether.
  • The only corporation that paid taxes in that three-year period, FedEx, paid a three-year tax rate of 1%, far less than the statutory rate of 35%.

The report bluntly notes the hypocrisy of corporate executives who call themselves “job creators” while enriching themselves by laying off thousands of employees:

“Another area where these corporations have decided to spend lavishly is compensation for their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

“Executives doing particularly well work for General Electric ($76 million in total compensation in 2010), Honeywell International  ($54 million), and Wells Fargo ($50 million).

“Executives who have seen the greatest increase work for DuPont (188% increase), Wells Fargo (180% increase) and Verizon (167% increase).

Despite being profitable, some of these corporations have actually laid off workers.

Since 2008, seven of the corporations have reported laying off American workers.  The worst offenders are Verizon, which laid off 21,308 workers, and Boeing, which fired 14,862 employees.

Insisting that “corporations are people” wins applause from the wealthiest 1% and their Right-wing supporters.  But it does nothing to better the lives of the poor and middle-class.

If the nation is to avoid economic and moral bankruptcy, Americans must demand that powerful corporations be held accountable–and punished harshly when they behave irresponsibly.


In History, Politics on December 21, 2011 at 1:19 am

If Newt Gingrich becomes President, he has big plans for the American federal judiciary: To arrest and remove all those judges who do not follow his right-wing agenda.

Adolf Hitler laid out his plans for remaking Germany and the world in his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle).

And would-be Fuehrer Gingrich has openly proclaimed his own dictatorial intentions.

In a December 18 appearance on “Face the Nation,” Gingrich spoke candidly with host Bob Schieffer about his hatred for much of the American federal judiciary.

Schieffer: Mr. Speaker, the old saying in legal circles is that the Supreme Court is not last because it’s right, it’s right because it’s last. There comes a point where you have to accept things as the law of the land. How do you decide, how does the President decide what’s a good law and I’m going to obey the Supreme Court or what’s a bad law and I’m just going to ignore it?

Gingrich: I think it depends on the severity of the case. I’m not suggesting that the Congress and the President review every decision. I’m suggesting that when there are decisions….in which they’re literally risking putting civil liberty rules in battlefields, it’s utterly irrational for the Supreme Court to take on its shoulders the defense of the United States. It’s a violation of the Constitution.

* * * * *

Schieffer: …. Next year the Supreme Court is going to take up Obama’s healthcare proposal. What if they throw it out? Can President Obama then say I’m sorry boys, I’m just going to go ahead and implement it. Could he do that?

Gingrich: The key question is, what would the Congress then do? Because there are three branches….

Schieffer: But could he do that?

Gingrich: He could try to do that. And the Congress would then cut him off. Here’s the key — it’s always two out of three. If the President and the Congress say the court is wrong, in the end the court would lose. If the Congress and the court say the President is wrong, in the end the President would lose.

And if the President and the court agreed, the Congress loses. The founding fathers designed the Constitution very specifically in a Montesquieu spirit of the laws to have a balance of power, not to have a dictatorship by any one of the three branches.

Schieffer: ….And a number of conservatives, including two of George Bush’s attorneys general, Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mulcasey, both said and I’m going to just quote what Mr. Mulcasey said.

….He told Fox News, he said “Mr. Gingrich’s proposal is dangerous, ridiculous, totally irresponsible, outrageous, off the wall, and would reduce the entire judicial system to a spectacle.” Now that’s a conservative judge or a conservative attorney general. How do you respond to that?

Gingrich: I think many lawyers will find this a very frightening idea. They’ve had this run of 50 years of pretending judges are supreme, that they can’t be challenged. The lawyer class defines America.

We’ve had rulings that outlawed school prayer, we’ve had ruling that outlawed the cross, we’ve had rulings the outlawed the 10 Commandments, we’ve had a steady secular drive to radicalize this country away from all of its core beliefs. I mean what got me into this was the 9th Circuit saying that one nation under God is unconstitutional.

* * * * *

On June 30, 1934, Hitler ordered his private army, the SS (Schutzstaffel, or Protective Squad) to purge his other private army, the S.A., or Brown Shirts.  At least 200 men and women were murdered throughout Germany.

Some died by firing squad.  Others were executed in prison.  Still others were shot down in their homes.

Afterward, Hitler appeared before the German parliament, the Reichstag, to justify his actions:

“If someone asks me why we did not use the regular courts, I would reply: At that moment I was responsible for the German nation.  It ws I, alone, who, during those 24 hours, was the Supreme Court of Justice of the German people.”

If Walt Disney were alive today, he might well rewrite the lyrics to “Der Fuehrer’s Face” as follows:

When Der Fuehrer says,
“We’ll win the White House race!”
We heil! heil!
Right in Der Gingrich face.
Not to love Der Fuehrer
Is a great disgrace.
So we heil! heil!
Right in Der Gingrich face.
When Herr Boehner says,
“They’ll never tax this place!”
We heil! heil!
Right in Herr Boehner’s face.
When Herr Limbaugh says,
“Obama’s the wrong race!”
We heil! heil!
Right in Herr Limbaugh’s face.
Are they not the Supermen?
Yes, they are the Supermen.
Super-duper Supermen.
Is their Nazi land so good?
Must we fight it as we should?
No, their Nazi land’s no good.
We must fight it as we should.
They bring the world to order.
The Gingrich world to order.
Everyone of non-Right race
Will love Der Gingrich face
When they bring the world disorder.


In History, Politics on December 19, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Republicans have a love/hate relationship with Adolf Hitler.

On one hand, they repeatedly accuse President Barack Obama of being another Hitler.  They decorate his poster with the toothbrush mustache worn by Germany’s Fuehrer.  They dismiss Obama’s eloquence with: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

On the other hand, they run candidates whose power-lust and ruthlessness match that of Hitler or any of his henchmen.

Among these in the past have been such notorious figures as Senator Joseph “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, President Richard M. Nixon and House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

And now a figure from that past is rising again in a last, desperate grasp for absolute power: Newt Gingrich.

In a half-hour phone call with reporters on December 17, Gingrich said that, as President, he would abolish whole courts to be rid of judges whose decisions he feels are out of step with the country.

“Are we forced for a lifetime to keep someone on the bench who is so radically anti-American that they are a threat to the fabric of the country?” Gingrich asked.

“What kind of judge says you’ll go to jail if the word ‘invocation’ is used? If this isn’t a speech dictatorship, I’d like you to show me what one looks like.”

And appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Gingrich said the President could send federal law enforcement authorities to arrest judges who make controversial rulings in order to compel them to justify their decisions before congressional hearings.

When host Bob Schieffer asked how he would force federal judges to comply with congressional subpoenas, there occurred this telling exchange:

Schieffer: Let me just ask you this. You talk about enforcing it because one of things you say is if you don’t like what a court has done, the congress should subpoena the judge and bring him before congress and hold a congressional hearing.

Some people say that’s unconstitutional but I’ll let that go for a minute. I just want to ask you from a practical standpoint, how would you enforce that? Would you send the Capitol police down to arrest him?

Gingrich: If you had to or you’d instruct the Justice Department to send a U.S. Marshal. Let’s take the case of Judge Biery. I think he should be asked to explain a position that radical. How could he say he’s going to jail the superintendent over the word benediction and invocation?

Because before…because then I would encourage impeachment. But before you move to impeachment, you’d like to know why he said it. Now clearly since the congress has the power.

Schieffer: What if he didn’t come? What if he said, no thank you, I’m not coming?

Gingrich: Well that is what happens in impeachment cases. In an impeachment case, the House studies whether or not, the House brings them in, the House subpoenas them. And as a general rule they show up.

I mean, but you’re raising the core question, are judges above the rest of the constitution? Or are judges one of the three co-equal branches?

* * * * *

The politicizing of the judiciary was one of the major hallmarks of Hitler’s Germany.  Those judges who refused to hand out the types of verdicts Hitler desired were quickly removed.

They were replaced by judges like the infamous Roland Freisler, who chaired the First Senate of the People’s Court, and acted as judge, jury and prosecutor.

About 90% of all defendants appearing before him were sentenced to death or life imprisonment.  The sentences had often been determined before trial.

Between 1942 and 1945, more than 5,000 death sentences were handed out.  Of these, 2,600 were issued by the court’s First Senate, which Freisler headed.

Freisler was infamous for humiliating defendants. Several defendants in the July 20, 1944 bomb plot against Hitler appeared before him.  One of these was Ulrich-Wilhelm Graf Schwerin von Schwanenfeld.

Schwerin, brought to court without a belt and tie, tried to preserve his dignity by holding up his pants.  Freisler mocked him as a pervert for “playing” with his trousers.  When Schwerin said that he had come to oppose Hitler because of “the many murders in Germany and abroad” he was furiously interrupted by Freisler, who finally shouted him down.

On September 8, 1944, Schwerin was hanged in prison in Berlin.

Adolf Hitler laid out his plans for remaking Germany and the world in his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle).  Newt Gingrich has openly proclaimed his own dictatorial intentions.

Hitler published Mein Kampf in 1925–eight years before he became Germany’s Fuehrer in 1933.

Almost a year before the 2012 election, Gingrich has given warning of his own dictatorial plans for remaking the United States in his own image.

Most Germans who detested Hitler refused to take him seriously–until it was too late.

History will judge whether Americans act more responsibly than their German counterparts.


In History, Politics on December 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

It must be borne in mind that my design is not to write histories, but lives. And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men.

Sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.

–Plutarch’s biography of Alexander the Great

Mitt Romney suffered a “Plutarch moment” during his December 10 debate encounter with Rick Perry.

The faceoff came in Des Moines, Iowa.  The former Massachussetts governor found himself once again accosted by the current governor of Texas.

It was the same annoying accusation that Perry had made in past debates: That Romney had supported national healthcare reform in the hardcover edition of his book, No Apology.

According to Perry, that passage was removed from the paperback edition.

The United States remains the only major Western nation without a national health insurance program.  About 60 million Americans lack medical insurance.

So you would expect a hero’s laurels for the man who could bring medical care to those most in need of it.

But President Obama had made healthcare reform a major part of his 2008 election campaign and his new administration.  Thus, such an accusation put Romney–for Republicans–into the same category as The Anti-Christ.

“I’m just saying, you’re for individual mandates, my friend,” Perry said to Romney.

Romney had to quash the charge.  The question was: How to do it?

So Romney–whose fortune has been estimated at $250 million–did what comes naturally to the sons of privilege: He used his wealth as a bludgeon.

“You’ve raised that before, Rick, and you’re simply wrong,” said Romney.

Then: “Rick, I’ll tell you what: $10,000 bucks? Ten thousand dollar bet?” Romney asked, extending his hand to shake.

Perry, a Christian evangelical, may have a principled stand on betting.  Or maybe, at the last minute, he decided he was wrong about the book.  So he declined.

“I’m not in the betting business but I will show you the book,” Perry said.

It was the bet heard round the world.

“For someone to go and throw around a $10,000 bet, just goes to show even more that he’s not the same level as the people of Iowa or the country,” said Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for would-be President Michele Bachmann.

And Bill Burton, an organizer for President Obama’s re-election campaign, wrote on Twitter: “Not a lot of 99%’ers are out there making $10,000 bets.”

Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s press spokesman, tried to laugh the incident off, saying it was not a serious bet.

“I’ve made bets with friends and family for $1m,” Fehrnstrom said. He added that Romney had made the bet because he knew Perry would not take it.

But others were having none of it.

“Romney promises that his butler will ‘personally deliver’ the $10,000 check if he loses,” Jonah Goldberg of the National Review tweeted.

Jonathan Martin, who covers the GOP race for Politico, asked tongue-in-cheek: “Who among us doesn’t wager $10,000 at a time?”

With at least 14 million Americans unemployed, some perspective can be gained from the wealth of those who seek the nation’s highest office:

Mitt Romney: Former Massachussetts governor.  During his 2008 White House bid, he put his personal wealth at between $190 and $250 million, most of it from his time in business.

Jon Huntsman: Former U.S. ambassador to China.  He listed his personal assets this year as between $15 and $66 million, much of it from a chemical company set up by his father.

Newt Gingrich:  Former Speaker of the House of Representatives.  He earned $2.5 million last year from speeches, book and his work as a lobbyist.  As a lobbyist he has earned an estimated $100 million over the past decade.

Ron Paul: Congressman from Texas.  His assets are between $2.29 and $5.3 million, based on his disclosure in the 2008 White House race.

Rick Santorum: Former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.  His personal assets range between $522,000 and $1.8 million.

Michele Bachmann: Congresswoman from MinnesotaShe is worth $1 to $2.5 million, mostly profits from a therapy clinic.  A family farm brings in $5,000 to $15,000.

Rick Perry: Governor of Texas.  He claimed that his wealth, in 2009, was $896,000, held in a blind trust. He has made his money mainly from buying and selling houses.

Barack Obama: In 2009, the President filed disclosure forms stating that his wealth totaled between $2.3 and $7.7 million.  Much of this comes from royalties from his two best-selling books: Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope.

Americans watch movies like “Spartacus” and “Gladiator” where rich, toga-clad Roman senators ruthlessly decide the fates of their poor constituents.  And they think–and even say: “Thank God that couldn’t happen here.”

But those with a greater sense of history–past and present–know the brutal truth: It has happened here.


In History, Politics on December 13, 2011 at 10:38 am

Forty-eight years ago, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Many writers have noted that more than the President died that day.  With him died his wit, intelligence,  charisma and ability to arouse the hearts of the young and idealistic.

But something more died with Kennedy on November 22, 1963: Americans’ belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverence.

At American University on June 10, 1963, he called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War.

And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most important national problems.

On November 21, the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat.

President Kennedy, a speed-reader, scanned several newspapers every morning.  He cultivated relationships with members of the press–and not for entirely altruistic reasons.

These journalistic relationships gave Kennedy additional sources of information–and perspectives–on national and international issues.

Today even Republican Presidential candidates take pride in their ignorance of both.

Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.”  Thus he excused his ignorance of the reasons for President Obama’s intervention in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you — I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Ccourt judges. And, uh, ah —

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….

“That’s what Americans care about. Uh, they’re not  looking for a robot that can, uh, spit out, uh, the name of every Supreme Court  justice, or, ah, the the someone that’s gonna be perfect in, in, in every way.”

And Sarah Palin, rushing to the defense of Newt Gingrich last May, blamed the media for “tricking” him into revealing his opposition to Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan.

“There’s got to be the preparation on all the candidates’ parts for those gotchas,” she said. “That’s what the lamestream media’s known for now a days, it’s the gotcha trip up questions and you just have to be prepared for it and overcome it.”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, on the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences.

Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

What a complete contrast that is from today’s woeful historical ignorance among Republican Presidential candidates–and those who aspire to be.

Consider Palin’s rewriting of history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”:

“He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”

In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything. Instead, he was warning the Americans about an impending British attack — as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear.

Republicans have attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language.  Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resent his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.  As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin'” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic approach to American politics.  It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoned and educated citizens for their leaders.


In History, Politics on December 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Magda Goebbels may be dead, but her ghost marches on–in the skinny, blonde-haired shape of right-wing columnist Ann Coulter.

Coulter isn’t like Mitt Romney, who’s taken almost every possible position on almost every possible issue.  No, she can be trusted to move ever more rightward, no matter what the issue.

In doing so, she has become the classic definition of a fanatic:  Someone who always sticks to his guns–whether they’re loaded or not.

Consider her November 2 column: “Why Our Blacks Are Better Than Their Blacks.”  This was written in defense of Herman Cain, who had just been outed as a sexual predator in a Politico news story.

According to that and subsequent news stories, two former colleagues of Cain’s at the National Restaurant Association had filed complaints that Cain had acted inappropriately toward them.

One woman received $45,000 in an out-of-court settlement.  Another got $35,000.

But none of that mattered to Coulter:

“It is beyond insane that Herman Cain would have considered running for president if he had the tiniest skeleton in his closet,” she wrote.

“To be an out-of-the-closet black Republican, you had better be a combination rocket scientist/Baptist preacher. Which, as it happens, Cain is.”

Appearing on Sean Hannity’s show, Coulter said that the Cain story is a “high-tech lynching,” adding that “it’s coming from the exact same people who used to do the lynching with ropes, now they do it with a word processor.”

She added that liberals are “too dense” to see the “many wonderful qualities” about Cain, because “all they see is a conservative black man.

“That’s why our blacks are so much better than their blacks,” Coulter said. “To become a black Republican you don’t just roll into it. You’re not going with the flow.

“You have fought against probably your family members, probably your neighbors, you have thought everything out and that’s why we have very impressive blacks in our party.”

And Rush Limbaugh–the American Right’s version of Joseph Goebbels–had his own take on Sharon Bialek, a fourth woman who similarly accused Cain of making unwanted sexual advances.

Limbaugh, on his radio show, intentionally pronounced Bialeck’s name as “Buy-a-Lick.”

For Limbaugh, it was enough to know that Cain was not Mitt Romney.  He felt certain that Cain, if he got the Republican nomination, would viciously manhandle Barack Obama, if not win the White House.

And for Limbaugh, that was enough to ensure his support of Cain.

For right-wing extremists like Coulter and Limbaugh, skin color can take a backseat to ideology–providing the ideology makes Adolf Hitler look like a liberal.

Without waiting for events to develop, Coulter and Limbaugh rushed to defend the man they believed would be vicious enough to not only defeat President Obama but brutally assail him along the way.

They would have done  better to wait it out.

On November 28, Ginger White publicly asserted that she had had a 13-year affair with Cain.  On December 3, Cain announced that he was “suspending” his campaign.

Of course, neither Coulter nor Limbaugh has since apologized for their incendiary attacks on Democrats–and anyone else who fails to support a Fascist viewpoint and agenda.

Venom-spewers like Coulter, Limbaugh and Hannity serve two functions:

First, they act as mouthpieces for the Right–literally giving voice to the fears, greeds and hates that animate this audience.

This in turn reassures Rightists that their fears, greeds and hates are in fact justified–and encourages them to “keep up the fight.”

Second, because such commentators are not officially linked with the Republican Party, the party can always feel free to disavow their incietments to anger, racism and even violence.

Such was the case earlier this year when a “lone nut” acted out the violent fantasies of Sarah Palin, who had created and published a map spotlighting 20 House Democrats–and used cross-hairs images to show their districts.

One of those cross-hairs districts was that of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.  Only after the gunman had shot Giffords did Palin take down her map.

She might as well have sent the assassin, who killed six people and wounded 13 others, a congratulatory card on his marksmanship.

Palin, of course, has never been held accountable for her open incitement to violence.

With the 2012 Presidential race quickly approaching, and the Right more than ever determined to remove Barack Obama from the White House at all costs, the Secret Service will have its work cut out for it.

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