Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Response to The Real Loss Now

(See: Just above Sunset : The Real Loss Now)

The following little tale was written for Huffington Post by Aaron E. CarrollDirector of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research:

The fable, as it is told, involves a scorpion and a frog. 

The scorpion needs to cross a river, so he asks the frog to carry him on his back. The frog is skeptical; after all, scorpions kill.

The scorpion calms the frog, explaining that if he stung him on the swim across, they would both die. Therefore, the frog can be assured the scorpion will do no such thing.

“Trust me,” says the scorpion. “We’re in this together.”

Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. As the frog seizes up and they both begin to sink, the frog croaks, “Why?”

“I am a scorpion.  It is my nature.”

This is not a morality tale. It is a parable about the nature of things. The scorpion isn’t evil any more than the frog is good.  But the frog ignores what the scorpion is at its peril.

We, as a country, are in trouble.  If we don’t find our way out of this mess, the stability of the United States is in danger.

Although one might assume the dangerous mess Carroll was talking about was the Supreme Court mess, it wasn’t. This was published back in early 2010, and it had to do with health care, including the rising cost of prescription drugs.

But you could be forgiven if you thought it was about a sincere Lindsey Graham, at that Senate hearing in 2016, asking us to trust him:

"I want you to use my words against me. If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”

That was Graham back then, this is him now:

“We have the votes.”

Short and sweet and to the point. The only thing he should have added is, “Hey, we’re Republicans! It’s in our nature! It’s the Democrat's fault for trusting us!"

If I could go back in time — but assuming if I did that, I could get Mitch McConnell’s ear — I would advise him not to use any silly "moral argument” for refusing to bring the president's nominee for a vote, that we should let the American people have a say in the next SCOTUS justice. Yes, that might make sense to some people, all Republicans, but maybe not as many as there would be voters four years later who would want to punish him for his hypocrisy, with their votes.

In other words, it might hurt him more later than help him back then.

Instead, he should simply have said, “We are doing this because we can. We’re doing this because nowhere in the rules does it say we can’t.

He might even suggest the possibility that the Democrats might themselves consider using it against a Republican president some day, if the opportunity presents itself.

You might think that would go over worse than the sanctimonious and pretentious case he actually made back then, but I don’t think so. I would think many, from all sides, might admire his no-nonsense honesty.

(Okay, let’s forget that word “admire”. It just seems out of place when referring to Mitch McConnell. But I hope you see my point.)

The truth is, the principle here is not a moral one, it’s a pragmatic one. You do what you need to do when the opportunity arises. It’s like “Jeopardy James” 
Holzhauer, who defied the tradition of choosing the first “answer” in a category, instead going for the higher value last question. If you find a smarter way to play the game than the way everybody else plays it, you go for it, even if it means breaking custom.

In truth, we Democrats might find it smart to be on the lookout for opportunities to block a Republican president’s nominee coming up for a vote, and maybe not even wait for the end of his term.

Where does it say you can't refuse to hold a vote at any point — maybe the beginning, maybe the middle, at any time in the presidential term you want to, as long as you have the votes? After all, as the other side has shown us, if’s not really cheating if there’s nothing in the rules to rule it out.

But, you may be asking, won’t this just add to the disfunction of the government, setting a precedent that the other side will find a chance to use that against us some day?

Unfortunately, yes, it would, and that would be a shame.

After all, as I often get caught saying, the founders created a system of government that would rely on an honor system, one that presumed their descendants would be honorable and intelligent enough to understand that, if they were to abandon their sense of honor, the whole project would go down the toilet (which, you have to admit, was quite prescient of them, since the toilet hadn't even been invented yet.)

Don’t believe me about the honor system? Then answer me this: 
How many years in jail do you get for violating the Constitution?

So the real problem when it comes to our constitution is, we have wandered a ways out of bounds and don’t know how to get back to where we belong.

In fact, I would argue that, whether they know it yet or not, the Republicans may not even want to go back, stuck with a leader who is growing tired of the American system, as too inefficient and possibly too forgiving of citizens who can’t — or, as he probably thinks, won’t — pull their weight, and recently seems to be toying with the idea of abandoning small-d democratic ideals altogether. I would say, without fear of contradiction, that he really would like to be the American Putin.

You know, there have always been right-wingers warning us that the commies will somehow take over America, I think probably championing movies like the 1984 flick “Red Dawn”, about a group of high school kids fighting back, described here in Wikipedia:

The United States has become strategically isolated after NATO is completely disbanded. [Sound familiar?] At the same time, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies aggressively expand their sphere of influence. ...

On a September morning, in the small town of Calumet, Colorado, a local high school teacher pauses when he sees Soviet troops parachuting from An-12 transport aircraft landing in a nearby field…

An alt-right daydream, of course! (Hey, I need to get me an AK-47 and plenty of ammo, just in case we get lucky!)

My answer to this was always, not gonna happen! For one thing, it wouldn't even get started, since virtually nobody here would welcome them, and everybody would fight back. No enemy would even bother trying. They’d know better.

That was before I found myself saying that Trump could never get anywhere as president. For one thing, the Republicans themselves hate him so much, they would probably impeach him before Christmas of his first year.

But then we all watched, and saw how it might start, right before our eyes on cable news.

So who to blame for where we are today?

Probably too many to list, but I might start with Newt Gingrich, who got the disintegration started by teaching the not-unwilling Republican politicians how to insult and denigrate, and to their glee, annihilate their rivals in congress.

Or maybe go back even before that, probably to Nixon.

If you’re old enough, you might remember that old custom of each party essentially rubber-stamping a president’s appointments, figuring he had a right to pick his own people, no matter how much his politics irked you.

Then one day, Reagan nominated Robert Bork for the Supreme Court, and partly because of his roll in Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre”, but maybe because he was such a flaming right-winger who, among other things, apparently hoped to roll back all civil rights gains, the senate simply refused to confirm him. From that time onward, you're getting “Borked” described getting done to you what the Democrats did to Bork.

And from that point on, when one congressperson referred to another as “my good friend”, it was often hissed through a scowl. The gloves came off. No more Mr. Nice Congress.

But if we’re looking for someone to blame for the latest Supreme Court kerfuffle, not to mention what seems will probably be conservative dominance in the Supreme Court for years to come?

Submitted for your consideration, the “Notorious” Justice Ruth!

She could have chosen to retire during the Obama administration, ensuring a Democrat in the seat, but instead, chose to place a bet on allowing herself, the second woman ever on the Supreme Court, be replaced by the soon-to-be first female president of the United States, which was, at that point, looking like a solid shoo-in.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Response to The Same Mistakes

(See: Just Above Sunset : The Same Mistakes)

Down South?

"Deep in their bones they know they lost that Civil War – that’s rather obvious…”

I’m not convinced of that. A friend of ours down here in Atlanta who grew up mostly in Macon, Georgia, once told us she was never taught in school that the South had lost the war! She said it wasn’t until her family moved to Ohio when she was in high school that she learned the North had won.

So much for an American common narrative!

It always seemed odd to me that all those Southern “Tea-Partiers” celebrated something that happened in Yankee Boston, also not realizing that the intent of the original Tea Party was largely a defense of the right of rich local merchants like John Hancock to continue smuggling, just like they always did, maybe to keep the cost of imports down, but not so much to do with "Taxation without Representation". But whatever. 

But while I have always been a bit puzzled about this “cancel culture” business that Trumpers keep talking about, I have to admit I might agree with some of it, especially when it comes to banning a mostly-benign movie like “Gone With the Wind” as "racist”.

Yes, they have a point that the book it came from, being the perspective of an early 1930s authoress who grew up in the south, hearing all those tales handed down from the days of yore that plantation owners “treated their slaves like family” and that, once given their freedom, those “uppity ungrateful darkies” really lorded it over their defeated masters, but also overlooking that Scarlet imagined she was exercising her birthright to slap Prissy silly, simply for not knowing nothing about birthing no babies, which certainly served as an insufficient example of how white people actually dealt with black "members of their own family" who didn’t do as they were told. And in truth, we can be pretty sure that episode of the movie mostly sugar-coats actual history.

But frankly, my dear, I never really liked that movie anyway. I remember telling my boss at CNN when he told me that his boss, Ted Turner, held that film in high regard — that I thought it was a “chick flick” that glorified some spoiled bitch who never did learn to act like a nice human being. (Besides that, shouldn’t a war movie have more scenes of men shooting at each other?)

And okay, maybe people who don’t share my own grasp of the historical context of this bullshit flick should probably only see it in conjunction with an explainer of some sort.

About that NY Times Magazine "1619 Project”? I really don’t know that much about it, but from what I’ve read, I do see some possible problems.

The first, the least of them, is they’re leaving the impression that it’s named after the first year African slaves arrived in North America, when in fact that's not actually true. Slaves from Africa were first brought into Georgia and South Carolina in 1526, almost a century before 1619, when they landed in Virginia, but those were brought by the Spanish, not the British, which I suppose makes a difference because the British colonies eventually became ourselves, although some might see that distinction as arbitrary.

But the project presents a different problem in its intention, as it says, "to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of [the United States'] national narrative”, along with a suggestion that 1619 might now be considered the "nation's birth year.”

This reminds me of an 1890s American history textbook I once bought at an antiques fair, that I discovered, on arriving home, was probably designed for use in Roman Catholic schools since every chapter seemed to focus on either a particular travail or achievement of Roman Catholics in America. How odd, I thought, that Catholics found it necessary back then to place their own selves at the very center of all American history.

But this is exactly what the 1619 Project seemingly hopes to do for African Americans. While I confess that other versions of the American story might be faulted for making African Americans feel sidelined in their own land, the solution is not to arbitrarily declare that the country began only once their own ancestors arrived on the scene, which would be like Donald Trump tracing the history of the country only as far back as when his grandfather arrived from Bavaria in 1885.

(My personal belief, by the way, has always been that 1776 was not our nation’s birth, and that everything preceding March 4, 1789, when our new Constitutional government called itself to order in its provisional capital in New York City, was merely the pre-game show, since the previous U.S. government under the Articles of Confederation was not really of a nation made up of states, but instead merely a collection of individual nation states in their own right, each being, in a technical sense, just as sovereign as France or the Netherlands. 
In fact, some of these little nations were even ruled by presidents, rather than governors. In truth, what was referred to as the United States only became a nation once the country that our Constitution called for came into being, which was in the spring of 1789.)

In any event, who really thinks Donald Trump (who is probably the first American president ever, since Abe Lincoln himself, to be inaugurated without ever having learned that Lincoln was a Republican“'Great president. Most people don’t even know he was a Republican,' Trump said while addressing attendees at the National Republican Congressional Committee Dinner. 'Does anyone know? Lot of people don’t know that' … appearing to be unaware of the fact that the GOP is commonly referred to as the 'party of Lincoln'") is the right guy to be preaching to the rest of us about the shortcomings of American education?

In fact, I’m thinking he could have learned of Lincoln's politics had he actually taken that SAT that he reportedly paid someone else to take for him.

But still, I agree with Trump — (Quick! Could someone please gag me with a spoon?) — that we would have a hard time teaching anything about the founding of the country if we erased from our collective memory any record of any founder who owned slaves, since the knowledge of they’re having done that should serve as a great example of a major feature in our founding, that we are a nation that allows itself to correct its mistakes and improve over time, and not be dragged down to hell by realization of all the things we’ve done wrong — a realization that every American kid should be made aware of.

And only someone who refuses ever to apologize, much less admit to his mistakes, since that would be a sign of weakness, could disagree with that, nor even comprehend why the majority of Americans — that is, those who won’t end up voting for him! — actually don’t want to see their country made over in his likeness.

In fact, anyone having even vague knowledge of our founding era probably knows that many, if not most of our founders — even those who themselves owned slaves — knew slavery was evil and a trap that the country, at some point in its future, would have to extricate itself from.

But Confederate generals and whatnot? Forget it!

Rather than being American heroes, those people were the kind of folk we traditionally teach our children not to be — turncoat traitors who killed Americans, and who also happened to be fighting for the perpetuation of a right of humans to own other humans. These people contributed no more good to our story than Benedict Arnold did. All Americans and their children need to know that we don’t celebrate American traitors and villains.

And don’t forget, we’re talking here about a guy who confessed to Bob Woodward that he gets along better with autocratic leaders than with democratic ones:

"It's funny, the relationships I have, the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them. … But maybe it's not a bad thing. The easy ones I maybe don't like as much or don't get along with as much.”

He can’t seem to understand why, but he prefers the company of jerks like himself, and doesn’t so much like our American allies. This is an American president who doesn’t really understand his job, nor does he even understand his own country. Why would any democracy want to grant any such chief executive jurisdiction over the education of its children?

On the other hand, to be fair, there may be legitimate reasons to beware of Joe Biden, who very possibly could be much much worse than Trump!

In fact, I heard the other day that he recently said he was “happy to be back in Vermont", when he was actually in New Hampshire! Have you ever heard of anything so frightening? I get goosebumps on my neck just contemplating the thought that this guy could someday be running our country!

And besides, this Biden guy is in his goddam seventies! What do we do if he dies?

Unlike his opponent, of course, who comes with a built-in advantage in that, if he were to die, nobody would panic.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Response to Those City Folks

(See: Just Above Sunset : Those City Folks)

Donald Trump may or may not be a "stable genius", but if so, why does he have such a hard time understanding the simple concept of not putting “the-cart-before-the-horse”?

For example:

1. Racial unrest in America is what is behind all this so-called "violence in the cities"  except, of course, for that which is just made up by Fox News.

Trump brushes off questions about race in America and accuses reporters of ignoring the “real” issue, which is the violence. If he were a true genius, you’d think he’d realize that we’re not going to solve the so-called violent protests until we solve the problem of Black people being chronically mistreated by White-run America, especially by our cops.

One might suspect he doesn’t even want to talk about race in America because he just doesn't see the problem. I think he figures we can just go on living forever with our racial injustice in the same way we can learn to live with North Korea having the bomb.

In any event, Trump, the stable genius, doesn’t understand that race-relations is the horse, and peace in the cities is the cart. If the cart's not moving, it just might be that you have a sick horse.

2. The reason that Obama’s great economy, which Trump has been quite successfully taking credit for since his inauguration, suddenly stopped working for him is he has been ignoring for too long the reality that the Coronavirus is a much bigger deal than the flu. 

Maybe, when you're a president, you can pick and choose the solutions to the nation’s big problems you have to solve, but you don’t get to pick and choose the problems themselves. The inconvenient truth is, when national crises present themselves to presidents, they show up uninvited and pre-packaged by the history that preceded them.

Because of his dithering early on, Trump has neglected this huge pandemic that everyday flesh-and-blood Americans know is a threat, whether he knows that or not, sending our bullish economy into a nosedive, and it will not come back up until everybody gets serious about dealing with what could justifiably be called the “Trump Virus”.

(Maybe back when it was only in China, one could call it the “China Virus”, but now that it’s in Trump’s jurisdiction, it seems only right that he take credit for it.)

Anyway, everybody knows you can't just force everyone into the cart and assume it'll start moving on its own, you first need to look up front and make sure you got yourself a healthy horse. Any rural Trump-loving farmer could've told you that.

I suspect it’s because Trump knows so little about America’s past that he’s never heard of that old saying about not putting “the-cart-before-the-horse”.

Joe Biden’s actually smart! I'm guessing that, back when he was in class learning about the horses and the carts and whatnot, Don was out in the parking lot, squeezing lunch money out of his lessers  not because he needed the money, but just for practice, just in case someday he decides to go into politics.

And I'm also betting that, back in the day, Biden's dad never loaned him a million bucks so he could go out and pay someone to take his SATs.