Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Attitude adjustment

April 21st, 2017

It is amazing how many people tell me, without being prompted or asked, that they wish he would die.  I’m not going to say his name, but you know exactly whom I am talking about.  Admit it, you have felt this way, too.  Just this morning I was talking to a friend and she dropped it into the conversation with about the same degree and type of emphasis that she might have used in confessing that she doesn’t like cats.  I had to admit that practically every morning when I wake up I check the news right away hoping to read of a popcorn choking incident or myocardial infarction. This does not make us better people, I said.  She said, well, but so long as it’s just him we’re thinking about, it’s not so bad. I suppose that’s one approach. For a while I tried imagining myself inside his head, so that through the magic of empathy I might be able to see him as a human being, like me, deserving of compassion the same as I am. I thought of him as severely emotionally crippled, isolated, unable to connect effectively with other human beings, suffering the pain that goes with that. I’m not that kind of person, but at least that gave me something to work with.  I know something about loneliness.  I was aware that there was a certain amount of schadenfreude in trying to connect with him this way, but it seemed to make him more real and less of a malevolent fantasy.  But then a friend I respect, a psychologist highly experienced in working with criminals, told me that he is a psychopath and he doesn’t feel any pain, at least not the kind of pain I was imagining. I pretty much believe her.  So there goes any basis I can find for relating to him, bringing him within my world of experience, and now what do I do? Empathy doesn’t work if it’s fantasy.  I still don’t want to be the kind of person who wakes up every morning wishing that somebody were dead. Maybe the answer comes out of meditation. There’s no point in repressing a thought. That just attaches you to it and gives it power. Instead you allow the thought to happen, acknowledge that it is happening, and then say goodbye to it. I wish it were that easy to deal with him: allow him to happen, acknowledge that he is happening, and then say goodbye to him. I am impatient. I want to get to the goodbye part without going through the rest. I must remember that “going through the rest” constitutes most of what we call living, and that wishing to cut to the end, the goodbye part, is in that sense a wish for one’s own death to come closer. Am I large enough to live in a world that also contains incomprehensible evil? I hope so. Remember to breathe.

To impeach or not to impeach

January 19th, 2017

A friend of mine passionately asserted the other day that Trump should not be impeached because that would give us a Mike Pence presidency. In her view Pence would be far worse than Trump because Trump is unpredictable and might do some good things whereas Pence is a known quantity who can be relied upon to do evil every chance he gets. My friend maintained that this may be a gendered issue, and that I would understand and share her perspective more strongly if I were a woman. She may have a point. But I think that ultimately the balance weighs in favor of impeachment. Partly, this is because I do not think that Pence has that much of a personal following, and he would be unlikely to take the GOP much farther into its already strong inclination towards misogyny. More to the point, however, is that Pence is just an individual man and if he isn’t gone in a maximum of eight years then we have far greater problems than sexist ideology to contend with. Whereas if Trump is not impeached, in the face of his blatant violation of the Emoluments Clause from the first seconds of his presidency and his likely treasonous collusion with Vladimir Putin, then we have driven another nail into the coffin of constitutional government in this country. Our constitution is neither self-enforcing nor self-preserving. We may be more of an oligarchy than a democracy already; all the more reason to tend carefully the constitutional system that protects us, however tentatively and inadequately, from the depredations of the rich and powerful. Once the constitution is shredded, literally nothing stands between us and them. Damage to the constitution lasts long beyond any individual person’s term of office.  It is cumulative and extremely hard to reverse. So I have to conclude that impeachment, despite the horrible aftermath in the form of a Pence administration, is the necessary lesser of two evils.

Declaration of Independence

December 24th, 2016

When I was small, I hid under schoolroom furniture at the direction of the so-called “responsible adults” in my life who wanted to pretend that this would somehow protect me from being vaporized, should other so-called “responsible adults” decide they had interests more important than the continued existence of our species. Since then, we have taken several steps back from that abyss. Now we have an evil, evil man who is about to enter the White House and says he wants to walk us back to the brink. I have hesitated to say “not my president” until now because it seemed to me to be just a form of words. But this mindless descent towards the suicidality of a revived nuclear arms race is utterly intolerable. At the very least, what I and millions of other children of my generation were subjected to, in the form of “duck and cover”, was no less than massive child abuse at the hands of our government. Now that I am an adult myself, I will not accept complicity in doing it to a new generation. Does it seem overly dramatic to say that from now on I completely reject the legitimacy of any government headed by this man? That my compliance with such a government will consist only of what is extorted from me by force? More to the point what difference does it make? It feels, deep down in the pit of my stomach, as if it makes a difference. I am not sure what form that difference will take, but I want to remember this feeling. I feel as if I have seen clearly at last, and what I have seen is a servant of death, and it is horrible, but seeing it clearly gives me strength.

You are entitled to the struggle, not the fruits

November 12th, 2016

Okay, maybe this is too soon for some, but I am feeling ready to move beyond rage frustration incomprehension and despair. I don’t really give a fuck what Trump’s character flaws are. I don’t really care except in an abstract kind of way what the people who voted for him were thinking, or the people who voted for Hillary (me included), or whether Batman or Wonder Woman would be more likely to beat the Incredible Hulk. All that is interesting, but beside the point. I don’t care what brave statements of rage or defiance anyone may make. I especially don’t care about pseudo- historical comparisons to 1933 or who is to blame. I don’t care about the media – who will burn in hell – or the “soul” of any political party. That’s some crazy shit, attributing souls to power-grabbing machines. I reject the mean-spirited petulance that reviles Melania and the Trump children. I curse them and their patriarch with someday knowing the harm he has done and will do and the evils he has unleashed and that they embrace. I accept the need of many to demonstrate on the streets to vent their feelings, and I applaud them even though I know that what they are doing is in another sense futile and ineffective. That doesn’t make it unimportant. I pledge to use my strength, which is language and the word, to oppose every evil thing Mr.Trump may try to do, understanding that the word, while mightier than the sword by a fucking million times, is not nearly so quick. Most of all, Gandhi. I will study Gandhi. I will ask, what would Mahatma do? And if I am true to that, if I am the last person in this poor crazed pain-wracked deluded scammed spiritually starved emotionally crippled fat poisoned country to do so, I never will be defeated. And maybe, just maybe, although I can imagine no possibility of reaching through to Mr Trump’s soul, which I fear may be shriveled almost to nonexistence, I will reach through to the souls of enough of those who follow him, as the Standing Rock Sioux have reached the souls of some of those who oppose them on the field, so that I will win. The angry and despairing are neither my allies nor my friends. But those who can imagine that we all are just scared lost humans – those are my allies. And under that sign, we will win.

Some Thoughts on American Terror

December 4th, 2015

Reading Isabel Wilkerson’s magnificent anecdotal history of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns, one of the things that is falling into place for me has to do with gun violence and gun control in America.  I want to avoid oversimplification and reductionism, but it seems to me that in order to understand the peculiar nature of gun violence in America you have to understand the history.  And I think there is more to understand than what the Second Amendment meant to the Founding Fathers, or the role of hunting and home defense in colonial and frontier society.

One huge thing gets overlooked when we talk about American gun culture. For about a hundred years after the Civil War, an entire section of our country was ruled by terrorism.  It was a peculiarly American form of public/private partnership. The entire American South was governed by private terrorism in league with government terrorism.  This is not hyperbole.  It is a plain statement of fact.  Black people were oppressed through a public-private collaboration in terrorism.  Whites were kept in line by the same means.  Until you absorb the meaning of that, you can’t begin to understand the meaning of guns in our culture.

Let me pause on this a moment. President Obama recently memorably observed, with regard to the seemingly endless series of almost daily mass murders by firearm that occur in the United States, it doesn’t happen in other places. Well, in fact it does, but not in very many places. Not very many places share a similar, recent history of such severe repression of such a large proportion of the population over such a large extent of the nation’s territory by such a seamless partnership of governmental and private terrorism. One thinks of South Africa during apartheid. Nicaragua, in the death squad era. Usually government reserves for itself a monopoly of violence. In the Jim Crow South, that was not the case.

This means that such technical gun control measures as limits on magazine capacity, banning of private ownership of military style weaponry, and universal background checks – all of which seem like commonsensical, good ideas to me – are somewhat beside the point. It is a form of swimming against the current.  The NRA, I am sad to say, is partly right.  Guns only kill people when people use them for that.  But the NRA’s take on this is a lie, because the NRA wants you to think that people act as isolated individuals.  The lone crazed gunman or the vicious outlaw, what can you do about that?  But that’s not the whole story.  People are social beings.  We live in a society in which, for broad swathes of its members, guns are an ancient and accepted tool of social control.  There’s a reason many Americans tend to think you can solve a political or social problem by shooting at it.  They’re not crazy.  It’s a strategy that worked for them for a hundred years or more.  And of course the poison spreads.  You don’t have to be a lineal descendant of Nathaniel Bedford Forrest to be infected.  I am fairly sure that the first-generation son of Pakistani immigrants who perpetrated today’s San Bernardino mass murders will be found to have well acculturated himself to this. The Southern model of terrorism will have found many students, even unwitting ones.

The Jim Crow terroristic state arose after the South was rid of Reconstruction and Southern whites once again seized exclusive control of the apparatus of government.  The nongovernmental terrorists, such as the KKK, were ready and waiting for this.  Since federal power had destroyed the ability of southern government to re-enslave blacks, and private actors did not have the power to accomplish re-enslavement without at least the acquiescence of the state, it was necessary to form a private/public partnership to exert totalitarian control over blacks and to suppress white dissent.  For the period of Jim Crow, government terrorism and terrorism by private groups were mutually permeable phenomena, linked and in service to the same cause. This worked at least until the 1960s, when the machinery of government began to be pried loose once again from the hands of the white supremacists, and the private arm of the Southern terrorist machine was driven underground.  But cultures do not change as quickly as laws.

The private actors in the public/private terrorist state had lost their investment in government.  The government was no longer theirs. Through the experience of their own collaborative efforts, they knew what government can be turned to, and they had reason to fear that it would be turned on them. Since the line between official and non-official terrorism had been, in their experience, so indistinct, they had little or no conception of government as an entity apart and separate from the classes that controlled it. That is the root of the otherwise difficult to explain meme that “gun control means the feds are going to take our guns away; we are the bulwark against tyrrany.”  It seems laughable when the gun interest claims that private gun ownership is a counterweight to overwheening government power.  We rightly scoff and say tell that to the marines.  No sane person thinks that an unorganized mob of gun owners is going to be able to combat the U.S. armed forces.  It wasn’t even true in the age of Jefferson and Madison, as Daniel Shays learned to his chagrin, let alone today. But that is not the point.  The point is that the terrorist state’s private partners, having lost control of the state, are thrown back upon their own devices.  Their society, evolved in a pervasively terrorist regime, had little experience of a government of laws, a government relatively free of corruption, a government grounded in civil liberties.  These are all meaningless abstractions to them.  What has meaning to them is the knock on the door in the middle of the night, because that was their society’s reality for so long. Now the government is no longer theirs, who knows when that knock might come. All that remains to them is their guns; and if their government could be taken away, why not this other source of power? What will they be left with, then?

In sum, in order to reduce gun violence in America we must first directly confront and somehow heal the effects of our nation’s history of massive terrorist totalitarian control over large sections of its people and territory.  We must rid our culture of the complex of notions that legitimate the use of firearms in private hands as a means of social control.  Such an understanding in itself won’t do the trick, because American gun violence has many causes.  It is necessary, but not sufficient. But it will go far.  Unfortunately, this complex of notions is deeply ingrained, having ruled so large a part of our country for so long and having been renounced by the organs of power only fifty years or so ago, and that renunciation having been rather less than thorough and sincere, as so many police shootings of black men demonstrate.  It’s a long road to go.

It occurs to me that one way to get at this would be to take seriously the call for reparations to black Americans for the oppression they suffered under slavery and continue to suffer in its aftermath. The point would not be to “make them whole” in the sense of legal damages – what could? – but to engage the entire society in an open and concrete debate about how we got to where we are. It would be a much more concrete, down to earth matter than a mere airy “discussion about race.” Even relatively token compensation is, after all, compensation. Such a discussion, aimed at the intersection of justice and history, would serve a function equivalent to that of the “truth and reconciliation” initiatives that often follow a transition out of dictatorship. We have had our unacknowledged transition out of a terrorist totalitarianism. I am afraid that until we make some real effort to acknowledge what that meant and what it now means, we will continue to murder each other because among its legacies is this: that murder is the way that much of our society learned to govern itself.

Bernie!

May 26th, 2015

I just listened to Bernie Sanders formally announcing his candidacy for president. It was a moving experience. I cannot remember the last time I heard so much truth from a politician, except perhaps the last time I heard a speech by Bernie, or maybe it was Obama’s great “race” speech in his first campaign. I don’t know whether it is possible for Bernie to win, and I don’t really care. Now is not the time to sigh deeply and choose the lesser of two evils. That may come in November, but this is May. Let a thousand flowers bloom! Anyway… I honestly don’t know whether I just heard the standard gospel according to Bernie, ho hum, or the beginning rumblings of a political earthquake. I hope it’s the latter, but the former is good enough for me!

One Man Show

October 9th, 2013

John_Boehner_111th_Congress_2009It seems to be insufficiently remarked upon that there is one person who is solely responsible for the shutdown. The Koch brothers, however despicable their machinations, are not members of the House of Representatives, although they do seem to own a chunk of it. The Tea Party, after all, is not a majority of the House of Representatives. It is a plurality of one party. That party happens to be the majority party, but the Tea Party does not represent all of its members. Legislation can be passed and business can continue without the Tea Party. What has stopped the process is not the Tea Party, but the Speaker of the House, who chooses not to allow a vote on a continuing resolution which could start the machinery of government moving again and for which by most accounts there is majority, bipartisan support. This whole thing belongs to John Boehner. How odd that one man should have such power, in a so-called democracy. How can it be that the Speaker of the House has the power to single-handedly bring the whole show to a screeching halt? Isn’t that even weirder than the Senate’s filibuster rule, that allows a minority of Senators to frustrate the majority? Here it’s not even a minority – it’s one guy, and he’s not just clogging up business in a single chamber of a bicameral legislature, he’s subverting the whole government! If there’s anything that screams for reform, and that my “freedom-loving” friends on the right really ought to be concerned about, it’s this. No one person in a democracy should have such power.

Juxtaposed Without Comment

August 17th, 2013

I had been planning to write a post contrasting the hundreds of millions of dollars the State of Vermont is lavishing on the development of HealthConnect, the glorified web site that will be the local incarnation of ObamaCare, and the legislature’s mean-spirited nickel-and-diming of relief for the homeless.  Then I found this.  Here are two items from this week’s Seven Days, Vermont’s alternative newspaper.  I found them in a column titled “The Scoreboard: This Week’s Winners and Losers.”  See if you can tell which is which:

Anya Rader Wallack — Two weeks after stepping down from the Green Mountain Care Board, Vermont’s health care czar is close to signing a $100,000, no-bid contract with the state to oversee a $45 million federal grant she helped obtain. Good work, if you can get it!

State workers — To save $2.5 million, the Shumlin administration is cutting overtime, travel expenses and temporary staffing.

Standing the brouhaha on its head

May 15th, 2013

The media and our political leadership have it backwards, regarding the IRS/Tea Party scandal.  Let me say at the outset that I stand second to no patriotic American in my fervent desire not to be treated by the jack-booted thugs of the IRS the way our representatives overseas treat borderland Afghanis suspected of favoring the Taliban.  However, though it may indeed have been (to borrow words from among others our President) “disgusting” and “obnoxious” and “outrageous” for the Tea Party’s activist stalwarts to have to answer questionnaires, fill out forms, and wait months on end for bureaucratic action, just as if they were applying for long-term care Medicaid, fer crissakes, and my heart goes out to them, I believe that the  real defalcation of morality and justice lies elsewhere.  Congress imposed on the IRS the impossibly difficult and constitutionally suspect burden of distinguishing among forms of advocacy activity.  I say “constitutionally suspect” because when you get right down to it, the differences largely turn on the content of speech.  I hasten to add that the Supreme Court does not entirely agree with me.   For some seriously contorted, otherworldly reasoning, of the sort for which the  Court is so justly venerated, I refer you to Regan v. Taxation With Representation of Washington, 461 U.S. 540, 103 S.Ct. 1997, wherein 501(c)(4), the tax code provision in question, is not found to be problematic under the First Amendment.  But I digress.  Now, certain Congresspersons and others complain because the IRS, at a time of skyrocketing applications and much suspicion that 501(c)(4) tax exempt status was being abused, seems to have had a hard time figuring out where and how to draw these distinctions.  And here we get to the hard indigestible little nubbin of filth that everybody seems to be ignoring.  In what universe can the Tea Party accurately and truthfully be described as exclusively a social welfare organization only incidentally engaged in politics – which is what it takes to qualify under 501(c)(4)?  Not the universe I live in, where there are climate change and endangered species and nobody has the power to walk through walls.  Yet, if we are to believe the reporting, of some hundreds of Tea Party applications to receive tax exemption on this basis, only eight were denied.  Hmm…  If heads are to roll at the IRS, surely it should be for culpable laxity, not overzealousness?

land of chickenshits

April 18th, 2013

Some thoughts on the U.S. Senate’s failure to do anything about gun violence today, in the face of a filibuster.  The following came tumbling out of me in a comment on  Facebook, and I thought it worth repeating here:

As any thinking and feeling person must be, I am appalled by the intellectually threadbare, morally barren, opportunistically craven attitudes that give the gun lobby its political ascendancy. I’m not convinced that the gun control measures currently under discussion will actually do much to provide relief from gun violence, but if they could save even one life, they would be worth it. Against that, however, is counterbalanced the vast fearfulness that has made a lie of the claim of this country to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave” for longer than such a claim has been made. Fear of god, fear of indians, fear of black people, fear of brown people, fear of yellow people, fear of white people, fear of irish, fear of germans, fear of jews, fear of catholics, fear of communists, fear of working people, fear of government, fear of women, fear of men, fear of children, fear of adolescents, fear of illlness, fear of death, fear ultimately and most deeply of each other, whoever we are. Fear of losing their guns, which for so many of our fellow citizens are the fetish items that they use to hold these other fears at bay. We’ll know this is truly the land of the free and the home of the brave when that changes. It doesn’t really have all that much to do with filibusters.