Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Behind Every Great Fortune is a Crime

There are many issues which animate the passions of the the good citizens of New Hampshire--gun control or the lack of it, a state income tax, or the lack of it, abortion, immigration--but the most fundamental issue of all, and the one on which I suspect President Obama actually won the election, is that of economic distribution of wealth, or, as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and every Republican would say, "Class warfare."

Republicans made great bushels of hay quoting Mr. Obama's remark that he intended to "redistribute" the wealth, which confirmed Rush Limbaugh's deeply held belief that Mr. Obama is Karl Marx, reincarnated.  As self contained and controlled as Mr. Obama is, this was an unfortunate lapse, even if, especially if it reflected his real opinion. It was not politic.

The idea of taking from the rich to give to the poor does not evoke images of Robin Hood in this state, it evokes images of theft from the hard working "successful" and giving to the undeserving poor.

Luckily, for Mr. Obama, the Republicans are so tightly sewn into the pockets of the really, really rich, they could not even bring themselves to answer Mr. Obama's taunts that the Republicans refuse to make billionaires "pay their fair share."  They insisted no share is a fair share to pay in taxes, especially if you are rich and successful, and higher tax rates on the rich was "class warfare" and "punishing success."

You would not catch a Republican quoting Balzac,  "Behind every fortune is a crime."

Mr. Obama will not be able to do anything about Fisher Island in Florida, where the very rich isolate themselves from the hoi polloi, or any of the other similar, if not quite so upscale islands like Bald Head Island, NC, Kiawa Island, Fisher's Island, New York, the Hamptons, Long Island, any of a long list of islands of wealth and privilege where the rich can be rich without feeling guilty.

Here in New England, the high school graduates who worked for decades in the trades, mastered crafts, learned computers on the job still do reasonably well. They consider themselves middle class, have a "camp" on a lake and can afford to go on vacation and eat out in restaurants occasionally. They can splurge on a Red Sox game, where they spend a week's pay paying for the salaries of millionaire ball players and owners. 

As Cesar said, "Give them bread and circus." 

That's what we've got in New Hampshire.  Workers who are only occasionally restive, who are happy to have a job, and who do not believe in unions, who love their guns, their delusion of "freedom" and cannot see the evils in a system which gives the top 1% that 43% of the pie shown above, while the 80% of Americans squeeze into that bottom red slice of the pie.  If I am reading my New Hampshire neighbors correctly, they have worked hard all their lives. They get up in the morning, go to work, solve problems, do no complain about being given more work than they had the day before, and that work ethic is so ingrained in them, they assume if someone is richer, it must be because they worked and are still working harder. Of course, having also been with those rich bosses, my take is they work far less hard than these good New Hampshire folk--the bosses just scheme harder and love the game of intrigue. But in terms of productive work, actually building those built in bookcases, re wiring the kitchen, rebuilding the bathroom, the boss class hasn't a clue. They are at work making deals in rooms with original art on the wall and polished wood desks.  But that all may be just the Phantom's ignorance showing.

Walk around any of the Vanderbilt mansions, whether at Newport, Rhode Island, or in North Carolina or in the Adirondacks, or any of the dozens of places where Vanderbilts built estates which make Downton Abbey look like a tar paper shack.  If your gut reaction is, "Oh, how beautiful," rather than "Oh, how shameful," then you are part of the problem.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Guns for Christmas: Peace and Joy in America

Peace on Earth. Good Will to Men
Oh, Tidings of Comfort and Joy
Under your tree a real gun
The Family That Shoots Together

She knows what guns are for
Mixed Messages?

 “Talk to your parents about how much you like shooting. Who knows?  Maybe you’ll find a Bushmaster AR-15 under your tree some frosty Christmas morning!”
--Advertisement in Junior Shooters magazine

You cannot make this stuff up.    Mad Dog could not find the actual image of the ad in Junior Shooters, to his great regret.  He is sure it looks all Norman Rockwell and the kid in it, whoever it is, has freckles.  And a cow lick. And a smile which could throw a light bright enough to illuminate the road from Hampton Beach to Osh Kosh.

The Road Kill T shirt thing has Mad Dog a little confused. Why this would be in a gun magazine is not clear. And the girl looks happy, positively ecstatic even, to be wearing her Road Kill T shirt. Does she want some man with a gun to make her road kill? There is some psycho dynamic operating here, and Mad Dog knows he is missing it. Someone help Mad Dog here.

Mad Dog loved Kayla Williams's book, and its title. Ms. Williams was in the Army, forward deployed, carried a gun all the time, and knew how to use it and knew what it could do, and would not want to find one under her Christmas tree, Mad Dog would bet.  When you first put on your white uniform or your scrubs in medical school, it's something of a rush. That lasts until you get vomited on, defecated on, urinated on, and soaked with spraying blood. Then you cannot get out of that stuff fast enough. It acquires a different meaning, when reality sets in.

Mad Dog suspects carrying a gun in Iraq was something like that.

An AR-15 under the tree, celebrating the birthday of the Prince of Peace.

Only in America.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Charles M. Blow 
2012 Election map for Obama/Biden

You know how on election night you look at that map of the United States and you think, wow the Republicans have got the whole country wrapped up--there's just so much RED on that screen?  But, of course, most of what the Republicans control is just empty desert, prairie, or swamp--aren't many people actually living in those red states, those massive states like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and the Dakotas, pretty empty spaces there. 

So, the Republicans must have awaken on November 7 and said the same thing to themselves--if only we could win elections by geography, by land mass rather than by people. 

So, here's what they came up with:  Rather than awarding electoral votes to the presidential candidate who has the most people voting for him, we'll award the state to the candidate with the most Congressional districts voting for him.

That way Mr. Obama would have lost Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. In all those states, Mr. Obama won precious few districts but he won the popular vote.
So, let's just count districts.

The breakdown looks like this:
Michigan:  (16 electoral votes) Obama won only 5/14 districts but won the popular vote by 449,313. 
Ohio:  (18 votes) Obama won 4/16 districts but won the popular vote by 166,241
Virginia:  (13 votes) Obama won 4/11 districts but won the popular vote by 149,298
Wisconsin: (10 votes) Obama won 3/8 districts but won the popular vote by 213,419.

How could he lose so many districts but win each of these states in popular votes actually cast? The districts he did win were heavily populated cities; the districts he lost had mostly cows or birds but few people living there.

So, the Republicans have come up with a new plan. Don't count people any more. Count districts. That's much more fair, don't you think? No, don't think. That's part of the problem, part of why we keep losing these elections.

Charles Blow, who writes a political column for the New York Times, which is very heavy on numbers and charts and graphs lays all this out, and concludes, in his very understated way, the Republicans are trying to "chip away" at democracy by this sort of manipulation of the electoral college.

Chip away? 

Our Constitution, when it apportioned representation for Congressional seats granted so many seats for each voting white male in each state, and also gave credit to each state for 3/5 of a person to account for the "other persons,"  you know, slaves. 

So, there is precedent for this sort of funky counting in our Constitution.

"Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."

It is the genius of the Republican party, having failed at voter intimidation, trying to prevent people from casting ballots this last time around--which only got them a legion of really angry people waiting on line for 6 hours in Florida to vote against them--so now they figure, not necessary. We can simply stop counting people and start counting something else. Square miles, maybe.  Land mass. Cows. Sheep. Give us credit for 3/5 of all the sheep owned by Republicans and throw in the Congressional districts we Gerrymandered and, well, why bother to vote at all? Just give us the election from now on. We won't bother you. We'll just go back into our gated communities on off shore islands, not pay taxes but we will buy stocks and just leave us in control of the government so we can cut taxes and keep up defense spending, because, you know, we know what's best for you.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Howard "Buck" McKeon: The Friendly Face of Unending War

Howard "Buck" McKeon, Republican Representative from California has a starring role in Jill LePore's New Yorker article about how the United States got itself into a state of unending war.

This is a very lucid article, which uses publicly available information to reveal just how our system works.

But first, a word about Buck. Mad Dog does not know how he came by that name. It wasn't because he was a Buck private, because he never served in the military. He did follow do the now familiar road of starting at Brigham Young University, leaving to go on Mormon mission, then marrying and starting his family which grew to six children, started a business, went back to college and got his degree, started a business which went bankrupt, which in Republican circles seems to be a rite of passage to the next inevitable step in life--bank president. 

I suppose banks must like to appoint people who have gone through bankruptcy to be their presidents, because, well, they've been there; they have all the experience they'll ever need.

And then, from bank president to nominee of the Republican Party to go to Washington to fight spending, except defense spending. You wouldn't want to cut defense spending if you represent McKeon's district, which has an Army fort, an Air Force base, a naval weapons station, and a Marine mountain warfare training site. 

McKeon, who is strongly pro life, pro gun is also strongly pro war. His district depends on it. He added language to the 2012 defense authorization act to give the President, even a Democratic president, the right wage little wars or big wars as he sees fit. McKeon has never met a war he did not like.

The rationale for wars is now, "we'd rather fight them in the streets of ...(insert name) than in the streets of New York." Or "deny the terrorists sanctuaries." Which is wonderful for a Congressional district like McKeon's California 25th, because it means anywhere you can find a nest of terrorists, and you can find them in a myriad of places from Afghanistan to North Africa, to sub Saharan Africa to East Africa to West Africa, to Indonesia to Berlin, Germany, well, you can fund a nice war to go flush out those rats.

It's steady work. 

In the 1950's, the rationale for a defense budget which amounted to 50% of government spending was the world wide Communist conspiracy.  It justified hundreds of American military bases all around the world, 55,000 troops in Germany, 35,000 in Japan, 10,000 in Italy, not to mention Korea.  No other country in the world has any bases to speak of outside their own territory. 

Once communism fell, the attack on the World Trade Center was used to justify "rooting out" the terrorists, denying them sanctuaries, i.e., sending American troops and weapons all over the world, because, after all, that's where the terrorists are. They hide out all over the world. Whatever country you feel like invading--terrorists.

Andrew Bacevich has decried this new American mindset of unbridled militarism. We aspire to be the policeman for the world.  The cheering section for this state of perpetual war is comprised of rightwing loudmouths (Limbaugh, Beck--fill in the blank), neo con opinion page columnists--Yes, Dr. Krauthammer, we are talking about you--retired generals who find work in foundations or political office, Jerry Falwell, Tom Clancy and assorted other people who make good money pedaling the idea of killing bad guys.  They speak of honor, glory, duty, God, country, but none of them, except the generals, have ever served in uniform, or experienced a shot fired in anger at them.

In Vietnam, the military industrial complex was sustained by the fantasy that the USA needed to fight communism in the rice paddies. Once Vietnam fell, all the dominoes would fall one after another. We had to stop them there or witness our own collapse. Of course, we lost Vietnam and nothing like that happened. Now, we trade with Vietnam and buy cell phones and clothes made by those rabid commies who threatened to destroy us.

Afghanistan had a certain cachet--there were some nasty fellows who lopped off the heads of teachers who dared teach girls, and Osma Bin Laden, reputed mastermind of  the 9/11 attack, was hanging out there in some cave, or so we were told. Actually, he may have been in Pakistan, our sort of ally.  So, 10 years later we are still trying to deny bad guys sanctuaries. 

But as soon as we wop the ground hog on the head in one part of the lawn, another pops up from another part, and now we've got 'em in Algeria, Malawi, Somalia, who knows where else?

It keeps the men and women who volunteer for the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force employed--and make no mistake about it, we have a mercenary force now. None of those people would be there if they could get  paid better doing any other job they might expect to get. And it's wonderful for business in the 25th district and right here in Portsmouth at the Navy Yard and at a hundred small factories making things for the war machine.

After 9/11 Jim Lehrer asked the salient question: "Why do they hate us so?"

Those wild eyed fanatics from the Middle East simply did not see us the way we see ourselves. Look at Mr. McKeon. Does he not look like a nice man? Father of six, husband, pillar of the church. 

But read Jill LePore's portrait of the war making machine which America has become and you might be able to see us through different eyes.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pissants Rule

Three Amigos
What? Me Worry?
I am the new Donald
All The Answers Are Written in Stone
We are the piss ants and we rule!

In  Virginia,  Senate Republicans have introduced a bill to award the electoral college votes in the next election to the candidate who wins the most congressional districts. This would mean, in the last election although President Obama won the popular vote in Virginia rather handily, he would have lost the state because the way the Republican legislature divided up the state: there are far more Republican Congressional districts and Romney won more of those. Imagine you draw a single Congressional district which includes all the northern Virginia suburbs and then draw a Gerrymander line to include in that the Navy town of Norfolk (also very blue) and make all of that a single (Democratic) district; now divide the rest of the state into a hundred small Republican districts and, presto, whamo! You've got every presidential election with a Republican lock on the state's electoral votes, no matter how lopsided the Democratic victory in the popular vote. 

There's genius here:  You can simply make every Republican vote count 100 times the vote of every Democratic vote.  Thus do the rich stay rich, the powerful stay powerful, and the Republicans rule with only 10% of the vote.  Winners write the rules so they stay winners. An old Republican way. And, in Virginia, you don't even have to be a winner--you just need to control the state house with the old plantation crowd. What a state, first in slavery, then tobacco, what will they think of next?

As Rand Paul fulminates at Secretary of State Clinton, in his best Donald Trump, announcing, very bravely, "I would have fired you," we sees the piss ants on parade. And Ron Johnson piles on, trying to formulate a question to suggest President Obama and Secretary Clinton colluded to misrepresent the meaning of the deaths of the ambassador and three others at Benghazi, his point flounders and sinks as Ms. Clinton asks, "To what effect?"  The four Americans are dead. How could what we said then or now say about that make any difference to anyone now? The only important things to follow that were to bury the dead, seek out the killers, and learn what we can to prevent a recurrence of this event.

The more we see of the Tea Party Republicans, the smaller they seem and the more the Democrats grow in stature. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson Fear and Loathing

Mad Dog has never been a fan of Hillary Clinton, but watching her at the Inquisition today, with the Tea Party half wits interrogating her, trying their hardest to pick nits around the Benghazi killings, made Mad Dog foam at the mouth.

Watching the questions coming from Senator Ron Johnson, who was trying very hard to make a case of Watergate level cover up surrounding the killings of the U.S. ambassador, as if the Obama administration had something to hide concerning the death of the ambassador, you got a good picture of what pure obtuseness looks like. 

Senator Johnson was wishing oh so hard to find something in the deaths of these four Americans he could use to prove perfidy or incompetence on the part of Secretary Clinton, or better yet on the part of her boss, President Obama, but he just is not bright enough to pull it off. Ms. Clinton responded that, actually, in the fog of war,  it  is still difficult to know exactly what happened, especially in the chaos that is Libya, but in the end, it doesn't matter. What matters is: four Americans died.  If you have proof they died because the State Department made unconscionable mistakes, say it now.
The real wonder is there haven't been more diplomats killed in the line of duty, considering where they are posted. Afghanistan, the Balkans, anywhere in Africa. Ye Gads, we've been fortunate.
Of course, there is one Senator who does not need to know anything, other than the deaths occurred under Secretary Clinton's watch. So Senator Rand Paul tried to grab the spotlight from  Mr. Johnson by getting all in your face with Ms. Clinton and told her he would fire her if he were President.
Then again, the man has gone through life with the name "Rand," so we should cut him some slack. That is quite a burden, under which he has clearly not yet managed to emerge into the clear air of lucidity.

These are both Tea Party Republicans. Johnson bought himself the Joseph McCarthy senatorial chair from Wisconsin,  and Mr. Paul, well who knows what state or planet he is from? Oh, that's right, he's from Kentucky,  the same place that sent us  Mitch McConnell. 
Other than Louisville slugger bats,  does Kentucky contribute anything important to American life?

Kentucky is trying very hard to join the confederacy of dunces: Arizona, Texas, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi. But it has always been a border state. Like the other members of this group, borderline personalities.

Both Paul and Johnson love their guns, would outlaw abortion, would kill Medicare and Social Security and consider anyone who partakes of those programs as "takers." Both voted against rescuing the nation from the brink of financial disaster and would rather have seen the nation sink beneath the waves than rescue it by the expedient of government action, which is just the most evil thing you can think of.
Mr. Johnson decries global warning as "crazy"  and "lunacy," which proves he has a broader vocabulary than one might give him credit for just to look at him.
Mr. Johnson struggles with the inferiority complex of any non entity in Washington who has been justly ignored, and this was his moment before the cameras to shine, to display his questionable intellect for all to see. Who said, "Better to say nothing and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt?" Whoever said that ought to talk to Mr. Johnson.

Compare his big chance on the Senate's version of American idol to that of Alicia Olatuja of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, in her big moment. Here is a man who made enough money in his father in law's business to buy a Senate seat and here is a woman who joined a choir in Brooklyn, who was known only to her friends, family and fellow choir members until this week, when she sang solo at the Inauguration:  Who inspired the nation most this week?   Which of these two unknowns represents best what you might want to show to a group of sixth graders about the possibilities in American life? Who proved to be the classic example of, "You can dress him up, but you cannot take him anywhere?"

Kentucky, we expect no better of that state, but Wisconsin? What has happened to Wisconsin? First they bash unions and now they give us an unsheathed Johnson?

If the worst thing for a bad product is good advertising, then maybe we ought to demand more Senate hearings with Ron Johnson and Rand Paul starring. 

Are there not certification exams required to become a United States Senator?  Can we at least agree every candidate for the Senate needs an electroencephalogram to insure they have at least two neurons synapsing?

Drivers are asked to walk heel to toe as sobriety checks by police; can we not require the same of our Congressmen?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The 2nd Inaugural Belongs to History

A speech is not a man. It is not even a presidency. It is just a speech.

But listening to the 2nd Inaugural address again, and reading it, Mad Dog wonders how he failed to appreciate it the first time. 

Listening to the assembled pundits on The News Hour today, and listening to the reaction of various right wing mouthpieces, Mitch McConnell, various think tank wimps, and watching all of them miss the point,  the impression took hold: This was a remarkable speech in the way presidents can sometimes rise to transcendence by synthesizing and summarizing.

Mr. Obama use of  the customary rhetorical devices of repetition of key phrases with less success than, say, Martin Luther King--the "We the People" phrase was utilitarian, but the never ending journey was better. His echo of Martin Luther King's magisterial phrasing of "let freedom ring" from the mountains of New Hampshire to the Great fruited plains, Obama invokes the journey from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, all evocative vistas now.

But what was very adroit was the stringing together of significant names: Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall. Even though I had to be told what Seneca Falls was--Frederick Douglass raised the flag of emancipation and abolition there--and Stonewall, the pub where gays were arrested in New York City, for being gay, and the cause of gay rights began.

But most of all, the selection process, by which Mr. Obama returned to the key issues of the campaign which elected him, not because he was trying to win votes but he was saying, this is more than an election slogan, this is an important value: That free markets can only thrive with regulation by government, that people who receive Medicare and Social Security are not takers but rightful beneficiaries, that government safety net programs are necessary to allow ordinary people to take risks to succeed and to benefit us all, that we ought to welcome the immigrants not as freeloaders who we scorn because we must inevitably support them but as strivers who will ultimately enrich us, that no economy or nation can succeed when a shrinking few can do very well but a growing many can barely make it (an echo of FDR there), that government and community effort have always been required to defeat our foes, from fascism to communism, that government programs must be criticized, and bad ones ended and good ones renewed, that we cannot be sold the false choice of caring for ourselves and future generations or caring for the generations that built this nation, that honoring our commitments to Medicare does not sap our strength but frees us, that absolutism is no substitute for principle.

His call on our generation, which is born for this moment,  reverberates with JFK's recognition of the passing of the torch from an older generation to  first president to be born in the 20th century. 

And with that he outlined challenges which remain: to clean up the environment, to clean up the corruption of our voting process, where shenanigans threatened the integrity of the very electoral process, and the veiled reference to the Supreme Court with phrases that said we cannot solve today's problems if we remain constricted by the past--as  Lincoln said the solutions of the past cannot help us past our stormy present--but Obama was subtly digging at the "orginalists" on the Court who claim we cannot move forward because we are stuck with the 18th century parchment which rules us.

And his deep desire to find common ground, which he has learned is not possible among the embittered and mean little men of the current Republican party, comes out as he says "The oath I have sworn before you today...was an oath to God and country, not party or faction," reminding everyone that Mitch McConnell and all those constricted, withered souls who sail with him, have sworn the same oath but they have cleaved to party and class, rather than fulfill the obligation of their oath to country.

It was a statement of first principles and a rejection of the small minded, the small of heart, the mean and nasty and frightened little men--McConnell, Cantor, Boehner the whole Republican Tea Party host--who oppose him, who block up the hall.

Had Mr. Obama asked me, I'd have thrown in the one seminal American mind he omitted--I'd have said, "Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call. Don't stand in the doorway; don't block up the hall; your old road is rapidly agin'. Please get out a new one if you can't lend your hand, for the times, they are a changing."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mr. Obama, Rev. King and the Land of Lincoln

When Mad Dog was in college, Martin Luther King gave an address in a large hall  at his college, and the crowd of undergraduates was so large, they had to broadcast with speakers out on to the College Green, where Mad Dog stood and listened. 

King  gave what Mad Dog is sure was a stock speech, or sermon, about how a nation could gain the world (i.e., riches, wealth, power) and lose its soul. Mad Dog found it very moving. After the speech, Rev. King walked out of  Sayles Hall, and the crowd parted to allow him to pass--Mad Dog does not recall seeing much in the way of security guards--and Reverend King walked past Mad Dog, close enough to touch.  Mad Dog was startled by how small he was. He looked enormous on T.V., and that voice--Mad Dog had assumed he was a giant. 

But he was only a giant in spirit.

He was a man of the flesh, as many political and public figures were.  But that did not diminish the man in Mad Dog's eyes. It only made him human.

Some years earlier, Mad Dog's father, who was well known in the family as being out of touch with the real world, came home to dinner and talked about walking out of his office at lunch and strolling down to the Mall to listen to some of the speeches being given at a big rally there.  Mad Dog's father rarely said anything complimentary about any public figure. He worked in the federal government and was a hard bitten cynic. 

But this night he came home and said, "I haven't heard oratory like that since Roosevelt. Maybe not even Roosevelt himself."  Later that night,  Mad Dog  saw Martin Luther King on TV, giving The Speech, and his father walked by and stopped and listened and said, "That's the guy. Told you. He's good."

But, the I Have a Dream Speech, inspirational as it was, was only one speech.
What really made King important was his organization, and his judgment and his courage. Those Southern police and their murderous friends were violent thugs of the Southern variety, who believed beating Blacks with clubs, hanging them, shooting them and disappearing their bodies, were acts of virtue and valor. They told themselves they were defending white women from the depredations of Black males. And they had a good sadistic time doing it.

There are still haters out there today, clinging to their religion, their racism and their guns and they would like to put President Obama in an early grave.

My wife was passing through the airport at Charlotte, North Carolina, in October, 2008, and she heard two men talking, taking no care to keep their voices down. One said he thought Obama might carry North Carolina, and he might even win the whole election. "Oh," said the other, "Not if my Bushnell has anything to say about it. Over my dead body, that boy becomes President."  Nobody arrested that hater. It was North Carolina. 

Of course, North Carolina went for Obama, that time. Not the next. Today, everyone knows Obama's name. That little hater is forgotten. But there are little haters all over this country, hoping to become famous by launching a bullet.

The danger has not abated. We just don't think about it as often, or talk about it as much. But it remains. 

Hopefully, Mr. Obama will have time to complete his 2nd term. 

Mad Dog wakes up every day and says thanks it is not President Romney, Secretary of Defense Mitch McConnell and Vice President Ryan.

Listening to his 2nd Inaugural Address today, Mad Dog rejoiced. It was vintage Obama. A speech can only be as great as the moment which inspires and contains it. We are not at such a juncture today. But Mr. Obama captured the essence of where we are and where we have to go.

Mad Dog wishes him and the citizens he addressed today, Godspeed.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The State of The Union 2013

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
Fellow-citizens, we can not escape history. We of this Congress and this Administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free--honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just--a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.
Abraham Lincoln, State of the Union, 1862

Tomorrow, President Obama will give his 2nd Inaugural Address. Of course, there will be comparisons to Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Address, already have been in today's New York Times, in which we are told Lincoln's address ran only 701 words, that  2nd Inaugural Addresses tend to run too long, and to use the word "I" too much.

The comparison to Lincoln's address is, while inevitable, in essence, academic masturbation. It give pleasure to the authors of these articles, but doesn't connect much with reality or the needs of others.

In fact, President Obama has a more important address to prepare: On February 12, Abraham Lincoln's birthday, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union Address.

On this occasion, it is revealing to read the State of the Union Address delivered by Lincoln during the second year of this presidency, in December, 1862.

This address is not the sort of speech school children are given to memorize. It is not short, and in fact, it is  roughly 2500 words, and fascinating as it is, a little bit tedious and the television networks would groan if they had to carry it today.

But it is fascinating,  because it displays the "vision" of Abraham Lincoln, who looks ahead to what the United States will look like in 1930, when he estimates the country to be a nation of 200 million. Remember, his country, in his time, was 30 million. He sees a transcontinental railroad connecting the Midwest to San Francisco and beyond, to the markets in the Pacific and he sees New York as the gateway to Europe.

When George H. W. Bush talked about "That Vision Thing," it sounded pathetic, because, for whatever virtues he had,  vision was not one of them.

The best presidents are futurists, and Lincoln gave no ground to any who have succeeded him.

What strikes Mad Dog about Lincoln is how much a man of his time and place he was--he just could not see people of African American ancestry living harmoniously in these United States in the long term, although some see in this speech an argument that this could be achieved, eventually. Given the level of racism, both North and South and given  the helplessness of the freed slaves, who flowed into vile camps in and around Washington, D.C., it is easy to understand. 

But Lincoln valued human life and hated cruelty to animals and cruelty to human beings.

His address is filled with astonishing numbers, from the listing of the total collected revenues of the federal government, down to the last 6 cents,  to its expenditures, down to the last cent. Remarkably, in 1862, in the midst of the great war, the government actually, if I read his speech correctly, had a slight surplus. For the first time an income tax--only on the top incomes--had been instituted, but most of the funds seems to have come from "customs," i.e. trade, which apparently flourished in the North, despite the war.

Lincoln marches through the concerns about the possibility Europe will recognize the Confederate States of America, which England and France were both considering because their mill workers were idled by the naval blockade of the South and with it the flow  of Southern cotton, and despite strong anti slavery sentiment in England, money mattered more.

Lincoln had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which froze efforts to recognize the South in England.

Then he talks about the massacre of 800 white settlers in the state of Minnesota by Dakota Sioux Indians, and the call to move these Indians off their Minnesota reservations,  completely out of the state.  He does not mention the intense pressure being applied to him to sign the execution orders for 300 defeated Indian warriors, a  pressure he resisted with the remark he would not trade lives for votes, but he was under intense pressure:  the general who held them and the governor both warning him they could not prevent mass lynching by an outraged white population, if the President did not act swiftly. Lincoln insisted on a methodical, slow review of the case against each of the 300, many of whom were only imperfectly identified in records, which could not manage the unfamiliar Indian names. (He wound up signing certificates for 38 Indians.)

He announces the formation of the Department of Agriculture, with a laboratory to discover and disseminate new science and technology to benefit the American farmer, showing a perspicacious faith in science.

Then he turns to the thorniest and most central and pressing problem:  What to do with the African Americans living in America. And here, he launches an argument both magisterial in its conception and breathtaking in its detail, in the numbers he marshals to support his argument, as if he were presenting not an address to Congress, but an academic paper before a society of public policy at Harvard.

He begins with the basic observation: "A nation may be said to consist of its territory, its people, its laws. The territory is the only part which is of certain durability. 'One generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth forever.' It is of the first importance to duly consider and estimate this ever-enduring part."

He moves on to the war: "One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute."

When Mad Dog was growing up, in the South, the Civil War was taught as a war fought over regional economic differences. But Lincoln, here and on many other occasions both in famous remarks to guests in the White House (to, among others, Harriett Beecher Stowe--"So this is the little lady who wrote the book that started the great big war") and in his Second Inaugural address, always said the war was about slavery.

And then he goes on to make the case that you cannot divide the continent into a slave country and a free country, because slaves would try to escape to the free zone and ultimately, abolitionists in the North would not abide the presence of slavery just across some imaginary line, drawn on a map, but invisible to the human eye.

He recommends a set of solutions:  Constitutional amendments to 1. End slavery, but not until 1900.  2. Pay slave owners for the value of their lost slave property 3. Provide for the relocation of emancipated slaves to colonies outside of the United States. 

He then addresses arguments about the expense of paying off the slave owners, saying it would be cheaper than fighting a war about it. And then he launches into a detailed analysis of the expected population growth in this continental nation, and how that would translate into more tax dollars, more people essentially, working to pay off the slave holders.  He even calculates the effect of this program on the national debt. 

He addresses the fear some had expressed that freed slaves would compete for jobs with white citizens--in an eerie prequel to the arguments about immigrants displacing good Americans from jobs. He insists his preference is for relocating the freed slaves to colonies, but he accepts this may be impractical because many slaves would not go and only Liberia and Haiti have expressed any willingness to accept them.

He addresses concerns about refugees overwhelming local governments, and says the country is big enough to handle these freed slaves, citing the experience of Washington, D.C., where there was one freed slave to every 6 white people. (In this, he did not anticipate the ghettoization of the inner cities.) Besides, he says, "People of any color seldom run, unless there is something to run from." And he expects the slave owners hiring the slaves to pick the cotton and work the fields. He opposes complete immediate emancipation of all slaves in the Confederacy--his Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves only in states in rebellion against the union, and gave these states until 1863 to stop fighting, in which case the slaves would remain in bondage. He says immediate emancipation of all the slaves would result in vagrant destitution among illiterate slaves who had never learned to provide for themselves.

So he addresses each argument against his proposals, patiently, in a lawyerly way, as if addressing a jury, having heard the arguments from the other side, as if engaging in a give and take in a sort of 19th century precursor to a blog debate.

If he gave this speech today, it would stretch the attention spans of current day Americans, who would be hitting the channel surfing button after ten minutes, looking for an NFL game or American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance. 

But some, maybe 15-20 % of our citizens would likely stay tuned and would be flattered to think the President was talking to them in a thoughtful, rigorous way.

If President Obama could do this for 1. The problem of mass shootings  2. Abortion 3. Taxes and tax fairness 4. Government spending  5. The burdens of popular programs like Medicare and Social Security  6. The plan to attack terrorism at home and abroad  7. The ongoing loss of life and fortune in Afghanistan and Iraq  6. Approaches to climate change  8. The attack on labor unions  9. The problem of a radically conservative, reactionary supreme court and the necessity to make the court more responsive to changes in American life and technology 10. Who should win the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl, then we would have a great chance for the beginning of a great 2nd term.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Seeing the NRA for What It Is

After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, said the appropriate response to these increasingly common random mass shootings by maniac shooters is to put an armed guard in every school.

For reasons which likely seem obscure to Mr. LaPierre and the members of the NRA, this suggestion was not immediately embraced with a sort of, "Why didn't we think of that?" reaction by the general public. 

Today, the NRA, apparently dissatisfied with the lack of response, launched an advertisement calling President Obama a" hypocrite" and an "elitist" for rejecting the school gun toting guard idea, and instead, recommending a bunch of other things which, as the NRA sees it, would stab a dagger in the heart of their imaginings of what the 2nd amendment is. 

The ad points out that two armed guards trail after each of the Obama's children at their school and declares that Mr. Obama likes the idea of armed guards in schools so much he has invoked it for his own children, but not for your children.

And what could be wrong with this logic?

Let me count the ways, just so we can say we've listened.

First, hiring a single armed guard, or even several armed guards per school may warm the hearts of NRA members, (some of whom may find themselves chronically unemployed,) but the fact is, hiring even three armed guards per school is not the same as hiring two body guards per child.  
Like the septuagenarian bank guards you used to see in banks, the first target of any attacker is always the guard, whom they quickly shoot or club into unconsciousness, having the element of surprise on their side. In banks, it was pretty easy to find the guard, and in schools, likely, it would be pretty easy, but if you hid the guard, and had him emerge only after the shooting began, you'd have as many dead bodies on the ground as there are clips in one of those high capacity magazines before the guard even reached the shooter, after the fact.  

If the purpose of the guard is to intercept the shooter as he enters the school, the likelihood of his being able to cover an entire building is remote. So you can, on practical analysis, count on the shooter gaining entrance to the building, shooting children and then dispatching the armed guard, or, if the guard  manages to corner the shooter, it would only be after many deaths.

So, there is a vast difference between trying to protect one child and trying to protect an entire building, with all its children.

If I am not mistaken, in at least one instance, I think it may have been Columbine, there actually was a guard in place, who made no difference  and certainly at Virginia Tech, there were armed police who made little difference.

The problem is always locating the shooter, who may be moving, dropping bodies as he goes. 

When you know the target is only one child, localization of the pathology is not so hard.

But there is one other problem with the NRA's proposal for a guard in every school: Maniacs have signed no contract to shoot only at school children while in school. They shoot at movie theaters, shopping malls, churches, swimming pools, summer camps,  amusement parks, town squares, wherever people and particularly children, congregate. 

Now, let me anticipate: The NRA will say: Then we should have armed guards at all these places. And while we are at it, we can throw in stadiums, airports, train stations, subways, beaches and traffic jams.
Who exactly would pay for all these armed guards has not been worked out. Certainly not the taxpayers:  Members of the NRA have honorary membership in the Tea Party and the Republican party, and neither of these thinks any money ought ever be spent for public benefit, except for the Army. 
Now there's a thought: We could  redeploy our army from Afghanistan to our schools, stadiums, churches, tennis courts, summer camps. Now, wouldn't that be a nice secure feeling. That's the America I remember: safe and secure, an armed camp.

As for today's advertisement, decrying the hypocrisy and elitism of Mr. Obama, the NRA's advertisement is either:  A.  Not thought through  B.  A true reflection of the mental midgetry of the NRA's leadership  C.  Lunacy  D.  Really Stupid  E.  Knowingly sophistic, i.e., they know the difference between bodyguards and school guards but they hoped nobody would think about it. F.  All of the Above.

You really ought to listen to this ad. Mad Dog cannot do it justice by describing it. You have to hear that voice, dripping with hate and derision, somewhere between Rush Limbaugh and Charlton Heston, with a twist of Mitch McConnell. If I can find a link to it, I'll attach it to this post. It really is a masterpiece of paranoid ideology, full of hate and venom, really delicious and revealing.

So where does this leave us with respect to how we think about the NRA?

I know a lot of people who are or were members of the NRA, and they signed up for a variety of reasons.  But, when you have an organization which now is led by people who are clearly taking leave of their senses, do you not have an obligation to either resign or to call for immediate change in leadership?  

This has not happened. 

So, we have to assume the rank and file is as loony as the leaders. The National Rifle  Association of Paranoid Schizophrenics Often Delusional, Never In Doubt. Too long. The NRA of PSODNID. Has a ring.

Every last Congressman is scared to death of these organized maniacs. So what does that say about our Congress? No voices are raised to denounce the men or the mentality of the NRA.  

If we have any hope of eventually changing the ongoing mayhem, one would think the very least we can do is to denounce and defang the NRA. Some people with big bucks have to donate to an ongoing and effective marketing/advertising campaign to unmask the NRA as it so richly deserves, so we can expose to the detoxifying sunlight the stinky slime which is the NRA.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pussy Riot, Jamel Mims Hooliganism and Freedom

Reading about the arrest of the Russian women band members of Pussy Riot, as they sang a satirical protest song in a Russian Orthodox church, denouncing the support of the Russian clergy for Vladimir Putin, who has become increasingly powerful and autocratic, Mad Dog said to himself, "The Tea Party may give us headaches, and the Party of No may frustrate us and make us despair of whether or not a democracy can survive their obstruction, but at least we have the freedom to say what we think, even if what we hear is manifestly inane. "

But then, the Mad Dog thought of the case of Jamel Mims and that warm, fuzzy feeling of superiority began to stiffen and chafe.

Last October, Jamel Mims was arrested at the 103 Precinct station house in Queens, New York for protesting the Stop and Frisk policy of the New York City police department, which was undertaken to detect concealed weapons on the persons of citizens walking down the street in New York, in hopes of preventing gun and knife violence.

Problems soon emerged, both philosophical and practical with Stop and Frisk. The philosophical problem is how does one reconcile an offensive action by police, throwing a man up against a wall, demanding he spread his legs, feeling his body, emptying his pocket with a free society?  The presumption of innocence, the right against unreasonable search, all of this thrown out the window.  The police may say, the search of any one on a city street in a high crime area is reasonable. The only "probable cause" needed in a high crime area is your physical presence in that area.  The practical problem is this tactic was aimed not against every passing citizen, as, for example stopping every car on a road for a sobriety check, but selectively: Somehow 85% of citizens selected for this search turned out to be Hispanic or Black.

The police responded, essentially, that 85% of the violent crime is committed by members of that group, so the police had right to search the most likely offenders.

Jamel Mims took exception, marched to the gates of the station house, and found his way blocked by shut doors, until the doors were opened by the police,  and Jamel passed through to register his opinion a the station house doors and was promptly arrested and threatened with two years in prison. After much protest, letters to Mayor Bloomberg, and general tumult in Quees, Mims got 5 days in jail. For seeking a redress of grievance, a right promised explicitly in the Constitution, along with the right to free speech and the right to assemble. How many Constitutional rights did Jamel Mims find violated in this single, simple episode of non violent protest? 

How different were the New York City police from those Southern police during the Civil Rights protests of the 1960's? It is true, there were no dogs, no fire hoses, no blows to the head with police batons. New York City is not Little Rock, Birmingham, Memphis or Montgomery or Moscow, for that matter.  

But we have the same instinct operating:  Rather than tolerance of protest and disagreeable speech, rather than a bunch of bored police, lounging around, chewing gum and watching with detached amusement, you have a strong man, whether he is Putin or Bloomberg, who is not amused. And as the strong man, he has the power to throw the objects of his displeasure into an unpleasant cell and keep them there.

 Jamel Mims  grew up in a dangerous, poor part of Washington, DC, Anacostia, but he attended the very swank and privileged Sidwell Friends School--where President Obama's children are, where Chelsea Clinton and where the children of innumerable members of the Washington power structure were schooled.  Mims was on the Sidwell wrestling team,  and after a tournament ended, some white father would load a half dozen kids into his minivan and drive kids home, usually around midnight.  The father felt obligated to drop off each wrestler, and to watch him get into his house, before driving away, but Mims would have none of that.  He would not allow the father  to get any closer to his neighborhood than the Eastern Market Metro stop. He refused to be driven home, deep in the black ghetto.  "I'm fine," he would say, "But my white friends in the back seat, not so much. Not here."  And  he would slip away into the night, down into the subway. Mims--even as a teenager--sought to protect people from the dangers in the shadows. 

Compare that instinct to the instinct of a Putin, who would send the mother of a four year old boy to Siberia, separating mother from child, because the mother had the effrontery to sign a satiric song in a church.

When Mims was still at Sidwell, a group of seniors rose to read a parody of "The Night Before Christmas," at a Christmas assembly. Mims was not among this group, but he was at the assembly, where younger students and teachers listened, first with smiles, only to be scandalized  by the mildly racy lyrics recited by the cheeky seniors. The eleven seniors who took part in the reading were accused of "blasphemy" by the head of school, and threatened with expulsion, their dreams of matriculating at Harvard, Yale and Princeton threatened. Blasphemy, now that's quite a charge at a Quaker school, among the Society of Friends.  Even in this setting, a school which held weekly "meetings" where members of the community were encouraged to speak their mind, freedom of speech had its limits. 

The moral of this story is likely that the will of the powerful, whether his name is Mayor Bloomberg, or Vladimir Putin is a force found in most societies. In America, we like to think that inclination to crush the subversive under the authoritarian thumb is resisted and there are institutional, Constitutional mechanisms to resist it.
 In Russia, the only force comes down from above, and there are fewer countervailing forces.
In America, we think we have more protection from the authoritarian impulse--but our own Supreme Court failed to protect the young from that same abhorrence of insolence by the authority figure in the Bong Hits for Jesus case.  Our enjoyment of the freedom of speech is only as strong as our will to defend it.