An old Revolutionary War tale begins with a meeting between a British officer and the legendary Swamp Fox, the American officer Francis Marion. As an act of hospitality, Oscar, Marion’s manservant, prepared a dinner of sweet potatoes baked in the campfire’s hot coals.
A painting depicting the dinner hangs in the Congressional gallery in the US Capitol. It’s meaning and importance is found in the report the British officer took back to his general staff. “We cannot defeat the colonials,” he concluded. When asked why, he replied, “Men willing to fight for freedom on suppers of sweet potatoes will not be defeated.”
Marion’s men were living on roots, drinking water, and “all for liberty.” This example of the exceptionalism of the American Promise—the willingness to sacrifice and show the courtesies of humanity even to enemies engaged in bitter war is never raised by originalists who put priority on budgets over values. John Blake White’s painting of the American heroic spirit is forgotten and today unknown.
The painting is a powerful reminder of three things. One, Marion’s manservant was an adult, Oscar; rarely did historic portraits show children except in family portraits. Two, this simple sharing of meager provisions led to the perception of greatness and put fear and doubt into an American enemy with a superior force. Three, the budget has never been the guidebook to politics, but wars are made and fought for wealth.
Before the era of public relations and short-form spin by analysts out of power who are not scholars, but ideologues, cultural events provided the meanings for trends and predictions of success. Modern media removes culture and replaces it with a scrubbed, filtered view of reason and half-truths in which meaning is misplaced. The immigration crisis is a heroic, three-nation pilgrimage of children. How different from Marion’s time! This exodus of children has nothing to do with border protections. It has two push-pull factors; the first, the daily violence, deaths and threats, beatings and rapes the children are witnessing against their friends and families pushes them to leave to survive, to protect their lives.
But what pulls them to America are not the beds and hot meals many Republicans in Congress insistently emphasize over and over—instead it is a belief in themselves and a belief in opportunity—the idea that America has kept faith with the promise it fought for in its founding—that it offers liberty and justice for all. The repeated insinuations that children have walked thousands of miles for America’s table scraps is ugly and demeaning. It belittles democracy. It rips away its hope. It says America’s beacon is only a light of limited material welfare, offered as sandwiches and sleeping mats.
C-SPAN broadcast a July 29th House hearing organized by the House Progressive Caucus and chaired by Arizona House member Raul Grijalva, attended by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and others, in which three immigrant children spoke and answered questions, giving Congress and the American people their first opportunity to hear their experiences and reasons in their own voices.
Among the speakers were a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old. The 15-year-old came with her younger sister five years ago and has learned nuanced English She has a beaming, abiding love for America. She wants to be a doctor. The 10-year-old recently arrived, speaks confidently in flat Spanish and is finding her center.
But the welcome mat has loud voices of opposition. And the Republican Congress is taking the opportunity to create a crisis you can believe in. They emphasize the law, not justice. Turn them back, they say. More, they speak of political mistrust as a reason to do nothing.
Public Television’s Frontline recently showed clips of Iranian Sunni leaders during the Bush administration counting out thousands of dollars in support of “democracy,” but the new Republicans have lost their compassionate humanism and would deny children the fair play of due process. And a recent study shows 90% of children with attorneys show up for their hearings, with a 60% average overall.
This reduction of life to a balance sheet, with a thousand cited reasons to keep the poor and the foreign and low-wage workers away from prosperity and opportunity as defense spending and farm subsidies increase and huge tax breaks are in place for major industries like oil is not what Oscar, a black slave, had in mind when he stirred the coals of a colonial American campfire; nor is it the dream that lit up the faces of children who never once mentioned the nice meals and warm beds of America in their testimony before Congress.
Instead, they told of violence against their families, seeing the adults in a household killed because they didn’t have “rent,” an extorted payment demanded by gangs from powerless citizens. They spoke of dreams. How they felt secure in America. They spoke of how they were hungry for education.
But some in Congress think only of bread and costs.
This latest migration of children to our borders is a cultural event that points to the plight and treatment of children around the globe. Go back to October 9, 2012 when Malala Yousafzai was shot, with some of her friends and classmates, for denying an order by the Taliban for girls not to attend school. Her incident can be used to mark a shift to children as the intentional targets of terrorist and state violence, as deliberate targets of drug gangs and human traffickers, as main players in the violence tied to politics and greed and balance sheets.
Since then, we have seen the bodies of Syrian children, wrapped in shrouds, dead from chemical attacks carried out by their own political leadership. We have seen 300 or more girls from northeastern Nigeria disappear into the forest after being kidnapped from schools, and others beaten and raped. We have seen children at the beach and at schools, and playing in the street killed by rocket fire aimed a residential neighborhoods in Gaza.
A lot of style points are being racked up in the reporting and debates about the rocket attacks in Israel and Gaza as both sides overlook the fundamentals to see who can build the tallest house of cards. Continue reading Eat Your Lunch and Don’t Hold Your Breath
Bad, bad stuff going round. A dangerous mystique. Macabre riddles and atomized vapors of blood. Thieving from the dead. Justifications without prayers. Turning the smiling children back to the vipers nest. Turning the rivers into toxic stew. Paying billions for doubling down on cheating and walking away free. Dropping the no-knock tradition of bombing to provide five minutes of pre-terror before the incoming kills the noncombatant outgoing, the grandmothers and their grandchildren. Strikes at invisible, unseen weapons and munitions that never go off—are we too stupid to have common sense? Where are the secondary implosions? Only dead civilians exploding. Only the dead silenced. The lies go on. Like drones. Mid-air explosions. Loud. They hurt our ears and brains. Bad stuff: death, lies, and theft. The wholesale breach of universal taboos.
In 8th grade algebra we learned about proof. If you make a statement, it must withstand questioning and challenges, it cannot be veiled in secret pretenses without transparent evidence. On C-SPAN, I watched an ambassador’s blithe disregard for these ancient conventions and modern principles: trust his country, he cooed; they have the goods; we don’t, nor will we be informed—but proof is evidence of logic’s action and reaction; if you blow up munition stashes, secondary explosions happen; if you fire rockets from dense urban neighborhoods whose rumble now makes passage impossible, how do you do so without neighbors protesting the stupidity of a tactical senseless risk; how do you get munitions in and out of these dense population centers, now collapsed heaps of rubble; where are the photographs, the evidence; the fire trails released in the videos of the opposing forces don’t show launches from the middle of civilian neighborhoods.
Why have only neighborhoods been taken out—warned by “the knock,” an unarmed thud on the roofs announcing the coming doom of fire and destruction; informed by dropped leaflets—are leaflets dropped on sites of viable military targets: are tunnels blown up above ground, and where are the secondary explosions, the fireworks that mark the site of a struck cache. How come there is 100 % accuracy with the dome of missile intercepts without knowing the place or time of missiles launched, and 0 % targeting and destroying of the sites and mechanics of the launches?
Is the air game for the country that suffered no causalities in its defense or from missile attacks for 10 days that much better than its ground game? Where’s the evidence that offers proof? That shows the world why neighborhoods have to been destroyed. Are these military targets? If we can be shown the destruction in the air and on the ground, can’t we see the proof?
Rattlesnakes, immoral smugglers, dehydration, and personal risk have not been able to achieve a goal near to the hearts of many of America’s citizens: turning back the cavalcade of children landing on our shores of sagebrush plains, now guarded by the National Guard whose mission is “greet and hold,” and to facilitate federal law. A deterrent force? No. But better than the current police departments around the country that have launched their own killing sprees, acting as invincible vigilantes.
It was Ramadan when the war began. At least one mosque has been blown up. It hoarded no weapons. At home, some think a bed and a 1,500 calorie meal is a greater incentive to come to America than hope and promise. They are foolish. Motivation is never about bread alone. Freedom fighters who steal from the dead they have mistakenly killed give Marx and Mao a legacy of despicable corruption; yet no one has asked if all Russians rob their dead. But the children are stereotyped as beggars of bread.
I remember the first time I saw an injured person robbed. A homeboy got hit by a car crossing the street and before the ambulance and paramedics could come, folk emptied his pockets and stripped his feet of shoes. Continue reading Bombs, Beds and Benefits
Thomas Frank has an interesting column in Salon that typifies the cynical view of Obama by speculating what his Presidential Library might look like.
Republicans in Congress want to make sure President Obama takes the blame for their obstruction. Thomas Frank helps them out by presenting the Jed Bartlett version of the Presidency. On the TV show West Wing, President Bartlett can accomplish anything by pounding on his desk and giving an inspiring speech. It’s a romantic, but childishly unrealistic version of how government works. When Republicans obstruct, according to this view of the Presidency, we should pin the blame on Obama for not being an imaginary character on television.
After some mind reading about Obama’s bad intentions, Frank recommends:
In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all—for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress.
Actually, Obama has done both of those things. He has relentlessly campaigned for a second stimulus jobs bill and has talked about economic issues from a progressive viewpoint non-stop.
When politicians say something conservative, Fox and talk radio act as an echo chamber. It helps those ideas spread and become accepted as mainstream. When Obama says something progressive, much of the cynical pundit left help the corporate press by ignoring it. The progressive blogosphere often acts as a muffler on good, progressive statements by Obama instead of an echo chamber. I haven’t figured out how it helps advance progressive ideas to ignore when a sitting President espouses them.
For example, has anyone noticed how many times Obama called to end oil industry subsidies, including in major addresses to Congress? Probably not, since most progressive pundits have joined the corporate-owned press in ignoring those calls.
We’ve had another President in the same situation as Obama who did exactly what Frank suggests: Harry Truman. President Truman advanced an aggressive civil rights and economic agenda that would have made him one of the most successful Presidents in American history, rivaling FDR. Few people know about that agenda because almost all of it was blocked by an obstructionist Republican Congress. We remember Truman’s accomplishments that didn’t require Congressional action instead, like desegregating the military.
“Give ‘em Hell” Harry gave speeches more aggressively partisan than Obama. He coined the term “Do-nothing Congress.” When Republicans published a reasonable agenda in their convention platform, Truman called a special session of Congress to demand they pass it. What a great stunt! It’s just what Thomas Frank is calling for. And none of it worked. The Constitution still places severe limits on Presidential power when people elect a lousy Congress.
The big problem with Frank’s essay is that, by identifying the wrong problem, he points us toward the wrong solution. The implication is that we need to look for a better Presidential savior who will make change happen by giving just the right fist-pounding speeches. That’s a fruitless, counterproductive expectation.
Two important things separated this time in history from the eras that passed the Great Society programs and the New Deal. FDR and LBJ had two things Obama doesn’t:
1) A super-majority in Congress.
2) Aggressive mass movements pressuring Congress and the President to do more.
Those are two things in our power to change. Obama almost had those two factors during his first two years and managed to pass the largest expansion of the safety net since LBJ, and the largest regulation of the financial sector since the New Deal. Continue reading Harry Truman, Obama and Thomas Frank’s Disillusionment
I usually write analysis. I identify important points left out of the conversation (Ukrainian gas pipelines; the Koch brothers’ shadow governments in the states, race in the halls of power). I explain how these ideas and forces play out and their potential for unexpected turns. I keep open a global eye, especially in finance (recently, Argentina) and military force multipliers (the Navy’s AEGIS destroyer fleet). My slant is more German, the idea that the world has organic, multi-leveled interconnections, rather than English with its view of the sanctity of contracts or the French faith in rationalism.
I think the South wrote the book on how to leverage denial. And that Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has turned denial and fear into a major capital industry to direct politics without creating jobs. AFP just defeated a zoo levy in Columbus, Ohio by calling a slight increase in the zoo levy a “105 percent property tax hike,” calling their effort “education.”
By no means am I an Austrian, the counter flag for conservative ideology about government and markets whose views Paul Krugman describes as cockroach ideas—no matter how many times the ideas are defeated, proven wrong by experience, meticulously deconstructed by theory, they keep crawling back.
I admit I use the I Ching and find dialectical materialism, properly used, produces powerful insights. My thinking revisits the delta—not in Mississippi—but the eight grade algebraic function that calculates and expresses the rate of change, how fast and in what direction change is accelerating or slowing. My 10-year record of writings shows I’m usually a little ahead of the curve.
But today, I am writing head on. As an African-American, I understood the power of emotion and its power to color perspectives—I have witnessed six years of reactions to Barack (and Michele and the children). Frederick Douglass spoke of this emotional power to color and shape discussions in which race was a factor in his time. So did Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, who warned of those who “stand in the most sacred places on earth, and beneath the gaze of the piercing eye of God, the universal Father of all men, and declare that ‘the best possible condition of the Negro is slavery.’”
The emotional distortion at the heart of race and power in a different form is at the unspoken center of the nation’s latest firestorm and to understand it, we must return to Aristotle, to his ideas of equality. Aristotle identified two main forms of equality; the relevant one is based on proportion, which for Aristotle meant looking at distribution. How will the effects of an action be distributed? To whom? When? Why; for what end?
So, can a political party who shut down the entire US government and all of its functions—the certifications that maintain the smooth flow of commerce, its payments to small businesses, its legal protections and inspections, its funds to education, hindering the operation of the national defense—who tried to kill health care and leave the poor and elderly to die in states claiming the sanctity of balance sheets–can this party and a rabid Congress convince a nation the Republic is at Defcon One because of the release of five “high ranking” Taliban from Guantanamo in Cuba, to a year’s vacation in Qatar?
I get the anger. I don’t get the threat. Continue reading The Five
Fracking has begun in Illinois. Governor Pat Quinn’s Department of Natural Resources issued a permit for a test well at a site where oil fracking is planned. The well isn’t subject to Illinois fracking rules due to loopholes in the law passed last year.
By utilizing methods that require a lower volume of water, and exploiting other loopholes, oil frackers can avoid new regulation. As Illinois State University emeritus professor William Rau writes, that will deny the state tax revenue from those operations, along with other consequences.
Public notice requirements, baseline water testing, insurance provisions, modest environmental protections and setbacks, earthquake mitigation, bans on open pit storage of frack waste water, etc., are all gone. Illinois will become the wild and woolly west of fracking.
The public doesn’t yet know how much horizontal fracking will occur outside compliance with the law. Illinois residents are facing a major public safety crisis and state politicians don’t seem to notice.
Opposition continues as people learn more about the inadequacy of a law that was written behind closed doors and rushed through the legislature with very little public scrutiny. A recent day of action saw citizens in Chicago and southern Illinois bring accountability to those responsible for the dangerously weak fracking law.
“For sale” signs were placed at the campaign office of state representative Mike Bost, who co-sponsored the law while claiming it would “keep our air clean, protect our water supply and maintain our environment.” In fact, the law contains no provisions to limit toxic air emissions that harm the health of those living nearby.
Bost is running for U.S. Congress in Illinois’ 12th district. Like many legislators, he mistakenly believed the fracking law was a consensus issue. Now, he’s confronted with the reality of people in his district outraged at seeing the law-making and rule-making process up for sale to the oil and gas industry. Continue reading How Much Fracking Will Remain Unregulated in Illinois?
You’re no doubt delighted that your hardworking Congressional representatives have begun their desperately needed two-week break to recharge their batteries, get a little spring sun on their overwhelmingly white and male faces, and mull over “new” legislative ideas that haven’t a prayer of becoming law (which of course is, mostly, a good thing). On the brighter side, Virginia Democrat Jim Moran’s notion of adding a new housing stipend to Congressional remuneration appears to be a non-starter, so at least they’ll be lollygagging at their existing undeserved rate of pay.
Meanwhile, 2.4 million unemployed Americans will spend the same two weeks tearing their hair out over unpaid bills, wondering how they’re going to feed their kids, and continuing not to matter worth a damn to Republicans.
John Boehner kicked off his spring break today with a surprise visit to Afghanistan, accompanied by seven senior House Republicans. He’s expected to hug anyone in uniform he sees, lurch aimlessly around the streets of Kabul in search of happy hour, and top off the junket with a tear-stained tribute to whatever the hell it is American troops are supposed to be accomplishing there.
Following the Bureau of Land Management’s weekend return of 400 confiscated head of cattle back to deadbeat Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the ludicrous confrontation between the government and Bundy’s creepy nitwit militia buddies appears to be over, at least until the BLM attempts to pursue other remedies against the scofflaw and the nitwits get all riled up again. Stay tuned.
Today and tomorrow in New York, China and the United States will hold talks on dealing with North Korea, followed by a third session in Washington on Thursday. While I have no expertise in international relations, it seems to me the two nations could do worse than shipping 400 head of cattle Kim Jong-un’s way for starters. It might at least buy a little time. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 4/14/14
The three Democrats running in Illinois’ 13th Congressional district primary recently answered my questions about climate change and energy issues. It’s one of the hottest Congressional races in the nation since freshman incumbent Republican Rodney Davis narrowly won with merely 46.5% of the vote in 2012.
The central Illinois district is a complicated place to talk energy. Coal mining is no longer a major employer, but the industry still wields social and political influence beyond its economic impact. It contains the resting places of the two most significant coal mine union organizers in American history, Mother Jones and John L. Lewis. It’s also a farming district with agribusiness giant ADM based (for now) in Decatur. The metro-east St. Louis region is a center for refineries.
The 13th district also includes over a dozen colleges with young and educated voters increasingly concerned about climate change as the urgent crisis of our time. Environmentalists are organizing to become a bigger political player, particularly in response to the threat of increased coal mining and fracking.
All three Democratic candidates agree on the need to address climate change, promote clean energy, and protect the public from the negative impacts on fracking. Their responses reveal where they differ on details.
The Gollin and Callis campaigns asked for questions in writing. What follows are their responses in full.
First, George Gollin’s response:
Q: Rodney Davis has questioned the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to the climate crisis. How would you differentiate yourself from Davis on the issue of climate change?
A: The scientific evidence for climate change is strong and alarming. It demands our immediate and continuing attention: we must reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Climate change poses an existential threat to our civilization, and it is irresponsible of Mr. Davis to pretend that this is not the case.
Q: Do you have a preference for how Congress should tackle the climate crisis, such as cap-and-trade, a carbon tax, more stimulus spending on clean energy and conservation, or another approach?
A: The problem needs to be attacked simultaneously from many different directions. I support a carbon tax, as well as a crash program to further develop solar, wind, and fusion energy sources. I also support addressing the problem of radioactive waste in the form of spent fuel from conventional fission reactors using “accelerator driven subcritical fission transmutation,” which shortens the cool-down time of the spent reactor fuel by a factor of one hundred, while releasing substantial amounts of usable energy.
Q:Do you support ending federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including President Obama’s call to eliminate oil subsidies?
A: I support ending subsidies.
Q: Several studies have brought the climate change benefits of natural gas into question due to methane leaks. Do you see natural gas a solution to climate change and how would you address the environmental threats of fracking proposed in Illinois?
A: I am glad that we are using more natural gas and less coal to generate electricity–this reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But the problem of methane leakage is worrisome, and in need of constant oversight and tough regulation. I do understand the economic benefits of producing energy at home.
This is a perfect example of why we need more scientists in Congress. I don’t think we know enough about fracking, and I think that’s partly on purpose. I will push for legislation to require all fracking operations to disclose in advance the chemicals and other substances pumped into the ground, and to require continuous testing of groundwater, and publication of the test results.
I will also call on the National Academies of Science and Engineering to make a comprehensive study of the state of the science on the seismic and environmental risks of fracking. The study would yield a definitive report on the reliability of the geology and other analyses used to determine the risks of fracking, including how realistically we can assess the risks of groundwater contamination, induced seismicity, methane leakage from well heads, and–perhaps most importantly–how well fracking operations can be regulated in the face of a Republican Party which will try to cripple oversight by withdrawing funding for regulatory agencies.
If the conclusion is that the safety of fracking operations cannot be firmly established, or maintained in a hostile political environment, then I would immediately cosponsor legislation to ban fracking. And even if the NAS concludes that it can be done safely, I would cosponsor legislation requiring full disclosure of the contents of fracking fluids, and the results of pre- and post-fracking water assays. I would also sponsor legislation requiring the termination of fracking operations should regulatory oversight become inadequate because of funding cuts. I would sponsor legislation requiring a fracking operator to pay the costs of enforcing regulation, and the costs of mitigating any environmental problems attributable to fracking.
If careful, honest scientific analysis shows that we cannot prove that fracking is safe, then we should ban it. Let’s get the science figured out.
Next, the response from Ann Callis:
Q: Rodney Davis has questioned the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to the climate crisis. How would you differentiate yourself from Davis on the issue of climate change?
A: I believe in the vast scientific evidence that man-made pollution is contributing to climate change. This winter has shown us the volatility of our current weather, and by looking at 30 year trends there is no denying the rapidly changing environment. I will work to preserve our natural resources and protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. We must leave our world in a better place for future generations, and that starts with reducing pollution. Continue reading Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidates Callis, Gollin, Green Talk Climate Change, Fracking
In last night’s State of the Union speech, Machiavelli and modern video would both have embraced the hope and pain, and the courage, in the eyes of a mother and wife desperate to save her new family home after working all her life and losing her job; her clap tapped out a determination of her resolute strength. The video framed the misty-eyed look of thankfulness of a mother whose surgery was insured just days before her emergency, and the proud shoulders of a business owner who stood because he raised his employee’s wages. It captured the deer-in-the-headlights group grimace of the Republican Caucus, embarrassed and sullen, when called out for “stale arguments” and 47 votes to repeal health care.
These images deeply touched hearts and souls—and revealed our political divide. Large and small, the pictures were unvarnished snapshots of our republic, its pain and promise.
Among this tangle of images, the President’s words found the ridge line, the high ground on either side of the valleys, that long, undulating strip that unites and traverses both; the difficult terrain that any hiker of ridge lines knows, though politicians often seem to miss its trail markers.
The President’s lofty words weren’t the cause of the applause. The noisy agreement came from his presentation of irrefutable examples and facts and the vision of his ideas—his presentation of the solid record of his successes we so rarely hear from him. His speech connected how policy and politics touch the lives of our neighbors and friends. He triumphantly defied Republicans to show how eliminating “big government” would save the small things that government provides that aid in bringing about success.
The alteration of small and large has led to higher graduation rates, 8 million new jobs, ending war, and moving the country toward self-sufficiency in energy.
The mention of a key three—a barkeep’s son, a factory worker’s daughter, a single mother’s son—offered another set of personal stories to show the length and breath of American opportunity. The inclusion of the barkeep’s son reminded us of the President’s graciousness—and Machiavelli’s axiom. Continue reading The Strength of the Union
The President and First Lady will attend a national memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg Tuesday, but other details of the trip are still unannounced. Mandela’s state funeral will be held Sunday.
In the Obamas’ absence, Vice President and Dr. Biden will fill in today and tomorrow as hosts of the White House Congressional Holiday Balls. Presumably the Bidens have been warned to watch for untoward events like Michele Bachmann stealing silverware or Rand Paul peeing behind a potted palm.
The Bidens signed a condolence book at the South African Embassy, which has been hosting candlelight prayer vigils. The Vice President will speak at a National Cathedral memorial service on Wednesday morning, ending a week of mourning in Washington.
Others traveling to South Africa this week to honor Mandela’s memory include Presidents Carter, Clinton and Bush the Lesser, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the prime ministers of the UK, Spain, Canada and Australia, the presidents of France, Brazil and India, and, from the non-political world, Pope Francis, Prince Charles, Peter Gabriel, Oprah and Bono.
The United States will also be represented by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who have announced their intention to mar the week by “protesting” outside various events, while South Africans look on and marvel at how a nation could tolerate such hatemongering.
Phil Schiliro, former chief congressional liaison for the Obama White House, returns to Washington this week to help with implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Described as a “short-term appointment,” the gig will keep Schiliro busy coordinating with various government departments and with Congress. Naturally, Republicans will impugn his moral fiber, condemn him as out of step with mainstream values, and accuse him of murdering Jimmy Hoffa, Vince Foster and Jesus. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/9/13
0 – 2!
Boehner lost the fight, as I predicted in my last article! Barack Obama kept alive the string that began with Boehner’s loss to Oklahoma Representative J.C Watts (R) for Chair of the House Republican Conference in 2001; that began Boehner’s string of losing fights of personal importance (important because Boehner makes them personal) to astute African-American politicians who take advantage of Boehner’s weaknesses and overreach.
Okay, the string is a twist: Boehner lost because his position was untenable. But the coincidence is history and makes good myth.
And from the mythical traditions of how the dead are buried, Obama has introduced something new to American politics: the political second line. It defines the way politics moves forward after a tough fight, when grief and anger are heavy in the air, and fury burns in the hearts of those vanquished, as, their ideals trounced, they walk past inanimate spirits of dead goals lying in the political infirmary of conference rooms.
In the recent battle of the bulge over the budget and debt ceiling, we knew the Republican defeat was nigh and the plug was pulled on its life support when the Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC sent a widely publicized letter to the each member of the US Senate. The letter accused Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, of lying, as the Koch organization categorically denied any effort in funding or directing Congressional Republicans to shut down government and default on debt to force an Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) repeal or rollback.
“Non mas,” the Koch letter says. It attempts to portray Koch as the aggrieved victim, demanding that Senator Reid and other politicians stop misrepresenting and distorting his positions. Indicted by its arrogance and its in-evidence presumption of power, the letter makes its own ellipsis of the source and blunt force of Harry Reid’s argument; it completely ignores the legitimacy and weight of Reid’s source.
The New York Times published a series of master articles and commentaries in the middle of the debate, documenting and citing the numbers of millions of dollars the Koch organization spent and passed through its several front organizations to other groups to fund campaigns in the media and live events opposing the ACA. That documentation—including ads on YouTube—the Senate is told, in an oblique reference, is “erroneous.”
Here’s some what the Times has to say. In its editorial blog, Taking Note, on July 9, David Firestone wrote:
The advocacy group backed by the Kochs, Americans for Prosperity, is spending more than $1 million on an advertising Taking Note to (yet again) discredit President Obama’s health care reform law. It’s already been in effect for three years, but they want to soften it up just as its most important changes (mostly, the insurance mandate) begin to go into effect on Oct. 1.
The Kochs and their Republican allies continue to take advantage of the law’s complexity and public ignorance to spread the worst kind of misinformation, hoping once again to create chaotic town halls and anti-government protests once the mandate goes into effect.
Then on October 6, the Times printed:
The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.
The groups have also sought to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress with scorecards keeping track of their health care votes; have burned faux “Obamacare cards” on college campuses; and have distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and Twitter and Facebook offerings for followers to present as their own.
All of this was “misrepresented,” in the words of the Koch organization.
But it led to Harry Reid making the unusual statement of calling out Koch by name in a Twitter post:
At the heart of any democratic action by government is a concept I introduced when exploring Edward Snowden’s actions a few weeks ago, a concept I called “permission.” An informal concept, it refers to the idea that every political act has around it a broad consensus about whether the act itself (not its outcome!) is right or wrong: permitted. It represents the politics of manners and determines our limits and edges.
In America, it reaches high, often violent extremes: secession, complete with declarations, votes, and an enduring war with sixteen times more dead that Vietnam; the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, Philadelphia, in May 1838, the week it opened as a public meeting space and forum dedicated to presenting views and speaking out for abolition and women’s rights. Lynching, whose historic victims exceed the numbers of Iraqi war dead and was endorsed by Southern governors and representatives; Midwestern sundown towns that required blacks to be be out of the town limits by dusk; sterilization of women without permission (North Carolina led the way); prohibitions against interracial and same-sex marriage.
Include an impeachment trial for the “high crime” of a President lying about oral sex in the Oval Office with an intern.
The current push for permission includes: the demand that former Vice President Dick Cheney be charged with war crimes (unlikely) and for individual charges against Wall Street executives and functionaries. (Also unlikely: because of the oversight/review/decision chain, institutional patterns protect individuals from being singled out; instead, the firm which acts in concert is charged as a whole with penalties and fines—including the $13 billion Goldman Sachs voluntarily agreed to this week! )
But back to the President’s point: the recent fight was not over a win or loss, or about policy, although Republicans tried to make it so: it was a fight over “what are the rules?” Continue reading Obama’s Political Second Line