My Country, ‘Tis of Thee

I was thinking about writing a post based on recent statements by Sen. Orrin Hatch (Republican, Utah) and Sen. Charles Grassley (Republican, Iowa), but an actual writer beat me to it.

From Paul Waldman of The Washington Post:

With Republicans well on their way to passing a dramatic overhaul of the tax code, they have presented to the public a sweeping, comprehensive vision not just of what taxes should look like, but of what government is there for, what our obligations are to one another, and even how each of us should think about our value as human beings. This is a moment of uncommon clarity.

…. Let’s start with Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who made this comment on the estate tax:

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing,” Grassley said, “as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Right now, the first $5.5 million of any estate is not subject to the tax. Because of that, fewer than one in 500 estates owes any tax at all. So Grassley is saying that 99.8 percent of Americans lead contemptible lives of waste and folly, while only that remaining sliver of the extra-wealthy have shown the virtue that should win their heirs the ability not to pay taxes on the fortunes bequeathed to them. The Senate bill would double the tax’s exemption, while the House bill would eliminate the tax entirely; depending on how the final version turns out, Eric Trump may finally be free of the fear that he’ll have to pay taxes on his inheritance.

Now let’s turn to Utah’s Orrin Hatch, who explained why, despite his support of a bill offering trillions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, we absolutely must start slashing the social safety net immediately:

“I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything.”

… There isn’t much political advantage in saying that if you die with less than $5.5 million in assets, like nearly all Americans do, that means you were lazy and self-indulgent, while only the wealthy have proven their moral worth by the size of their bank accounts. So when someone says something like that, you can be pretty sure he’s expressing his actual beliefs….

Those are value judgments, rooted in how Republicans tend to view the worth of different people. They operate on the presumption that the economic system is fair, and the results of that system provide a measure of different people’s virtue. If you’re rich — even if you got rich by choosing the right parents — they presume that you deserve to be taxed as lightly as possible, while if you’re in need of the kinds of help we offer low-income people, then it reflects a moral failing. If we give you any help at all, it should be as grudging as possible, accompanied by stern lectures and even rituals of humiliation like drug tests.

Their tax bill, and their upcoming assault on the safety net, will weave these principles more deeply into our laws. And these principles are their real rationale; ignore all the practical claims they make about the explosion of economic growth these tax cuts will supposedly produce, and how the benefits will trickle down to everyone, and how it will all pay for itself. Those arguments are transparently bogus. A recent survey of 38 prominent economists found that only one said the tax bill would significantly increase growth…

Confronted with this comprehensive debunking of their practical claims, Republicans are undeterred and undaunted. That’s because they’re driven by a moral imperative, one that says that no matter what effect cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations might have on the economy, it’s just the right thing to do. It rewards the virtuous, and you can tell who the virtuous are by how much money they have. If you’re asking why they wrote the bill the way they did, that’s just about all you need to know.

Meanwhile, our law-and-order president (sexual predator D. Trump) has endorsed former judge Roy Moore, who will probably join Grassley and Hatch in the Senate later this month:

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My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing….

In Case You Missed It, Let’s Review the Crime That’s Still in Progress

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Republican FBI Director James Comey, with help from Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange, are in the process of stealing our election. They’ll do it unless the Electoral College does its constitutional, patriotic duty nine days from now and elects Hillary Clinton or some other qualified person.

The indictment:

According to the CIA, and probably the NSA too, neither of which are generally considered left-wing organizations, Russia hacked both Democrats and Republicans this year, but the Russians only gave the Democrats’ stolen information to Wikileaks. Wikileaks then gave the information, some of which was embarrassing to the Democrats and the Clinton campaign, to the world.

In September, President Obama informed Congressional leaders that the Russians had done this in order to elect the Orange Menace. Obama also requested a bipartisan declaration opposing the Russian interference in our election. But Senator McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader, wouldn’t make a joint statement, arguing that it would interfere with the election.

Instead, on October 7th, the Department Of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued their own watered-down joint statement on Russia’s hacking activity, not pointing out that only information damaging to the Democrats was being revealed:

The U.S. Intelligence Community [which includes the CIA, FBI, NSA and thirteen other agencies] is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations…. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process….We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.

Furthermore, on October 31st, the Financial Times reported that the Republican Director of the FBI was against making even that announcement:

FBI chief opposed US statement blaming Russia for hacks

Government official says James Comey had election timing concerns

Of course, only three days before, and only eleven days before the election, Director Comey ignored the Department of Justice policy against making such announcements near an election and sent a letter to Congressional leaders announcing a new investigation into emails possibly involving Hillary Clinton.

That letter was immediately leaked to the press and led to a blizzard of news coverage. The Orange Menace immediately declared that “this changes everything”. Although nothing at all came of the investigation, the Clinton and T—p campaigns agree that the FBI’s new suggestion of scandal was the crucial last-minute event that swayed enough voters to change the election. From Politico:

Top officials for both campaigns said the revelation—which turned out to be an inconsequential cache of previously parsed emails kept on the laptop of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s estranged husband, Anthony Weiner—was a game-changer in a race in which Clinton had little margin for error. Elan Kreigel’s team saw her numbers collapse in the most volatile swing demographic: educated whites who had been repulsed by Trump’s sexual misdeeds.

To sum up: Vladimir Putin releases hacked emails in order to defeat Clinton. Julian Assange makes the emails public. Mitch McConnell and James Comey interfere with voters being told about Russia’s plan on the grounds that it will affect the election, i.e. hurt the Republican candidate. Meanwhile, Comey ignores Department of Justice policy and tells the world that there is more to the supposed Clinton email scandal, not caring that his last-minute “revelation” will affect the election, i.e. hurt the Democratic candidate.

Despite everything, Clinton gets almost 3 million more votes than T—p nationwide. But in three “swing” states that Clinton expected to win, T—p gets 77,000 more votes than Clinton, giving him the Electoral College majority necessary to become President.

As the saying goes, can you spell “coup d’état”? How about “treason”? If you think that’s too harsh, how about “putting party ahead of country”?

The solution:

At this late date, the only ones who can prevent this crime from succeeding are the Republican members of the Electoral College. Thirty-seven of them can deny an unqualified, dangerous person the presidency and let the House of Representatives choose someone else. Forty-eight of them can switch to Hillary Clinton and elect the qualified person who got more votes. It’s that simple. 

And yet it’s that unlikely. What are the odds that there are more than a handful of Republicans among the 306 who will vote on December 19th who are sufficiently patriotic and sufficiently respectful of the Constitution to do what Alexander Hamilton said was necessary? Regarding the Electoral College, from The Federalist Papers, number 68:

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?…

But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment….

All these advantages will happily combine in the plan devised by the convention; which is, that the people of each State shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such State in the national government, who shall assemble within the State, and vote for some fit person as President. Their votes, thus given, are to be transmitted to the seat of the national government, and the person who may happen to have a majority of the whole number of votes will be the President….

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.

I mean, how amazing would it be, if a band of brave citizens, now being referred to as “Hamilton Electors”, rose to the occasion, saved the world and got complimentary tickets to the Broadway smash “Hamilton” too?

PS – Forgot to mention that T—p is going to appoint Senator McConnell’s wife to a cabinet position. Others in T—p’s cabinet, like the head of Exxon who will be Secretary of State, are very pro-Russian. But emails!

PPS – Nate Silver, respected political analyst and statistician, on Twitter: “Clinton lost 4 states (FL, MI, WI, PA) by ~1 point. If not for Comey/Russia, she probably wins them all by ~2 points & strategy looks great.”

Sgt. Joe Friday Lays It on the Line

A brief reference to the 1955 movie Pete Kelly’s Blues, which starred Jack Webb and Janet Leigh, and for which Peggy Lee received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, inexorably led me to the following clip. It’s from an episode of Dragnet, the long-running TV show that featured Mr. Webb’s immortal performance as Sgt. Joe Friday of the Los Angeles Police Department.

In this scene, Sgt. Friday gives it straight to a smirking con man who’s been caught impersonating a member of the LAPD (it’s hard to imagine a more heinous crime in Sgt. Friday’s eyes):

As YouTube videos often do, this led to an idle thought:

Where’s Jack Webb now when we need him to give it straight to a certain smirking con man who’s hard to avoid these days?

It wasn’t long before an online pal responded under the heading: 

Where Jack Webb Is Department

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Proving once again, he pointed out: There’s never a cop around when you need one!

PS: Does anyone doubt that Mr. Bookman, the library cop on Seinfeld, enjoyed the occasional episode of Dragnet when he wasn’t out rousting book criminals?

Hillary Clinton Made a Great Speech

At the A.M.E. Church conference in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 8th, the day after the killings in Dallas. The full speech is here, with excerpts below the video:

Partial transcript of her remarks:

Gun violence is ripping apart people’s lives. They’re trying to tell us. And we need to listen.

I know that, just by saying all these things together, I may upset some people. I’m talking about criminal justice reform the day after a horrific attack on police officers. I’m talking about courageous, honorable police officers just a few days after officer-involved killings in Louisiana and Minnesota. I’m bringing up guns in a country where merely talking about comprehensive background checks and getting assault weapons off our streets gets you demonized.

But all these things can be true at once. We do need police and criminal justice reforms, to save lives and make sure all Americans are treated equally in rights and dignity. We do need to support police departments and stand up for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect us. And we do need to reduce gun violence. We may disagree about how to do all these things, but surely we can all agree with those basic premises. Surely this week showed us how true they are.

Now, I have set forth plans for over a year to reduce excessive violence, reform our sentencing laws, support police departments that are doing things right, make it harder for the wrong people to get their hands on guns. For example, there are two important steps that I will take as president.

First, I will bring law enforcement and communities together to develop national guidelines on the use of force by police officers. We will make it clear for everyone to see when deadly force is warranted, and when it isn’t. And we will emphasize proven methods for de-escalating situations before they reach that point.

And second, let’s be honest — let’s acknowledge that implicit bias still exists across our society and even in the best police departments. We have to tackle it together, which is why in my first budget, I will commit $1 billion to find and fund the best training programs, support new research, and make this a national policing priority. Let’s learn from those police departments like Dallas that have been making progress, apply their lessons nationwide.

Now, plans like these are important. But we have to acknowledge that — on their own — they won’t be enough. On their own, our thoughts and prayers aren’t enough, either. We need to do some hard work inside ourselves, too….

I’ve tried to say for some time now that our country needs more love and kindness. I know it’s not the kind of thing presidential candidates usually say. But we have to find ways to repair these wounds and close these divides. The great genius and salvation of the United States is our capacity to do and to be better. And we must answer the call to do that again. It’s critical to everything else we want to achieve — more jobs with rising income; good education no matter what ZIP code a child lives in; affordable college; paying back debts; health care for everyone. We must never give up on the dream of this nation.

I want to close with a favorite passage — a passage that you all know — that means a great deal to me and I’m sure to many of you, from Galatians. “Let us not grow weary in doing good” — “for in due season, we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.”

The Decline of the Militia

From What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe:

Jeffersonians of the founding generation had reposed great confidence in the militia as an alternative to a standing army that could be used against the liberties of the people it supposedly protected.This militia, organized in each locality, consisted of all physically fit white males of military age, who would supply their own arms and donate as much of their time as necessary to keep in training and readiness when called upon to deal with insurrection or invasion. This was the “well regulated militia” postulated in the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights and prescribed by the federal Militia Act of 1792.

The militia had proved ineffective on many occasions in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 (George Washington never put much trust in it), but its gradual disappearance in the generation after 1815 had nothing to do with its military shortcomings.

The militia gradually ceased to function because most male citizens resented it as an imposition, and hated serving in it so much that they either refused to show up for the periodic musters and drills, or if they came made a mockery of the occasion. Since the men who defied the militia laws constituted the electorate, politicians dated not to coerce service. White male democracy could successfully defy the law, as squatters defied landlords or Indian treaties…. When the war with Mexico came in 1846, the administration made little use of the militia and relied instead on its small professional army plus volunteers trained and equipped at government expense [p. 491].

Now, 170 years later, we have the most powerful military and most heavily-armed police in the world, while sad, angry men, with a death wish for themselves and others, “serve” in the “militia”.

PS – “994 mass shootings in 1,004 days”

Eyes on the Street

I used to work near the big Family Court building in Brooklyn. One afternoon, as I was walking by, I saw a woman punch a little boy in the stomach. Presumably, it was her son and he’d made her angry. Maybe she had to go to court and was stressed out. I can’t remember if I said something, but I probably did, because I remember walking away and wondering if I’d made the little boy’s situation even worse by embarrassing his mother. Would she be even harder on him when they got home? Should I have done more or less?

Something that happened online this week made me remember that moment in Brooklyn. Somebody made a comment on a discussion board, claiming that supporting same-sex marriage means you probably aren’t a Christian. The comment wasn’t directed at me, but I thought I should respond and set the record straight. So I found a recent poll that says same-sex marriage is supported by most Catholics and white mainline Protestants. It’s evangelical Christians and black Protestants who are mostly opposed.

So I left my comment and hoped (but doubted) that would be the end of it. When I visited the site again later that night, it wasn’t a big surprise to see that the person I’d responded to had apparently responded to me. I don’t know for sure, since I didn’t read what he or she had to say. I didn’t want to get involved in one of those unpleasant “discussions”.

The next day, the whole thread was gone. Apparently, things had gotten ugly and the moderator had deleted my post and everyone else’s. Which was fine with me. I figured I’d done my bit and it was just as well the moderator had stepped in.

Online forums are like city streets. The moderators (the police) sometimes intervene when things get bad. But the rest of us (the people in the neighborhood or passersby) have a responsibility to keep an eye on things and sometimes get actively involved. It’s an idea called “eyes on the street”. Jane Jacobs wrote about it in her great book The Life and Death of American Cities:

… there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers, to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind…. the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. Almost nobody does such a thing. Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.

Eyes on the street discourage bad behavior and sometimes lead people to speak up (or call the authorities). It’s the same on a discussion board, except for two differences. Nobody on a discussion board is in immediate danger of being robbed or physically assaulted. And the sole purpose of discussion boards, unlike city streets, is to allow people, even strangers, to speak up.

My tendency is to say something when I see a significant factual error. For example, claiming that support for same-sex marriage means a person isn’t a Christian. Of course, not every error (like being mistaken about when a TV show went on the air) needs to be corrected, but some deserve to be, even at the risk of getting into an argument. Preferring to avoid online warfare, I avoid getting personal in my response. I’ll say “X is Y”, but avoid “You are Z” (the third person is less personal than the second person).

And then I’ll usually go away. That means I may miss out on some fruitful discussion, or be corrected myself (unthinkable as that might be!), but reading further responses often leads to more of the same. It seems sufficient to make my point and then disappear, even though this allows someone else to get in the all-important Last Word! Will my silence suggest that I’ve given up? It probably will to some people, but you can’t have everything. And maybe the cops will show up.