Wednesday, May 31, 2017
No serious observer on the right or the left disputes the claim that Saudi Arabia has supplied the religious justification for radial Islamist terrorism in the form of Wahhabism-Salafism. The Saudi's have exported this conservative interpretation of Islam to madrasas throughout the Islamic world and to Islamic communities in the West. Similarly, no serious observer on the right or the left disputes the claim that funding to terrorists, including Isil, has, and continues to, flow from the Gulf states.
Now that Don the Con, who condemned the bestial nature of Saudi Arabian human rights policies during the campaign, has taken sides with the Sunnis in a dispute between Sunnis and Shiites that's been ongoing for 1400 years, the terrorism plaguing western nations is more or less guaranteed to continue. Obviously.
Welcome to TrumpWorld.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
OK, so I’m not just getting old, I am old. Which is as good an excuse as any for the nostalgic states of mind that more and more frequently seize my flagging attention. Those without much future are compelled, I suspect, to review the past. After all, there’s a lot more of the latter than the former.
While my nostalgic ramblings tend to be unfocused for the most part, last night they flew, straight as a laser, to 8:00 PM on November 4, 2008. That’s when the networks declared Barack Obama to be President-elect of the United States. The celebration in New York City, and in many other cities, went on for hours. We were dancin’ in the streets, brothers and sisters, and it’s hard to blame us foolish liberals if we concluded that America had turned a corner, that we’d left behind the segment of our history that declared a black man – or a red man, or a yellow man - to have no rights that a white man was bound to respect.
The liberals applied a term to this new (and just a few years before unthinkable) state-of-affairs: post-racial. And even as I acknowledged the naivete, I hoped for a union - pragmatic, to be sure - between working people of all descriptions, a return to the New Deal coalition that gave rise to the progressive legislation Americans take for granted. And why not? If Barack Hussein Obama could succeed in North Carolina and Florida, if he could finish within six points in Georgia, anything was possible.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, even as Barack Obama took the oath of office, Republican leaders were meeting in a DC steak house, the Caucus Room, to devise a party-first-and-to-hell-with-America strategy that would again fan the flames of racial resentment. Paul Ryan attended, as did Eric Cantor, as did Kevin McCarthy, now House Majority Leader. Nine days later, on January 29, Republicans gathered once more, this time at a retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Every single Republican in both houses of Congress had already voted against the stimulus bill by then, despite the worst recession in 70 years.
The theme at the retreat was party unity. From that day forward, the Republicans would oppose anything and everything, country be damned. Mike Pence stirred the crowd with a clip from Patton, the George C. Scott film: “We’re gonna kick the hell out of him all the time. We’re going to go through him like crap through a goose.”
Call it a precipitating factor. Obama had to be vilified, to be made into an anti-American other, illegitimate as a pedophile in an orphanage. And no matter how the violent the contortions, no matter how obvious the hypocrisy, the Republican party stayed the course. Take Obamacare. The template for the Affordable Care Act – the individual mandate - originated with the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. The association between Heritage and the concept reaches back to 1989 and the publication of a book, A National Health System for America, by Stuart Butler and Edmund Haislmaier. At the time, conservatives promoted the book’s overall scheme as an acceptable alternative to single payer. The basic idea was endorsed by New Gingrich (as he later admitted), then put into practice by an enthusiastic Mitt Romney. Force adult Americans not covered by their employers to purchase insurance policies, the reasoning went, and costs will drop as the healthy contribute to the insurance pool. Problem solved.
All that changed when a Democratic Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. Republicans, all of whom voted against the legislation, declared the individual mandate to be an affront to the essential liberty that made America the land of the free. The act had to be opposed at every turn as Republicans sought to rescue the nation from a concept they’d created.
How great a leap is it from this level of hypocrisy to, “Obama is a secret Muslim born in Kenya?” How big a jump to, “Obama wants the terrorists to win?” In a focus group of Trump voters conducted by Frank Luntz in 2016, seven years after the Republicans decided to live by obstruction, only three of twenty-nine participants believed Obama to be a Christian. Just twenty believed he was born in the United States, despite the birth certificate. And according to Luntz, who was not a Trump supporter, the more you challenged this group’s beliefs with evidence, the more those beliefs hardened. Like the one about Obama putting his hand on the Koran before placing it on the Bible when he took the Oath of Office, which the far right enthus-iastically embraces. (In fact, the photo supposedly showing Obama with his hand on the Koran, actually depicts Obama with his hand on a pair of stacked bibles, one formally owned by Martin Luther King, the other by Abraham Lincoln.)
Think it can’t get worse? Toward the end of the session, Luntz asked the volunteers to sum up their opinion of Obama in a word or phrase. The exchange began with words like “traitor” and “socialist”, but quickly advanced to, “I wouldn’t urinate on him if he was on fire.”
The kicker was delivered a few minutes later. “When you bend down to the Saudis, take your shoes off, put your hand on the Koran and then the Bible when you’re sworn in? I would not only piss on him if he was on fire, I’d throw gas on him.”
As Frederick Douglass declared long ago, backlash is the price we pay for progress. But I wouldn’t take that to mean it doesn’t hurt. But there it is. The haters have emerged - encouraged by a debased Republican Party that places power ahead of country - to elect Don the Con (who may, given the Kushner revelations, be an actual traitor). How much time will elapse, do you suppose, before Trump calls his deluded followers into the streets? If you recall he made that threat as the Republican Convention approached, then again toward the end of the campaign.
Gird your loins for battle, folks. TrumpWorld is upon us.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
The Republicans have a major Comey problem. Not only is the former FBI Director thoroughly anal-retentive, he’s got fifty IQ points on born-to-the-manor Donald Trump. I won’t bother describing the all-too-devastating tale he’s certain to tell, a tale every minute of which he’s apparently documented. I’d sooner write about a President determined to be rid of Comey, no matter the consequences.
If I was still writing fiction and this was a thriller, you can be sure that James Comey would be a hunted man, perhaps by an assassin armed with a polonium-filled syringe. Fortunately, we’re living in a free society, one that respects human life and human rights, which leaves only one avenue of assassination open to the Republicans and their con-artist President. They have to assassinate the former Director’s character. No easy task, obviously, but the boys on the far right have managed to present a theory of the case on their websites. In three parts, it goes like this.
James Comey was a vice-president at Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor, before he was appointed Director of the FBI by Obama. He did very well at his job, earning $6,000,000 in his final year. At the same time, Lockheed Martin regularly donated to the Clinton Foundation. Breitbart, one of the sources for this story, doesn’t even allege that Comey’s duties touched upon Lockheed Martin’s charitable giving, nevertheless….
In 2013, James Comey became a director and board member of HSBC Bank, which partnered with the Clinton Foundation on several projects. Again, no connection between Comey’s duties and these partnerships has emerged, but….
Finally, Peter Comey, James Comey’s brother, works for the law firm DLA Piper, which audited the Clinton Foundation’s books. James Comey holds the mortgage on his brother’s home, which proves that….
Given Comey’s attacks on Hillary at the height of the 2016 campaign, the flimsy charge asserted here reeks of desperation. But it’s still out there, being hawked by Breitbart and ultra-conservative sites like NEWSTARGET, which purports to be about the business of OBLITERATING YOUR SAFE SPACE WITH TRUTH BOMBS, along with Free West Media, Gateway Pundit (Where Hope Finally Made A Comeback), Snopes, The Drudge Report, SarahPalin.com, WashingtonFeed, StoneColdTruth and dozens more.
I don’t know a single person who hasn’t, or wouldn’t, laugh at this accusation. Comey in the thrall of the Clintons? Comey as Hilary’s puppet? It’s so stupid that the first time I heard it - from the mouth of a Trump supporter on C-SPAN’s morning call-in show, Washington Journal – I couldn’t resist examining the details.
The Republican operative, Frank Luntz claims that it’s impossible to overstate the ignorance of the average American voter. But many political scientists (you know, the ones with legitimate credentials who can never be trusted) believe it’s the misinformed, not the uninformed, voter who presents the most difficult challenge to politicians. Any attempt to penetrate the façade of distortions that surround them is generally met with hostility. They will defend their beliefs if pressed, sometimes with violence. That’s why I’ve rejected the approach by Bernie and the progressive wing of the Party. Sure, I’m with them on policy, but this group of Trump voters will not return to the Democratic fold until driven there by Republican policies so abhorrent that they can’t be rationalized. Until then, you’ll find them permanently encamped in TrumpWorld.
Friday, May 19, 2017
OK, it’s 2014 and I’m banging away on my Dell computer. I’m knocking out sentences and paragraphs in WORD and I’m surfing the net, jumping from one news-oriented site to another while listening to music courtesy of YouTube. And while I’ve yet to access one percent of my Dell’s capacity, I’m perfectly content, just like most other Windows-XP users. How many? At the time, I didn’t know and couldn’t have cared less.
Anyway, although my knowledge of computers and computing is roughly equal to that of my pet goldfish, I do know that other versions of Windows have come and gone over the years, including the hated Vista and Windows 8.1. I’ve ignored these “advances in computing technology” because my computer is already doing everything I want it to do, and doing it rather fast.
Bottom line, I’m happy and don’t intend to change my operating system. But then I receive a notice from Microsoft. On April 8, 2014, the company will officially abandon Windows-XP. The updates I’ve been installing for the past ten years will no longer come my way.
I’m tempted, like many, to raise a middle finger to Microsoft. I’m tempted to go bravely forward with ignorance as my shield. And I would if my son wasn’t an engineer who works at Google. Given the connection, due diligence requires that I take Microsoft’s notice to an expert. Thus, when next I speak to Ethan, I mention the notice.
Ethan makes it very clear. Without Microsoft’s support, without those updates, my computer will suffer in two ways. Small bugs will not be addressed and thus accumulate. Malware patches will not be issued and my computer, sooner or later, will become infected. This is Microsoft’s way of implementing its basic strategy, he explains. Unless Windows’ users purchase new versions of the operating system from time to time, Microsoft cannot survive. That’s why the company forces computer manufacturers to install only the latest version of Windows, no matter how popular older versions are, or how unpopular (think Windows Vista) the latest edition. Once the newer versions reach a critical mass, Microsoft can abandon the oldest version still supported, forcing innocents like myself to pay for an upgrade.
Now, you might argue that a business plan is a business plan. Microsoft, after all, never guaranteed to eternally support Windows XP. Besides, the whole deal was laid out on page 2,137 of the terms-of-service agreement you checked off when you registered your computer with Microsoft. So, stop whining and pony up.
I ponied, much to my relief when the Wannacry ransomware hit computers still running Windows XP. Thank-you, my son.
Millions of others, however…. The online mag, Redmond, estimates the number of XP users who clung to their outdated operating systems to be 250 million. That’s users, folks, not computers.
Why did all these people stick with XP? The main reason, obviously, is that XP did whatever they needed their computers to do, from browse chat rooms to run hospitals. For this group, Microsoft’s newer versions weren’t better, and Microsoft had to know that.
In an earlier rant, I decried the Supreme Court’s conferring personhood on corporations. If corporations are persons, I believe, they’re surely psychopaths, what with the fiduciary obligation to the shareholders overriding every other concern. So, if Microsoft were to compromise their business model by again supporting Windows XP, say once they realized that 250 million people still relied on it, the company would leave itself open to shareholder lawsuits. Couldn’t let that happen, right? And think about poor Billy Gates. The man can hardly be satisfied with his 86 billion, not with the likes of Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet climbing up his back. And what about those damn Koch brothers? Add their billions together and the Koch family’s bottom line easily eclipses the fortune assembled by Gates. Ditto for the Waltons of Walmart?
No, it’s upwards and onwards. It’s the sky’s the limit. It’s the American Dream. It’s the crash of a million computers. It’s that asshole who didn’t get his open-heart surgery because the operating room was inoperable. It’s power, power, power, right up until the day you die.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
If a corporation can be a person with legal rights that ordinarily accrue only to the living, why not a zygote? Most of us on the left can’t imagine a court deciding that a single, fertilized cell in a woman’s body has a right to life equal to that of the woman. But how many of us would have predicted that the Supreme Court of the United States would come to view corporations as living organisms? Corporations don’t breathe, don’t bleed, don’t eat. In fact, the only thing remotely human that they do is shit on the rest of us. Not unlike our current President.
Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886): The California Constitutional Convention of 1878-1879 denied to railroads a tax deduction available to living residents. The Supreme Court decided that railroads (the Union Pacific and Central Pacific had instituted lawsuits of their own) were protected by the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment, just like every American. The railroads did not have to pay the tax.
Kasky vs. Nike (2002): Marc Kasky’s lawsuit accused Nike of false advertising after the company ran a series of ads touting the excellent working conditions in its overseas plants. Nike’s defended aggressively, claiming that its right to lie was protected by the 1st Amendment’s free-speech clause. One lower court ruled in favor of Nike and another against before the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The Court finally punted, returning the case to the trial court where it was settled.
Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby (2014): Hobby Lobby, a closely held corporation, claimed that the mandatory contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act violated the “free exercise of religion” clause of the 1st Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Court agreed, essentially, with a lower court ruling that declared Hobby Lobby to be “person” under the RFRA.
Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (2010): Shortly before the Democratic primaries began in January of 2008, Citizens United, a conservative non-profit, arranged to air a full-length, anti-Hillary film. This was illegal under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and the film wasn’t shown. Eventually, the Supreme Court overruled two prior decisions (Austin vs. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell vs. FEC) when it declared that the film, whether the product of a human or a corporation, was protected by the 1st Amendment’s guaranteed right to freedom of speech.
Corporations are legal entities crafted from varying State regulations. They are also, according to our highest Court, human beings, at least for the purposes described above. If this seems counter intuitive, I suggest the reader internalize a chiseled-on-the-tablets truth. The Constitution of the United States is whatever the Supreme Court says it is.
Which bring me back to my original question: If a corporation can be a person, why not a zygote?
Consider this excerpt from Justice Blackmun’s majority opinion in Roe vs. Wade, as cited by Rossum and Tarr in American Constitutional Law, 3rd Edition:
“Blackmun admitted that if a fetus is a person, its right to life is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. But he then skirted the question of whether a fetus is a person: `We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in their respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy and theology are unable to arrive at a consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate upon the answer.’”
In a footnote, Blackmun declared: “The Court’s language here is of critical importance to the proponents of the Human Life Statute, which would declare that the life of a human being begins at conception. They claim that the Court’s refusal in Roe to treat the fetus as a person merely represented an admission that the judiciary was incapable of deciding the question of when life begins.”
Later, in a memorandum for a different case, Doe vs. Bolton, Blackmun made the implications even more explicit. “The pregnant woman cannot be isolated in her ‘privacy’ because she carries an embryo, and later, a fetus. The heart of the matter is that somewhere, either forthwith at conception, or at quickening, or at birth, or at some other point in between, another being becomes involved and the privacy the woman possessed has become dual rather than sole.”
The first “personhood” bills declaring a zygote to be a human being were introduced before Roe vs. Wade was decided, mainly at the behest of the Catholic Church. They continue to be introduced, year by year, in State legislatures as well as in Congress. Further, the Republican Party has not equivocated on this issue. The Party’s 2012 platform demands an end to all abortions, with no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother. “We support,” the document reads, “a human rights amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”
Take that, mom.
Once the first premise is granted, that human life begins with the union of sperm and egg, the conservative argument is, at least on its face, irresistible. A zygote can hardly be held responsible for the manner in which it was conceived. And as for viability, embryos and fetuses are viable in the environment for which evolution intended them. Just like the rest of us.
There’s another uncomfortable truth here as well. If, as Blackmun wrote, “the heart of the matter” is that human life must have a beginning point, the only beginning point available that isn’t arbitrary is the moment of conception. Prior to the creation of a zygote, the egg in a woman’s fallopian tube contains only her genes. After fertilization, the zygote’s DNA is entirely its own. Clearly, the union has created a new life. Every other assertion is arbitrary and has the feel of slamming a square peg into a round hole.
(Note: I’m ignoring the utter disingenuousness of evangelical Christians who assert a purely biological definition of human life when their sole concern is acting on God’s will. And I have to wonder how many of today’s rank-and-file Born-Agains know that conservative Christians came to the anti-abortion table years after Roe was decided. In point of fact, the pro-choice position enjoyed widespread support – 60% among women and men – in 1973 when Roe was decided. And two years later, at the confirmation hearings for Justice John Paul Stevens in 1975, no Senator, Republican or Democrat, posed a single question about abortion or the Roe decision.)
I could conclude with a rant about not giving a damn when life begins. A cell is a cell is a cell. But a cell becomes two, then four, then…. There must be a stopping point. Only a very few among us would be comfortable with an abortion performed a month before a woman’s due date because she decided that she didn’t really want the child. And lest anyone dismiss this possibility, please remember, a low-probability event is not a no-probability event. Longshots come in, too.
My personal opinions, however, are not the point of this rant. I want to revisit the part about the Constitution being whatever the Supreme Court says it is. If that weren’t true, if Supreme Court decisions could be routinely dismissed, if compliance were forced instead of voluntary, the sort of government brutality we associate with Russia would soon descend upon us. The Warren Court’s decisions overturned more than 170 years of Supreme Court jurisprudence. Though conservatives have vented their rage and despair in countless speeches and essays, they’ve lived with the Warren Court’s judgments.
Unfortunately, now that the Republicans have stolen another election and put Neil Gorsuch, a Samuel Alito thinkalike, on the bench, I’m relatively certain that I’ll have to do a little coping of my own. Or maybe a lot of coping. My fear is that conservatives – and I mean the most radical among them – will accomplish judicially what they can’t accomplish legislatively. Justices like Alito and Thomas, and probably Gorsuch, are reflexively conservative. Whereas Scalia could be unpredictable, they will always affirm the libertarian principle. Massa first.
Of course, if the court’s present composition remains in place until we next have a Democratic President, my fears will prove groundless. But that’s very unlikely to happen. Anthony Kennedy is eighty years old. He’s already told friends and colleagues that he hopes to retire soon. Kennedy, a Republican appointee, has been the fifth vote for Roe since Sandra Day O’Conner retired in 2006. Additionally, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a cancer survivor, is 84 and Steven Breyer is 78.
What might a 6-3 court (or, God forbid, a 7-2 court) staffed with the likes of Joseph Alito and Clarence Thomas do to our present understanding of the Constitution? Might it, for example, make the decision Blackmun refused to make? Might it finally take the position hinted at by Blackmun, that personhood begins at conception?
Now imagine this scenario. Kevin and Sophia, happily married, are expecting a child. Sophia is three months into her pregnancy and both she and her husband look forward to the birth. They shop for nursery furniture, arrange to have that spare room painted, and maybe, if they’re especially fortunate, run ads on Craig’s List in search of a nanny. Then comes the bad news. Sophia is diagnosed with relatively advanced uterine cancer. If she has an immediate hysterectomy, which includes aborting the fetus she carries, her chances of survival five years down the line are about 69%. If she waits six months, until her child is born, until her disease has spread still further, her chances shrink to 17%.
But whatever her long-term fate, Sophia will almost certainly remain alive for six months. Long enough to give birth to a healthy infant.
The personhood bills currently in circulation would accord a zygote all the rights enjoyed by its mother, including a right to life so basic it forms the natural law platform from which all other rights spring. Should a conservative Supreme Court uphold one of these bills, what might happen next is anyone’s guess. And that would be true even if Sofia’s odds dropped still further, say below 10%, or even if her death was certain. How do you choose between “persons” with an equal right to life? Logic would lead you to choose the life of the fetus over Sophia’s. If surgery is delayed, the fetus is almost certain to survive, whereas Sophia faces a mortality rate of 30% even if her surgery is immediate.
Abortion is illegal, with no written exception to save the life of the mother, in countries like Chile, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Surinam. Further away, the abortion law in the Philippines gets right to the point: “It (the State) shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the newborn from conception.”
In Chile, there’s no exception to the ban, even if it’s clear that the fetus cannot survive. In one case, doctors were unable to perform emergency surgery on a woman suffering through an ectopic pregnancy until a fetal heartbeat could no longer be detected. That the fetus’s heart would stop beating was not in question. It was only a matter of who would die first, the fetus or the mom.
But it can’t happen here, right? If Roe should be overturned, abortion policy will be determined by the States. That’s the general claim, anyway. But it could easily go the other way. And you can be certain that whenever the issue does come before a court dominated by extreme conservatives, pro-life attorneys will ask the court to rule that personhood begins at conception, or at least firmly establish a point at which it does begin. That done, the “equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment then covers both lives and it becomes impossible to assert the primacy of one over the other without negating the very concept of equality.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Friday, May 5, 2017
Anyone out there have a cure for a bad case of The Uglies? I got up this morning, opened the paper and viewed a photo of Donald and a gaggle of Republican Congressmen (and one, half-hidden Congresswoman) celebrating in the Rose Garden. The smiles, the smirks, the laughs, it was clear that all participants were overcome with joy. And why not? Only a few minutes before, they'd successfully voted to deprive more than 20 million Americans of health insurance.
Thursday, May 4, 2017
In the United States, for as long as the drug epidemic remained in the cities, for as long as the nation’s white majority could plausibly claim that the disease of addiction was confined to people of color and the result of a character flaw, our nation adopted a full-out, law-and-order approach to the problem of drug addiction. Lock ‘em up and throw away the key, preferably into the Pacific Ocean at its deepest point, 36,000 feet.
There are people serving thirty- and forty-year sentences for possession of an eighth-of-an-ounce of cocaine. Thousands of them. Like Atiba Parker, who drew a sentence of 42 years for selling 3 grams of crack cocaine, the drugs worth, at most, four hundred dollars. Parker, by the way, had been treated for schizophrenia before his arrest, a mitigating factor that carried no weight at time of sentencing.
But circumstances have changed, as have the relative moral positions of our white and black populations. The epidemic has morphed, from cocaine to opiates. It has also spread from the cities to the burbs and the boondocks where all those white people who fled the inner cities currently reside. Now it’s the moral majority’s turn to serve decades in prison for even the most minor infractions.
No chance, of course. Now it’s treatment, treatment, treatment. Let’s forget the part about a character flaw, the part about just say no. I mean, c’mon, look what’s happened to us. Our jobs are gone, our way of life, our white privilege, our male privilege. How do you expect us to act, if not by pumping our bodies full of whatever takes our minds off our diminished prospects? We’re victims. Isn’t it obvious?
Just yesterday, the Congress, in its emergency appropriations bill, designed only to keep the government running for a few short months, included funding for Opioid Treatment. There’s a TV ad out there, which I’ve seen perhaps a dozen times, promoting a laxative to remedy the constipating effects of opiate addiction. According to Governor Le Page of Maine, 90% of Maine’s drug dealers are black, which makes virtuous white dope addicts twice victimized, by their economic devolution and by African-American predation.
Alright, alright. I know I’m not the first to mark this so-blatant hypocrisy, or to note that racial inferiority is as deeply embedded in American culture as anti-Semitism in European culture. But you’d think, after all this time, the whiney whiteys who turned to Don the Con would have realized, at least dimly, that they’re being played by the greediest and most ruthless among us. You’d think the white working-class would have come to understand that so long as working people remain divided, the Trumps and Mnuchins will continue to successfully implement their low-tax, low-wage, pollute the planet agenda. Shorty-term profits being, apparently, the only game they know.