Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Stuff Again

Beyond the patently doctrinaire position that unions are intrinsically bad, I have no idea why Republicans are going after not only Teachers Unions, but even the basic perks of the profession. In NC it's one of many planks in the Legislature's coffin--the one they're hard at work building for what once was a reasonable way of life in a southern state. Tenure has got to go. Currently the Legislature and our Republican governor are trying to "bargain" (i.e. pronounce) with teachers who are apparently leaving the state in droves--more pay they say, but no more tenure. It's become a national theme, and made worse because for some reason Obama's first press secretary, Robert Gibbs, has joined some group attacking the concept. Last night Neil Cavuto said at one point "we've got to rein these teachers in," referring to tenure. Later, interviewing an articulate real teacher who is also in one of the national Teachers Unions, he proceeded to harangue and diminish her, never letting her finish a sentence and eventually closing with some dippy remark that amounted to, "well, it was nice having such a perky lady as you on the show." Her basic point, which only got out between his ceaseless interruptions: "we want due process." This is essentially what tenure amounts to.

Apparently it's too much for people who's model of employee/employer relationship is that of Ronald Reagan: "I paid for this microphone." In NC you can get hired for no reason, and fired for no reason either. Over a long long time teachers have worked to improve such a dismal situation, and for good reason. Teachers have to talk about real things, and sometimes parents and school boards don't want that to happen. If teachers have tenure it is at least more difficult to remove the, as it were, squeaky wheels. But public schools are part of what once was viewed as the public good. These days the Republican view is that there is no such thing.

Instead, at every turn Republicans state and nationwide are toiling to replace government programs and institutions with some privatized semblance which, they claim against all evidence to the contrary, will yield even a more perfect common good. This myth serves the true but masked agenda--lower and lower taxes on the people who pay for the candidates, who are then further and further free to make more and more minimally taxed money. A teacher with tenure might at least point this state of affairs out to her civics students. If she was a good enough teacher to get the point across to those kids not already so closed-minded as to reject her out of hand and report her to the thought police I mean. Our current state head of finance, Art Pope--a right-wing oligarch who deserves to be on the list with the Koch brothers, though since he's made his money on dime stores catering mostly to poor people, and not energy, he can't be quite in their wealth league--told the public yesterday that they'd have to choose between teacher's assistants in the early grades, or paying for Medicaid. What he didn't say was that the granite foundation on which Republican governance is now resting is, No Raising Taxes, Ever.

This has been the generational trick that the Reaganites have played on America. The public has been convinced that taxes are bad, and that failures of government due to lack of funding are only proof that government is incapable. The great circle continues to advance. At the top, the rich get much much richer, all the while complaining of their shrinking tax burden. Someone has responded to the no tax crowd with a apt rejoinder: "Taxes pay for civilization." The shrieking billionaires mostly drown out this obvious common sense, and Fox runs more hours of pornographic violence, errrm, "ultimate" fighting. The Rude Pundit should do a post on that cultural phenomenon, on which Ms Colter remains strangely silent whilst inveigling against futbol.

Here's a tiny story in yesterday's paper.

Washington -- The government wants to dramatically reduce the allowable height of potentially thousands of buildings near airports around the country--a proposal that is drawing fire from real estate developers and members of Congress who say it will hurt property values.

The Federal Aviation Administration proposal, supported by airports and airlines, is driven by encroaching development that limits safe flight paths for planes that might lose power in an engine during takeoff.

Well why should these federal agencies have the last word anyways? Surely the calculus of the Invisible Hand will show that in a world where there are a few more plane crashes, the extra money made by developers will still create a greater good. Just run it through the John Stuart Mill formula, or ask Mr. Romney. It works out to a percentage of 47/53, more or less.

And rein those unruly teachers in.

Update: Lance Mannion has noticed the same thing viz this attack on teachers. Here's his post:

Here's a small piece of Mannion's point, but you should read the whole piece:

This is part and parcel with their general belief that people’s only reason for existing is to create wealth and in that endeavor everybody, except them, is interchangeable and disposable. But it fits with a more general contempt for teachers as not very smart or ambitious types who take on the job for the summers off, the over-indulgent benefits, and the guarantee that no matter how incompetent they are they won’t be fired. Maybe the best of them go into it because they’re sentimentalists who “love kids” and believe “the children are our future” but that’s a sign they aren’t really serious grownups.

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach,” right?

To which somebody has rejoined:

“Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, tell teachers how to do their jobs.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cheney's Sez

We used to speculate here in the deep Chatham woods, back in Aught Two, that the whole Iraq War deal had to be "about oil." Or in a related theory, "about money." Mr. Cheney was still getting his nice checks from Haliburton, where he'd been CEO before appointing himself Veep after intentionally misunderstanding Mr. Bush's instructions that he "find a Veep for me." And certainly Haliburton found great financial success in the Iraq War, some of which surely trickled down to Mr. Cheney's coffers, as is the nature of economics.

But last weekend Mr. Cheney was on the teevee brushing aside any questions of the past and maintaining that the United States faced a new peril, the rising tide of terrorism all over the world, from Iraq and Syria and Iran and Afganistan and Pakistan, to India and Indonesian and North Korea and gawd knows. Without saying it, Cheney was pretty much saying what that Heritage Foundation's panel of racists were saying to the single brave muslim woman who questioned their narrative. Mr. Obama was wrong because he had failed to keep the US boot firmly on the neck of militant Islam, and now militant Islam had wriggled free again. Not that he used quite those words, of course.

And it occurred to me, in the deep night, that maybe the reason Cheney was so on with the Iraq War Two was simply that if you see the world the way he does, it doesn't matter at all whether Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. Them muslims is all of a piece to Mr. Cheney. This is why there's a whole right-wing "movement" to make Americans petrified of muslims, including American muslims. It's a symptom of a convenient thought mistake, just like Nazism was back in the day, just like racism still is for millions of Americans. And I think Mr. Cheney probably really believes this horse shit, just like Mr. Nixon, in the privacy of his thoughts and interior conversations.

I hope that remarkably brave and well-grounded young woman who stood up to that convention of Hate last week (and Hate is certainly our American Heritage as much as it is a tragic human condition everywhere) gets the opportunity to talk to all of us some more. Her reply to a whole room of jeering racists was far finer than I would have summoned under those conditions. "I guess I represent the moderate Muslims," she said. Damn straight.

That young woman is the man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. Mr. Cheney is the tank. He's already broken a whole country in the service of his racism. He learned nothing, and will not brook any questions about it either. "Let's not litigate the past," he says. What a convenient way to look at our responsibilities. He must have learned that from the absolute master of denial, Donald Rumsfeld, back in the '70s, when they were working together for Mr. Nixon.

If "they're" all the same, a blow against any one of "them" will do. This is the basis for an imperial foreign policy. This is what America and it's Allies briefly "saved" the world from, in the process of World War II. It's not that we're exceptional, but that our parents did something exceptional, if at the same time deeply flawed. (We did, after all, "save" the world with an atomic bomb.)

As with many of these grand historical cliches, there's a hidden elision in the idea that America or the Allies "saved" the world from the subjugation of an imperial foreign policy operated by either Germany or Japan, or both. A lot of people, at the end of World War II, decided that what America "won" was the driver's seat of the imperial foreign policy bus. Somebody had to drive it; it might as well be us. Where there might have been an opportunity to move forward into a more democratic world, leadership in the west mostly saw a necessity for someone to take authority. And of course the cold war, which opened shortly after the end of the war, underscored that mind-set.

Almost every challenge that America has faced since the end of World War II has been met with Authority. This is the objection raised by the critics of Mr. Obama's decisions concerning Iraq. We were to make "them" behave. The easy resort to torture which the previous administration took up in the days after 9/11 reflects the same distrust of our own principles and ideals. So does the sordid "institution" of Guantanamo, our own convenient Siberia, removed from all those annoying rules we profess allegiance to. The so-called American Fair Trial is reserved for Americans, period.

This elision floats along all of American history, from the very start of it. Built into the foundation is the 3/5ths rule and various other doubts added like footnotes to the great Jeffersonian principle: All men are created equal. A tiny band of Saudis and Egyptians flew hijacked planes into our buildings, and so we attacked Iraq. This was racist and totalitarian to the core. And it was obvious that such a blatant injustice would yield more bitterness, hatred and turmoil. It's too bad we don't have a news interviewer capable of at least countering Mr. Cheney's bluster. What's the worst that could happen? He could flounce off the set with a "fuck you". He already did that to Sen. Lehey. The world did not tremble.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Coupla Things on Summer, Day 1

First, I was happy to see this post:

The patent, plain truth, a truth so true that it approaches the truth we find in mathematical equations, which can of course be derided as a "tautological" truth except with folks who refuse to acknowledge it, is that if you take a random room full of people and sprinkle more and more firearms into that population, you will be more and more likely to eventually have an event of firearm violence. Tired of waiting? Add alcohol, add televisions, add politicians and religious fanatics. Until the national media can literally laugh Wayne LaPierre's ridiculous platitudes out of the hall, we are conducting this horrible experiment in real time. The money shot (sorry): It’s only a matter of time before one these guns accidentally discharges; it’s only a matter of time before someone taunts these fetishists and, because the ammosexuals are stupid and humorless and lack impulse control, one them “fights back” with deadly force. These people need to become pariahs. Yesterday.

Second. Last week the Durham, NC city jail was forced to release a guy who had been sitting in there for two years accused of a drive-by shooting which killed a 10-year-old girl. He was never brought to trial because the NC Crime Lab is understaffed and evidence was unable to be processed. He was released because a judge ruled that his right to a speedy trial had been violated--which seems indeed to be true. One would think that the Damocletian sword of this speedy trial rule would drive any competent body of legislators to be damn sure that the state crime lab was always properly funded and staffed. Apparently our current Legislature felt otherwise. They were too busy cutting taxes on wealthy people and attacking the whole concept of tenure as it applies to public school teachers (so that if some teacher should point out to her students a future failure of this magnitude by a future Legislature, she will live in fear of losing her job, or will in fact lose her job post haste). Oh, did I mention. The guy shot and killed a guy in Chapel Hill a week after he was released. He's been charged with murder:

Third. It's been widely noted this week (around the web) that among the commentators on Hillary Clinton's (in my view) very successful interview with Fox News was Terry Bradshaw, Football Hall of Fame Quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their four '70s era Super Bowl victories and now a member of the Fox NFL Pregame show:

Bradshaw said he never has trusted Ms Clinton, and that everyone ought to tell the truth. He thus joins the ranks of genius-level propagandists now working the current "street." As no doubt has been remarked at the water cooler already, we can all await his suit of the NFL for chronic brain injury, which will arrive in the mail the day after he's finally dismissed from his Pregame show for some as yet unimagined indiscretion. But what struck me was that this direct joining of Fox Sports with Fox Political Propaganda is only the most explicit iteration of what has been already in place since Mr. Murdoch bought up the sports coverage rights to most of the most popular sporting events in the United States. You don't have to have a Bradshaw actually talk about a politician, when you've captured the viewers you want to "convince." In fact, putting Bradshaw directly into politics is probably a mistake, a looking behind the curtain so to speak. Possibly people will notice. It's more likely that another statistical truth prevails however: people who notice are such a minority in the American electorate that they can be entirely discounted when designing election campaigns. Get enough dumb-asses to vote and the smart ones can just, erm..., smart.

I guess point the 3rd brings us back to point the 1st. The Hudahenians look out the window into the summer, inscrutable. They watch a squirrel on an oak stump, who scratches a flea and then leaps down to find a moldy acorn. Thank Jesus it's Saturday. Last night we watched Ozu's "Late Spring" for the second time. If it's possible to put poetry into film form, or to actually film a perfect short story, Ozu does it (and more than once). This most elegant of movies can be watched many times. It grows deeper and deeper. It's no wonder Setsuko Hara devoted her professional career to Mr. Ozu, and retired after he died. There was nothing more for her to achieve.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Small Engagment Ends Well

About a month back the Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry Duo played an enjoyable gig up in Washington, VA in a pretty field down below the historic jail. While there was more law there than paying patrons, the jail still being in use, we played well and had a great time with our host and impresario, the Right Honorable Ben Jones, former Congressman from Georgia, former character player "Cooter" on the Dukes of Hazard back when we were all young and free and gas was 50 cents, same as Luckies.

This is some of the constabulary, viewing the situation as the stage is being finalized. You can see it was a beautiful setting, and later on Brer Ben mounted the stage and sang with his very capable country band, as well as MC-ing the whole deal and still finding time to take Craver and I on a grand tour of his digs, just outside of the town General Washington laid out back in 1749.

Anyways, Ben is a very engaged person in his life, and whilst he was working on this nice show, he also sent out a letter to his worthy constituents (to quote Dizzy Gillespie), which I will reprint here:

To The Editor:

There was a time not so long ago when the South was called “The Solid South” by the national Democratic Party and the national press. The Republican Party in the South was, where it existed at all, historically on “the disabled list.” The two-party system in the South was “The Democrats who were in, and the Democrats who were out.”

So the action was in the Democratic primary, where the eventual winner was inevitably coronated. So that was where Democrats voted, where Republicans voted, and where independents, libertarians and everybody else voted. The general election in November was an afterthought. It was, after all, a foregone conclusion that the Democrats would win. For many years in Virginia, that was most likely someone connected with the Byrd Machine.

With the shift to Southern Republicanism that began in the South in the 1970’s, the game has changed. But not all that much. Congressional re-districting (in which the inmates decide who is going to run the asylum) has resulted in Virginia having Congressional races for what are clearly “safe seats,” that is, seats drawn by the incumbents, of the incumbents, and for the incumbents. So the general election decision is made in the primaries. Unless there is an unexpected lightning strike, that is simply going to happen. It is the next thing to being disenfranchised.

But by voting for David Brat in the Seventh District Republican primary, we Democrats, independents, and Libertarians can make a big difference in American politics. It is your right to cast that vote. It is an “open” primary and it doesn’t preclude anyone from voting anyway they wish in November. It may be the only way to empower those who want to make a statement about the dysfunctional Congress and “politics as usual.”

From what I know of Dave Brat, he is a good, honest, and honorable man. And from what I know of Eric Cantor, I can say only that he ran a truly dishonorable campaign against me back in 2002. He ducked debates, slandered me in slick mailings, questioned my patriotism and even mocked my Southern heritage. He simply cannot be taken at his word. You can call that “sour grapes” if you want to, but I am just telling it the way it was, and surely is. I can tell you that you will likely hear the same thing from his other former opponents, both Republican and Democrat.

Under Cantor’s Majority Leadership, the Congress has sunk to its lowest public standing in history. Our nation has lost faith in our most important institutions. This is not a laughing matter. It is a national crisis. Eric Cantor should not be rewarded with another term.

Every 7th District voter, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian and Independent can take an historic action on Tuesday, June 10th. A vote for David Brat will be heard not just throughout Washington, D.C. but around the world.

Ben Jones
Washington, Virginia

It was a pleasure watching Mr. Cantor concede last evening, and an unexpected one. However things go in the fall, removing Mr. Cantor from the House of Representatives is a small bit of justice achieved. A tip of the Hatlo Hat to Mr. Jones, for his part in a small victory for sanity and the common man.



Driftglass twitted the following last night: Brat ending his victory speech with "the Lannisters send their regards" seemed a trifle harsh. #RuinACantor

Over at Digby Laura Ingraham is given some credit for the results. This is certainly possible:

As with many things in this great land of ours, conjunction is frequently mistaken for causation.


Saturday 6/14 Update: Ben Jones gave an interview with Salon:

Ben's probably right about Cantor running into karma, if you believe in that sort of mechanism. The fact that the GOP has now removed the one and only Jew from its congressional ranks can't be entirely coincidental, can it? And the fact that Cantor's Virginia Congressional district was gerrymandered yet again in 2010, presumably to further enhance Cantor's invincibility, must also be considered Cantor karma. However, I find Ben's outright support of Brat, now that Brat is the Republican choice, alarming. Mr. Brat is a Randite, a foe of Social Security, and even further to the right than Mr. Cantor. Moreover, Ben's characterization of the Democratic Party as drifting ever leftward seems strange and outright wrong to me--a cliche without much footing in reality. In 1992 the Democratic Party had a choice between Bill Clinton, a southern-state governor who seemed to be similar in his policies to what once was called the Rockefeller Republican, and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who supported traditional labor positions and expressed much concern with America's over-seas loss of jobs. In electing Clinton, the Democratic Party moved to the right. Indeed, the Democratic Party has been chasing the Republicans ever rightwards since the '90s, vainly searching for the rightward shifting center. Even the Affordable Health Care Law is a solution to the terrible problem of health care accessibility in the United States which depends on the private insurance company sector for success. It was an idea developed by the Heritage Foundation and put into play in Massachusetts by an oligarch Republican governor.

Meanwhile, public schools and the Post Office are under sustained attack. It's hard to perceive much leftwards drift since the Reagan Revolution. President Obama is continually portrayed as a "leftist" by Fox News and the Many Pundits, but--as a right-leaning correspondent of mine says--he's really an "appeaser": of Republicans so intractable that it's been time and past for him to draw some red lines that have real teeth in them. Mr. Obama's efforts at reasonableness have led us to the sequester, and to a phony deficit crisis which could have been averted by making the plain case to the public that we simply must increase revenues if we are to do what must be done. Had Obama let the Bush tax cuts expire as planned, much of the energy behind Ryan's and Cantor's crocodile deficit tears would have been dissipated. Bush's "off the books" wars, plus the sequester sledgehammer, leads directly to the VA crisis of the moment. The Republicans have managed to make taxes, per se, a "leftist" endeavor. The Democrats have let them do it. Next week President Obama may yield to a neocon foreign policy which is an historically proven disaster and start down the path to a Third War in Iraq.

While I'm happy for Ben's success (insofar as Cantor's loss can be construed as Ben's doings), I would certainly hope that he would at this point move his support to a far more worthy candidate, Mr. Brat's Democratic opponent and University colleague. The country doesn't need more Rand Paul clones in an already broken Congress.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

And On D-Day Week No Less

Lance Mannion wrote this on Friday, June 6th:

The Republican flip-floppery, hypocrisy, cynicism, and demagoguery on the release of Bowe Bergdahl is routine---a routine---for the GOP these days. But it’s also defining. They’re showing once again how willing and eager they are to write people off.
Their position now is that Bowe Bergdahl should have been left to die in the hands of the Taliban.
Just as it’s their position that the uninsured should be left to die of whatever ails them, the homeless should be left to freeze on the street (just out of sight, of course), the hungry should starve, the children of the poor left to grow up in poverty and want.
The establishment media’s insistence that there’s a difference between Tea Party Republicans and sensible,rational/establishmentarian Republicans and it’s a good thing the Tea Party types are being put back in their place by their betters would be amusing if it wasn’t so stupid and destructive.
I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again because the need to doesn’t seem to be going away.
There is only one type of Republican, just it comes in three different flavors.
The Christian Right, the Tea Party Right, and the Corporatist Right.  They dress differently, use different idioms, have different manners, but they are all alike in the way they divide the nation in two, between the Deserving (narrowly defined to the point of pretty much meaning “Me and my family”) and the Undeserving (broadly defined to mean “Everybody who isn’t me or a part of my family”).  The damned and the saved, the makers and takers, Us and THEM! Three ways of saying the same thing.
“We got ours, the rest of you can do us a favor and drop dead.”

Rachel Maddow on Thursday night showed screen captures of quite a few Republican Congressional representatives who had tweeted or otherwise initially congratulated the Bergdahl family and by implication, the President, upon achieving the release of a volunteer American serviceman who had spent five years in captivity in Afganistan. All of these congratulations had subsequently been deleted by their authors, as a general and unwavering line of Republican condemnation had developed over the past week. Maddow and others have also shown recent audiovisual clips by Senator McCain and other Republican bigwigs demanding the events concerning Bergdahl that have actually unfolded this past week. This remarkable about-face by the GOP is probably far more important to the health of our tattered Republic than Sgt. Bergdahl's release; it is a symptom for the worse. It shows yet again that one of our two major parties has no regard for either the truth or human decency. It is a dangerous thing when one of the organizations from which the next Presidential candidate will emerge is so degraded in both intelligence and moral fiber. These people might just be running the country in two years.

If people aiming to wield political power have no compunction about lying at every turn, the exercise of democratic choice is endangered. This is even more true when the country is saddled with a “news” organization that disseminates lies as deep and rich as Lord Haw Haw, and in American English no less. Fox News is, for millions, simply “the news.” It's the same brand that brings millions of Americans their favorite sports every weekend, and many of their favorite entertainments throughout the work week. When commentator after commentator suggests that Sgt. Bergdahl is a traitor, and that his parents are the same, quite a lot of people who will go to the voting booth will believe this to be the case. It's that simple.

Meanwhile, the insidious proliferation of firearms continues. Open Carry has become a Gucci-zation of the AK-47. Mr. Stewart wondered recently if there weren't a logical intersection of the Stand-Your-Ground idea, meaning the legal incorporation of some sort of right to “shoot if you're afraid”, with the freight train coming from the opposition direction: a band of guys in bermuda shorts carrying semi-automatic firearms anywhere and everywhere they choose. This disaster builds like a super-cell over the Oklahoma panhandle. And if the rest of us somehow get used to the idea of bands of folks carrying weapons into Walmart and the post office, how different will that be from the commonplace, in Rwanda, of a man with a machete. “Jas wackin' da bush, bas. Keepin' eye out for da mamba.” Mr. LaPierre's logic contains a lot of buried premises. Ultimately, the “good guy with the gun” really means, “me with a gun.” Everyone else is the Other.

Or, see Mr. Mannion, above. Ibid. D.c. al fine. Fortissimo.

As Driftglass noted this week, in amazement, David Brooks has so far stood against the tide of jingoism and defended Bergdahl. But for a couple of days the NRA actually took a sensible position, only to walk it back. We'll see.


Sunday Morning Update: Ah, Mr. Hannity is quite the fellow on the Bergdahl story. Last night he was running a "special news report" on the "Bergdahl trade," as he called it. He had a live audience for the rah-rah, and featured the parents of a soldier in Bergdahl's unit who also died in Afganistan. He alleged that this serviceman died "searching" for Bergdahl, although that detail is disputed in the general discussion, if not on Fox. I changed the channel before I could hear whatever it might be the parents of this soldier might say. Judging from his emails (and already I've jumped straight into the briar patch, since none of us should be "judging" Sgt. Bergdahl), Bergdahl was disgusted by the "mission" he found himself a part of. Mr. Hannity reads Bergdahl's complaints to the parents of his dead comrade. This is shooting fish in a barrel, incendiary, and entirely irrelevant to anything. Hannity, Fox News, and the right wing generally, are performing a true high-tech lynching, to use a fine phrase coined twenty years ago by the joke George H.W. Bush played on the African-American community. With this full-bore character assassination of Sgt. Bergdahl, they aim to lynch their true target, President Obama. We can only hope and pray that the Nation will soon perceive the character of this GOP lynch mob.

This unfolding tragedy is not entirely irrelevant to the open carry crowd either. The weapons they want to brandish in every corner of the country are only Gucci bags as long as the spell holds. When they walk into a 7-11 run by a man in a turban, or a coffee shop where Sgt. Bergdahl is having coffee, they may turn back into what a crowd with guns really is, like it or not. Big trouble.