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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fundamental Manipulations

Since January 22nd of 2017, many have been asking what can we do about the ego-maniacal, undemocratic, unqualified, unsophisticated, inept and narcissistic boor occupying the office of President?  More fundamentally, what can we do about a system that has been captured and re-constituted by oligarchs who are using that system to their utmost advantage and enrichment just as Donald Trump is doing right now as we speak?

 Answers have been in the form of resistance and action, some of which have led to positive outcomes such as the recent departure of certain key advisors in the White House, chief among them: Steve Bannon. While such outcomes are satisfying, they do not resolve fundamental problems that now infiltrate our system of governance.  Here are just a few examples, in brief, that go to fundamentals of our Constitution, like free speech, the right to vote, immigration and naturalization, and the general welfare of our citizens:
  • Citizens United decision by the SCOTUS granted free speech rights to corporations as individuals so that money donated to third party PACs could be seen as unlimited free speech in the form of unlimited contributions.
  • Another decision by SCOTUS invalidated section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which had allowed the federal government to pre-inspect the voting requirements of certain states who had violated freedom to vote in the past, in respect to certain minorities and other groups.  That one decision prompted several states to move quickly to put laws and procedures in place that made it much harder for members of some groups (known to favor Democrats when voting) to gain access to their constitutional right to vote.
  • Attempts to repeal the ACA and to substitute abominable healthcare legislation that would reduce coverage for millions of Americans (22 million according to OMB estimates). Moreover, planned reduction of Medicaid to a barebones program affecting more millions, including persons with disabilities, children and persons requiring long-term care, was also part of that repeal, and now a part of the 2018 Trump Budget proposal.  Savings from the minimization and destruction of the ACA and Medicaid will be used to enrich the richest 1% in our nation.
  • The undoing of DACA by another of Trump’s Executive orders, putting thousands of young “Dreamers” in jeopardy of being deported to other countries and societies.  To many of those young people, those societies are ‘foreign’ because they have spent most or all of their young lives in this country with parents who brought them here without official permission or documentation.  Just one more assault upon immigrants as a group.
One might ask:  How did we get to this point of diminution and destruction of constitutional fundamentals? 
(1)  It can be fairly stated that a major catalyst is that the overall management of government is no longer in the hands of independent and democratically-minded representatives.  The election system we have now is a result of years of neglect, dubious legislation, and unfortunate SCOTUS decisions.  It seems clear that we are now under the control of an election system that does not reflect the concepts of fairness, equality or an outcome that can be proven to be the “will of the people.”  In fact, the pernicious attempts by one Party to control voting and office-holding at every level of society has served to do just that, but has done no good for the 99% of the people under their political control. Here are examples of schemes perpetrated mostly by right-wing Republicans (along with some Democrats) that limit the participation of voters who tend to vote for Democrats:
  • Rampant gerrymandering of districts has produced “safe districts” for many congressional Republicans, which is why Republicans generally reject any attempts to have districts re-drawn by non-partisan groups.  An LA Times article from October 11, 2016 indicates that the GOP made their move in 2010 when Republican-controlled statehouses redrew congressional districts to give the GOP all-but guaranteed seats, which by 2014 swelled the House majority to 247, the largest since President Herbert Hoover.  A gerrymandering of congressional districts, completed six years ago, sought to secure a Republican House majority for years to come by packing Democratic voters into fewer, often urban and minority districts and giving Republican candidates comfortable majorities in the ones they control. But those tailor-made districts yielded a new crop of hard-right, often uncompromising Republican members of Congress, running safely in mostly white, older and rural districts, where Trump’s support is strongest.”
  • ”From Reuters: “When Republicans won full control of 21 states in 2010, they promptly adopted measures that required voters to show one of a restricted set of photo IDs issued by... government. Government studies have shown that these laws can prevent or deter significant numbers of poor and minority voters from voting. By 2015, 13 states had adopted what the National Conference of State Legislatures considers a “strict” voter photo ID law, including seven Southern states formerly subject to federal oversight under a section of the Voting Rights Act that was declared unconstitutional by SCOTUS.” 
Overall, at least 99 bills to restrict access to registration and voting have been introduced in 31 statesThirty-Five such bills saw significant legislative action (meaning they have at least been approved at the committee level or beyond) in 17 states. (BrennanCenter.org)
  • “Super PACs are a relatively new type of committee that arose following the July 2010 federal court decision in a case known as SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission. Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Unlike traditional PACs, super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates, and their spending must not be coordinated with that of the candidates they benefit. Super PACs are required to report their donors to the Federal Election Commission on a monthly or semiannual basis – the super PAC's choice – in off-years, and monthly in the year of an election.”  [Opensecrets.org (Center for Responsible Politics)]
    • “As of August 23, 2017, 2,394 groups organized as super PACs have reported total receipts of $1,791,027,147 and total independent expenditures of $1,061,703,002 in the 2016 cycle.”  Of these, over 50% are Republican or Conservative, mainly supported by the richest among us.  Super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited contributions from wealthy donors, contributed $22.3 million – nearly doubling the $11.8 million they had spent at this point in 2014.
  • A think tank (also called a policy institute) is an organization, institute, corporation, or group that conducts research and engages in advocacy in public policy.  Many think tanks are non-profit organizations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax exempt status. While many think tanks are funded by governments, interest groups, or businesses, some think tanks also derive income from consulting or research work related to their mandate.  In some cases, think tanks are little more than public relations fronts.”  (Sourcewatch.org)
    • “there are twice as many conservative think tanks as liberal ones, and the conservative ones generally have more money.”   Many of them devote their efforts to out-think and out-maneuver the Democratic Party (and any other more liberal entity). Many of their ideas have been incorporated into the platforms, budgets, and policies of the Republican Party.  Their influence has moved the GOP farther to the Right.  But what must not be forgotten is that these entities get their operating cash from oligarchs who are intent upon the takeover of our government and institutions -- like the media and schools -- and they gladly “pony-up” large sums of money to maintain that takeover.
  • Paid lobbyists and contributions to congressional candidates and incumbents (and other campaigns) are crucial to the control of legislation, and thus of how government functions. While it is difficult to know exactly how many lobbyists there are, Wikipedia offers the following:
    • A report in The Nation in 2014 suggested that while the number of 12,281 registered lobbyists was a decrease since 2002, lobbying activity was increasing and "going underground" as lobbyists use "increasingly sophisticated strategies" to obscure their activity.  Their analyst estimated that the “actual number of working lobbyists was close to 100,000 and that the industry brings in $9 billion annually.”
 It is difficult to know how many lobbyists are related to conservative issues and how many to liberal or progressive issues, but one thing is clear:  those oligarchs who desire the top lobbying professionals can afford to pay one or more of the top lobbying groups to advocate for their political or economic or socially conservative points of view.
(2) A second major cause is the lack of legislation that would truly benefit the working people of this nation.  But, more specifically, the blocking of legislation intended to address the welfare and protection of the People has played a major role.  And, finally, the many proposals of destruction of social programs and offices of government that are intended to address the basic needs of the People --like food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security, the EPA, community block grants and community action programs --represent a major portion of the 160+ programs that will receive budget cuts in the pending Trump Budget Proposal.
o   “The Trump Administration's fiscal year 2018 budget proposal proposes massive cuts across virtually every major department and agency, with the exception of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.”  Overall, the budget outline “reallocates $54 billion from civilian programs like the EPA, which faces the largest percentage cuts, to defense-related projects and border security.” (Time.com)
  • The inability to solve or resolve real problems in a forthright and competent process is also part of this lack of meaningful legislation.
    • Legislative Committees unable or unwilling to use proven and professional problem-solving techniques;
    • lack of witnesses before committees who are actually affected by the legislation being discussed; lack of data collection for informed sponsoring of problem-solving legislation
    • witnesses called who represent corporate America, but rarely represent working Americans living with the rigors, inequities and exigencies of everyday life
    • continuous attention to made-up issues that appeal to certain voters or contributors
    • inattention to the views of constituents in home districts;
    • lack of inclusion of opposition party in the legislative process
    • lack of substantive debate
(3)  Government has become overly-identified and obsessed with the needs of Business and the economy, with austerity measures for reducing deficits, balancing budgets, protecting manufacturers and financial entities, the stock market; and, with schemes for aggrandizing a small group of wealthy citizens and corporations, protected by a system of “law and order” rather than one of protection and safety for all citizens. 
  • We are now under the control of an oligarchic value system that is contrary to the democratic values of our Republic.  We are allowing elections to be controlled by a small group of billionaires and millionaires, and we are at the mercy of employees of rich corporations that desire a government entirely created and managed to their advantage.  Among those employees are lawyers, lobbyists, think-tankers, PAC managers, bought politicians, and unexpectedly, the non-voters, occasional voters, un-registered voters, and eligible citizens who don’t vote because they see no connection of politicians to their lives.  Non-voters are included here as “employees” because by their non-participation they contribute greatly to the ultimate control that the oligarchs have accumulated.  The oligarchs actually depend heavily on that non-participation.
As a result of these underlying manipulations of our fundamental democratic values, our mission has been changed, our purposes are questionable, and our rights and freedoms are in danger.  We must, above all, return to progressive democratic values by taking a fresh look at our fundamental document: The Constitution of the United States.  What does it say about our mission?  What purposes are revealed there for us to accomplish?  What values are important to maintain and defend as defining concepts for our way of governing?  And finally, what actions are crucial for citizens to take?  More on these questions in future postings. 

 

 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Houston Problem Runs Deep

“HOUSTON, we have a problem!”  The tragedy of Houston is much on the minds of citizens of all areas of the country, as it was for residents of New Orleans during the devastation of Katrina, and for residents of eastern states during Sandy.  We applaud the neighbor-to-neighbor assistance, help, bravery and caring that has been the most inspirational aspect of this dire situation.  But we grieve and blanch at the scenes of devastation and loss that pervade that area.  We have contributed to the Red Cross as much as possible, but we know that it will take many more private contributions and the dedication of governmental resources to heal this region over time. We pray that those children and adults affected may find the way back to a stable status and to a life that brings its own measure of happiness. 

We visited in New Orleans several years after Katrina hit there.  We saw new modern alternative energy homes built at the initiation and sponsorship of movie stars, we heard of special efforts to bring back musicians who had been affected by the storm..  Progress had been made, the city was alive and vibrant, but some people had never recovered, and the lack of flood insurance meant they had a minimal chance of doing so.  Government help, whether in New York and New England for damaging floods there, or in New Orleans, or in Houston, has been both good in some respects and bad in others.  But, without government help at all levels, the devastating effects would be much worse, rescues would have been many fewer, and recovery much slower.. 

However, the problem of which we speak goes deeper.  There is the problem of flood insurance that few can afford.  There is the loss of lives because of several reasons, one of which is the inability of official or unofficial responders to get to all those who were trapped.  That was also a sad story in New Orleans where people died in their top floors and attics because no one could get to them.
 
There is also the problem of budget cuts, especially at the federal level, that will reduce the ability to respond from that level.  FEMA faces a $ 875 million cut in the 2018 proposed Trump budget even while Trump promised $1 million of his own money in aid to Houston residents. The AP raised the following question: “As the death toll from Hurricane Harvey reaches 47 and damage estimates approach record-setting levels, the need for financial assistance for the victims has become frantic. But will the tragic scale of the storm affect a proposed $876 million cut to FEMA’s future relief funding?”  Will Trump deliver on his promise of $1 million of his own fortune to help?  His record on this score is not good.   Remember, if you will, part of the $875 mil in cuts was meant for building the Wall on our Mexican border. 

But, there is something far deeper here that can definitely get lost in the tragedy of this event. That is, the inability of government to fully protect and defend its People.  Government (as well as the private sector) is unprepared at all levels to deal with these disasters in the manner that will produce optimum results.  FEMA doesn’t have enough resources.  Local governments do not have enough resources (and sometimes no emergency plans) to deal most effectively with these disasters.  Just how long have we had the opportunity to address these natural disasters with modern implements?  Almost a century perhaps.  In all that time, what has government (and the private sector) done to learn lessons from these events and experiences?  What is it that we need, based on all the emergencies we have faced?  Another cabinet department to deal with emergencies only?  Maybe; but I doubt it
.
Of course, there is a reserve emergency fund at the national level to enable people to recover from such natural disasters, and the AP did report preliminary discussions in the WH to add substantial amounts to that reserve fund. Apparently, a decision has been made to send lawmakers an initial request for a $7.9 billion down payment toward Harvey relief and recovery efforts.  “The request, expected to be swiftly approved by Congress, would add $7.4 billion to rapidly dwindling Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster aid coffers and $450 million to finance disaster loans for small businesses.”  Republican leaders are already making plans to use the aid package, certain to be overwhelmingly popular, to win speedy approval of a contentious increase in the federal borrowing limit.

So, why can’t they also address the sticky issue of flood insurance and come up with a public option much like we should have had in the ACA?

Finally, it goes much deeper still.  Yes, we do have a problem, and it goes to something that prevents us from dealing in a fundamental way with what you and others, have experienced.  We have a government—and an agency responsible for our environment: the EPA -- being run by people who actually deny the existence of climate change, of environmental crisis, of the importance of being in on a world-wide pact – the Paris Accords.  That Agreement actually brought the whole world together to work on the attack upon our planet by human beings and business enterprises being their most thoughtless, greedy, stupid and uncaring.  They are poisoning our planet and ignoring the causes and the consequences.

If we continue to regard each of these climate events as separate occurrences, unrelated to a systemic problem that most likely causes all of it, we shall be buried by the consequences.  Just as certain animals are becoming extinct, and just as other planets may once have nurtured life forms that died out as the planet over-heated or was made unlivable (by gasses or chemicals, by bacteria or viruses -- by whatever might be unrecognized and uncontrolled), we could face an atmosphere that becomes unfriendly to human life.
 
The rub is this:  extinction or unlivable conditions or poisoned water, air and food seem a long way off, the time to deal with such events is not when they are happening; the time is right now.  The future is the present, because it is now that the remedies and solutions and actions must take place or the problems will be beyond the reach of those immediately threatened by them.  We are called to act in the present to save the future for others.

This is the epitome of a contractual society: acting on behalf of others who will not have the ability or opportunity to save themselves.  It is a concept that applies to the welfare of human beings: a contract we have with unknown people to protect and defend them even though we don’t know if they ‘deserve’ that help.  Can a government that denies the imperative of social responsibility for one another, supported by wealthy industrialists who also deny any responsibility for their communities or their neighbors – ever understand and act on that unsigned social contract?  It is very doubtful.  Can a government that denies a need for food stamps or flood insurance options, or health care as a right not a privilege or social security as a necessity for retirees, or who deny the necessity of Head Start or of Meals on Wheels for children and Seniors – can such a government even be trusted to address the saving of our planet?  I doubt it very much.

The answer to “Why?” Is disturbing.  They cannot allow their ideology to be compromised, even with human lives and life at stake.  Take another example to see this clearly.  Trump has put aggression and toughness at the top of his definition of leadership.  He desperately wants to prove that he is an authoritarian leader.   Despite the findings of science that a nuclear war would be fatal to much of our civilization and to much of our environment, depending on the power of the bombs used, Trump insists on acting very aggressively toward Kim Jong Un and North Korea.  He has threatened ‘fire and fury as never seen before.’ 

So, no matter what scientists say will happen to human life and the life span of the planet, Trump is willing to put authoritarian leadership – a staple of the Right-wing – very high on his priorities list to be seen as more important than life itself.  He is a damn fool, crazy enough to place all of our lives on the sacrificial altar of Fuhrership.  Ideology before People – that is Trump – that is the Republican Right-wing – that is the Alt Right and that is Fascism.

Yes, we do have a problem, and its name is Trump/McConnell/Ryan/Alt Right/climate change denier/Myron Ebell/EPA.

In stark contrast, without regard to worthiness, or differences in social class, race or political or religious creeds, citizens of Houston (and elsewhere) reached out to people in peril and in need to fulfill the responsibility that belongs to us all: the responsibility of caring for people, no matter what differences may exist.  If ordinary human beings can do that in times of crisis, they can do it in other critical times as well.   
Instead of being inspired by the beneficent actions of people helping people, this Trump administration will continue to place partisan political and conservative economic ideology plus de-(con)struction higher in priority than the general welfare of the People.  Watch carefully how this prediction will come forth out of his Tax Reform proposals and his proposed budget.


We, the People, must continue on a different path, for we know the mission, we know the purpose, we know the way that our democracy must progress: toward the light of freedom, equal opportunity and justice for all.  And we know what it takes to fulfill that promise – to survive the bad and to rejoice in the good.  We know it takes grit, determination and hard work, but we know too that survival and progression depend on the help and benevolence of other resources – our families, our friends our neighbors, our fellow citizens, and on government that is dedicated above all else to the welfare, protection, and fulfillment of individual potential and aspiration by providing a myriad of opportunities for all our People. Let us not waver in our commitment to one another.  It is the bedrock on which our nation grows in moral strength, in greater unity forged from diversity, in a meaningful purpose of community service that can be shared with the world.  Thank you Houston for reminding us that there are some fundamentals that we must re-capture if we are to survive.         

Monday, August 14, 2017

Charlottesville: Ugly American Fascism Revealed

More than once, Donald J. Trump excoriated former President Barak Obama for not calling ISIS or Al Qaeda members by the phrase “Radical Islamic Terrorists.”  Trump wanted the correct term used so that we would have no doubt about their background or about their intentions.

Taking his own advice, does that mean he should have used his Saturday press conference following the Charlottesville, VA domestic terrorist attacks to condemn the forces that attacked peaceful demonstrators for what they truly are:  Nazis, Racists and white supremacists?  After all, did they not advertise openly those names for themselves? Of course they did, because they now know without a doubt that they have not only a sympathizer in the Oval Office; they also know that they have their own true believers in the Trump administration, one of whom – Steve Bannon – is a prime policy advisor.
Despite Trump speaking out against violence and hatred – “on many sides” – he missed an opportunity to identify the radical domestic terrorist groups present in Charlottesville, who have activated a plan that seeks the destruction of a democratic agenda, and of a diverse society.  It also includes the destruction of the liberal press, the elimination of certain rights and freedoms, and the destruction of a government that supports 'liberal' programs and policies that do not favor white Americans.
Does Trump really believe that his Monday press statement before a television audience absolves him from that indiscretion?  In my opinion, it does not.  It was a crude attempt to right the wrongs of that first statement, but it falls short in two respects: (1) it did not renounce that phrase of “violence on many sides”, and (2) it did not ask the Justice Department to investigate more than the killing and injuries.  In other words, there was no mention of possible “hate crimes” that should be investigated by federal officials.  Trump once again fell short of true presidential prowess and moral leadership.
This event in Charlottesville is a benchmark and perhaps a red line.  It has marked the open defiance of avowed fascists against a fundamental civil right: that of peaceful protest. It has marked the public demonstration of Fascist and white supremacist ideology and vitriol.  It has identified the violent nature of this country’s Fascist movement: they will kill innocent people to advance their agenda (a very adequate definition of “terrorism”).  And, it has released upon this country a plan of attack that has characterized fascist groups throughout the world (see my Blog posts of 11/23/2015).  
Make no mistake about this so-called “incident.”  It is not incidental; it was not unplanned; it is not a one-time occurrence (reports of other possible events are already circulating).  Those terrorists who were dressed in military garb have declared just what they regard this to have been – an opening battle for the supremacy of the white race and for the “de-construction” of democratic governance.  The minimization of this event is a huge mistake, like that made by much of the populace of Germany in the 1930s and 40s.  I say this because:
1.      Fascism is, by definition, a terrorist plot that uses hate and violence as essential tactics. “One common definition of the term focuses on three concepts: the fascist negations (anti-liberalism, anti-communism and anti-conservatism); nationalist authoritarian goals of creating a regulated economic structure to transform social relations within a modern culture; and a political system of romantic symbolism, mass mobilization, a positive view of violence, and promotion of masculinity, youth and charismatic leadership. According to many scholars, fascism—especially once in power—has historically attacked communism, conservatism and parliamentary liberalism, attracting support primarily from the far right.”  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism).
2.      Fascist tendencies are alive and well in another segment of society that also seeks the de-construction of rules and regulations of government that (supposedly) suppress the free market, free trade and the ability of rich capitalists to reap tremendous profits (by hook or by crook) from the rest of mankind.  The financial support by oligarchs of the type of Fascism displayed in Charlottesville will be a force to be reckoned with.  It might even be the unstoppable “juggernaut” the Nazis developed in Germany.    Those commentators who remind us of the smallness of this Charlottesville contingent have forgotten their European History, for the German Nazis were also ignored at first for their relatively small presence.  Stopping a Fascist movement of any numbers must begin in earnest precisely when they are small and seemingly insignificant! Consult the following for a listing of these groups in the USA:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:White_supremacist_groups_in_the_United_States
3.      Third, do not for a moment forget that avowed Fascists, white supremacists and radical nationalists exist within the Trump administration, and they are key players in the production of the policies and rhetoric of this administration.  Steve Bannon, who is a special policy advisor to the President, has been a leading advocate of Fascist and racist-type views for a long time, but until now, did not have an inside office and position from which to spew his Fascist rhetoric into the ears of the Executive of this branch of the federal government.  Briefly, here is a picture of two insiders from Tribune News Service, authored by Tony Pugh:
WASHINGTON _ Religious and civil rights leaders called on President Donald Trump to fire White House advisers Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, whose association with the white-supremacist "alt-right" movement has come under heightened scrutiny after Saturday's violent clash in Charlottesville, Va.
 
"Supporters of white supremacists, violent extremism, racial bigotry and neo-Nazis should not serve in the White House or any level of government," said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, is the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, a right-wing news site that's a favorite with white nationalists and the so-called alt-right movement of anti-Semitic and white-power groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Bannon also was CEO of Trump's presidential campaign.

Gorka, a deputy assistant to Trump, has ties to anti-Semitic, right-wing groups in Hungary.  Farhana Khera, president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, said Gorka "gave cover" to individuals who bombed a mosque in Minnesota when he called it a "possible fake hate crime." 

"Until the president purges his staff of supporters of the white supremacist movement, the president's condemnation (of violence in Charlottesville) has no credibility. The presence of Bannon and Gorka in the administration is the president's silent message to extremists to continue their march of terror against our communities. And it must stop," Khera said.

Trump has faced widespread criticism, even from within his party, for not denouncing the incident as domestic terrorism and for refusing to directly condemn the white supremacists, racists and neo-Nazis who organized the event.   (www.mcclatchydc.com)

Two points: 1) this is the right kind of pro-active step taken by the religious and civil rights leaders, and they should be supported in their stand that Trump should remove avowed Fascists from appointed positions in the White House and Executive Branch, and 2) a simple denouncing of the domestic terrorists who ravaged Charlottesville and who killed and injured peaceful protestors is not enough. 
  • They must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law;
  • There must be a federal investigation of the terrorist intentions of the groups involved; and
  • Every measure should be taken by governments and citizens of every state to financially burden and weaken every organization on the list mentioned above at Wikipedia.com. 
  • We must use every measure possible, including boycotts of revenue-producing events and products in every state that harbors such organizations. 
  • Every Fascist organization (and their oligarchic sponsors) that advocates the destruction of our rights, freedoms and democratic institutions must be investigated, boycotted, vilified, and forced into the mode of de-construction that they so lovingly proclaim through their WH spokespersons, especially Steve Bannon.  
The items that emboldened the Nazis in Germany are instructive:

§  the passive reactions to their demonstrations, their rhetoric and beliefs,
§  displays of violence that went unpunished by authorities,
§   the easy conversion to their movement of certain citizens within the population, many of whom had experienced what was later described as a “moral numbness” induced by lack of leadership and lack of good people organizing to resist
§   the ignorance and lack of resolve on the part of the leaders of the Weimar Republic, and the inability of local leaders and citizens in towns and villages to comprehend what was happening (and what was likely to happen); they just didn’t see Nazism in its full hideousness
§   the refusal of many citizens to listen to the warnings provided about Nazis by professors, some experienced politicians, clergy, and philosophers.  They were all ignored (read my post, “The Bonhoeffer Warning” 11/9/2015).
We must be prepared to follow former Congressman John Dingle (Democrat from Michigan) into battle against this foe.  Anyone who believes this incident to be a distraction or a one-time occurrence is delusional.  Dingle is right – they are Nazis, and they can’t be ignored.  He is correct again when he recognizes that this unseemly crew of domestic terrorists must be opposed in battle. And again, he is right: Trump must resign, or be fired! 

POLITICS 08/13/2017 11:57 pm ET
Congress’ Longest Serving WWII Vet Vows to Fight Nazis Again After Violent Protest
Former Rep. John Dingell had a message for white nationalist groups that incited violence on Saturday.
By Rebecca Shapiro  

“Former Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), 91, known on Twitter for his bristling and often comical political observations, had a clear message following Saturday’s deadly violence incited by a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in history, was also one of the final two World War II veterans to leave office in 2014. On Sunday, Dingell tweeted that he enlisted once to fight Nazis, and he’d do so again if necessary. 

Dingell enlisted when he turned 18 in 1944. He told NPR that he did not see combat but said had the atomic bomb…not been dropped, he would have been part of a ground attack on Japan. 
 
The former congressman, who served in Congress from 1955 to 2014, is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump. He most recently used the anniversary of former President Richard Nixon’s resignation from office as an opportunity to show Trump how such a decision could be made.  ‘You could even fit it in a tweet,’ he wrote to the president.” 

The threat of Fascism – in its various forms of radical nationalism, race hatred, Nazism, and its violent and destructive ideology – must be defeated whenever it raises its ugly serpent head.  Charlottesville is the starting line.  We must begin the battle right now, and never stop until the Fascists are vanquished, their financial sponsors are jailed and their Chief Abettor in the White House is removed from Office, along with his government de-constructionists (Bannon and Gorka must be the first to go), and that should be the first order of business for every progressive activist in this land. 

 

 

 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Is 'Scapegoating': another Signpost?

In the Declaration of Independence, there is much concern about something we probably minimize, or think about less than our Founding Fathers did. They were, of course, dealing with a situation that demanded their full attention, and here are a few of the phrases they used to describe the Tyranny of England’s King George III:

He has refused his assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
 
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.”

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states.…obstructing the Laws of Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither…”

He has erected a multitude of new offices and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people…”

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws…”

For cutting off trade with all parts of the world.”

For imposing Taxes on us without our consent.”

For…abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our Governments.”

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with the cruelty and perfidy scarcely unparalleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”

A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

Tyranny” is not a pretty term. Nor is it unfamiliar to our own history. As a matter of fact, we have had Presidents and Legislators, right on down to governors and local office holders like mayors, who from the very beginning of our Republic through to modern times have let their tyrannical or authoritarian tendencies rule their better natures. Unfortunately, tyranny comes in many forms and can get loose from a democratic foundation in varying increments of time. But one thing is consistent: in whatever mode and at whatever acceleration, tyranny is marked by oppression, repression, injustice and, perhaps most often, by uncommon cruelty, harshness or harm.

Instead of reviewing numerous examples of such perfidy in our history, let us concentrate on a few basic premises that may have escaped our attention in the chaos of a Trump administration and its accompanying cruelties and injustices. As one author suggests, “Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.” (On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder).

One of the very basic items that Tyrants depend on for eventual ability to control large numbers of people is one of humanity’s basic flaws: an inability to control one’s impulses, to self-evaluate or to question authority. It is, in some sense, wrapped-up in our origins, in human nature, and in the slow adaptation of our brains beyond tribal myths, norms, behaviors and group-think. We are, as a result, intrigued by new leaders who can easily demand our obedience born from the fundamental aspects of our nature. We are willing to cast aside many things we have learned (or could learn) and to give our loyalty to such leaders according to our basic instincts.

Donald Trump is quite adept at capitalizing on this “anticipatory obedience,” as it is termed by author Snyder. Trump is eminently successful at manipulating the fundamental instincts of citizens including deep-seeded loyalty to family, a local area, and to country above all. Playing on those loyalties, he tends to over-emphasize the glories of the military, touting as well the importance of devolving programs like Medicaid and many others to administration by states and local entities. Thus, he uses in-bred instincts and loyalties to build a militant nationalism that gathers support for “America First” and “Making America Great Again” which demand a leadership that is uncompromising, and a constituency that is militantly loyal.

The unthinking obedience he counts on is also connected to the human instinct to blame someone else for life’s problems, exigencies, unfairness, and injustices, and for the nation’s ills. Such scapegoats are perceived as possessing characteristics, appearance, language or religious beliefs that are different from the accepted norm. That kind of scapegoating is the essence of what an authoritarian leader needs to inspire: unquestioning personal loyalty to him (or her) as the supreme leader and savior they can admire and serve. Donald Trump has chosen “radical Islamic terrorists” as his primary scapegoat (he has many). Starting with his much-maligned ban on Muslim immigrants from seven countries he has broadened this target to, by inference, include all Muslims, even though he continues to deny it! But those denials pale in the light of additional facts and actions:
  • Friday, July 29th – in a speech before law enforcement officers, Trump praised the aggressive tactics of immigration officers (CNN.com)
  • December 2016 – quietly began having immigration officials ask foreign visitors for their social media accounts on a voluntary basis (Politico via CNN)
  • Increase in deportations
  • Extreme vetting” instituted in January and has been characterized as a “euphemism for discriminating against Muslims” (CNN.com)
  • Use of anti-Muslim rhetoric
  • Elevation of Islamophobic staff members to key positions in the White House
  • Lack of response to the rise in hate crimes targeted at Muslims (Brennan Center for Justice)
  • Anti-Muslim bias in the workplace; complaints to EEOC are up substantially (Brennan Center)
  • Mosques around the country under attack
  • Some cities and towns have changed their laws to prevent the building of mosques (Brennan Center)
  • An “anti-sharia movement” seeks to convince Americans that courts need to be stopped from applying Islamic traditions – 34 states have considered such legislation (Brennan Center)
  • Policies that allow profiling on basis of religion and treatment of American Muslim communities as “pools” of potential terrorists resulting in constant surveillance by police authorities
It goes without saying – but I will not hesitate to say it – this all sounds so akin to what Hitler and the Nazis did toward German Jewish citizens in the 1930’s and 40’s that it is absolutely frightening. Innuendos, lies, inflammatory rhetoric, and manufactured phantom threats (like sharia law) are all a part of what it takes for authoritarian leaders to cultivate a rabidly loyal following toward the ultimate goal of dictatorial control. One thing we should have learned by now: Donald Trump is not a thoroughly committed advocate of democratic principles. He is imbued with values and verities that challenge democratic ideals, most likely implanted in his psyche from the shabby (and shady?) business practices and principles he has absorbed and cultivated over the years. Under the guidance of Steve Bannon and others, he has begun to act on those values and we as a country are beginning to show the signs of an entrenched minority who are fiercely loyal enough to become his staunch supporters and henchmen.

We are not far removed from a nation transformed into something it was never meant to be. Consider the following list of attributes of a Fascist regime (per Prof. Lawrence Briggs):
  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism
  2. Disdain for human rights
  3. Identifying scapegoats
  4. Military supremacy
  5. Rampant Sexism
  6. Control of mass media
  7. Obsession with national security
  8. Religion and government intertwined
  9. Business interests protected
  10. Labor power suppressed
  11. Disdain for the arts
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment
  13. Rabid cronyism and corruption
  14. Fraudulent Elections

Now ask yourself: how can we resist these trends? How can we stop this de-construction of our democratic government? How can we turn away from this path leading to destruction and begin to regain the spirit of independence, democratic participation, and truly representative democracy built on justice and equality; on checks and balances of political power? What will it take to re-invigorate our rule of law?

It certainly will not be accomplished by the current Executive or Congress or Supreme Court; what does that leave? It leaves that branch of government on which our Constitution ultimately depends: The People. We are the answer; we are the resistance; we are the reformers; we are the only ones who can rejuvenate a weakened and failing Democracy. Citizens must resist appeals to base instincts and stand instead for our basic democratic beliefs and ideals; must formulate policies and programs that advance the well-being of all, not of the few; must run for office to represent local constituents, not to manipulate them into following party lines nor to become beholden to an elite corps of monied sponsors and lobbyists; must demand of office-holders that they solve real problems rather than dither with political party philosophies.

We are faced with the tyranny of despotism, not unlike the experience of our Founders. If we fail to resist the authoritarian Trumpian philosophy, and fail to recall this nation to a progressive ethic of liberty and justice for all, we shall awaken to a reality that is unfathomable and to a nation that is known for its perfidy rather than its compassion; for injustices rather than a passionate fervor for human rights and universal justice. We must not minimize the Danger! We must Press On with the passion that has characterized progressive democratic humanitarian movements throughout our history. We Must Not Give In or Give Up!

[There is more to be said on this theme, but, in keeping with a new self-imposed rule for this Blog, I am limiting this, and future posts, to a more reasonable word limit of around 1,500. I hope that you, dear reader, will find this appealing and return as often as is convenient. Thank you for continuing to follow my Blog!--- I.M. Publius 2]