A portrait of Louis Brandeis on the cover of Time magazine on October 19, 1925.
Before he was an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939, Louis Brandeis was a progressive lawyer fighting the big monopolies, or trusts, of Gilded Age America. He termed the corrosive effect on democracy of unrestrained business practices “The Curse of Bigness”, and after he joined the Supreme Court he maintained his interest in restraining business interests from trampling the rights of ordinary citizens.
Now President Biden has appointed Lina Khan to the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, and her appointment signals a return to the principles of Louis Brandeis. Lina Khan is an antitrust lawyer and legal scholar who, as a student at Yale Law School in 2017, wrote an article called Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox. The article drew widespread attention for her ideas about how the conventional wisdom of the past 50 or so years regarding regulation of the marketplace based on consumer prices no longer applied in the age of Amazon, a company willing to engage in predatory pricing and use vertical integration in order to stifle competition and monopolize the marketplace.
A profile of Lina Khan in Time from October 17, 2019.
Prior to Ms. Khan’s appointment, another antitrust lawyer and legal scholar, Tim Wu, joined the Biden administration as a Special Assistant to the President for Technology and Competition Policy on the National Economic Council. Mr. Wu is known for helping to write the first network neutrality rules in work for the Federal Communications Commission in 2006. In 2018, he wrote The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age, a book which paid homage to Louis Brandeis and his antitrust work of the Progressive Era.
A Climate Strike protester with an anti Bezos sign in London on February 14, 2020. Photo by Flickr user Socialist Appeal.
With these two people now in key positions in the federal government, perhaps efforts to rein in, or even bust up, big technology companies such as Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft, will finally be undertaken seriously and with persistence. In the past, these Big Five technology companies have largely escaped with slaps on the wrist after fitful investigations into their practices.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg answered questions from Brandeis University students at an event in January 2016 commemorating the 100th anniversary of Louis Brandeis being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Woodrow Wilson.
As Louis Brandeis understood, and as is apparent from the writings of both Lina Khan and Tim Wu, setting regulatory boundaries for these behemoth businesses not only ensures they act fairly in the marketplace, but protects democracy from their tendency to squash individual liberties when they conflict with their self-interest. And the bigger and less competitive these companies become, the more their self-interest consumes everything in their vicinity, like a beast that can’t stop growing and must swallow anything in its way.
An unofficial remix of the 2021 songs “Bezos I” and “Bezos II”, written and performed by Bo Burnham for his album and Netflix special,Bo Burnham:Inside. Warning: foul language.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
— Matthew 6:5, from the New International Version of the Bible.
When state and local governments include churches, mosques, and synagogues in their lockdown orders due to coronavirus, it might at first glance seem to be an infringement on religious freedom, but such is not the case. It would be an infringement if government singled out particular institutions which were in almost every way like other institutions except for their religious character. In this public health emergency, however, the only concern government officials have with religious institutions is the one characteristic they share with some other institutions, which is how they typically gather together large groups of people, a characteristic more conducive to spreading coronavirus than to tamping it down.
Congregating for the purpose of religious worship is no more under attack in these coronavirus lockdown orders than assembly for the political purpose of voting. This hasn’t stopped some religious leaders from loudly claiming they and their congregants are being persecuted by government in general and by the Democratic Party in particular. It hasn’t taken long for the coronavirus to become politically as polarized as everything else in our society. The virus itself has not expressed a political preference and, like past viruses, attacks everyone equally.
No one is denying religious freedom to churchgoers, only the freedom to go to church in large numbers at one time. Congregating has always been an important element of religious ritual for many people in many religions, but a public health emergency supersedes the wish of some to carry on as always at the expense of and to the detriment of the many. People can still pray, and in most places they can still gather to pray in groups of less than ten or thereabouts.
Replica of Jesus Christ’s tomb at Easter 2017 in the church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, in Paris, France. Photo by Tangopaso.
Some pastorsdon’t see it that way. They are pastors of Southern Baptist churches, by and large. They are led in their right wing political views and gullible belief in hoaxes concocted by their devilish foes in the center and left of American politics by people like Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. For these people, churchgoing is perhaps even more a social bond than it is a religious experience. They go to see and be seen.
Church is also a place where they reaffirm to each other their political bond, which is conservative at least, and right wing more often with each passing year. Taking away their church gatherings of dozens or hundreds of people in close proximity to each other is seen by them as prying apart the social and political bonds which are more important to them than the religious bonds affirmed in regular churchgoing. Their pastors can grandstand about supposed government and leftist persecution of their religious institutions, but their real worry is loosening the social and political bonds cemented regularly in seeing and being seen by their fellow congregants.
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
— Benjamin Franklin, in reply to a question about what sort of government the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention had settled on.
February 2 is the day some people, primarily in North America, attempt to divine the next six weeks of weather by observing groundhogs who briefly exit from winter hibernation in their burrows. If it’s a sunny day, the groundhog will see his or her shadow and, counter intuitively, those watching the animal will pronounce six more weeks of wintry weather. On a cloudy day, with no shadows in sight, the prediction is for an early start of spring weather. People in some parts of Europe have a similar tradition involving different animals, such as badgers in Germany and hedgehogs in Britain.
Emerging briefly from hibernation in February 2014, a groundhog takes leaves to line its burrow nest or toilet chamber. Photo by Ladycamera.
This is all silliness, of course, with no proof of accuracy, but it is mostly harmless except for possibly obnoxious intrusions on the lives of peace loving groundhogs. In ancient Rome, prognostication using animals took a more deadly turn. All sorts of animals – chickens, sheep, and goats among them – were confined until the day they were sacrificed for the purpose of having a kind of priest called a haruspex examine the dead animal’s entrails for signs of the future. This was deadly serious business, not only for the sacrificial animals, but for the generals and politicians who often did not make a move unless the signs from the entrails were auspicious.
There is no record proving the consistent accuracy of haruspicy (divination by the inspection of entrails), just as there is no record for the accuracy of groundhogs at predicting the weather based on the presence or absence of cloud cover on a particular day. Nonetheless, people have been wasting their time and efforts on these methods of divination for millennia. The ancient method, haruspicy, was a nasty business all around, while Groundhog Day observations cause little harm and are of no consequence.
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra performs a suite of themes from Ennio Morricone’s music for the 1968 Sergio Leone film Once Upon a Time in the West. Tuva Semmingsen performs the vocals that were sung by Edda Dell’Orso on the original soundtrack recording.
What about reading the signs of the times, such as looking at newspapers to follow developments in the republic called the United States of America? What about a Senate majority of Republicans who vote to exclude witnesses in the impeachment trial of a corrupt president? What about a Republican state legislator in Montana who maintains that the Constitution of the United States sanctions the shooting and imprisonment of Socialists, merely for being Socialists? What about the chortling lunatics cheering on Orange Julius as he threatens and demeans his opponents at his demented pep rallies? And what about those same cheering, jeering lunatics threatening violence if their Chosen One is removed from office either by impeachment or by the results of an election?
Those signs and others are easy enough to read for anyone paying attention to developments in order to honor the obligations of an informed citizen. There are those citizens, however, who are too lazy to pay attention. Very well; they should continue in their laziness and stay home on Election Day in nine months, rather than show up and vote for the incumbent president simply because the wolf is not yet at their door. And then there are those voters, more culpable in the decay of the republic than anyone else, who are interested only in the health of their financial portfolio, and who are deaf and blind to the cries and despair of anyone shut out of the bounty and suffering under the oppression of the oligarchy. The signs now point toward a Tyranny by Corporate Oligarchy, and if citizens continue to choose it by doing nothing, then after Election Day in November there will be no going back and we will have gotten the government we deserve.
For those who can’t get enough of the sound of the loss of the republic, here it is on the theremin. Katica Illényi performs with the Győr Philharmonic Orchestra in Budapest, Hungary.
The First Continental Congress of the American Colonies sent a petition to King George III on October 25, 1774, requesting he redress their grievances against the British Parliament related to the Coercive Acts passed in response to the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. The king ignored the petition, and consequently the colonists’ march toward revolution picked up momentum over the next year, resulting in the beginning of hostilities in the spring of 1775. Petitions were the primary recourse of the American Colonists in dealing with their British rulers across the Atlantic Ocean since they had no official representation in Parliament, hence the slogan “No taxation without representation.”
The nation’s founders regarded the right to petition the government as so essential to a free society that they included it in the First Amendment, adopted in 1791. They made the right explicit despite the reality that citizens of the United States, unlike colonists under the British Empire, had official representation in the government. James Madison, who was largely responsible for drafting the Bill of Rights, understood that while the people had representation in government, their representatives may not be responsive to the wishes of all the people, and that therefore the people required another, independent outlet “for a redress of grievances.”
The unresponsiveness of government representatives to the people has rarely appeared as evident as it does now, when it seems representatives are responsive mostly to the wishes of corporate contributors to their election campaigns. Polls do not necessarily give lawmakers an accurate idea of how some of their constituents are feeling about issues because responding to pollsters is a passive response to a pollster’s sometimes tailored questions. Poll sample sizes are also often ludicrously small on account of the expense and difficulty of polling. Pollsters claim they conduct their surveys based on well-researched principles in order to achieve accurate representation from small sample sizes, but there are plenty of examples to cite in demonstrating that taking polls is as much art as it is science, and not at all infallible. For one example, look at how inaccurate the polling was in several key Rust Belt states in the weeks before the November 2016 presidential election.
Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Woman’s Suffragette movement in England, arrested outside Buckingham Palace in London while trying to present a petition to King George V in May 1914. Photo from the British Imperial War Museum.
Signing a petition is an active measure taken by citizens numbering in the thousands or millions, as opposed to a select few hundreds or thousands responding passively to a pollster. Citizens mostly seek out petitions on their own initiative, or are made aware of them by friends or family, or by reading the news. The relative ease of signing a petition online, compared to signing one circulated door to door, does not discount that people are participating in the political process instead of waiting for someone to ask their opinion. The distinction is not a small one. Yes, physical participation in a protest weighs far more than signing an online petition in getting the attention of government leaders and the society at large, but an online petition nonetheless demonstrates that the people signing it are paying attention. Numbers have always given weight to petitions, and in the internet age it is possible for millions of people to make their wishes known to their representatives within days of a petition’s first appearance.
The petitions currently circulating urging United States House of Representatives legislators to impeach the occupant of the Oval Office are an excellent demonstration of the need of the people for an outlet to make their wishes known to their government. To anyone paying attention honestly to developments originating from the White House since January 2017, it has long been obvious that impeachment and conviction of the current president would be necessary sooner or later to uphold the rule of law. The nation’s legislators, however, always conscious of political calculations and of the interests of their big money donors, have been dragging their feet to avoid having to put themselves on the line in upholding the oath they took to preserve and defend the Constitution.
Captain Queeg, the character played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny, was obviously unstable, but nonetheless discharging him from his command was quite difficult because the captain of a vessel at sea is by necessity an autocrat whose authority is fully backed by a nation’s institutions. For all that, Captain Queeg was not a corrupt grifter with contempt for democratic institutions and a sneering disregard for the norms of civil discourse, and in comparison to the offenses of the current president, Queeg’s official transgressions were minor.
In other words, members of Congress have a constitutional duty to impeach this president for high crimes and misdemeanors he has engaged in too obviously for them to ignore any longer. Whether he will be convicted in the Republican-controlled Senate is anyone’s guess at this point. It probably depends on whether political calculations indicate to at least a few key Republican senators that the time has come at last to throw the president over the side, at which point many of the rest will scramble to get on board.
If millions of American people had waited politely for a pollster to ask them if impeachment was necessary, instead of taking matters into their own hands and petitioning their representatives, Congress might still be dithering, possibly all the way up to Election Day 2020. The current president may not get convicted in the Senate and removed from office before then, but it’s important that public hearings in Congress shine a light long enough and brightly enough on the corrupt and unethical practices of his administration that even the most disengaged voters will have to listen. A brick wall, no matter who constructed it, can keep people from hearing their government at work as well as keep government leaders from hearing the people, but now that representatives have finally listened to people engaged enough to petition them, it’s important that the rest of the populace listen honestly to the arguments for impeachment, and honest engagement requires more than checking an often lopsided Facebook news feed, a far sloppier way of exercising one’s civic duty than signing an online petition. — Vita
“Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
— Kellyanne Conway’s contemptuous response to a reporter asking about her repeated violations of the Hatch Act.
Of course White House counselor Kellyanne Conway knows perfectly well there are no criminal penalties for violating the Hatch Act since it is purely an administrative prohibition. Government employees can be reprimanded or fired for violating the Hatch Act, or assessed a fine up to $1,000. There are other disciplinary penalties that the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) can recommend as well, but none of them include filing criminal charges. The difficulty in disciplining Ms. Conway, however, is that the Hatch Act as currently constituted only allows the OSC to recommend to the president that he fire her, and can do nothing on its own to remove her because she is a political appointee. As applied to Ms. Conway then, the Hatch Act is toothless as long as the president backs her, and she is also very well aware of that fact.
The Hatch Act was pushed forward in 1939 by New Mexico Senator Carl Hatch in response to overt politicking on the job by employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under the Democratic presidential administration of Franklin Roosevelt. It is interesting to note Senator Hatch was a Democrat. Apparently the sentiment at the time was that putting a stop to politicking by federal employees on the taxpayers’ dime was worth bipartisan support. Congress has amended the Hatch Act twice since 1939, though always the toothless nature of the penalties for higher ranking government officials has stood, and as a result presidents have often refused to abide by disciplinary recommendations left up to their discretion.
Kellyanne Conway speaks to the press outside the West Wing of the White House in May 2019. Official White House photo by Tia Dufour.
It’s no surprise the current president has dismissed the recommendation by the OSC that he fire Kellyanne Conway for her repeated violations of the Hatch Act and her disdain of ethics restraints. She is the kind of person he likes best – loyal to him and, when speaking for the administration, a bullsh*t artist, for lack of a more polite phrase which adequately describes her role and abilities. “Spin doctor” doesn’t quite convey her proficiency at spewing outlandish lies, a talent for which her only rival is her boss, the current president. The Oval Office occupant has couched his objection to the OSC recommendation as a violation of Ms. Conway’s free speech right, a dubious argument the Supreme Court has shot down numerous times before in regard to enforcement of the Hatch Act. Government employees are free as always to speak their minds on their own time, but in their official capacity they work for everyone in the country, not merely one political faction.
The people staffing the current presidential administration have little regard for the rule of law as applied to them, and certainly not for an Act dealing with professional ethics that has no legal bite to it. This attitude and tone is set by the current president, for whom laws and ethics and the truth are malleable when applied to him and those he likes. Past presidents and their staffs had at least some little sense of shame, which is apparently what Congress hoped for in 1939 when they passed the original Hatch Act in 1939. Congress must have hoped for voluntary compliance under the pressure of public shame and political calculations. They did not foresee an administration that behaved utterly without shame and invented alternative facts.
Michelle Wolf comments on Kellyanne Conway in this clip from a February 2017 episode of The Daily Show, hosted by Trevor Noah. Warning: foul language.
The worst actors in the current administration, such as Kellyanne Conway, have nothing but contempt for any rules that cannot threaten them with prison if they don’t comply. She and the president she serves are going to do the right thing only when it suits them to do so, not if it only serves the interests of the country. Recently some Democrats in Congress have put forward a bill to amend the Hatch Act in order to redress the lack of enforcement power of the OSC when pursuing complaints against senior political appointees. If the bill passes, presidents will no longer be sole arbiters in such cases. If the bill passes and Kellyanne Conway continues violating the Hatch Act by advocating partisan political issues in her official capacity, she still won’t end up in jail, but she and her boss may have to pay some real political consequences, which is the only thing they understand . . . maybe.
“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”
— excerpt from Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States.
Southerners called the 1828 tariff which had the effect of raising prices on imported manufactured goods while decreasing income from exported agricultural products the “Tariff of Abominations” because it hit hardest in the South. When President John Quincy Adams signed the bill into law, he assured his defeat by Andrew Jackson in the 1828 election. The 1828 tariff prompted South Carolina to propose the principle of nullification of federal law by the states, and the friction it set up between North and South was instrumental in leading to the Civil War more than 30 years later.
This color version of a John Tenniel illustration is from The Nursery “Alice” (1890), with text adapted for nursery readers by Lewis Carroll from his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. From the collection of the British Library. Carroll created in the Queen of Hearts, pictured at left, a model of imperious, irrational behavior.
The current president’s tariffs have exacerbated economic tensions within the country as well, this time not between North and South, but between rural, agricultural areas and urban, technological and industrial areas. They are his tariffs because over the past century Congress has ceded more and more authority to impose them to the executive branch as a matter of pursuing foreign policy, an authority which the current president, with his autocratic nature, is happy to exercise. He likes nothing better than to pronounce decrees, particularly ones that appear to punish Others, particularly foreign Others, and most especially darker skinned foreign Others.
He and his followersmay not fully understand the possible ramifications and unwelcome reverberations of tariffs throughout the United States and world economy. It doesn’t matter to him or to them. What matters is the feeling of appearing to punish the Other for sins real and imagined against Our Kind, and of feeding off negative energy generated by acting on impulse rather than putting in the grinding, hard work necessary to build positively toward equitable trade agreements. It’s a lot of stick, and very little carrot.
Tariffs have always been used to further domestic political aims and foreign policy objectives as much as they have been used to generate revenue, which makes them somewhat more loaded than other taxes. The latest tariffs are no different, and their implementation echoes the 1828 tariff, an irony no doubt lost on the current president despite his exaltation of Andrew Jackson over all other American presidents. Jackson and his supporters opposed the 1828 tariff. Jackson nonetheless drew the line at allowing South Carolina to flout federal authority by proposing nullification. Jackson contemplated sending federal troops into South Carolina to uphold the law. Free trade advocates and protectionists reached a compromise with an 1833 tariff soon after the South Carolina legislature enacted nullification, averting a crisis and imposing an uneasy peace for the next 28 years.
From the 1951 film Quo Vadis, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring in this scene Peter Ustinov as Nero and Leo Genn as Petronius. Nero probably thought of himself as a stable genius, and had Twitter existed in his time, he no doubt would have used it as a political tool to share his addled observations with the world.
The political calculations behind the current president’s tariffs go beyond punishment of the Other which enthuse his base of followers to improving his prospects for the 2020 election in key Rust Belt states he narrowly won in 2016. Tariffs on steel, aluminum, and other industrial products appeal to manufacturing centers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the states that tipped the Electoral College vote balance for him in 2016. Since the United States is a big exporter of agricultural products, it is no surprise that retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries in the trade war have hit farmers hardest. Many of those farmers live in Great Plains states with relatively few electoral votes, and at any rate the current president has a cushion of support there to absorb losses of the disaffected. To make sure disaffection doesn’t become widespread, the current president has bought off farmers with subsidies so that he can continue to pursue his trade wars as personal vendettas, rather than as maturely considered policies leading to equitable prosperity for all. To borrow a phrase from the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes.”
With each successive year, the United States Postal Service shows more cracks in its structure, and at no time of year is that more evident than around the year end holidays as letter and package volume increases. It’s difficult to find empirical evidence of the Postal Service’s failings as a delivery service, though anecdotal evidence is plentiful. Just about everyone has tales to tell of late delivery, non-delivery, delivery to the wrong address, or failure to pick up mail. If it seems these failings are increasing, that’s more than likely an accurate assessment because the United States Postal Service is beset both from within and without.
The Postal Service as originally designated in Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the Constitution, says nothing about profitability of the Service, only that it is a necessary manifestation of interstate commerce and communication. The Founders recognized it as a public utility, in other words, not a business for private profit making as much as a service for the benefit of the public, with all the implications for public subsidy that can entail.
Along the way from 1775, when the Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General of the fledgling United States of America, some right wing factions got the idea that the Postal Service should behave as a quasi-private business still under government control. They got their way first in 1971 when the Postal Service was transformed into an independent agency under the Executive Branch, and then even more importantly in 2006 after Congress passed legislation requiring the Postal Service to fully pre-fund employee retirement health benefits, a requirement which has hamstrung the Service financially ever since.
U.S. postage stamp issued in 1976 honoring the 50th Anniversary of U.S. Commercial Aviation (1926-1976). Illustrated are the first two airplanes used to carry Air Mail under contract: Ford-Stout AT-2 (upper) and Laird Swallow (lower). Federal Air Mail contracts provided important sources of revenue to early aviation companies, including Eastern Air Lines.
Hamstringing the Postal Service was not an unfortunate unintended consequence of fiscal responsibility measures, but a deliberate step by Republican legislators to ensure the eventual failure of the Postal Service so that its carcass could be picked over by private businesses, with the choicest bits going to the highest bidder. Less choice bits, like mail delivery to remote outposts around the nation, would most likely be ignored, with a consequent loss of mail service to those places. Sorry, not profitable. Travel half a day to the nearest small town to pick up your mail at a privately maintained postal outlet. Sending a letter to that remote outpost? Sorry, flat rate postage no longer applies for first class delivery. That will be ten dollars, please.
Besides being attacked from the outside by vultures, the Postal Service has been hampered lately from within by a toxic work environment fostered by bad, unaccountable management which has led to chronic staff shortages around the country even when the troubled economy would dictate that people would flock to Postal Service jobs that are relatively high paying, with better benefits than most other employers offer. Word gets around, however, and eventually people become reluctant to apply for those jobs regardless of the monetary rewards. Meanwhile, attrition combined with the depressing, hostile work atmosphere saw to it that valued senior employees took early retirement or simply quit to get away from the place. If Congress ever gets around to convening an investigative commission, Postal Service managers will have a lot of explaining to do.
In the 1947 film version of Miracle on 34th Street, starring John Payne as attorney Fred Gailey and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, the Post Office (as it was known then) was a respected institution.
In the meantime, try to be kind to your local mail carrier, who is only trying to make the best of a bad situation and, if possible, get home at a reasonable hour. Post Offices are short of staff, and mail sorting centers have been closed in the past ten years in a short-sighted attempt to save money, resulting in long hours for many mail carriers. Working after dark in the evenings has presented a whole new set of dangers to these people, from urban carriers walking a route being mistaken for prowlers to rural carriers in outmoded vehicles with only two weak hazard lights blinking to warn other drivers on dark country roads that they are sitting ducks as they move from box to box at low speed delivering the mail.
These are unnecessarily dangerous conditions for the carriers on their appointed rounds, and then to be confronted with bullying managers back at the Post Office when they’re finally done with their shift is too much. Something has to change at the Postal Service, starting with the top, but the first shove has to come from what corporate and political America considers the bottom, which are the customers who expect good service from their mail carriers, if only managers and legislators would either do better jobs supporting them or get out of the way and stop actively obstructing them.
“Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
― Joseph N. Welch, chief counsel for the United States Army, addressing Senator Joseph McCarthy on June 9, 1954, at the Army-McCarthy hearings.
The new White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci, has been in office only one week and has already demonstrated his incompetence, stupidity, and villainy. He could stand in at this point for the entire administration, and for that reason alone he will turn out to have been the perfect choice as front man. The assorted crooks, con men and women, and dastardly back-stabbers making up this administration would be comical if they weren’t capable of doing such great damage in this country and the rest of the world. The best thing that can come of this, short of seeing the lot of them in jail before too long, is a peaceful retreat from the world stage and empire. Let’s hope it’s the quiet retirement of an American people who have come to their senses.
Boy Scouts 50th Jubilee stamp, with art by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). The current president of the country addressed the Boy Scouts at their annual Jamboree on Monday, July 24, with a partisan political speech which sullied the standards of the Boy Scouts and brought them down to his level.
In this May 12, 1955 episode of the television quiz show You Bet Your Life, host Groucho Marx does his best to draw humor from an interview with an odd, unsettling contestant.
Tuesday the nation celebrates independence from the British Crown and eventual establishment of a democratic republic. That’s the story, at least. Of the independence part there is no doubt, because that is pretty straightforward. It’s the democratic republic part that doesn’t quite coincide with historical reality, and certainly not with what the United States of America has become today. Today it is an oligarchy, and looking back over the history of the country it becomes clear the inclination was always present.
The Founding Fathers were never for a broadly based democracy, instead leaning toward governance by a limited set of people – white males with property. Some Founding Fathers, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and Washington among them, believed the democratic republic would be stronger if more people owned property, or capital, and therefore had a say and a stake in governance. Though they were rather wealthy men themselves, they would probably be horrified at the current state of income inequality in this country and how that has wrought havoc on the democratic republic they established.
Originally entitled Yankee Doodle, this is one of several versions of a scene painted by Archibald Willard (1836-1918) in the late nineteenth century that came to be known as The Spirit of ’76.
Suffrage has broadened greatly since the eighteenth century, but a vote for candidate A over candidate B makes little difference when both candidates are backed by the same small clique of financiers and corporate boards. Once the candidate is in office, he or she tunes in the oligarchy and tunes out the voters, at least until the next election. Of what use then is a vote when the person voted for doesn’t represent your interests when in office, will often in fact work against your interests? Strangely, people will vote for that person again two, four, or six years later.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood there is no real political power without economic power. Enactment of his proposed Second Bill of Rights is long overdue.
To regain political power, the people need to take back wealth; to regain wealth, the people need to take back political power. Hand in hand. Remember the capitalist credo: Money talks. We have the honesty of the Supreme Court to thank for enshrining in the 2010 Citizens United decision what everyone has always known, going back to the days of the Founding Fathers, it’s just that Washington, Adams, Madison, and Jefferson had the wisdom to understand the money should be spread around a lot more in order for the government to listen to we the people.
Once again Arizona has stepped forward with groundbreaking legislation after the State Senate passed on Wednesday, February 22, a bill that would allow the state to charge the organizers of peaceful protests with racketeering if rioting erupts. Among the niceties of the bill are civil asset forfeiture, allowing the state to seize the property of the protest organizers. How do you keep taxes low? By stealing! The bill awaits review in the State House of Representatives. The last time the Arizona legislature made such a big splash in the national news was 2010, when it led the way in the fight against illegal immigration with the “Show me your papers” bill that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which struck down three of its four provisions. The back and forth on that bill between Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and President Barack Obama ultimately led to the finger wagging incident (Yay, Jan!) on the tarmac of the Phoenix airport in 2012.
A scene from 1984, starring John Hurt, Richard Burton, and Suzanna Hamilton.Lest we forget Obama and his usefulness, he’s masquerading here as the hated Emmanuel Goldstein on the screen in the auditorium.
This seems as good a time as any to propose an Alternative Constitution. There’s no need to formalize things with a constitutional convention, though if one were really necessary there couldn’t be two better candidates to co-chair the convention than Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, and Yvette Felarca, a leader of the violent “By Any Means Necessary” group in California. Both are tough-talking, no-nonsense types who will make sure things get done at the convention or they’ll bust some heads to know the reasons why. Like Archie and the Meathead on All intheFamily, they are opposite sides of the same coin, though not nearly as many laughs.
All in the Family reminds us that politics colors nearly everything in life, like it or not.
Here are some highlights of the Alternative Constitution:
Amendment 1 – Congress shall make no some law[s] respecting an establishment of [a certain] religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof [of some of them]; or abridging the freedom of speech [for some people], or of the [not fake news] press; or the right of the [certain] people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances [of some people].
Amendment 2 – A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, [T]he right of the people to keep and bear Arms [lots of them; high powered semi-automatics, too], shall not be infringed.
Amendment 4 – The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not [sometimes] [often] be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable [almost any] cause, supported by [sometimes secret] Oath or affirmation, and particularly [vaguely] describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized [and locked away for good!].
Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 – No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no [non orange and non bigly] Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument [except rental income and business favors], Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.
Cactus with flowers, a true gift of Arizona.
Pretty good, huh? Feel free to alter the text yourself, and to print it out in ALL CAPS, if that suits your political bent. Nothing gets a point across like YELLING, after all. The Dated Constitution, or DC, will be kept around in the National Archives, where tourists can gawk at it and scholars can squabble about the nuances of its language. The late Justice Antonin Scalia, who soon may have a federal courthouse named after him in Charlottesville, Virginia, cleared the way for interpreting our most important national document by underscoring that freewheeling activist judicial decisions are BAD, except when rendering a judgment in a case such as Bush v. Gore, which was GOOD, and not activist at all. (To which Justice Clarence Thomas might have added, were he to speak, “Ditto!”) No worries then with the Alternative Constitution, or AC, which will be the document of record for folks like University of California-Davis campus cop Lieutenant John Pike and the eloquent Zack Fisher of Phoenix, Arizona, both stout defenders of freedom against the despicable encroachments of sniveling protesters and pushy brown immigrants. Thanks to Arizona’s new law, all these paid protesters will soon get their comeuppance when they try their shenanigans in The Grand Canyon State, and Supreme Leader at the helm in Washington is sure to have Arizona’s back, regardless of what activist so-called judges may have to say about it.