Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Fascism Defined. And Observed


Memorial Day. Compare and contrast:

President Joe Biden: “On this day, we come together again to reflect, to remember, but above all, to recommit to the future our fallen heroes fought for …a future grounded in freedom, democracy, equality, tolerance, opportunity, and…justice... [T]he truest memorial to their lives is to act every day to ensure that our democracy endures, our Constitution endures, and the soul of our nation and our decency endures.”

Trump: “Happy Memorial Day to all, but especially to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the country they love, and to those in line of a very different, but equally dangerous fire, stopping the threats of the terrorists, misfits and lunatic thugs who are working feverishly from within to overturn and destroy our once great country, which has never been in greater peril than it is right now. We must stop the communists, Marxists and fascist ‘pigs’ at every turn and, Make America Great Again!” (“Happy Memorial Day” to soldiers who died??)

DeSantis: “I will destroy leftism and leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history.” (Really? How?)

Thanks to Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor to whose daily “Letters From An American” everyone should subscribe, I learned of pamphlets issued by the War Department to US soldiers during WWII, aimed at helping them understand what they were fighting for. As my personal creativity is a dying ember, I’ll quote extensively:

“You are away from home, separated from your families ... because of a thing called fascism... It is important for our future ... that as many of us as possible understand the causes and practices of fascism, in order to combat it.”

“Fascism is government by the few and for the few. The objective is seizure and control of the economic, political, social, and cultural life of the state. The people run democratic governments, but fascist governments run the people.” “The basic principles of democracy stand in the way... Anyone who is not a member of their inner gang has to do what he’s told. They permit no civil liberties, no equality before the law... Fascism treats women as mere breeders. ‘Children, kitchen, and the church,’ was the Nazi slogan for women.” ...

“They maintain themselves in power by use of force combined with propaganda based on primitive ideas of ‘blood’ and ‘race,’ by skillful manipulation of fear and hate, and by false promise of security.” ... “... faith in the common sense of the common people—was the direct opposite of the fascist principle of rule by the elite few, so they fought democracy…. They played political, religious, social, and economic groups against each other and seized power while these groups struggled, [using a] well-planned ‘hate campaign’ against minority races, religions, and other groups.”

“In place of international cooperation, the fascists seek to substitute a perverted sort of ultra-nationalism which tells their people that they are the only people in the world who count.” ... “[It is] vitally important to learn to spot native fascists, even though they adopt names and slogans with popular appeal, drape themselves with the American flag, and attempt to carry out their program in the name of the democracy they are trying to destroy.” ...

“Freedom requires being alert and on guard against the infringement not only of our own freedom but the freedom of every American. If we permit discrimination, prejudice, or hate to rob anyone of his democratic rights, our own freedom and all democracy is threatened. And if we want to make certain that fascism does not come to America, we must make certain that it does not thrive anywhere in the world.”

Wow. Was that a “woke” military, or what! WWMTGD?

It’s doubtful the War Department foresaw the fascistic devolution of today’s Republican Party, which was, after all, grooming Dwight Eisenhower. But their warnings have become the playbook for Trump and DeSantis, plus every current hat-thrown R candidate, following in goosestep. Nikki Haley and Tim Scott smile more, but they’re in line.

Aided by media which, as recent events prove, lie for lucre, they’re creating a horde of Americans who ignore the obvious threat to themselves. Who target Target rather than race-baiting, antisemitic, anti-democracy, sexually-nervous white-supremacists. (God invented the rainbow.)

Providing proof are House Republicans in their debt ceiling extortion attempts. What they wanted, and were willing to ruin the lives of Americans to get – they still might -- was cutting benefits for the (lazy, undeserving) underprivileged while making sure the IRS hadn’t the ability to audit wealthy (they and their donors) tax cheats. Empowering the few, demonizing the different, it’s fascism defined. Induced to self-harm via calculated other-hate, most of their voters, victimized by their policies, elect them anyway. It’s a scam bigger than all of Trump’s added together.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Optical Rosacea


In my surgery practice, I was a perfectionist. Not a bad thing for my patients, but it meant I was highly self-critical and rarely satisfied. On those occasions when I found myself feeling proud of how I handled a very difficult situation, it didn’t last long. I came to believe that if the gods of surgery discovered a surgeon feeling good, they’d send a case that erased it. Similarly, surgeons and surgical personnel know never to say, in the middle of an operation, “Gee, this is going well.”

With that in mind, I hesitate to say I’m feeling mildly encouraged about Democrats’ electoral prospects in ’24. The positivity is due, in part, to the results of recent off-year elections, where Democrats won jobs long held by Republicans. Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, for one, deep in DeSantis country. Have he and his party overestimated America’s tolerance for punitive autocracy? Maybe a majority of people prefer making their own choices for what books their children read; letting parents make decisions about non-binary children; aren’t threatened by pronouns. Trust doctors more than legislators when it comes to health decisions. Aren’t bothered by Rudy Giuliani’s penchant for dressing in drag. We’ll see.

Perhaps the hypocrisy and legislative nothingness coming from the right will be dispositive. Maybe enough people are disgusted by House Republicans’ unanimous refusal to rid themselves of serial scammer George Santos while proposing expelling Adam Schiff for ... doing his job. Might they be repulsed by Marjorie Taylor Greene filing articles of impeachment against President Biden, Attorney General Garland, D.C. District Attorney Graves, FBI Director Wray, and DHS Secretary Mayorkas?

In her Georgia district, such attention-hogging oxygen-wasting will undoubtedly play well. Around the country, though, will she be seen as emblematic of Republican (non)governance? Will people in less-gerrymandered precincts and in states where Democrats’ votes are ineffectively suppressed defeat similar candidates?

The future of America under Republican control isn’t speculative. It’s on display in Texas, Florida, Nebraska, Montana... Ron DeSantis just signed a law allowing him to take custody of trans children under age 18, making criminals of parents faced with heart-rending, difficult choices in supporting their own children. He’s preventing public colleges from teaching courses related to “diversity, empathy, and inclusion.” Is it because teaching kindness and history might produce students lacking MAGAntipathy? 

In times lost to memory, the Republican Party stood against such invasive government intrusion into private lives. It’s possible real conservatives still exist, and look with revulsion at the prospect of American Floridation. Maybe they’ll consider banning the poem read at President Biden’s inauguration because just one parent found it offensive, a step too far in whitewashing minds. Conceivably, sending school librarians to prison for allowing children to read books could be a deal breaker, too. 

It might be that the Foxified who believe there was no Russia/Trump connection will read of the Americans Putin permanently banned and note how many are ones who’ve criticized, disagreed with, opposed, lampooned, or written truthfully about Trump. And rethink. (Among the chosen are Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Seth Meyers.)

It’s not impossible, as we approach debt-ceiling Armageddon, that a determinative number of Americans will recognize that Republican hypocrisy on the matter is because SINO Kevin McCarthy takes orders from MTG and Trump, the latter of whom would deliberately ruin millions of lives, hoping voters would blame it on President Biden. For not yielding to extortion. They might conclude Trump’s desperation to be elected is to escape prosecution for his manifold crimes.

A significant majority of Americans recognize climate change as the serious threat it is. Will they see Montana, which just banned considering impact on climate change in permitting new construction, as how R-USsians would deal with it? Possibly.

How many voters will consider Ted Cruz’s proposed Senate investigation of Bud Lite as the best use of legislative time? Or MTG’s intent to bring Hunter Biden’s alleged prostitutes before Congress? What of Gym Jordan’s defense of funding for his star witnesses by rightwing half-billionaire, Trump apologist, Kash Patel; and his refusal to share their testimony with Democrats on his “weaponization” committee? What if roles were reversed and the funder was George Soros? Hypocrisy? How about its chairman admitting politicization of the “oversight” committee? 

Could there be a limit to tolerating Republican rejection of sensible gun laws; living in a country whose FBI makes how-to videos on surviving a mass murderer? 

We haven’t even mentioned red-state abortion laws, or how they create unwanted pregnancies and children in need; or their heartless forcing of women to bear doomed babies, endangering their own lives. Maybe even most Christians prefer not to live in a Christian Nationalist theocracy

Is optimism justified? Perhaps. But I haven’t yet bought a pig-proof umbrella. The gods are watching.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Not Even Mothers' Day?


Here are sentiments expressed by two recent presidents and a “president,” on Mothers’ Day (that’s the proper location for the apostrophe, IMO): 

President Barack Obama: “Happy Mother’s day! I hope you take a moment to appreciate all the moms and mother-figures in your life – and be there for people who may be missing theirs. To Michelle Obama, thanks for being such an amazing mom to our beautiful girls. You set an incredible example for all of us.” 

President Joe Biden: On Mother’s Day, we celebrate the moms and the women filling the role of a mother in our lives... They believe in us so we can believe in ourselves... They are there for us at our highest points and our lowest moments... The lessons I learned from my mother... continue to guide me today. My wife, First Lady Jill Biden, has loved our children and grandchildren with abandon as well. She was the glue that helped put us together after my boys and I experienced profound loss...”

Trump: “Happy Mother’s Day to ALL, in particular the Mothers, Wives and Lovers of the Radical Left Fascists, Marxists, and Communists who are doing everything within their power to destroy and obliterate our once great Country. Please make these complete Lunatics and Maniacs Kinder, Gentler, Softer and, most importantly, Smarter, so that we can, quickly, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!!!”

Readers might discern differences in tone. Not to mention who’s included and who’s not. Subtle. Like the difference between sanity and lunacy. Normality and pathology. Ability to love and inability. Work on it: it’ll come to you.

As easy as it is, from the above, to discern who are decent human beings and who isn’t, and as much as you’d think no one could conclude otherwise, we know that such openness to reality has been expunged from the formerly rational and useful Republican Party. One expects and appreciates differences of political opinion, of course; it makes for good policy. But this... this level of divide augers poorly.

For example: Ever since they assumed the majority position in the House, Republicans have promised to expose horrifying corruption in the Biden administration. Most recently they announced the existence of a whistleblower who claims to have access to an informant who knows some... stuff. Barely containing their excitement, they’ve held presser after presser, promising historic revelations. Until their showstoppers went missing.

We don’t know if the sources ever existed; if they did, we don’t know where they went. Naturally, there are two general points of view: from the left, it was vaporous from the beginning. From the right, they’ve been kidnapped and, assuming they haven’t been drained of their blood, they’re imprisoned in George Soros’ basement, forced to hear drag queens reading history using only pronouns.

A less fanciful example of blindered divide is the just-released final report of independent prosecutor John Durham’s four-year, seven-million-dollar investigation of the FBI’s investigations of Trump. Durham was hired by Trump’s Attorney General Barr, who, unlike AGs like Merrick Garland, who keep arm’s length from special prosecutors to maintain independence, accompanied Durham around the planet as they sought to find proof of malfeasance.

To prominent Republicans and their media mouthers, the report is a withering indictment of the FBI; a cause for eliminating the Bureau altogether; a reason for imprisonment of many people. To people able to read, which, in this case, amazingly, includes Trump-pardoned, ultra-MAGA felon, Steve Bannon, the report amounts to a rehash of old news and conspiracies.

Opinions aside, its only semi-substantive conclusion was that the FBI should first have done a preliminary investigation. Durham detailed no corruption and, tellingly, made no recommendations. In fact, his report omitted several high-profile, ultimately unrevealing inquiries he and Barr made.

But he stated that the FBI treated Trump and Hillary Clinton differently. They did: they kept their investigation of Trump secret, as opposed to releasing information about Clinton right before the election, which probably contributed to Trump’s “victory.” Bleeding between the lines, Republicans see proof of ... something. For those interested in facts, two in-depth analyses are here and here.

Also emblematic of hopeless division are responses to the killing of Jordan Neely, a mentally-ill black man, by Daniel Penny, a white man, on a subway in NYC. Subdued by an overly-long chokehold as he was behaving erratically, Neely died. As expected, Penny has been lavished with rightwing adoration; Ron DeSantis raised millions of dollars for his defense; Nikki Haley demands a pardon. Like Kyle Rittenhouse before him, who killed peaceful demonstrators demanding human rights, Perry will become a star. Liberals have suggested he could have released his hold once Neely stopped struggling. They’re right. Doesn’t matter.

A final example for now: Trump says he’d re-hire pardoned felon, Q-anon believer, General Michael Flynn. Where’s the outrage from the right?

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Debt Seething

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When the ability of the government to borrow money was included in the Constitution, there weren’t political parties. Nor did the founders envision the evolution of two dominant ones, followed by the devolution of one into undemocratic nihilism; genuflecting to a pathological liar, would-be autocrat, and, now, convicted sexual abuser; a party unwilling to stop defending and mirroring him, to resume partnership in democracy. But here we are.

In the beginning, borrowing against “the full faith and credit” of the US required Congressional approval in each instance. As the country grew and expenditures increased, it became unwieldy; thus was born the “debt ceiling” concept. The idea was that Congress could spend money up to a legislated limit without going through the process of repetitive authorization. Streamlining, in other words, the ability of the government to function.

Then came World War I, for which expenses could not be predicted. Containing a not-yet insane Republican party, Congress approved the first Liberty Loan Act of 1917. Then, shortly, another; each distributed borrowing limits between government bonds and one-year certificates, but freed the treasury to issue debt more efficiently. That worked until 1939, when WWII and the Great Depression occasioned eliminating those distribution rules, simplifying future spending.

Emphasis on “future.” Just as there’s confusion between debt and deficit, the function of the debt ceiling is widely misunderstood and, by Republicans, intentionally mischaracterized. If someone owes too much on their credit card, they analogize, the solution isn’t to let them spend more. Which sounds sensible, until you realize they’re proposing reneging on what’s already owed. In their credit card metaphor, they’d destroy the owner’s credit score forever, if not longer. How is paying one’s bills and THEN addressing future spending even controversial? Shouldn’t preserving “full faith and credit” come first?

If the debtor were your child, would you force them into default to teach a lesson, or would you insist they pay their bills, responsibly? Would you prevent them from paying until they stopped volunteering at a food bank? Dropped out of school? Poisoned a reservoir? Do I analogize as badly as they? Not really.

Though it wasn’t foreseen as such, the debt limit has been a political wedge for several decades. In 2006, then-Senator Obama said he’d not vote to raise the limit without a concurrent plan to lower the deficit. Emphasis on “concurrent,” as opposed to de facto Speaker Marjorie Taylor Greene’s extortion, for which – surprise – Mitch McConnell and most Republican senators have voiced support.

As a condition for raising the debt ceiling, they demand undoing President Biden’s most important and popular accomplishments: Money for environmental protection, job creation, social programs including the Veterans Administration, and increased funding for the IRS to track down wealthy – emphasis on “wealthy” – tax cheats. Oh-so cleverly asking the impossible, they’ll blame the consequences on Biden. Even without Tucker’s braying, MAGAs will believe.

Under the Obama administration, the bipartisan Budget Control Act was established. It slowed spending until Republicans recaptured the White House and ignored the limits, increasing discretionary spending by sixteen percent. During Trump’s “presidency,” when pre-failed, top-heavy tax cuts and increased spending created fully one-third of our current national debt, they raised the ceiling three times, stringlessly. It was the first time Republicans exhibited hypocrisy. McConnell still hasn’t. (I could be wrong.)

The value of a two-party system is in hashing out differences on critical issues – like budgets – and finding acceptable middle ground, based on concern for what’s best for the most Americans, as opposed to “owning” the other side. Until the Republican party, featuring Gingrich, DeLay, Rove, Ailes, et. al., rejected cooperation, paving the path to where we are now, it worked pretty well.

So far, President Biden has refused, rightly, to bargain the credit limit; saying, rightly, that budget talks should be separate, as intended. In demanding otherwise, Republicans are amplifying their already-disproportionate, Constitutionally-granted minority power. President Biden was elected decisively, based on what he promised; which he’s doing. Holding the economy hostage, MAGA Republicans aim to undo the electoral will of the people, just as they ignore the huge majority of Americans who favor gun control and abortion rights.

Absent balanced budgets, Republicans will continue their pervicacious crisis-creation. The national debt will continue to rise, with typical rapidity under Republican administrations; less so, as usual, under Democrats. The last balanced budget was during the Clinton administration, which also marked the appearance of Gingrich’s scorched-earth approach to compromise. With today’s Republicans’ even greater intransigence, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see agreement on the sort of spending cuts and tax increases that would eliminate deficit spending. Not unless Republicans return to electing qualified, democracy-supporting leaders, assuming there remain any who fit the description.

Also, the debt ceiling may have been unconstitutional from the beginning. 

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