Saved from the American Conflagration

To be placed in a shrine impervious to Russell Pearce and his bilious followers….

The Declaration of Independence

Except for the abused people referred to as …inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages…, and the people transported here against their will from their homes in Africa, and kept in cruel and abject bondage for generations, a promising beginning.

The Constitution of the United States

An intelligent and remarkably valiant attempt to mix oil and water, which managed to endure for 220 years, more or less. In its later amendments, particularly the 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th and 24th, some evidence that the promise of the founders might one day be fulfilled.

Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address

The clearest warning we ever got.

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address


Emma Lazarus’ The Colossus

The promise renewed.

21st Century Partisanship

The national coalition of misanthropes which is making war on me and mine clearly believes that honesty is a form of mental retardation. Unfortunately, liberal luminaries like Barack Obama, the Clinton dynasty, Rahm Emanuel, Jamie Dimon, and a glittering host of others in the Democratic Party and its affiliates seem to share that belief. They aren’t my allies. At best they’re placeholders; at worst, they’re part of the enemy’s baggage train.

As many of our disgruntled and downtrodden have already observed, this makes partisanship in the new American century something of a bore — when it isn’t downright dangerous to our future health, well-being and sanity.

So when I call you, and urge you to vote for President Obama next year — which it seems very likely I’ll feel compelled to do — please do consider the subtext.

The Triumphal March of SB 1070 Supporters

A guest essay by Stephen Williamson, first published as a DAILY KOS diary on July 24, 2010, and reposted here, in slightly altered form, by permission of the author.

For activists in Arizona the fight over SB 1070 has been something between riding a roller coaster and watching a train wreck. If you are wondering what happened to Arizona, the crazy has always been with us. But two years ago we had a Democratic Governor, Janet Napolitano, to veto the worst bills passed by Republican dominated legislature.

AZ Republican elected officials have long been extreme. Russell Pearce and his supporters would like to deport every undocumented  person, all 11 million, from the US. They neither see nor fear unintended consequences. Will it split up families? Too bad! Arguments based on compassion or moderation do not give them pause. Republican candidates are selected in a primary by about 25% of the voters — the hard right.  Pearce is now the AZ Republican mainstream. The Tea Party has gone after conservatives who are not conservative enough, and moderate Republicans office holders  were largely purged from the party by 2006.

When Napolitano was governor and used her veto power, anti-immigration bills had to become propositions and be put to a vote. Anti-immigrant props have won in past years by high margins. Even here in Sedona, considered a Democratic town (registration is very slightly Republican but both Kerry and Obama pulled in about 55% of the vote) past anti-immigration bills got about 70% of the vote.

SB 1070’s passage and response has come in stages. You’ve seen them in the news, but let me recap the situation from the AZ prospective:

(1) “Oh my God! it’s going just as bad as we thought  it would be with Napolitano gone!” SB 1070 passes without a single Democratic vote in the State House or Senate.

(2) Will she or won’t she? She does. Governor Brewer had  conversations with  officials in which they got the impression she knew SB 1070 was bad law and might not sign it. But she’s running for election in November and not signing SB 1070 would have led to a primary defeat.

(3) Passionate opposition to 1070. The AZ Democratic Party condemned the bill in no uncertain terms. So did our local Democratic club. National boycotts are declared. AZ Towns like Flagstaff oppose the bill and plan to join the lawsuit against it. More importantly, none of us had seen the Latino community so uniformly outraged. Illegal immigration has had its Latino opponents, but even so 1070 struck very deeply and very broadly.

(4) The counter attack on critics of the bill. The dominant meme cluster that was recirculated again and again through the AZ MSM. “It’s not as bad as they say. Critics of the bill are enemies of AZ. It’s just like the Federal law. Everybody has to carry identification to drive a car anyway.”

(5)  The triumphal march of SB 1070 supporters. Polls show tremendous support for the bill both in AZ and beyond. The latest Rasmussen poll in AZ: 65% in favor, 27% opposed.  Word goes out to Democrats and Democratic candidates to be very very careful. Obvious attempts are made to slap down those of us vocally opposed to 1070. I’m not ranting against the Democratic establishment. They are not wrong (as far as it goes) about the level of support for 1070 or the damage it can do to Democrats in the upcoming election.

(6) The triumphal M=march of SB 1070 supporters continues but the lawyers take over. Recently there has been a huge if uneven improvement in reporting about AZ and 1070. Both bloggers and the MSM have gotten a better handle on what’s happening here. Knowledge of AZ developments goes national much quicker. We find out about Pearce’s plans next year to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the US and the news goes national within the week, not a month or two months later. You are getting good reporting on what’s happening here. But I want to bring up some points that I haven’t seen mentioned or emphasized elsewhere.

SB 1070

(1) The bill is an attack on the whole Latino community. Latino kids and their parents were out with signs the next day. The main reason for their outrage, which extended to the most conservative elements of the community, was the idea of being singled out for racial profiling. But there are other reasons that haven’t been talked about as much. (1) Legal immigrants, illegal immigrants and citizens are very often interconnected in the same family, extended family, and social groups. An attack on illegal immigrants hits your uncle or your dad but not your mom or the guy who cuts your hair. (2) It’s an attack on collective Latino institutions — the newspapers, beauty shops, markets, thrift shops, clothes stores, churches, bakeries, car dealers. Some estimate that up to a third of the illegal immigrants have left already, and Latino institutions have been hard hit. “The aim is to weaken the Latino community politically, not just deport the undocumented. The fears are deep. We are being overrun! The white town has too many new brown faces. Mexicans want Arizona back. They contribute nothing and are sucking our economy dry.”

(2) Self deportation. In AZ we suspect much of SB 1070’s intended impact is what  supporters gleefully call self-deportation. It’s never been clear to us though exactly how much Pearce and crew were counting on self-deportation. The people actually writing the bill are from a professional anti-immigrant foundation. They have been around the track few times and have fashioned a bill they hope is bullet-proof in its constitutionality.They built in a massive amount of preemptive defense, still they knew the bill would be challenged. 1070 was still so far from the mark that they had to immediately amend it after passage. It’s a very odd-sounding bill if you read the details. It’s a thugs’ law, written and passed by thugs, using intimidation and inviting selective and dishonest enforcement. Look at the section making it illegal to block traffic to hire workers who might be illegal. How many times does someone actually block traffic hiring somebody to do lawn work at an informal labor exchange? The aim is to intimidate and provide a legal cover to arrest people. It’s AZ, and for us there’s no question who a jury is going to believe — you or the cop. Pearce himself may sincerely simply want to expel all undocumented folks now in the US. But some SB 1070 supporters are gleeful at the amount of damage it has inflicted on Democrats, the Obama administration, and the even the Federal government by forcing them on the opposite side of a popular bill ginned up by social hysteria. It’s wedge issue time. For many supporters it’s a win win situation, even if the bill is unconstitutional. Anti- administration anti-government side effects of the bill are a big dessert more delicious than the main course.

(3) State Enforcement of Federal law. SB 1070 relies on a federal law written 70 years ago that is seldom enforced. And what was happening in 1940? Germany was invading Norway and Poland, occupying Paris. The Nazis were bombing England. It’s in response to all this — the fear of German and Japanese agents, spies and propagandists — that the law was passed. Two years later the US interned 150,000 Japanese residents — talk about ethic or racial profiling. And the Supreme Court said that was just fine. The law passed in a fearful period and was modified not by being rewritten, but by practice, an evolving interpretation of when and how to enforce it. State enforcement ignores 70 years of legal precedent.  Will the police use racial profiling?  Of course, they could barely stop if they wanted to.  But they are being taught how to frame their arrests so they can’t be attacked for profiling.

(4) Arizonans, like the rest of the population, have had it with illegal immigration. The situation with illegal immigration reminds me of the welfare debate years ago, where Americans had simply not signed off on permanent welfare for the able bodied. If the problems with illegal immigration are not fixed humanely, they will be fixed inhumanely. At the time outrageous lies and exaggerations about welfare queens and benefit theft flooded the media, and trying to clear the air didn’t have much impact because the American people were fed up with the welfare system. They are fed up now with illegal immigration.

And so the current nonsense and lies. Governor Brewer’s citing of headless bodies.The non-existent Southern Arizona crime wave. Claims that illegals are hardened criminals. The conviction that we’re being overrun, even as the undocumented population has dropped precipitously. Facts don’t  get through. At some level they don’t matter. So what if ninety-six of those arrested for being here illegally have no prior record. Doesn’t matter. A widespread complaint is that they are not paying taxes. Of course they are, although most don’t earn enough to pay federal or state income taxes because the least good jobs in the country don’t pay very well. Arizona relies almost entirely on sales tax anyway, and immigrants are paying the same taxes as everybody else.

Will they racially profile?  Of course they will, they could hardly avoid it. The law as originally passed authorized racial profiling — it just couldn’t be the only reason. Consider that Sheriff Joe is most popular voter-getter in the state. Are the supporters racist? My sense it that they are largely people who can’t identify with folks who are not like them. It’s nationalism or tribalism as politics. There is a vast ocean of resentment and fear among white Arizonans about perhaps no longer being the majority or the clear “winners”. There are rivers of resentment flowing through generations, among family and social groups. One far right friend told me his father had been unfairly replaced by an incompetent black woman from his job as an accounting teacher because of federal law. The resentment is passed down from one generation to the next. His whole family moved to the far right largely because the government is for “them” not us. As Rachel Maddow put it, they see it as a zero sum game.

Illegals are the problem? They are mostly rural folks leaving dire poverty and the dimmest prospects and coming to the US without permission to take the least good jobs at the lowest wages. That’s the illegal part of “what part of illegal don’t you understand”. These folks are being combined emotionally and politically with violent drug and people smugglers and the vast carnage going on right on the other side of the border.

(5) AZ opposition to SB 1070. It’s primarily liberals, progressives, most Democrats, civil rights groups. The usual suspects. I’m deeply embedded in Democratic and liberal circles, but what I actually hear most, outside those circles, is objections to 1070 from people who have a relationship with undocumented immigrants or their families, sometimes going back decades. Employers, co-workers, friends, fellow church members. Sometimes years have passed and they have never asked people whether they are here legally or not. And they are not about to. It would be a personal betrayal.  What I’m seeing is some version of Harvey Milk’s insight that anti-gay measures would meet opposition from the friends and families of people who were gay. There is not as often a family connection, but still that is where the non political opposition to 1070 rests. It’s personal loyalty. The other thing that’s very odd is lack of ethnic tension. I’ve seen a lot of different interethnic situations, but here the Mexican and Anglos get along well. Again, they are mostly undocumented, rural people keeping their heads down and working their butts off. The odd thing is they have a good reputation; even the stereotyping is positive. And yet we have the social hysteria that is overriding everything else.  The other opposition to 1070 comes from compassionate people who just don’t like persecuting people who have basically done no wrong.

(6) Far right extremists. The Tea Party is strong here. It may have astroturf money, but it’s a mass movement. (I’m glad we are done with the MSM nonsense about who they are– they are far right wing Republican conservatives.) They are not stupid, they have picked up new issues before, as they once did abortion, that weren’t part of their original tool box. They have found what they think is new branding and a new tool box, and are convinced they can ride the free floating anger and skepticism about the federal government to power. If you look at page after page of tea party portraits on the Phoenix-based Tea Party web site what do you see? White folks, mostly older. But what you see beyond that is attitudinizing– adopting hats, posture, clothes that would lead you, and them, to believe they’ve always been here in Arizona. That this is their land, whereas in fact most people in Arizona are relative newcomers with roots elsewhere. As I understand it, many undocumented immigrants have been in the state longer.  Far right extremists need to make it clear that they are the legitimate residents of Arizona, not latinos. The Tea Party and the Republican right collects them together and validates that emotion.

(7) What next? There is currently a race for governor in Arizona. Terry Goddard, the current Democratic Attorney General, is the personification of intelligence, competence and professionalism. He recently received the distinction of being selected as the outstanding AG by his fellow Attorney Generals. On the other side we have Jan Brewer, a mediocre conservative opportunist, who is leading Goddard by 20 points. If Goddard continues with his current conventional campaign he is going to lose badly. The AZ Democratic Party has a decent ground game here. It’s a well organized party. I’m a member, but I’m a member because I’m convinced that the AZ Democratic Party is a decent organization. Full time paid OFA organizers who work between elections is something we only dreamed about a few years ago, yet we have them in Arizona. You are going to see more of a fight here than you might expect. The ground game will turn out Democrats despite the enthusiasm gap.  It does look, however, like the wave of righteous anger may very well prevail.

Rush Limbaugh Eaten by Feral Children

If a just and merciful God actually ruled our modest corner of the universe, this might well be the last headline in the last newspaper before the world’s presses are shut down forever. The justice of it is obvious. Having devoted the last twenty years of his pitiful life to a self-indulgent campaign against the very foundations of human civilization, it’s only fitting that His Obesity should be compelled to prove the last full measure of his devotion to the cause. The mercy, of course, comes at the end, in the blessed silence which descends on us as his bones are being picked clean, and we’re at long last left alone in the ruins to ponder our own collusion in his ascendancy.

Whatever you may hear about our essential Godlessness, never doubt for a moment that we secular humanists have our own vision of End Times. It may not be as emotionally satisfying as the one being marketed by our fundamentalist Christian brethren, but unlike them, we have actual evidence to offer for ours: here, here, and here.

So, while Rush blames the decline and fall of the American empire on negroes and homosexuals, on feminazis and San Franciso liberals and socialists, and anoints himself with Wal*Mart oil in anticipation of being crowned our first Social Darwinist emperor, I like to imagine him subbing for Montgomery Clift in the climactic scene of Suddenly Last Summer. (Tennessee Williams may have been abhorrent to Real Americans, but he more or less wrote the book on many of our latter-day hypocrisies.)

I plead guilty to a lack of charity toward Mr. Limbaugh, but if we really are destined to face the Four Horsemen in the not-too-distant future, it would be a lot easier for me to greet them with bread and salt if I knew that he’d already gone to his reward. Mea Culpa.


Random before-coffee thoughts:

What James C. Dobson, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter want is Afghanistan under the Taliban.

What William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer (foreign policy) and Pat Buchanan (domestic policy) want is Germany under Hitler.

What the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Federal Reserve want is England under the Stuarts.

What the Democratic Party and foreign policy establishments want is Rome under Augustus.

Since we’re not even certain that it still exists, except at the annual reunions of a shrinking handful of octogenarians, what the Republican Party establishment wants is unknown.

What they all say they want is Athens under Pericles. What we’re most likely to get, if we continue on our present path, is Spain under Philip II, and that only if we’re very, very lucky.


How does a snarling misanthrope like Dick Cheney or William Bennett manage to convince himself and others that he’s a man of virtue? It’s easier to understand with Cheney than it is with Bennett. After all, this was a man with genuine power over others. He could have had you drowned 83 times a month, or had death rained on you from the skies with nothing more than a word or two in the right ear. It’s one of the sadder truths of the human condition that power, which by definition can avoid any effective scrutiny of its own motives, has often been able to masquerade successfully as virtue. Cheney, in short, has had a lot of help.

Bennett is a different kettle of fish altogether. His persuasiveness seems to be rooted not so much in power as in an uncanny, and possibly unique ability to enlist gravitas into the service of hypocrisy. I’ve heard critics attribute this to the fact that his intellectual training began in a Jesuit high school, but I doubt that where he went to high school has that much to do with who he is at 65. Jesuits may have a certain reputation for confusing sophistry and pedagogy, but I can’t honestly see why Gonzaga should have to accept the blame every time one of its graduates falls victim to the sin of pride. Bennett, in my opinion, is nothing if not sui generis. The sublime contempt for human weakness which grants him license to indulge his own appetites at the same time he decries them so eloquently in others is almost certainly the expression of a natural talent, no matter what other influences have nurtured it along the way.

Be all of that as it may, if Cheney’s claim to virtue lies in power, and Bennett’s in eloquence, why have I lumped them together here? My answer is that doing so isn’t as arbitrary as it may seem. It’s not so much that they share an ideology, or an uneasy relationship with much of the rest of the human race. It’s that in America, the traditional homeland of irreverence, somehow they’ve both managed to make successful public careers out of imitating the Voice of God.

Here, for example, is Cheney, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute on May 21st:

In top secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.

If you didn’t know any better, would you ever have guessed that he was talking about Torquemada’s water board, or having people beaten to death, or suffocating them by hanging them upside down by the ankles, or hanging them right side up by the wrists until their feet swelled to three times their normal size? No? Well, you weren’t meant to.

To paraphrase Mary McCarthy, every word out of Cheney’s mouth here is a lie, including and and the. To start with, it’s clear from recently released documents that enhanced interrogation is, by definitions in use for at least three hundred years in every major language, torture plain and simple — no ifs, ands or buts.

Ordering someone to be tortured or carrying out that order is illegal under American law, and has been for decades. It’s been moral anathema for a lot longer than that. Thus Cheney simply calls it something else. He performs the same feat of linguistic legerdemain with the phrase hardened terrorist. As we now know, his minions tortured everyone who fell into their grasp, male, female, old, young, even children…. One is tempted to observe that it isn’t patriotism, but euphemism which is the last refuge of scoundrels.

Except, of course, that when euphemism won’t do the trick, an outright lie is pressed into service. Cheney says of these enhanced interrogation methods that: they were legal, (clearly they were not) essential, (not according to FBI interrogators, retired CIA operatives, armed forces generals, and others with experience in human intelligence operations) justified, (only in the eyes of the torturers themselves) successful, (no credible evidence of such success has ever been publicly presented) and the right thing to do. (Who says so, apart from Cheney himself?)

A man who speaks, as Cheney does here, in calm, reasoned tones, grammatically correct and rhetorically rounded, in defense of deeds which are fundamentally indefensible, is a man unused to being contradicted. Fortunately for America, citizen Cheney may now have to accustom himself to being contradicted far more frequently than Vice-President Cheney ever was.

In William Bennett’s case, it isn’t so much that he defends the indefensible, it’s that he decides what to defend — and what to decry — according to a moral compass which is far less impartial, not to mention eternal, than the claims he makes for it. Here he is, writing in The Death of Outrage, published in 1998:

In the end this book rests on the venerable idea that moral good and moral harm are very real 
things, and moral good or moral harm can come to a society by what it esteems and by what it 
disdains. Many people have been persuaded to take a benign view of the Clinton presidency on the basis of arguments that have attained an almost talismanic stature but that in my judgment are deeply wrong and deeply pernicious. We need to say no to those arguments as loudly as we can — and yes to the American ideals they endanger.

This passage, in case its pieties obscure its meaning, is Bennett’s venerable idea of something which is a deeply pernicious threat to American ideals, namely President Clinton’s blowjob, and his subsequent lies about it.

By contrast, here is what Bennett said in an interview with Anderson Cooper on April 24th about President Obama’s release of the infamous torture memos from the Bush Administration’s Office of Legal Council, and the possibility that the President might allow Attorney General Holder to proceed with investigations of alleged misconduct by government officials:

Well, I think so, but let put me down a marker here. I think Barack Obama’s going to regret that he did this.

He’s going to regret that he changed his mind, too, because it looks less, frankly, right now like the rule of law, or a — you know, saluting the rule of law, and more like bloodlust. The president said let bygones be bygones, we’re moving forward, let’s put this behind us, and then flipped.

And it looks, from all evidence, that he was pressured into this for political reasons.

Now, can there still be an inquiry that’s not politically based? Yes. But just bear this in mind. When you build the gallows, be sure you know who it is you plan to hang, because, when all of this comes out, some of the people who are, you know, yelling the loudest for Dick Cheney’s head or for these lawyers’ heads — and this is not going to happen — may find themselves in trouble as well.

So a society’s moral destiny is decided by what it esteems and what it disdains — is that the lesson we should take away from the wisdom of William Bennett here? God forbid that his own moral destiny should be determined by the same standard of judgment. I’m not a Roman Catholic, but I know of no moral universe, Judeo-Christian or otherwise, which finds adulterous sex, and blushing lies about it, more of a threat to the community of the virtuous than torture, and the refusal not only to prosecute those responsible for it, but even to discuss what it is that they’ve done in our name. Ah, but Mr. Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues, thinks otherwise. We must move forward, let bygones be bygones — if we don’t, we’ll have allowed bloodlust to take the place of the rule of law.

What utter nonsense. To call a piece of sophistry like this disingenuous is to be kinder to Bennett than his own implacable God will be when the day comes, if it comes, that he’s called to eternal judgment. In the meantime, if I go looking for a Book of Virtues to read to my own grandchildren, it won’t be William Bennett’s.

Class Notes — May Day, 2009

Note: this was supposed to have been up yesterday, but then so was I.

In a country which has already outsourced a substantial part of its manufacturing, and prides itself on the marvels of the service economy which replaced it, you have to wonder if there’s still any point in making a distinction between what we used to call the working class and the middle class. Maybe we should all just follow Ralph Nader’s lead and call ourselves consumers, or now that our home equities have blown up in our faces, maybe wage-slaves would, at least temporarily, be more appropriate.

Our politicians are aware of this not-so-new reality, but so far they haven’t had much success in coming to terms with it. Even in the midst of our present economic and cultural upheavals, realignments and redefinitions, neither the left nor the right — whoever and whatever they might actually represent in this homogenized age — can seem to give up referring to their great fondness for the middle class. You have to ask, what are they talking about? Who are they talking about? (Neither has talked much in recent years — fondly or otherwise — about the working class, presumably because working class, to those who can’t remember the precise historical origin of the phrase, sounds too uncomfortably like the taboo rhetoric of Communism.)

It’s always irritated me, this unspoken presumption that everyone is middle class, and its seeming indispensability to our political discourse. Our politicians insert it into every stump speech, whether it fits or not, as though they can’t stop themselves from pandering to everyone’s supposed aspirations as an American, nor bring themselves to omit reference to any piety which their savvy advisors tell them will advance their prospects of getting themselves elected.

If we’re all middle class, then what, exactly, are we to make of Larry Summers, or the Walton gang family? Are we really supposed to believe that they’re just good middle-class folks with a lot of money? I mean, it’s one thing to be a little confused about the way the world works, but if you’re tempted to believe this kind of nonsense, you’ll be lucky to get away with a mild case of befuddlement. Cognitive dissonance is a more likely outcome, maybe even a kind of full-blown functional schizophrenia. Seriously.

Whatever politicians say, the true intention of all this talk about the fortunes of the middle-class, the incessant blather about the American Dream, can only be to encourage political passivity on the part of the electorate. It sounds benevolent enough — that prosperity is the birthright of all Americans, that consumers are entitled to protection, and that taxes are for someone else to pay — but it masks a very different reality, one which despite their best efforts, is still not all that hard to find, especially when, as happens more and more often these days, it finds you first.

Like the well-fed bourgeoisie of the seventeenth century Netherlands, we’ve been content with a life focused on commerce and on keeping our wives pregnant. Just as they were happy to leave the contentions outside Holland’s free cities to the crazed aristocrats, princes of the church and condottieri who, no matter their greed or gluttony, inevitably prized glory above a nice bit of sausage, jug of cream, or bolt of silk from the Indies, so we’ve been happy to let all those folks in Washington who look and sound just like we do to take care of things for us. The problem with that, of course, is that it’s turned out that they are the crazed aristocrats, princes of the church and condottieri of our time.

As the circuses get louder and more strident, and the bread — jet skis, luxury cars and condos in Aspen — gets scarcer, we’d do well to think about this a little. Otherwise, the middle class might well go down in American history as the moral equivalent of a flock of sheep.