Like Talking to a Brick Wall

 


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.


Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, Leader of the Women's Suffragette movement, is arrested outside Buckingham Palace while trying to present a petition to King George V in May 1914. Q81486
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

 

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Alternative Ethics

 

“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 (47751382671)
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.
— Vita

 

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C Is for Chickenhawk

 

B is for Bolton, John, jonesing for war with Iran.

U is for You who will do the fighting and bear the cost of Mr. Bolton’s war.

T is for Telling lies to get a war for the chickenhawks.

T is for Taking no responsibility for lives and property destroyed and lost in war.

H is for Hastening the destruction that feeds the war machine.

O is for Oil, which other countries have for the taking.

L is for Lining the pockets of arms dealers and military contractors.

E is for Excuses chickenhawks give for not personally fighting when it was their turn.


John R. Bolton official photo
John Bolton, National Security Advisor and warmonger. Official White House photo.

Topolino rocon verona08
Italian agricultural horse trained to pull a sled. Photo by Annalisa Parisi. This picture has something in common with the first picture in this post.


— Vita

“The Call Up”, from The Clash’s 1980 album Sandinista!

 

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Those Were the Days

 

In 1947, as Jews leaving Europe were working toward establishing their independent state of Israel in Palestine, an anti-communist scare was gaining momentum in the United States, leading President Harry Truman to sign an executive order requiring loyalty oaths from federal workers suspected of communist sympathies and possibly conflicted allegiance. Over 70 years later, the state of Israel is well established with economic and military help from the United States, and the idea of a loyalty oath as an assurance that a government employee owes allegiance to America only, and not to any foreign power, has been turned on its head by state and federal laws assuring loyalty to Israel as well, or at least not to engage in criticism of that nation’s increasingly aggressive policies toward Palestinians within and without its disputed borders.

100 dollar bill
2015 release of the 100 dollar bill, showing the design measures taken to foil counterfeiting. The portrait of Benjamin Franklin remains. Presentation by Sar Maroof.

 

These laws, which require a state employee or government contractor to sign a pledge not to engage in Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) actions against Israel, are so blatantly unconstitutional that it beggars belief they have not been challenged and struck down in the courts already. They are a return to the old days of anti-communist loyalty oaths, but with a bizarre twist. And it’s that twist which complicates matters, because any criticism of the pledges or of Israel bypasses reason and plain reading of the Constitution and goes straight to emotional howls of anti-Semitism. Most people know that’s coming, and since they don’t want to withstand it, they don’t speak up in the first place. The lobbyists for Israel then have their own way.

What has also complicated the relationship between the United States and Israel since the late 1940s is how support for Israel has taken on a polyglot nature in the intervening years, particularly with the rise of white evangelical Christians in American politics since the 1980s. In the 1940s, American support for Israel came largely from American Jews and from the large numbers of people who sympathized with the plight of European Jews after the tragedy of the Holocaust. There are other reasons having to do with the labyrinth of Middle Eastern politics and, of course, oil, but those are beyond the scope of this post.

Since the 1980s, as support for Israel’s increasingly hard line toward Palestinians and relations with its Arab neighbors dwindled among some American Jews, the slack was taken up by white evangelical Christians who looked at the modern state of Israel and saw the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. They cared little about the multitude of practical complications, and they had an interested ear in the White House with Ronald Reagan. By the 1990s, a litmus test for election to political office in some parts of the country was support for Israel, right or wrong, and the test was administered not by American Jews, but by white evangelical Christians and, increasingly, by lobbying groups supported by the right wing in Israeli politics.

Lobbying in Congress by foreign powers is supposedly regulated by law, though in practice it goes on mostly unimpeded. In the 1980s, when Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime gained steam in this country and around the world, the South African government did not have anywhere near the lobbying clout in American politics of the Israeli lobby then, and certainly not as powerful as it has become since. South Africa did not have millions of Christian soldiers in this country who were willing to go onward for it no matter what. About all South Africa had were diamonds, and it turned out they were not enough to resist pressure from the rest of the world to reform its immoral system.

A scene early in the 1960 film Exodus, directed by Otto Preminger, with Sal Mineo and Jill Haworth arguing their different world views in 1947 aboard a refugee ship from Europe bound for Palestine. Paul Newman looks on. Indeed, those were the days.

Now times have changed for Israel, and it’s no longer the plucky underdog deserving sympathy; its policies of the last 40 to 50 years have tainted that image, turning it into a kind of South African apartheid regime, and if people in this country want to criticize it for that, or for anything else, then it’s none of this government’s business, no matter how many “Benjamins” change hands in the halls of Congress, or how many white evangelical Christians with fever dreams of a picturesque Holy Land as they imagine it from their family Bibles, a place for fulfillment of the Gospel that they probably suppose would be nicer if it weren’t inhabited by all those dusky modern Jews, no matter how many of those people angrily pull away their support from any politician who dares criticize Israel, and with it their fantasy.
— Vita

 

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Just Kidding

 

Regardless of the outcome of today’s runoff election in Mississippi between incumbent Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger Mike Espy, Senator Hyde-Smith will have exposed herself at the very least as an insensitive idiot through her recent remarks, and more likely as someone whose cossetted upbringing among conservative white people in Mississippi never gave her an idea how offensively her remarks would be received by those outside that bubble.

John C Stennis in 1928
John C. Stennis takes his seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1928, the same year he received his law degree from the University of Virginia. Between 1928, when Mr. Stennis started his career in government as a Democrat, and 1988, his last year as a senator from Mississippi, the major political parties realigned, with the major shift coming in reaction to Civil Rights legislation passed during the Lyndon Johnson presidential administration.

Senator Hyde-Smith has of course attacked those attacking her for her idiotic remarks regarding public hanging and vote suppression because that is what plays best these days among emboldened white supremacist fascists in the Make America Great Again (MAGA) crowd which constitutes her major constituency. Retractions and sincere apologies are signs of weakness to those people, who would call for her lynching if she ever showed any human decency. Instead she has claimed her words were twisted by the media and by her political foes, even though she can be seen speaking those very words on video. As for suppressing the votes of liberals, she says she was only kidding.

Ha-ha, Senator Hyde-Smith, you are very funny with your joking about Jim Crow vote suppression of liberals, by which of course everyone in the 37 percent black state of Mississippi knows you mean suppressing the votes of black folks. That stuff is indeed side-splittingly funny! And your “good old gal” remark about how you like someone so much that you’d be at the front row of a public hanging if he invited you, by which everyone in the state of Mississippi, where public lynching of black folks over 100 years from the Civil War to the Civil Rights era was a well-known occurrence, why that’s a knee-slapper, and goodness knows little ol’ you meant no harm by it, did you, Sugar? Bless your heart!

 

It is likely that hundreds of thousands of Mississippians will vote for Senator Hyde-Smith in the runoff election. Unless those voters were living under a rock, they had to have heard the Senator’s remarks or heard of them. They will vote for her anyway. For too many of them, most likely the MAGA fanatics among them, her recent remarks will be reason enough to vote for her. She is an awful person, and like the awful person currently occupying the Oval Office of the White House, she is a symptom of what’s wrong with the country, not the disease. The disease is carried by all those voters in Mississippi and elsewhere who are laughing with her, rather than being appalled not just by her remarks, but by the mindset that brought them out of her mouth in the first place, and then made her turn on everyone but herself to quiet the uproar over them. Look at your friends, neighbors, and family for those carrying the disease of not taking cruelty seriously, and laughing at the debasement of the Other.
— Vita

Elliot Richardson talks with John Stennis
Secretary of Defense designate Elliot Richardson, right, talks with Senator John C. Stennis, D-Miss., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, prior to his nomination hearing at the U.S. Capitol on January 10, 1973. By the 1970s, Republican conversion of conservative southern Democrats was nearly complete. Mr. Stennis would retain his Democratic Party affiliation through the remainder of his career, though in name only since he was aligned ideologically with conservative Republicans. In 1982, he was the last Democratic senator elected from Mississippi.

 

 

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The False Witness

 

“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.
— Exodus 23:1, from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.

The job of White House Press Secretary has always been to walk a fine line between putting a good face on an administration’s policies and actions and lying about them outright. The current presidential administration and its press secretary have no such concerns and are obviously content to lie outright. When the White House released an altered video last week that made Cable News Network (CNN) reporter Jim Acosta the bad guy in an interaction with a White House intern who attempted to wrest a microphone away from him, they obviously cared not at all whether reasonable people believed their lie. They are, after all, not appealing to reasonable people.


Longboots1
Hip boots in the mud. Photo by Booter. Deep, and getting deeper all the time.

The current occupants of the White House offices know they have a third of the country solidly in their corner, people who will believe their lies without question and with gusto. Another third of the country is in the middle, sitting on the fence to one side or another, some of them perplexed or disturbed by the behavior they see from this administration’s people, but few of them willing to act on their apprehensions. The other third of the country consists of people who are steadfastly opposed to the current administration and are willing to resist to some degree its policies and actions and work toward its demise either electorally or by impeachment and conviction. The current president and his vassals care not one whit about the opinions of those people.

What’s particularly galling about the episode with Mr. Acosta is how the current Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a self-professed devout Christian whose father is a minister as well as a politician, a woman who has never uttered any sincere support for womens’ rights otherwise and who works for a reprobate in the Oval Office who openly insults women at every opportunity, suddenly got religion about the issue of men assaulting women and used that as the excuse for revoking Mr. Acosta’s White House press privileges by way of her false witness regarding the altered video. He got handsy and rough with our female intern! No, he didn’t. Doesn’t matter, because the only people we need to convince will believe our version of events, and some of the rest will be so flabbergasted and flustered by the sheer chutzpah of our lying they will be paralyzed into impotence. The other third – who cares what they think?

Ms. Sanders has apparently made peace with her hypocrisy, no doubt rationalizing her aiding and abetting of evil as somehow being in the greater cause of Christianity. It is worrying, though, that a majority of white, middle class women have gone along with her down that road. They may have other reasons than Christianity to justify their support for and following of the Pussy Grabber in the Oval Office, but they all have rationalizations that can’t have much to do with the actual man and his policies. It’s almost understandable why white, middle class men might remain in his camp, because however misguided their wishes are, too many of them surely look up to him as someone worth emulating. But the women are a different story.

Pete Seeger led an audience at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1980 in a performance of Meredith Tax’s “The Young Woman Who Swallowed a Lie”, an altered version of “There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”.

Authoritarian Personality Syndrome (APS) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) are two of several characteristics that may explain why women follow the current president. Both are predominantly conservative characteristics and, by extension, fundamentalist Christians such as Ms. Sanders. Far more fundamentalist Christians are conservative than liberal. Without delving too deeply into differences in religions, it is safe to say fundamentalist Christians are more patriarchal than the average Christian, and more inclined toward APS and SDO characteristics. Women have to engage in more mental gymnastics than men to rationalize their devotion to the Leader of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club, but they do it, most probably with little introspection, and if his pep rallies are any guide, they are overcome with such starry-eyed enthusiasm they will approve of anything he says or does.
— Vita

 

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Stupid Is as Stupid Does

 

Supporters of the current president gathered outside the State Capitol building in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 25, to protest immigration reform measures being debated by state legislators. They undercut any interest in their arguments by badgering and hectoring brown skinned legislators, state office workers, and even schoolchildren on a field trip as they walked in the vicinity of the Capitol, presumptively proclaiming them illegal aliens, while giving white skinned folks a pass. They reached the epitome of their belligerent ignorance when one of them challenged the citizenship status of State Representative Eric Descheenie, a Native American of Navajo descent.

 

Besides the ignorance of challenging such a person on his right to be here, there is the sheer gall of doing so. The ignorance has always been there with some people, but the gall has risen to the surface lately on account of how emboldened they feel by the angry rhetoric of their Supreme Leader in the White House. Many of these particular protesters in Phoenix were armed, as well, and their allies in the police stood idly by while they harassed the targets of their hatred.

Mexican Cession
1848 Mexican Cession of territory after the Mexican-American War. 2008 map by Kballen.

Viceroyalty of the New Spain 1819 (without Philippines)
The Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1819. 2013 map by Giggette.

The police were supposedly studiously allowing the protesters room to express themselves freely, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Strange how the ideology of protesters seems to affect how the police enforce First Amendment rights, though of course nothing can be proven. A similarly scrupulous desire for allowance of free expression strangely affected law enforcement at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, and that after an incident in July in Charlottesville when the cops tear gassed for no very good reason counter protesters at a KKK gathering.

Since self-reflection and a balanced view of history are traits that are probably either non-existent or very low on the list for some of the denser supporters of the Ignoramus-in-Chief, any appeal here will fall only on their deaf ears, if at all, and the words will serve merely as preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, on the principle that a trickle of water may eventually lead to a baptism, it is worth a try. Has the schizophrenic nature of Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric never struck a discordant chord with any of these Know Nothings? The fact that their economic betters in the Republican establishment, the ones who back their Supreme Leader behind the scenes solely on account of his capacity to put yet more money in their pockets, have no desire to change current immigration policy because it suits their business interests to have cheap, exploitable labor. It has always been so.

From the 1994 Robert Zemeckis film Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks as the title character repeats a bit of received wisdom, “Stupid is as stupid does”.
Economically and politically the beliefs of the protesters at the Arizona Capitol will never get anywhere because they fly in the face of the moneyed interests who pull all the strings. So what is it all for, then? Blowing off steam from the angry white European descent base of the new hard right Republicans. The rich ones aren’t angry; they have no reason to be, since they are getting everything they want. It’s the people stuck in the economic levels below that who are angry. Why don’t they get angry with the people above them who are ripping them off? Good question, but one for a different day. They are angry with the people they see supplanting them as the most important demographic in this country, fragmenting solid white bread into hundreds of permutations of bagels and tortillas and pita pockets, many of them gluten-free.

 

Why do they vent their hatred and anger on brown skinned immigrants? Who else is left? The economic and political arguments of the anti-immigrant crowd largely fall apart under scrutiny, at least they do if this country is to continue to operate under the same principles it has going back hundreds of years, when the ancestors of the current anti-immigrants made their way here with little government interference and then, with the active encouragement of the government, violently shouldered aside the indigenous peoples who had been here thousands of years before them. It is a dangerous game that Republican leaders are playing, however, standing aside to let the angry base blow steam so that the moneyed interests can loot the country while everyone is distracted. They are counting on the casualties falling among groups they care nothing about other than their utility to them, such as liberals and immigrants. The people steering the Thief-in-Chief and his hard core minions around like a crazed nozzle spitting vituperation need to understand, though, that high pressure steam has a history of escaping control and blowing up in everyone’s faces.
— Vita

Early indian west
Early Native American tribal territories, superimposed on the present day western United States. 1970 map by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Geological Survey. Where’s Arizona, and where are all the white folks of European descent?

 

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The Spirit of Giving

 

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
― Luke 2:10-11, from the King James Version of the New Testament.

Just in time for Christmas, the Congress passed its giveaway to the rich known as the Republican tax reform package, and the Thief-in-Chief signed it into the law of the land. Afterward much merriment was enjoyed by them and their kind on the South Lawn of the White House, where boot licking was the order of the day. The corruption and depravity oozing from the swamp of Washington, D.C. is too disheartening to dwell upon at this festive season of the year.


Moving on from the fairy tale that the Republican tax plan does anything at all for anyone but the wealthy, there is the fairy tale that has taken hold in some quarters that the Nativity of Jesus Christ was devoid of political ramifications at the time or in today’s world, and that therefore Christmas should be devoid of politics. A straightforward reading of the Gospels should dispel those ideas. Herod the Great apparently had no illusions about the threat posed by the birth of Jesus to the political future of himself and his progeny. Even taking the Gospels at face value, the Nativity story is loaded with politics.

Alexander Laureus Satuloitu aasi 1820-23
Saddled Donkey, a painting of the Nativity by Finnish artist Aleksander Lauréus (1783-1823). Donkeys were the mount of the lower classes when they could afford them, while the upper classes rode horses. In addition to providing transportation for the Holy Family to Bethlehem and then to a temporary exile in Egypt, a donkey would be the mount of choice for Jesus when he entered Jerusalem to complete His mission.

The dramatic tension of the story derives from the methods that the adult Jesus would teach to change people’s lives, with eventual political change as a by product, as opposed to the immediate political change some of His followers hoped for and most of His opponents feared. And it starts in the Nativity when individuals on both sides refer to Him as a King, though they mean different things by that term. Herod the Great was correct to see the birth of Jesus as a threat to his world, however he may have perceived that threat.

The relation of the Nativity as an innocuous story about a baby and some shepherds is alright for small children who cannot grasp the larger political and humanitarian dimensions of the birth of Jesus, but for adults to ignore the story’s radical aspects and still profess an understanding of it borders on cognitive dissonance. The events set in motion by the birth of Jesus and the principles he taught in His later ministry were a radical departure from the politics of His time. Blessed are the meek? The rich have no chance at salvation until they give away all they have? Those were not standard beliefs then, nor are they now, despite what many people profess.

There is no “War on Christmas”, at least not in the way some conservatives formulate it. That is nonsense made up by people who, if they were confronted by the real Jesus today, rather than their Jesus of fable, would be horrified and demand that He be hauled away to prison. Based on what He is quoted as saying in the Gospels, He certainly would not have been there last week on the South Lawn of the White House ghoulishly celebrating the passage of a tax bill that steals from the poor to give to the rich. He would not have sided with evangelical voters who deem the election of any Republican, no matter how cretinous, better than the election of a Democrat. Who are these people to make war on Christmas by celebrating the birth of a baby who preaches war, hate, and intolerance rather than peace, love, and understanding? That story feeds the needs of empire and is on the side of the Romans. That’s not the true Christmas story, and there’s nothing funny about it.
― Ed.

 

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Prick Up Your Ears

 

It’s hard to fathom how far to the right Republicans in particular, and the country generally, have moved in the past half century that people are surprised to be reminded, or to learn for the first time, that it was the Republican President Richard Nixon who established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. To be sure, Nixon was no environmentalist, and his establishment of the EPA was in his view a way to steal thunder from his political opposition on the left, where the environmental movement had been gathering momentum since the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962. Nonetheless, he signed the necessary papers and backed the new agency’s initiatives such as the Clean Air Act.

 

Fifty years later, Republicans abominate the EPA and associated environmentally protected areas around the country. The latest natural areas to come under attack are Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, both in Utah. The current Republican administration, at the recommendation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, wants to reduce Bears Ears by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 50%, opening up the areas taken away from them for commercial and recreational use. The executive order mandating the change pleased Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch a great deal. The changes will undoubtedly be challenged in court by private environmental protection groups and by Native American tribes in the area.

Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill
Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, a painting by Frederic Remington (1861-1909).

When President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act at the end of 1970, he did so in the White House in front of a painting by Frederic Remington called Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, which prominently featured Theodore Roosevelt leading his regiment of volunteers at the 1898 battle. It was not the most politically correct staging of the signing of an important document by today’s standards, considering how the United States merely replaced Spain as the colonial power overseeing Cuba, rather than liberating the Cubans as American propaganda had it at the time of the Spanish-American War, but for the period around 1970 that aspect may have been overlooked by most bystanders to the signing in favor of the possibly intended point of celebrating Theodore Roosevelt and his championing of environmental protection, a first for an American president.

 

Contrast that rather sensitive staging with the completely insensitive, tone deaf staging by the current administration of a recent ceremony honoring Navajo code talkers and their contributions to American military efforts in World War II. Not only did the ceremony take place in front of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, infamous for his hostility to Native Americans and for his authorization of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, known as the Trail of Tears, but the current president added a completely irrelevant snide remark that doubled as a smear of one of his political opponents on the left as well as Pocahontas, a Native American woman notable as a mediator with the English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, in the early 1600s. The current president apparently mistook his comment for wit, because he laughed, while very few others at the ceremony did. Paying attention to the current president’s remarks in person and on Twitter gives us insight into his character, but his actions and his choice and use of symbols speak louder than his words and tell us what he and his administration are actually doing to this beautiful country and its people.
― Izzy

Andrew jackson head
Portrait of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, painted by Ralph Eleasar Whiteside Earl (1785/88-1838).

 

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Charlie Don’t Surf

 

“Charlie, that’s beneath you,” Steve Bannon told interviewer Charlie Rose on the 60 Minutes television program this past Sunday, referring to Rose’s remark that we are a nation of immigrants except for the Native Americans. Bannon’s statement was bizarre and nonsensical, and seemed to come from his own peculiarly politicized vision of American history in which admitting that European immigrants largely stole the Western Hemisphere from Native Americans in a shameless display of cupidity and genocide is somehow nothing more than shameful leftist propaganda. So much for honestly facing the truth.

Charlie Brown parade balloon
Charlie Brown parade balloon at the 2016 Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. Photo by Midtownguy2012. Maybe Steve Bannon was referring to all the immigrants in the streets of New York City below the floating Charlie Brown balloon.

Even though Mr. Bannon is out of the White House now, his legacy lives on in the administration’s immigration policy, specifically the recent announcement about ending the Obama era DREAMer policy of granting a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants. Mr. Bannon does not appear to care for immigrants, legal or otherwise, no matter what sort of intellectual gloss he slops onto his elitism. He is an unsavory man who sees nothing wrong with declaring war on the brown-skinned peoples of the earth, as long as people other than him and his kind are doing the fighting. The short termed White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, in his own succinct way, characterized Bannon absolutely correctly. Mr. Bannon is someone who takes himself too seriously, and is accustomed to overawed admirers reinforcing his own high opinion of himself.

A clip from the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and here featuring Robert Duvall as the gung ho Colonel Kilgore.

For all that, what do Mr. Bannon’s ideas amount to? Not much other than what can be found in the writings of Rudyard Kipling – the White Man’s Burden and all that – but without Kipling’s compassion. Steve Bannon is a man out of his time, which rightly should be about 150 years ago. Perhaps that was when America was great for him and his kind, or at least it was if he ignored the multitude of recent German and Irish immigrants, the millions of African slaves recently freed after the bloody Civil War, and all the Mexicans still at large in the new territories and states of the American southwest as a result of the giant land grab known as the Mexican-American War.

“Charlie Don’t Surf” from the outstanding 1980 triple album Sandanista! by the English band The Clash.


In that world, Mr. Bannon would no doubt have felt at home because his cognitive dissonance about American history would not have been noted by his contemporaries. He would instead have been part of the mainstream of Old Boy elites riding high on the backs of immigrant and poor persons’ labor, while snootily ignoring that fact and looking down on them, the source of his wealth, and of his leisure to engage in what amounts to little more than mental masturbation. Maybe that’s what he meant when he said “Charlie, that’s beneath you.”
― Ed.

The First Thanksgiving cph.3g04961
The First Thanksgiving, 1621, an early twentieth century painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930). The painting portrays Native Americans as guests partaking of the bounty provided by The Pilgrims, while by all honest accounts of the period the Native Americans generously saved the newcomers from privation in their early years of struggling to survive in the unfamiliar surroundings of the New World. Steve Bannon would no doubt find comfort and confirmation in the relationship of the two groups as portrayed in this painting.

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