Help This Guy. He’s Good People. And Help Dems Take The House.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

A national Democratic Party organization that helps competitive campaigns with advice and money has added Missouri’s 2nd District candidate Cort VanOstran to its “red to blue” list.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made that announcement Friday, continuing a spate of events and stories indicating VanOstran’s race with incumbent Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, could be close. Missouri’s 2nd District is now one of 82 Republican-held House seats targeted by national Democrats.

I know Cort VanOstran’s family. They’re from Joplin. They are good people. Cort’s in this race for all the right reasons. And he truly has a chance to win. Help him with whatever you can. Come on. Don’t put it off. Do it NOW if you can. Here’s a link to send him some much-needed dough:

https://cortforcongress.com/?utm_source=cvog1

cort vanostran

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The C Word

NOTE: Pardon me for the long post. It’s been a while. But hang in there with me. Read this in parts or as a whole. But read it. Please.

The day before that dreadful election in 2016 I wrote a piece (“America’s Bone Marrow Biopsy”) that detailed an old blood cancer scare of mine while comparing that scare to what the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Tr-mp might mean if the unthinkable happened. I wrote: “What is going on in our national bones?” Then:

This election will ultimately decide whether the obvious infection coursing through our democratic blood—Donald Tr-mp and the alt-right racists and xenophobes and conspiracy nuts he has attracted and normalized—is actually cancer or whether it is something less severe, but still troubling, still able to negatively affect our quality of life as Americans.

No matter who wins on Tuesday, America—understood as one nation united under certain political and moral assumptions—is sick. And we cannot blame our sickness only on Donald Tr-mp. The pathology he represents has been with us since our founding. It afflicts every self-governing civilization to some degree or another. In modern times, America’s democratic immune system has mostly been strong enough nationally to fight demagoguery, bigotry, xenophobia, and other forms of blood- and marrow-fouling hate. In the past we have been strong enough to reject malignant figures like Tr-mp, who has cheated his way through life, molesting women, workers, and the truth.

But there are signs our immune system is weakening. We have symptoms of something terrible going on inside us.

The day after the election I lamented:

The doctor, armed with our election test results, just told us what somehow we already knew: America has cancer. Stage 4.

I did not know at the time that, as I was writing those words, cancer had taken root in my own body. I did not find out for sure until July 24 of this year, my granddaughter’s ninth birthday, but somehow it was something I “already knew.” So, like our Tr-mpism-plagued country, I have cancer. Whether cancer will ultimately have me has yet to be determined. Officially, my cancer diagnosis involves two primary malignant tumors (“synchronous neoplasias”), Image result for cancerand I will, of course, write more about my own personal encounter with the C word in a future post. For now, because I’ve learned a little about the disease and because I am incorrigibly interested in our national social and political health, I want to focus on the fight to save our flawed democratic system. After all, our country, in one form or another, will still be here long after I am gone.

As I suggested in November of 2016, I think it is important to diagnose the problem we have and give it a name—a serious name—to communicate how serious the situation is. Cancer, obviously, is among our deepest, darkest fears. That’s what first came to my mind when I contemplated a country under the rule of Tr-mp and Tr-mpism. And others have done so, too. On Friday, Steve Schmidt, a conservative who was a senior campaign strategist for the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain, wrote on Twitter (emphasis mine):

Trump is vile, dishonest and corrupt. He is stoking a cold civil war in our land. He is assailing our institutions, traditions, alliances and is a party to the global regression of democracy. He is incompetent and mentally unfit. This is a national emergency.

This National emergency has every potential to cause a disaster of immense proportions. Should that happen generations will look back with wonder that people didn’t proactively understand the causal effect of the emergency to the disaster. There is also a crisis in America.

The crisis is different than the emergency. There is a crisis of cowardice. The GOP majority are complicit quislings enthralled to a dime store Mussolini who they know is morally, intellectually and mentally unfit for his office. This crisis of cowardice is making the emergency worse because these cowards have chosen their tribe and personal ambitions over America and have failed their oaths to defend the Constitution. They refuse to fulfill their oversight obligations as a coequal branch of government and have effectively obliterated the system of checks and balances that makes the American Republic work. I think it is important to think about the nature of the Emergency, the nature of the crisis and the possibility of real disaster as three distinct but interrelated metastasizing cancers. We don’t at our collective peril.

Also on Friday, President Obama finally broke his post-presidency silence. In a surprisingly combative speech given in front of students at the University of Illinois, he essentially defined the cancer that is Tr-mpism, that is the Republican Party these days, telling the young folks:

…even though your generation is the most diverse in history with a greater acceptance and celebration of our differences than ever before, those are the kinds of conditions that are ripe for exploitation by politicians who have no compunction and no shame about tapping into America’s dark history of racial and ethnic and religious division. Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do, that’s an old playbook. It’s as old as time.

And in a healthy democracy, it doesn’t work. Our antibodies kick in, and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature.

But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void.

A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold and demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems. They promise to fight for the little guy, even as they cater to the wealthiest and most powerful. They promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away. They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their power further. They appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all. Sound familiar?

Of course it sounds familiar. Maybe it sounds too familiar for some folks. Maybe people are tired of hearing about all the incompetence and corruption. Maybe there is some exhaustion, or cynicism, setting in, thwarting the will to fight the disease and fight the fear of the disease. That remains to be seen. But I want to emphasize something Obama said:

Our antibodies kick in, and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature.

His talk of “antibodies” in our politics reminded me of something Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in her recent book, Natural Causes. Ehrenreich is best known for her political activism and writings on various social issues, but she holds a PhD in cellular immunology. She’s also a breast cancer survivor. In Natural Causes she relates how she discovered something “deeply upsetting” about our immune system and cancer, something so upsetting that she “could only think, This changes everything.” What she found was,

the immune system actually abets the growth and spread of tumors, which is like saying that the fire department is staffed by arsonists. We all know that the function of the immune system is to protect us, most commonly from bacteria and viruses, so its expected response to cancer should be a concerted and militant defense. As a graduate student, I had worked in two different laboratories dedicated to elucidating the defenses mounted by the immune system, and had come to think of it as a magical and for the most part invisible protective cloak. I could walk through the valley of the shadow of death, so to speak, or expose myself to deadly microbes, and know no evil, because my immune cells and antibodies would keep me from harm. But here they were—going over to the other side.

I found this shocking. I found it disturbing. Does our immune system actually betray us, when it comes to cancer? Does it actually “enable the growth and spread of cancer,” as Ehrenreich claims? Yes. The culprit is a type of immune cell, a type of white blood cell, called a “macrophage.” Apparently there are “good” macrophages and “bad” ones, the bad ones helping to make, as the British Journal of Cancer puts it, “the tumour microenvironment conducive to tumour progression and metastasis.” Yikes. There’s even a name for these traitors: tumor-associated macrophages, or TAMs, which, as The Scientist magazine alarmingly notes, “can make up as much as 50 percent of a tumor’s mass.” Ehrenreich, writing about the state of biological science at the end of the 20th century regarding the immune system, wrote:

…as the century came to a close, it became increasingly evident that the immune system was not only giving cancer cells a pass and figuratively waving them through checkpoints. Perversely and against all biological reason, it was aiding them to spread and establish new tumors through the body.

Now, hopefully you know me well enough by now to know where I am going with this. The most basic definition of “cancer” is “the disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.” As far as out body politic, as far as our Republic and the Tr-mpism that plagues it, we can apply that definition. There are “abnormal cells” of people who find Tr-mpism strangely appealing. But there is another definition of cancer: “a practice or phenomenon perceived to be evil or destructive and hard to contain or eradicate.” We can also apply that definition to our national nightmare. What we see with Tr-mp and his most ardent and faithful followers (and his abettors in Congress) is destructive and hard to contain. And the very immune system we rely on to protect us from corruption and demagoguery—our free press—often is like Ehrenreich’s bad macrophages that perversely and against all reason give Tr-mpism a pass and figuratively wave it through the checkpoints.

We saw it during the campaign, even though generally our press is mostly good at fighting corruption in our politics. Journalists normally excel at exposing compromised politicians (bacteria) and demagogic rhetoric (viruses), but in too many cases they do what they did in that 2016 campaign. They spread a cancer like Tr-mpism. In Tr-mp’s case, because they had not seen anything like him in national politics, the press gave him countless hours of free air time, which was worth a gazillion dollars. They disseminated his demagoguery. They featured, almost endlessly, his misinformed and bigoted voters and their cultish devotion to him. All the while they went about thoughtlessly “raising questions” about Hillary Clinton for what amounted to a relatively harmless handling of her emails and, by comparison to Tr-mp, a rather tiny amount of corruption involving the Clinton Foundation and her speeches to Wall Street bankers. By doing that, they unwittingly helped spread the cancer that we now face.

And the aiding and abetting of the disease continues.

After Obama’s anti-Tr-mpism speech on Friday, TV journalists waited breathlessly for Tr-mp’s response from Fargo, North Dakota, part of which was broadcast live on MSNBC (and probably CNN) an abc news.jpghour after Obama’s. On Friday evening’s ABC’s World News Tonight, the first story featured was “CLASH OF PRESIDENTS,” as if we were witnessing a typical political fight between moral equals. And add to that the fact that for over a week journalists of all kinds offered nearly undiluted praise for John McCain, who got a lot of deserved credit for his heroism but a lot of undeserved credit for being part of the “resistance” to Tr-mpism. Then, when that weird Op-Ed came out in The New York Times three days ago, part of the press made the coward behind it a hero for the “courage” to come forth and tell the world that his or her boss was mentally challenged or just plain nuts but that don’t worry, the nasty conservative agenda was marching on.

But I want to focus on something that one member of the press did last weekend that will be repeated as we draw closer to the 2020 presidential election. In this case, the damage was done by CNN’s Dana Bash, who was filling in for Jake Tapper on the network’s Sunday show, State of the Union. The guest was the just-elected Democratic Party nominee for Florida governor, Andrew Gillum, who is now running against a Tr-mper named Ron DeSantis. I’m going to post most of the long transcript in order to make a point. Read it and imagine the same thing happening to a Democratic presidential candidate two years from now, all of which feeds the cancer of Tr-mpism:

BASH: Thank you so much for joining me this morning. Let’s start with the president himself putting you in the spotlight and your race, of course, describing you this way in a tweet: “A failed socialist mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime and many other problems to flourish in his city, this is not what Florida wants or needs.” You’re now in a general election in a state that Trump won. You ran pretty far to the left in the primary race. In order to be governor, you need to win voters in the middle. How are you going to do that?

GILLUM: Yes, Dana, let me first say how extremely proud I was yesterday watching Senator McCain’s funeral. The comments from his daughter Meghan, from the president, all the former presidents, really was a display of really who we are as a country. Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump are at the far other extremes of what we want, not only as a country, but as a state. And I will tell you, I don’t believe that any of the issues that I stood on in the primary are in any way disqualifying in this general election. We’re going to win this race because the people of my state are interested in having an education system that their kids can get a good, quality education. And right now, we rank 40th of 50th in quality. The people in my state want access to good and affordable and accessible health care.

BASH: And I want to…

GILLUM: They want to see teachers paid what they’re worth.

BASH: And I want to get to a lot of those issues and dig deeper on them in just a moment. Before, though, I want—I have to get this out of the way. I don’t want to give undue attention to this. But, this week, a white supremacist robo-call came out in your state of Florida against your campaign. You, of course, are the first black nominee for governor in the state of Florida. How are you going to fend off against attacks of what really are not just racially tinged, racist things like we’re seeing there now?

GILLUM: Yes. Yes. Well, first of all, I have to tell you, I do find it deeply regrettable. I mean, on the day right after I secured the Democratic nomination, we had to deal with some of the dog whistles directly from my opponent. And I—and I honestly want to sincerely say this, Dana. We can have a challenge between ideas and around what we think the people of the state of Florida deserve. What I don’t want this race to turn into is a race of name-calling. I want to make sure that we don’t racialize and, frankly, weaponize race as a part of this process, which is why I have called on my opponent to really work to rise above some of these things. People are taking their cues from him, from his campaign, and from Donald Trump.

BASH: And we should…

GILLUM: And we saw in Charlottesville that that can lead to real, frankly, dangerous outcomes.

BASH: And I also want to make clear that your opponent, Ron DeSantis, has—has condemned this robo-call, which, again, we’re not playing. It is beyond offensive. I want to look…

GILLUM: Of course.

BASH: … talk about what the president mentioned also in that tweet, which is the crime rate in your city. Mr. Mayor, it’s true that your county has the highest crime rate in the entire state of Florida. The number of murders there hit a new high just last year. How do you explain to Florida voters why they should trust you with their state, when those crime rates are so high?

GILLUM: Well, I’m the mayor of the city of Tallahassee, not the county of Leon. And in the city of Tallahassee, we actually are experiencing a five- year low in our crime rate. In fact, we’re on par to see historic lows in our crime rate this year if we keep on the pattern that we’re currently on. And, Dana, we didn’t do that by arresting more people and throwing away the key, but by leaning into smart justice, restorative justice, second chances, because the best way to control a crime rate, frankly, is to reduce the number of people who re-offend. We’re very, very proud of, I think, the very progressive way in which we have addressed crime in my city. And it’s evident by the numbers. I’m extremely proud of where we are. And, frankly, I would like to see those kinds of strategies scaled up all around the state of Florida.

BASH: Let’s move on to health care. You mentioned that you support Medicare for all. A study earlier this summer from George Mason University estimates that Medicare for all, that plan, would cost the government $33 trillion—with the T—dollars over the next decade, which obviously would require a significant tax increase. Florida has—has a reputation, as you know, for being a tax-averse state. Are you ready to tell the people of Florida that they need pay a lot more in taxes to fund your health care plan?

GILLUM: Well, let me first say there was also a report, Dana, that showed that, should we move to cover more people to a Medicare-for-all system, we could actually save the system trillions over an extended period of time. But I will tell you this, because I…

BASH: You could. But in the short term, in order to do that, you need to raise taxes. Fair?

GILLUM: So, what I would say is, first of all — and I want to be clear about this — the state of Florida could not take this road by itself. We would need to do it as part of a federation of other states coming together. Think of Florida, New York, California, and a few of the other larger states.

BASH: But, sir, are you—in order to do that, taxes would have to be raised. Is that—is that fair? Do you agree with that?

GILLUM: I don’t buy that. So, let me just say, for instance…

BASH: How do you do that? How do you find that kind of money for the government without raising taxes?

GILLUM: So, first, I would say, one, Florida could not do it by itself. But, secondly, we have the opportunity to expand Medicaid for over 700,000 of the most medically needy people here in the state of Florida. My governor and legislature refuse to do that. Do you know it cost us about $6 billion in money that should have come from the federal government to the state of Florida that we never received? And so I’m simply saying—and this is—I want to be clear, Dana. This is very personal to me. I remember growing up as a kid having to wait for the mobile dental clinic to come to the neighborhood in order to have my teeth cleaned. The biggest concern for people…

BASH: Yes, I know you have experiences.

GILLUM: Sure.

BASH: And you’re coming from a real place, a personal place in supporting this. But as a government official, you have to make it work, and you have to make the numbers work.

GILLUM: Absolutely.

BASH: And so I don’t—I still don’t understand how you would do it without raising taxes.

GILLUM: So, the first step we would take is expand Medicaid and pull down about $6 billion a year from the federal government. That’s important. Secondly, as governor of the state of Florida, I would work to bring a number of the largest states into a conversation around how it is, together, we might be able to negotiate prices and access to health care to cover more people and ensure that even those who — of us who are in insured, who are right now paying premium increases year over year over year, all because Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump have worked overtime to make access to health care more affordable.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Will you say that you will not support raising taxes to make your health care plan work?

GILLUM: I will absolutely not raise taxes on everyday working Floridians to give access to additional people.

BASH: What about wealthier people?

GILLUM: So, what I said—and I ran on this, by the way—is that we will increase taxes for the—for corporations in our state who right now, just so you are aware, only 3 percent of companies in the state of Florida pay the corporate tax rate, 3 percent. And that 3 percent under the Donald Trump tax scam got a windfall of $6.3 billion overnight, due to the tax reform that took place in Washington, D.C. We’re not asking for all of it. We simply said, we believe that we ought to bring a billion of that money back into the state’s government, because being a cheap date state has not worked for the state of Florida. And, unfortunately, we have got to do that if we’re going to be leading state.

BASH: One more—one more issue. We have spent a lot of time, understandably, on health care. On immigration, you have joined growing calls for replacing ICE, the Immigration Customs Enforcement agency. The state of California actually passed a plan last year to become a so-called sanctuary state, which limits state cooperation with federal immigration officials. Would you support that plan for the state of Florida?

GILLUM: No. What I would support is the policies of this current administration have been wholly misguided and, in my opinion, are quite un-American. Not one of us wants to undermine the work of ICE to do the important work of making sure that we end sex trafficking and human trafficking, making sure that we are precluding drugs and other sort of insidious entrances into our state.

Unfortunately, this border crisis that the president created is all of his own making. We have not had the level the border crossing into this country since 2010. This is a straw man argument meant to speak to his base. It doesn’t keep any of us safer. And he’s turned this — the work of this important agency into a deportation and family separation force. And I simply believe that it’s un-American, and it also makes all of us less safe.

BASH: Before I let you go, I have to ask about something that’s going on back home in your city. There’s an ongoing corruption probe into development deals in your city of Tallahassee since you have been there. I understand that you’re cooperating in that investigation, you want to see justice done. But this investigation has already breached your inner circle. A subpoena went out to your longtime friend, former aide. You’re the mayor. Does the buck stop with you on this?

GILLUM: Yes, so, first of all, not a former aide of mine. But I will say this much. I — no one in my government is under FBI investigation.

BASH: He was a campaign aide, correct?

(CROSSTALK)

GILLUM: A volunteer.

BASH: OK.

GILLUM: Volunteer, not an aide. But the point being though, Dana, is nobody wants more for any activity that is illegal or corrupt that has occurred, we want to make sure that any individual that participated in that is held fully accountable. The good news is, is that it doesn’t involve my government or myself. We have all been fully cooperating. And the difference between how we have addressed this and how Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump have addressed the FBI is that we have welcomed them and have tried to aid in their work.

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have tried to undermine and undercut the FBI at every single turn, the president even going so far as to suggest a deep state as a way to undermining that work. That is an absence of leadership. And I think that what we have done here has, frankly, been a model of how you deal with these kinds of things as a way to root out any bad players, any bad activity. And nobody wants to bring that to a conclusion quicker than I do.

BASH: Final question.

Bernie Sanders was one of your big supporters, particularly towards the end of your primary race there. You endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Would you support Bernie Sanders for president in 2020?

GILLUM: Oh, Dana, I’m trying to get elected governor.

(LAUGHTER)

GILLUM: We’re trying to save this state.

But I will tell you, I’m deeply appreciative of the support of Senator Sanders. And you’re right. I did support Secretary Clinton. I spoke to her earlier last week, she and the president, President Clinton. I value their friendships. And I think what is important is that what we showed is that we have got the ability to bring together all the wings of the Democratic Party.

BASH: Thank you.

Now, really there are two points here. One is that at no time has Tr-mp or any Tr-mper ever received such anus-probing scrutiny. That may be because most Tr-mpers avoid the real press and prefer the friendly confines of Fox or talk radio. But it also may be because Tr-mpers attract the attention of the legitimate press for completely different reasons than do the average liberal Democrats, who for the most part are focused on policies and helping people with those policies. Journalists know how to handle such liberals because such liberals are willing to submit to anal examinations by real journalists and real journalists understand how to interview politicians about policy issues.

But when it comes to Tr-mpers, journalists don’t even imagine that they will get a straight answer from them. For many reporters, the attraction of interviewing Tr-mpers has to do with their utter shamelessness, their utter adulation or cynical use of Tr-mp, their unwillingness to admit the obvious: that Tr-mp is at least partially out of his mind and a corrupt narcissist and a certified grifter. So, journalists, knowing they won’t get a straight answer from such people (think: Kellyanne Conway), instead use their platforms (think: CNN’s Chris Cuomo interviewing Conway countless times to no avail) to spread the cancer, albeit not out of malice or with an underhanded purpose. It’s just the nature of the beast, like those misguided macrophages, who although they are supposed to be protecting us from cancer, actually help it spread and eventually kill us.

So, to end this lengthy essay, what is it we can do? What treatment will work to eradicate the cancer of Tr-mpism, the cancer of today’s Republican Party? As he often does, Obama has an answer. We, you and me, we are the treatment. We are the chemotherapy. Our votes and activism can radiate the Tr-mp tumor and shrink it until the cancer goes into remission or, Allah willing, dies a final political death:

You cannot sit back and wait for a savior. You can’t opt out because you don’t feel sufficiently inspired by this or that particular candidate. This is not a rock concert. This is not Coachella. We don’t need a messiah. All we need are decent, honest, hard-working people who are accountable and who have America’s best interests at heart. And they’ll step up and they’ll join our government, and they will make things better if they have support.

One election will not fix everything that needs to be fixed. But it will be a start. And you have to start it. What’s going to fix our democracy is you.

People ask me, what are you going to do for the election? No, the question is what are you going to do? You’re the antidote. Your participation and your spirit and your determination, not just in this election, but in every subsequent election and in the days between elections. Because in the end, the threat to our democracy doesn’t just come from Donald Tr-mp or the current batch of Republicans in Congress or the Koch brothers and their lobbyists or too much compromise from Democrats or Russian hacking. The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference. The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism.

I urge all of you, especially young people, to read Obama’s entire speech. If there is an anti-cancer agent in our body politic, it is young people. We older people have screwed up this experiment in self-government. We, especially baby boomers, have really done a lot of damage to the country. We’ve used up and not replaced the things we were given, while stealing from the future, and we’ve allowed Tr-mpism to flourish. But it’s not too late. Along with an empowered and empowering youth, we can fight and beat this thing, this ugly, ugly thing.

________________________________________________________________

[photo credit: Cleveland Clinic; ABC News]

What Roe V. Wade Is All About

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no as a principle?
DONALD TR-MP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: For the woman?
DONALD TR-MP: Yeah, there has to be some form.

                                                                                              —From an MSNBC townhall, 3/30/2016

Language is crucial.

Mike Pence, our lying theocrat-in-waiting, told CNN that he still wants Roe v. Wade to be overturned even if he didn’t bother asking Brett Kavanaugh about whether he would in fact overturn the 45-year-old ruling or just chip away at it, like Republicans have done for years now, until it is gone for most women. But listen to the language Pence, who once said Roe should be “consigned to the ash heap of history,” used in the CNN interview (my emphasis):

I’m pro-life. I don’t apologize for it, and I’m proud to be part of a pro-life administration that’s advanced pro-life policy.

A pro-life trifecta. All in one sentence. He later said:

As I said, I stand for the sanctity of life. This administration, this president [sic], are pro-life….What I can assure people that voted for us is that this will continue to be a pro-life administration. From early in this administraion…Tr-mp has taken decisive steps to advance pro-life values at home and, frankly, in foreign aid around the world.

The fact that liars like Pence are, despite their language, pursuing decidedly anti-life policies, like cruelty toward migrants for instance, isn’t the point here. The point is the language that Pence purposely employs is so familiar to us that we hardly notice what is being hidden by its use.

Oddly and depressingly, I often hear pro-choice people use “pro-life” as a term for people like Pence. Journalists almost always use the term, presumably out of fear of being criticized by the right. In fact, I can’t recall hearing any straight news reporter on television, or reading one in print, who refers to people like Pence as what they are: anti-choice. But the awful truth is they are more Image result for women punished for abortionthan that, more than just people opposed to reproductive freedom for women. That’s just one side of the coin. They are advocates of government coercion every bit as cruel as what we have seen these past weeks as Tr-mp and his de facto deportation force thoughtlessly separated children from their parents and incarcerated them in separate locations without adequate means to reunite them.

Thanks to Vox, we know that Pence is about as extreme as they come when it comes to supporting the cruelty of government coercion of women. Not content with the radical Hyde Amendment’s prohibitions against using federal funds for most abortions, Pence sought through legislation to change the definition of rape, so that more women who were victims of male violence would also become victims of government violence through forced pregnancies. Pence also sponsored a bill that would have, through theocratic magic, turned a zygote into a constitutionally protected “person,” which would not only have made any and all abortions illegal, but criminalized some forms of contraception that the zealots deem abortifacients. And on and on.

A few months ago, Pence said the following at the Susan B. Anthony List & Life Issues Institute Luncheon in Nashville:

And so I urge you on, but I do so with confidence — with confidence that good news is around the corner in America.  I have boundless faith in the goodness and decency of the American people.  I have boundless confidence in that President [sic] that you elected and the pro-life majorities in the Congress of the United States and in states all across this country.  And I have boundless confidence in Him who said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  (Applause.)

And with faith in all those leaders, faith in all of you, and faith in God, I know that, together, with you, we will once again live in an America that chooses life from our hearts.

This is theocracy advocacy. This is cruelty advocacy. This is pregnancy-by-government-force advocacy. Because what Pence, and others aligned with him, are actually saying—far from wanting “an America that chooses life from our hearts”—is that an unsupportable claim in an Iron Age book should be the guiding star on the use of government violence against pregnant women.

If you reject the term “violence” in this context, then consider this: what Pence et al. are saying is that the government should have the power to force women into months and months of service to a religious dogma, whether they believe the dogma or not. It’s not just a one-time deal but months and months of subjugation. Months and months of subjugation at the point of a government-owned gun. That’s what the debate over Roe v. Wade is all about. It’s not about whether deceptively named “pro-life” people will get their way if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed. It’s not about a “win” for Tr-mp or for Pence’s prayer warriors.

It’s about the power of the state and whether the government will sooner or later claim absolute sovereignty over every uterus in America.

My First Prayer For Tr-mp, Long Overdue

As the outrages pile up, as the lies multiply like maggots, as the cruelty and corruption runneth over, I thought I should get back, at least for a moment, to my biblical roots and, well, do as the Bible says (I Timothy) and pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

But what to pray? Where can I find the words in these trying times? What abyss of wisdom can I plumb to get this right?

Because so many people who are enabling the outrages and lies and cruelty and corruption are themselves hard-core Bible believers (especially you, Jefferson Beauregard), it makes sense to turn to the Bible, right?

Right.

And I don’t know about you, but when I need a comforting nudge from the scripture, a dose of godliness and holiness, a foundation on which to build a powerful prayer, I don’t turn to the nansy-pansy 23rd Psalm, what with its “green pastures” and “still waters” and “goodness and mercy” encouragement. I go right to the heart of the matter, Psalm 137, which ends with a virile, broad-shouldered passage clearly approved by Mike Pence and clearly appropriate for the kind of virile, broad-shouldered group of “leaders” we have today.

Psalm 137 first expresses the sadness that the Israelites felt after being conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar and deported to the Babylonian state about 2600 years ago:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.

After weeping by the Tigris and Euphrates, the Israelites got down to business. The Psalm ended with what I will, in the name of virtuous Bible-quoters like Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence, adopt as my sardonically heartfelt prayer—blessed by the Good Book—for Tr-mp and his enablers in the Republican Congress (some of them who have been visiting their friends in Russia) on this challenging day:

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

Amen.

Word just came out that Scott Pruitt has resigned. You’re welcome.

Two Kinds Of Resistance

“This barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings.”

—Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

At different times today I saw protesters on television, clearly outraged over our inhumane treatment of desperate and frightened migrants, marching with signs that had the F word scrawled on them. “Fuck Tr-mp” said one sign. “Of course I fucking care,” said another, an obvious reference to Melania Tr-mp’s creepy jacket message that she fuck trump 2deliberately sent to us as she recently visited Texas, allegedly to learn what was going on at the border. Famously, three weeks ago Robert De Niro also said, not once but twice, to a large national television audience, “Fuck Tr-mp!” He was praised by some for expressing what many of us feel, and condemned by others who were either feigning outrage or genuinely concerned about the deterioration of our national discourse.

The protests and the profanity do raise questions, obviously. Are they counterproductive? Is cursing Tr-mp, even in the context of his expressed cruelty, itself a form of incivility, of indecency? Do the protests, profane or not, do more harm than good? More important: do they feed the beast of Tr-mpism and make it stronger?

We shall soon see, I suppose.

The corruption and indecency we have witnessed since the onset of Tr-mpism—which actually began before Tr-mp rode down that infamous escalator in June of 2015—has been largely fueled, as I have tirelessly and tiresomely argued, by anxious white people, people who feel a loss, or coming loss, of cultural power. And with that loss of power a kind of violence fills the vacuum, and in the case of Tr-mpism, part of the violence is directed against many of our democratic institutions and the norms that support them. But a bigger part of that violence is directed against what once was a national virtue of welcomeness to people outside our borders, people fleeing oppression and misery, or simply trying to feed their families.

Thus, I’d rather overreact to the dangers and inhumanity of Tr-mpism than look back and say I wasn’t sufficiently vigilant and responsive. If I say I love this country, love the idea of humane self-government on which it is based, love important national symbols like the flag and the Statue of Liberty, love national institutions like a free press, then when there is a genuine threat against these things I say I love, the proper reaction is not to sleepily express concern or mildly criticize the offenders. It is fierce resistance and outrage. Protest—and civil disobedience if it becomes necessary.

But being part of a collective resistance to the beast of Tr-mpism is not enough. In fact it may not be the most important part of the battle against a purposeful—and burgeoning—indecency. There are the everyday interactions we have with our neighbors and friends and coworkers and, of course, our family. It is through those relationships, as people naturally come into and out of our life, that perhaps the most effective form of resistance is waged.

How much good does it do for me to show up at a march or protest against some ugly form of Tr-mpism and then go to a family event and ignore outrageous remarks made by a pro-Tr-mp uncle or aunt or brother or sister or mom or dad? What good does collective action do if a colleague feels free to rhetorically embrace Tr-mpian indecency in my presence and I am unwilling to speak up? It seems to me that our first responsibility to defend decency is, as Tolkien put it, “by uprooting the evil in the fields that we know.” What fields do we know better than the ones in which we till and toil, live and work and play?

Among other things, Donald Tr-mp is an enemy of decency, which necessarily makes him an enemy of America. That is so because despite its pockmarked face, America has been an fuck trump signunquestionable force for good in the modern world. It is a shame that one has to say that Tr-mp, or anyone else who has held the office he holds, is an enemy of America. But that’s just it. No one in our history, at least in the history of this and the last century, who has held the office he now holds, has been such a clear enemy of decency, of the larger humanitarian good, in the way he has. Nobody. He is sui generis in that respect. And thus our reaction has to be sui generis, too. It’s that simple for me.

In these perilous times, we can and should take part in collective action, like protests and marches and contributing money to democracy- and decency-defending politicians and organizations. But we also owe it to the country we say we love to speak to those most directly connected to us, who are woven into our personal lives for better or worse, those who have lost their way by defending the indefensible acts of constant cruelty and corruption and incompetence that are visible to those with eyes to see. If their vision is cloudy, we must try to help them see. If they refuse to see, we have to call out their callousness. If they spread lies and misinformation, we have to first gently correct them. If they persist, then their ignorance and complicity must be named for what it is. In some cases, each a personal call, we may have to shun some of those around us who, for whatever sad reason, simply want to be part of a culture of indecency and fear and hate.

The fight against Tr-mpism will not end well if we only fight on a Saturday in June, or even a Tuesday in November. Every daily encounter we have with our fellow Americans—those who either ignore or embrace corruption and openly mock evolved American values—must be part of that larger fight, part of the resistance, too. Such encounters may be awkward or make us feel uncomfortable at times. But if we are to recover the integrity of our institutions and raise the flag of American decency again—and keep it waving over a free and moral people—we have to win the big fights and do the best we can to win the small ones.

Enough.

Justice Kennedy has left no doubt that he is mostly a scoundrel, and it is way past time for Democrats to close ranks and gird up their loins. And it is time for Democrats in Congress, especially the Senate, to stop talking like Mr. Spock. If I don’t hear some outrage, preferably profanity-laced outrage, coming from our “leaders” in the party over the next few days and weeks, I will blow a fuse.

I beganImage result for roe v. wade the day pissed. I’m pissed now. I’ll be pissed when I go to bed. And I’ll be pissed when I get up tomorrow. What I want to see, in this critical moment, is some pissed-off Democrats in the Senate and elsewhere express the outrage most of us feel. And I want to see some kind of never-tried-before strategy designed to make a last-stand effort to stop a disturbed man who lost the popular vote from pushing us further down the road to our own version of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s that simple. I don’t know what that strategy might entail, and whatever it is, it might fail. The devils may win. But there is no other rational choice here. None.

I tweeted Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who today has shown some desire to do more than talk, the following:

Thank you for starting this fight. And tell your colleagues there had better be a damn fight, a brawl not a disagreement, a ruckus not a fuss, a war not a scuffle. This is now scorched-earth time for our side. We’ve effing had it.

I plan on sending similar messages to other Democrats in the Senate. Join me. Enough is enough. Let your outrage be heard felt.

Fools, Tools, And Unions

This morning’s headline and subheadline on HuffPost tells the tale:

Supreme Court Issues Devastating Ruling Against Labor Unions

The Janus v. AFSCME decision means the entire U.S. public sector will now be “right to work,” and the political ramifications will be felt for years to come.

We knew this was coming, of course. Even a union-friendly God couldn’t stop it, although he tried: Antonin Scalia died in his sleep a couple of years ago, which gave the public supreme court and unionstime to put a Democrat in the Whites’ House who would have replaced Scalia with someone who wasn’t hostile to unions. But nobody listens to a union-friendly God anymore. Not even some union members, those who supported Tr-mp and cut their own throats by doing so.

You can look up the details of this ruling and what it means. I’ve been over it a few times and I see no use in going over it again. What I want to do right now is get something off my chest.

Nationally, in 2016 Hillary Clinton only received 51% of the vote among union households, which were a paltry 18% of all voters (in the 1950s, union households made up 28% of the electorate). Compare that vote result to the 58% of union households that voted for Obama in 2012 and you have as good a reason as any why we have a Tr-mp and a Supreme Court whose conservative majority is hostile to labor unions.

Even after retirement, I am still involved in my local union, as an officer. Although I don’t actively represent employees on the workroom floor anymore, I am in constant contact with those who do. I am told, and I found this to be plausible when I was president of our branch, that somewhere around 70% of our active members are Republicans, which today means they are Tr-mpers. Now, it is true our local union here in southwest Missouri is in a very conservative area. I suppose it figures that we have a lot of right-wingers in our ranks. But 70% of our active members? Yes. It’s probably close to that, as sad as that is to admit. And among retired members, the percentage is probably higher.

Which leads me to two things I want to say, not as an officer of my union, but as a beneficiary of unionism:

♦ If you are a union member who voted for Tr-mp, knowing that unions—whose collective power has given you and your family a better life—would be a prominent target of Tr-mp, Republican legislators, and conservative legal groups who have for years tried to destroy organized labor, then you are either a fool or a tool—or both.

♦ Because the Supreme Court has now made it legal across the country to freeload off dues-paying members, Democrats should push their politicians to change what is called “the duty of fair representation.” That duty—which was itself established by a series of Supreme Court rulings in the 1940s and 1950s involving the Railway Labor Act and National Labor Relations Act—requires, among other things, that unions represent freeloaders in terms of negotiating collective bargaining agreements and processing grievances arising in the workplace.

In other words, the moochers are entitled by law to get negotiated pay raises and improved working conditions, as well as defenses in disciplinary actions and contract violations, without paying a damned dime for them. That obligation under law should end now. Let me say that again with a shout: IT SHOULD END NOW. No more duty of fair representation, when it comes to people who want to come to a workplace represented by a union and have breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack that is paid for by union members.

Now to get even more personal: If for whatever reason you want to dine at the union table but don’t want to pay for the privilege, then as far as I’m concerned you should have to beg for crumbs from management’s table all by your foolish self. Further, if you claim that you are voting for Republicans based on your “godly” anti-abortion convictions, or are voting for anti-union assholes like Tr-mp based on your Bible-inspired homophobia, then, by God, you ought to have to suffer the consequences of lower pay, poorer working conditions, and fire-at-will workplaces. There should be “no duty of fair representation” for you. You should get what you pray for not what you don’t pay for.

I suppose you could always ask GOP Jesus to take some time away from fundraising for Republicans and help negotiate your next pay raise or settle an overtime grievance or save your damn job. Many of you are more than willing to pay him tithes for his divine “representation,” so the least he could do is get you a raise, some time off, and job security.

Amen?

 

 

Civility? My Ass.

Every single day in this country women are harassed and intimidated while they attempt to exercise their reproductive rights, rights that are under assault by zealots who want to abortion clinic props.jpgcontrol what women do with their bodies. For too many women, getting health care at family planning clinics involves enduring nasty shouts from protesters, with their disgusting signs and allegations of murder. This has been happening year after year.

And that’s not to mention the death threats made against those health care providers who dare to provide constitutionally-protected access to abortion. Consider this from Newsweek last month:

Anti-abortion harassment has become more pronounced under the Trump presidency, according to new findings from the National Abortion Federation. In 2017, abortion providers reported 62 death threats or threats of harm, a number that has nearly doubled since 2016. Instances of trespassing more than tripled in 2017, while incidents of obstruction—protesters blocking providers and patients from entering a clinic—rose from 580 to more than 1,700 in the space of 12 months.

This long-term harassment is not condemned by any of the people who are condemning the owner of a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, who asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave her place of business because, the owner said, “the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.”

Nor is daily family-planning harassment condemned by any of the people who are condemning protesters who interrupted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she was, weirdly, eating at a Mexican restaurant last week in the middle of a moral crisis on immigration, involving split families and caged kids.

Nor is daily family-planning harassment condemned by any of the people condemning Congresswoman Maxine Waters for telling a crowd:

If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store (or) at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.

Now, I don’t know about you, but having to pick another restaurant, or enduring a few protesters while you eat or shop or buy gas, pales in comparison to being yelled at and condemned and threatened while you’re obtaining care at a medical facility, obviously after having made a difficult decision about terminating a pregnancy. So, to hell with all those, including overwrought journalists I have seen opine about Sanders and Nielsen and Waters, who now want to talk about a lack of civility.

Every hour on the hour a cable news outlet could do a story on the lack of civility surrounding women exercising their rights under the Constitution. Newspapers could feature, on the front page of every edition, articles about anti-choice zealots abusing and intimidating those women, or stories on the death threats issued against their health care providers. But I don’t see such stories. What I see are a lot of “concerned” journalists worried about civic discourse. What I see are a lot of melting conservatives whining about the alleged intolerance and hate from protesters whose actions may keep lying political heroes on the right from eating a fancy bean burrito or a plate of chicken in peace.

Finally, just to illustrate how ridiculous all this is, Tr-mp, the undisputed heavyweight champion of incivility, tweeted out a cleanliness criticism of the restaurant that denied service to Sanders, speculating that it is “dirty on the inside.” And, voilà, as if to prove journalists have learned nothing during the Tr-mp years, USA Today stupidly followed with a story—I shit you not—that featured this headline:

Red Hen restaurant that booted Sarah Huckabee Sanders has mixed health inspection record

I invite you to read that short story and tell me that USA Today didn’t have something better to do today than have a reporter spend time discovering the following:

A  January 2017 inspection found a “priority” violation for having pickles or jams in a sealed container that was not from an approved food processing plant. The restaurant said the jars were for decorator use only and promised to take them home.

There are no effing words.

The Best Political Ad You Will Ever, Ever, Ever See

Although it has been out for a few days, I just saw the entire ad this morning. And it gives me hope that Democrats, and America, have a future. I don’t know who conceived, produced, or otherwise creatively contributed to the piece of art below, but Democratic honchos ought to hire them and make them work 24 hours a day from now until, well, forever. Wow:

Is This “Who We Are”? It Depends On Who “We” Is.

“These images are eerily reminiscent of the internment camps for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.”

—Laura Bush

The pictures and sounds of weeping migrant children that are dominating our televisions at the moment fill most of us with a combination of sadness and shame, as well as a mix of compassion and outrage. We are shocked by the unnecessary cruelty involved. We are horrified that our government is not only engaged in such systematic cruelty, but is actively denying it or lying about it or defending it—or doing all at the same time. In short, we are appalled.

But who deserves our wrath for such inhumane policies? The answer can be found in history, or more conveniently, in a short review of three history books, one book published recently (Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the Twentieth Century by Konrad H. Jarausch), and one more than 50 years ago and recently republished (They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–45 by Milton Mayer), and one written in 1939 (Defying Hitler: A Memoir by Sebastian Haffner). The review (“It Can Happen Here”) was written by Cass Sunstein for The New York Review of Books.

Sunstein, you may remember, is a renowned legal scholar who once worked for President Obama and was the bête noire of people like Glenn Beck and Wayne LaPierre and Alex Jones. Sunstein co-authored a book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, that essentially argued that people, even smart people, frequently make bad choices and can be deliberately “nudged” into making better ones (think: government warnings about smoking). This idea, of course, drove people like Glenn Beck, and even Glenn Greenwald, nuts, especially because people like Obama found it interesting.

The truth is, though, we are all nudged by something or someone, good information or bad, good people or bad, reliable heuristics or faulty ones, irrational thoughts disguised as rational deductions, or confirmation bias in its many forms. The point is, as Tr-mp’s election proved, people can make horribly bad decisions and it is important to try to figure out why they do and, if possible, discover ways to help them make better ones. As Sunstein argued in Nudge, decisions are not made in neutral contexts. Framing is essential. Speaking of which:

In his three-book review Sunstein begins with a brief description of our changing world: “a resurgent Russia” under Vladimir Putin, who “has entrenched authoritarian rule”; a China that “may have surpassed the United States” in global influence, even as it is led by another authoritarian-for-life, Xi Jinping; serious talk of a “democratic recession,” what with the chilling “turns toward authoritarianism in Turkey, Poland, Hungary, and the Philippines”; and, of course, there is Tr-mp. Thus, the purpose of the review:

In such a time, we might be tempted to try to learn something from earlier turns toward authoritarianism, particularly the triumphant rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. The problem is that Nazism was so horrifying and so barbaric that for many people in nations where authoritarianism is now achieving a foothold, it is hard to see parallels between Hitler’s regime and their own governments. Many accounts of the Nazi period depict a barely imaginable series of events, a nation gone mad. That makes it easy to take comfort in the thought that it can’t happen again.

We must confess that Sunstein is right. Anyone familiar with what Hitler and the Nazis did will find it difficult to make realistic connections between “a nation gone mad” and our own. Those of us who have pointed out some of the parallels are often met with “it can’t happen here” and other such hopeful notions. And to be sure, Sunstein, despite recognizing all of the ominous signs that accompany Tr-mp and Tr-mpism (“the United States has not seen anything like it before”), is quite cautious about predicting a fascistic future for Americans:

With our system of checks and balances, full-blown authoritarianism is unlikely to happen here, but it would be foolish to ignore the risks that Trump and his administration pose to established norms and institutions, which help preserve both order and liberty. Those risks will grow if opposition to violations of long-standing norms is limited to Democrats, and if Republicans laugh, applaud, agree with, or make excuses for Trump—if they howl with the wolf.

This is where I want to get back to my question of who deserves our wrath for the cruel and inhumane policies we are witnessing, policies that Tr-mp defended with disturbing enthusiasm today in front of disturbed enthusiasts (in this case, the National Federation of Independent Businesses). Sunstein’s review was of history books that chronicled the rise of Hitler not by focusing on “well-known leaders, significant events, state propaganda, murders, and war,” but by offering accounts of “ordinary life under Nazism.” You can and should read such accounts and make what you will out of them. But it is incontrovertible that there would have been no Hitler and no Holocaust without the assent, too much of it enthusiastic, of ordinary Germans. Likewise, there would be no Tr-mp and no migrant children in chain-link cages without the assent, too much of it enthusiastic, of ordinary Americans, tens of millions of them.

If you look around you, it isn’t Tr-mp or Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan or Stephen Miller or Sean Hannity or Kirstjen Nielsen or Rudy Giuliani or Jeff Sessions—abominable actors without a doubt—who are primarily to blame for what we see. It is Matt next door. It is Phyllis down the street. It is Joe at work. It is Tim, your cousin. It is Tom, your dad. It is Pastor Mack. It is your old high school friends who have inexplicably become unrecognizably Tr-mpish. And it is all those you know who, in our peculiar democracy, don’t bother to vote one way or another. We have Tr-mp and McConnell and imprisoned migrant children because of people you know, people you work with and go to church with and wave at as they drive through your neighborhood. When well-intentioned folks say that the way we are treating frightened kids and their asylum-seeking parents is “not who we are,” that excludes millions upon millions of people who insist, “That’s exactly who we are.” 

But there is hope, of course. Sunstein writes about his three authors:

In their different ways, Mayer, Haffner, and Jarausch show how habituation, confusion, distraction, self-interest, fear, rationalization, and a sense of personal powerlessness make terrible things possible. They call attention to the importance of individual actions of conscience both small and large, by people who never make it into the history books. Nearly two centuries ago, James Madison warned: “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks—no form of government can render us secure.” Haffner offered something like a corollary, which is that the ultimate safeguard against aspiring authoritarians, and wolves of all kinds, lies in individual conscience: in “decisions taken individually and almost unconsciously by the population at large.”

We have arrived at a moment in our own history when individual consciences will make decisions, consciously or unconsciously, that may or may not have collective consequences comparable to Hitler’s rise to power. But from now until the November elections, through acts small and large by people who aren’t destined for either praise or condemnation in any to-be-written history book, we can nudge ourselves—and others—in one direction or another. And I think it is fair to say, after what we have seen and are seeing now, that when we wake up on November 7th of this year, we will know who we are, whoever that is.

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