Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tell It Like It is




I suppose everyone needs a campaign slogan, or song in this case, but I think the Fatman could have come up with something better than this.  If I was Aaron Neville, I would sue Christie not just for plagiarism but for slander.

As Simon Maloy notes in this article, Christie's campaign theme is a "massive joke," as it harks back to his early days as Governor of New Jersey when he came across as a no-nonsense leader promoting bi-partisan causes, which for a brief moment in time made him highly popular.  Then Hurricane Sandy hit and Christie was forced to coddle up to Obama, which may or may not have sunk Romney's campaign in 2012.  The hurricane diverted all attention to this national catastrophe at a time that Mitt seemed to be catching up to Barry in the polls.

The Fatman says this will be a campaign "without spin or pandering," yet here he is saying that one of the first things he would do as president is end the legalization of marijuana.  Like it matters any if states chose to decriminalize or legalize pot.  This is clearly an attempt to endear himself to the so-called "moral majority" of the Republican Party, who still live in a world of Reefer Madness.

Everything about Christie rings hollow.  Here is a man who has become incredibly unpopular in his home state, given the scandals, failed promised, and his appetite for ball park hot dogs.  His great charter school initiative in Newark has failed miserably, as has just about everything else he promoted over the last 6 years.  Yet, he seems to think he can project the image of his early successes onto the nation, like Young Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, who has similarly left a state in ruin to run for President.

Sadly, this seems to be the theme of the Republican Campaign Trail 2016, with no less than five governors announcing their candidacies for President with more to come.  What has Walker done for Wisconsin or Jeb for Florida or Huckabee for Arkansas or Kasich (a prospective candidate) for Ohio?  They all are trying to play on their executive roles, as this is what the GOP attacked Obama for in 2008 and 2012 and will no doubt go after Hillary on the same grounds.    It is truly a Trail of Tears.  Not a single one of these candidates is in step with the electorate of his state, much less the nation.

Last week was a clear indicator of this with Huckabee urging governors to defy the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, Jeb bellyaching about SCOTUS holding up "Obamacare," and the Fatman harping about conservative turncoat John Roberts.  It's pathetic beyond words.  If one of them could somehow get through the GOP primaries he wouldn't stand a chance in the general election, as they are all so far from mainstream opinion on these issues that they would go down in flames like Barry Goldwater did in 1964, hanging onto a handful of recalcitrant former Confederate states.

That's how it is, Chris!  In your effort to pander to the base of the GOP, you have completely lost sight of the national electorate, which at one time you actually tried to appeal to with your "no-nonsense" approach.  Now, you are just one more clown in the GOP clown car.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

You go, Bree!




Ending Juneteenth on a positive note, it was a very gratifying moment to see Bree Newsome take matters into her own hands and lower the Confederate flag for South Carolina.  Of course, she and her compatriot were subsequently arrested and now face charges for defacing public property.  But, as you can see from the video, she didn't drop the flag and her spot man carefully folded it up and handed it over to police.  It was a very respectful show of public disobedience, and I imagine charges will eventually be dropped.


What goes around, comes around




It seems it is no longer in corporate interest to associate itself with inflammatory symbols or individuals, especially when an individual attacks the fastest growing demographic group in the United States.  The Donald has been fired by NBC, largely over the comments he made at his presidential launching party at Trump Tower.  Not surprisingly, Univision will no longer associate itself with him either.

Just last week, Fox had enough of Sarah Palin, releasing her from a contract.  In this case, it appears to be more a lack of relevance than any inflammatory thing she said, since Fox tends to give its faux news celebrities a very long leash.

Rush Limbaugh also finds his viewing audience shrinking, as more and more radio stations are dumping his program.  Of course, you can still find him all over the Internet, mostly on Media Matters, which is singularly obsessed with the old windbag.

The Donald may just be the worst human being on the face of the earth.  Sadly, he seems to relish that role, threatening NBC and Univision with law suits for breach of contract rather than apologizing to the Hispanic community he so vociferously defamed with his remarks on illegal immigration.  This is a man who hosts Miss Universe no less, yet seems to view the world as the enemy.  Mexico had been planning to boycott this year's event until NBC pulled the plug on Donald, no doubt fearing a chain reaction throughout Latin America.

In his own odd way, Donald is the face of his corporation, unlike others which try to remain as benign as possible.  By his own admission, he is worth close to $10 billion.  No telling how much his far flung real estate and entertainment holdings is worth.  It is doubtful that these actions by NBC and Univision amount to anything more than a slap on the wrist, especially since Fox or some cable network will no doubt pick up his beauty pageants.  NBC retained the rights to The Apprentice, although he will no longer serve as the host.

Rush signed an enormous contract with Clear Channel for reportedly $400 million back in 2008, so one assumes he will survive these cancellations as well.  But, his name and his message no longer carry much weight, other than to serve as fodder for liberal media watchdogs that appear to jump at every insane comment he makes.  Even Jon Stewart and John Oliver have pretty much given up on Limbaugh.

Sarah is a bit more battered, as she is left with only her on-going reality show on the Internet, which doesn't seem to be attracting many viewers, much less corporate sponsors.  She probably has to self-publish her books as well, as she no longer has much value in print.  Easy to imagine her and her husband Todd running a truck stop on the Alaska Highway in the not so distant future.

Funny enough, Ann Coulter seems to have enjoyed a bit of a resurgence with her new book, Adios, America.  I won't bother with a link.  She was even invited on Bill Maher's panel to discuss immigration.  I'm surprised HBO would choose to associate itself with her, but the cable television companies relish these useless "debates."  I had given her up for dead.

Television recycles these political gadflies, letting the controversies cool down before bringing them back on air, as if there is no one else to fill their shoes.  I'm sure we haven't seen the last of the Donald on Celebrity Apprentice, itself a recycling bin for forgotten celebrities that long ago needed to be emptied.




Monday, June 29, 2015

Look away, Dixieland




The Religious Right  is entertaining if nothing else.  A Texas pastor threatened to set himself on fire if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage.  Now we can only wait and see if Rick Scarborough goes through with his fiery threat.

It was a rough week for Evangelical Conservatives, particularly those in the South, who not only saw the SCOTUS open the flood gates to gay marriage, but Dixie flags taken down all over their fair region.  Adding to the Trifecta of Horror is that the Affordable Care Act now appears here to stay, as the SCOTUS also ruled against the faux case against federal subsidies, essentially ending the five-year war Conservatives have waged against "Obamacare."

What's a religious conservative to do now, other than to immolate himself?  It seems our Republican candidates are going to take the case to the people, their people anyway.  Ted Cruz has vowed to make his opposition to gay marriage central to his campaign.  He is not alone in this stance.  We already saw former Governor Huck say that he would openly defy such a Supreme Court decision.  From this point forward, he will answer only to the "Supreme Being."  Very well, Huck, then why bother running for President?

Lindsey Graham was the lone voice of reason, urging his fellow Republicans to look beyond the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage, and instead protect its own vested interests.  But, I well imagine his plea will fall on deaf ears, because many Evangelical Conservatives now believe they are an oppressed class, and that the only one they have on their side is God.

In their fevered minds, the United States has become a heathen nation, destined to fall into the fiery flames of hell.  Time to retreat into the mountains and await the Second Coming, if only they would do so and leave the rest of us alone.  

Unfortunately, they will continue to issue threats and ultimatums, as this is one of the few things they know how to do.  Their perceived political might has been broken, by two conservative judges no less -- Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy -- who joined the damn liberal judges on both decisions.

Roberts made a mockery of fellow Judges Scalia, Thomas and Alito's comments on King v. Burwell, pointing out that you can't throw out an entire health care act over a few poorly chosen words.  It is the intent of the legislation that matters and clearly the subsidies were meant to be provided to all those who needed assistance, not just those at the state level.

Justice Scalia fumed at the majority decision, using a bunch of flowery phrases to highlight his dissent.  But, it has been clear from the get-go that he and Thomas and Alito are no more than Right Wing ideologues, perfectly content to rule in favor of conservative interests regardless how poorly the case is presented.  It's an utter embarrassment to have these men sitting on the highest court in the land.

However, you can bet that the conservative faithful will be burning Chief Justice Roberts in effigy.  He has protected the Affordable Care Act before, but one can hardly call him a liberal as he voted to gut the Voting Rights Act and ruled in favor of Citizen United, which opened the flood gates to corporate funding of election campaigns, by essentially bestowing on corporations the rights of an individual.  Roberts swings both ways, so you never are quite sure which side he will come down on.

I suppose it won't be long before law suits are mounted against state governments taking down the Dixie flag.  It is painfully clear that the majority of Americans no longer wants this odious flag flying over state buildings and public spaces, but that doesn't stop individuals from displaying the flag in public as they protest the Alabama's governor's decision to remove the flag from public spaces.  

It's just amazing that these individuals rest their entire reason for being on such tarnished symbols.  However, they should look at it differently, as Dixie flags are destined to become collector's items now that Wal-mart and other companies are pulling them as well as Dixie-related paraphernalia from their shelves.

Slowly but surely the recalcitrance, which for some gives the South its "charm," is evaporating.  Like it or not, the "Redneck vote" no longer turns elections except at the local level.  You will still find Southern hamlets which defiantly buck the mainstream of America, but they will no longer have much affect on the politics of the region.  That is a very good thing!



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Southern Strategy - RIP




To read Matt Lewis' article you would think the GOP lost its soul when it made its play for the disaffected Dixiecrats in the 1960s with the so-called "Southern Strategy."  I don't think Barry Goldwater actually set out to win the hearts of angry segregationists but that's what happened in 1964, with Barry winning a handful of Southern states in an otherwise "blue tidal wave" that swamped his campaign.

Goldwater championed state rights, but not at the expense of Blacks.  After all, he was an active proponent of a desegregated military, starting with the Arizona National Guard.  But, Goldwater is remembered most for his opposition to the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, and as such garnered the support of Strom Thurmond and other recalcitrant Southern leaders who cast their lot behind him in the general election that year.

This very narrow legacy was subsequently exploited by Nixon and Reagan to great affect.  Racial bating became standard operating procedure in the GOP, turning affirmative action into a rallying cry for not only disaffected white Southern voters but white voters across the country, particularly white male voters.  Oddly enough Nixon had been a supporter of affirmative action while President.

But, Lewis focuses on the disaffected Southern voter, as he feels the GOP has become identified with the redneck vote, and lost its hold on traditional conservatism, which he espouses.  The problem with this argument is that the GOP has lost ground not because of its "Southern strategy" but because it has increasingly become associated with the conservative business oligarchy, which actively promotes an unregulated economy.

This was the case back in the 1920s when the GOP shifted away from its progressive roots and adopted laissez-faire economics.  The Republican Party was no longer the Party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, but the Party of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, who over a 12-year span brought economic ruin to the country.  Little wonder Americans were ready for a change in 1932.  Democrats gained the upper hand in Congress and state legislatures throughout the country and, oh yes, the White House.

However, Lewis seems to have found the perfect scapegoat in the unreconstructed Dixiecrat-turned-Republican, blaming all the party's ills on this electoral splinter group.  Have the state policies of Scott Walker, Sam Brownback and John Kasich endeared them to their states?  These guys are carrying out the Koch Brothers agenda, and meeting an angry backlash in their respective Midwestern states.  Yet, two of them are being hailed as potential presidential candidates.

The problem the GOP now faces is that it can no longer rely on the Southern vote to carry the party in a national election.  The battleground states have become Midwest states, rendering much of the South irrelevant, except for the states of Florida and Virginia, which have seen dramatic demographic shifts over the last 50 years.  Even in the last two elections, Obama would have still won without any Southern state.

The South may feel like an albatross around the GOP neck, but only because it made it so by handing over so many key Congressional chairmanships to Southern Senators and Representatives.  The GOP should be rewarding Midwesterners, as these are the states so hotly contended in a national election.  Of course, Republicans still need the Southern states to muster any kind of majority, and as a result are forced to pay deference to its leaders.

However, the problem the GOP faces is not in the South.  The problem is that its message of business as usual no longer resonates with the national electorate, even among the Tea Party base of its party, which has grown vocally dissatisfied with its Congressional leaders.  Teabaggers are just as upset with the trade policies the GOP promotes as are liberal Democrats, as these policies generally lead to the outsourcing of jobs.  The Trans-Pacific Partnership promises to become a much bigger issue in the upcoming election year than Dixie flags and gun racks in the back of pick-up trucks.

The GOP also might want to take note of the solidarity that was shown in Charleston toward the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, which saw just as many Whites as Blacks gathered in memory of the nine slain parishioners.  We certainly don't live in a post-racial society, but race is no longer a wedge issue that can be so easily exploited in state or national elections.

Maybe, just maybe, the Southern Strategy will go the same way as the Dixie flag -- into museums where they belong.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Americanization of the Apple




It's strange how our society loves a great diversity in flowers but tends to like generic fruits and vegetables.  In the first chapter of Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan charts the incredible adventure of the apple from the mountains of Kazakhstan to the rolling hills of Indiana and Ohio.  The apple is so incredibly diverse that no seed will yield exactly the same fruit, which is why Chinese figured out long ago that to get their desired fruit they had to take cuttings from their favorite trees.  A practice developed in Europe by the Romans.

The apple found its way to America in the 17th century and quickly became a priced fruit, not so much for its succulent taste as for hard cider.  This was the reason Pollan suggests John Chapman, A.K.A. Johnny Appleseed, brought the apple to the Northwest Territory in the early 19th century.  The man has since become mythologized to the point most persons see him chomping on red delicious apples while spreading the word of God.  At the time, however, apples tended to be small and tart and not that good for eating.  The apple orchard became a way of establishing a homestead and the apples could be made into wine or distilled spirits without much effort, giving persons a cheap drink on the new frontier.

The legend of Johnny Appleseed is that of a man who didn't bring cuttings, but bags of seeds, which would have resulted in a wild diversity of apple trees.  He apparently left it up to the new homesteaders to cultivate their apples to their tastes.  In time, a few select breeds were culled from the vast lot and became the industry standard by the early 20th century.   This once great diversity was winnowed down to a relative handful of varieties, which remain with us today -- the Red and Golden Delicious, the Jonathon, the McIntosh, the Granny Smith, along with a few other local hybrids.

Pollan doesn't exactly stick to the thesis he set in his introduction, in which he raised the question of whether man controls plants or do plants control man?   Chapman seemed more a shrewd businessman than an guileless agent in spreading the apple far afield.  He became relatively wealthy in his later years with considerable land holdings stretched across the Northwest Territory.

Chapman did pride himself as a Christian and had numerous stories to tell.  His love for animals would have made him akin to St. Francis of Assisi, if one was looking for religious parallels.  However, Pollan prefers to see him as a Pantheist, to the point of comparing him to Dionysus living on the edge of civilization.  This wild-haired man embodies his idea of the pagan god introducing Americans to a "sweetness" previously reserved for the rich.

Ultimately it is the apple that Pollan is most interested in, finishing the chapter with a trip at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Ithaca, where a bold attempt is being made to cultivate over 2500 varieties of apples, including original cuttings from Kazakhstan.  With so few varieties being cultivated today, the apple is in danger of inbreeding.  It is hoped that cuttings from older varieties can be grafted to the more common apple trees to get back some of their natural immunities, so that farmers won't be so heavily reliant on pesticides.  If nothing else, we can always go back to spreading seeds as Johnny Appleseed did.





Monday, June 22, 2015

Juneteenth




You don't hear much of Juneteenth, celebrated in the month of June, when in 1865 slavery was officially abolished in Texas.  Ralph Ellison spent the second half of his life crafting a novel around this theme, only to die before completing a manuscript that had stretched to over 2000 pages.  In 1999, his literary executor, John F. Callahan, put together a condensed form of the novel that met mixed reviews.  I'm still waiting for the unabridged novel.

In it, we meet a young "hi-yaller" man who passes for white, and eventually becomes consumed with hatred for his own race.   Ellison's ambition was to create a grand symphony of a novel that dealt with the multi-layered aspects of being Black in America, something along the lines of Duke Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige Suite.  Ellison's first protagonist sought to be invisible in society.  In Juneteenth, Bliss makes himself all too visible and defiant in his attempt to eradicate his past.

Ellison had been working on the book until his death in 1994.  It was set in the 1950s, at the height of American xenophobia, but he also had to contend with post-Civil Rights Act America, which believed itself to be living in a post-racial society.  This has been a conundrum for any writer dealing with racial tensions in contemporary America.  While we can't deny the progress that has been made in the United States, many of the same structural problems remain from before the Civil Rights movement.

Sadly, it is easier to deny these problems than it is to address them, especially in a legislation-weary society who already thinks too much has been done to level the playing field.  We see affirmative action constantly called into question by conservative law-makers who would like to see it rolled back.  You also see a former Black lawmaker like Allen West, who could very well be a modern-day Bliss, replete with his own blog, castigating the social welfare structure that he believes too many Blacks have grown dependent on.

The most vocal Black leaders today seem to be coming from the conservative camp, pushing for an end to affirmative action and other entitlement programs that they believe suppress their race, even though they benefited from these programs themselves.  A key moment was when Condeleeza Rice and Colin Powell, who both served the Bush administration, found themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum on affirmative action.  Powell defending it, Rice admonishing it.

Part of the problem is that persons like Condi Rice are all too willing to accept the white narrative because it makes them popular in the Republican Party.  Dr. Ben Carson has become a sensation among Tea Partiers for speaking out against Obama and the "socialist" programs he believes the President represents.  Former Sec. of State Rice chooses to attack the Obama on Foreign Policy.

This is a far cry from the Republican Party of 1865, which fought for abolition and began the process of Reconstruction, which was met with bitter defiance among unvanquished whites in the South.  No sooner did Reconstruction start than the Ku Klux Klan was formed to reclaim the Southern legacy lost during the war, headed by former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The legacy of the Civil Rights movement is steeped in violence.  Not just Blacks, but Whites who joined Blacks during the movement, were subject to unwarranted attacks.  On June 21, 1964, Mickey Schwermer and Andrew Goldman, along with James Chaney, were killed by Klan members near the town of Philadephia, Mississippi.  Black was no longer a matter of skin color but of alliance, especially in the minds of those who wanted to keep their segregated South.



Here we are in June with another heinous crime galvanizing the country in support of a congregation which lost nine of its parishioners in a racially-motivated crime that has forced South Carolina to reconsider its "legacy."  The tide has turned in that a violent act like this is no longer tolerated in the South, with both the Charleston mayor and police chief speaking out harshly against those who condone such acts of terror, which thankfully are very few.   Mayor Riley even went a step further to condemn the "gun culture" in this country.

All is not lost this Juneteenth.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Stars and Bars




... or "The Stainless Banner" as it was called at the time, was the Confederate war flag adopted as its "national" flag in 1863.  It flew over the South for all of two years, proudly representing their defiance in the face of "Northern Aggression," particularly during the sieges of Vicksburg and Atlanta, which immortalized the "Lost Cause."

That's some heritage!  The previous Confederate flag was adopted in 1861 before hostilities broke out, and amended to include all 13 seceding states after the war had started.  Yet, you don't see this one flying over state buildings in South Carolina.


South Carolina has a long history of secession attempts, dating back to 1832, when it first tried to dodge the Tariff Act of 1828 by claiming it had a right to its sovereign boundaries since its constitution preceded that of the United States.  The dispute was eventually settled by Andrew Jackson, an anti-Federalist himself, with the Compromise Tariff Act of 1833, which significantly reduced the rates.

At the time, John C. Calhoun, a native son of South Carolina, was a major figure in Washington.  He had been Vice-President under both John Q. Adams and Andrew Jackson (at that time a separately elected office) and previously a powerful figure in the House of Representatives.  He more so than anyone defended the constitutional rights of the Southern states, particularly when it came to slavery.

Essentially, South Carolina strong-armed the Federal government into easing its tariffs and control over the states. Jackson had been elected largely on this platform, and this brief nullification bid served to remind Jackson where his priorities lay, being a Southern man himself, noted for his victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans and his reign as the first governor of the newly annexed territory of Florida.

It is this Southern heritage which South Carolina and other southern states want us to remember.  After the Civil War, many states wove the stars and bars into their own flags.  Alabama adopted the bars in whole, reversing the colors, looking like a color negative of the original battle flag.  South Carolina has held onto its palmetto and moon flag, which dated back to 1775. Although, during the Civil War it flew this "Sovereignty flag," imagining at least 2 other states or territories to join the cause.


I guess if the Palmetto state was going to retain its Revolutionary War era flag, it needed the Confederate flag as a reminder of its role as the instigator of secession attempts whenever it felt the Federal government had overreached.

This was apparently the case in 1961, when the state legislature chose to start flying the Confederate flag over its dome in defiance of the growing pressure to desegregate the South, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By this point, the Southern states were too heavily dependent on the federal government to consider secession.  So, flying the flag became a form of protest, which carried through to every level of society, replete with confederate flags in the back windows of pick-up trucks along with the ubiquitous gun racks as a symbol of Southern defiance.

In 1970, Neil Young addressed the issue head on in Southern Man, which Lynyrd Skynyrd saw fit to respond to in Sweet Home Alabama, which became a Southern anthem.  The Charlie Daniels Band also took pride in their native ground in the song, The South's Going To Do It Again, illustrating just how much this dubious pride resonates with the Southern Man.

Today, you can have these flags seamlessly melded into the back window so that you can still see out of it.  But, you have to love these overt displays of Southern pride, combining both the Confederate flag and US flag, as if this is a show of patriotism.  Hate to say it folks, but the Stars and Bars is a symbol of secession, and one could add dysfunction, but certainly not patriotism, other than with your Confederate Sons and Daughters.


For the most part we have turned the other cheek to these displays because they represent a kind of simple-minded ignorance that we have been able to tolerate, at least from our privileged white point of view.  However, for Blacks, especially those who grew up in a segregated South, it is another story.  They had to live with this flag long after the Civil War in the form of Jim Crow laws that kept them further repressed for another century.  Many African-Americans sought greener pastures in the North only to confront similar forms of segregation in the industrial cities, but at least they didn't have this pernicious reminder of the defiant South.  

As Malcolm X said, "as long as you are South of the Canadian border, you are South," which is why it was a bit of a shock when a Canadian band evocatively sang, The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down, which was similarly picked up in the South as an anthem to their "Lost Cause," whether it was meant to be or not.

In a state like South Carolina, where 30 per cent of the population is Black, the Stars and Bars remains an ugly reminder of a segregated South, especially since this "stainless banner" was revived during the Civil Rights movement, not out of state pride, but out of defiance of desegregation laws.

One can only hope that the heinous act which took place this week is the last straw.  It is a horrible reminder of what this flag means to some persons.  This "hate crime" goes far beyond the act of one demented 21-year-old manchild and calls the very roots of this symbol of "heritage" into question.  It is long past time to retire the Stars and Bars, at least in any official capacity.

It must go not only in its pure form, but also in its adopted forms, which Georgia did by removing the stars and bars from its state flag in 2001, although its three stripes still echo the original Confederate flag of 1861.  All these states had flags before the Civil War, which they were proud to fly during the antebellum period that they hold in so much esteem.  Why must they retain this symbol of defiance?  That includes Florida, which also uses the Civil War banner as its base.

For decades we have allowed these states to have their cake and eat it to, proudly flaunting their independent spirit while at the same time taking more federal dollars than they pay in.  Mississippi and Alabama, which represent the "heart" of old Dixie, take out more than twice as many federal dollars than they pay in.  Even Texas, with all its natural resources, has a net surplus in federal tax dollars received.

You can't stop individuals from displaying these defiant banners in every way imaginable, but you can stop state governments.  Unfortunately, these governments are elected by these individuals, serving their craven interests. To the point where persons who should know better, like Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal, defend states' rights in this regard, oblivious to the fact that there would have been no room for any person of color in the governments of the Confederate states.

Yet, these two Southern state governors of Indian descent cater to the interests of white voters while ignoring the rights of black voters and other voters of color in their states.  Maybe now they will reconsider their positions rather than peddling these faux "libertarian rights."  There is nothing noble about the Confederate flag!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Trumped!




If Reince Priebus is having a hard time reining in the Koch Brothers, he now has the $8 billion man to contend with.  The Human Hair Piece has officially launched his campaign, producing a one-page financial disclosure that has already been called into question.  Whether his net worth is $8.7 billion (as he states) or $4.1 billion (as Forbes states), he is still a very rich man, despite four filed bankruptcies over the last 25 years.  Obviously, "it worked out very well for him."

This isn't the first time he has declared himself a candidate for President, in 2000 he briefly launched a bid for the Reform Party nominee, claiming that Pat Buchanan was only in it for the $12 million in federal matching dollars the party qualified for after Ross Perot elevated the Reformists to national contention.  The Donald didn't need to waste his time with such paltry figures, he could generate all the cash he needed.  But, his bid didn't go very far and Pat ended up representing the Reform Party in the general election, scoring a miserable 0.43 per cent of the vote.

At the time, Trump was preaching moderation, but in 2011 he joined the fringe of the GOP in declaring war on Obama's short-form birth certificate, claiming it to be a hoax.  This became the corner stone of his presumptive bid for the 2012 GOP nomination until Obama produced his long-form birth certificate that finally quelled the birther movement.  Donald persevered a little longer though, claiming that if it wasn't for his great act of civic patriotism, Obama would have never produced the official certificate.  However, this abrupt reversal rang hollow and his poll numbers fell off considerably, leading him to drop his campaign before it even started.

Will Donald actually go through with it this time?  Hard to say, because when it actually comes to bankrolling a campaign Donald gets cold feet.  Could it be that he simply doesn't have that kind of cash on hand?  That all his assets are tied up in his dubious ventures, and that he would either have to take credit or go through the ornery job of having a SuperPac created in his name and be forced to solicit funds like all the other candidates?  This takes a sizable effort, and Donald likes to strike deals quickly.  He has never shown much patience for the long con.  Even his Celebrity Apprentice was shortened to 8 episodes this year.

So far, the media doesn't seem to be taking him too seriously.  Even Fox News poked fun at his campaign launch party, and he immediately became fodder for late night television comedians.  But, as they say in the biz, any press is good press.  Once again, Trump gets to soak up the limelight, offering his brash view on domestic and foreign affairs.

He called the United States a "dumping ground," with all the riff-raff coming across our borders to take advantage of the free hand-outs.  He lashed out at Latinos in a way that probably even made the hair on the back of Ted Cruz's neck stand up.  Mostly, he belittled our economy, which he has prospered from enormously, boasting of his net wealth and real estate transactions in recent years.  He's even managed to buy back some of the companies from his last bankruptcy in 2009.  Not that he ever lost much personally in this regard, thanks to very lenient bankruptcy laws that favor the rich.

This is a guy who has gamed the system for billions.  He makes the 'welfare surfer" look like a piece of tar washed up on the shore.  While Sean Hannity made Jason Greenslate  into the national symbol of the "moocher class,"  Bill O'Reilly lauded Trump's entry into the race, granting him an exclusive interview the same day, in which he allowed the Donald full room to vent on his GOP opponents, as well as Obama and Hillary, in the ten-minute harangue.

But, Donald has a marvelous way of talking over any criticism.  It is hard to get a word in edgewise with the grand master of mischief.  He immediately cuts any interlocutor short when the person has the audacity to question his motives, making it virtually impossible to interview him.  Imagine what it is going to be like with him in a debate?

This has to be giving Reince Priebus nightmares.  The RNC chairman can only hope that Donald fails to generate enough of a groundswell in the straw polls to qualify for the first scheduled debate in August.  But, Donald will generate so much publicity in the weeks ahead that he may very well shoot to the top of the GOP polls given the crowded field.  It's not like any candidate has distinguished himself or herself at this point.

This is a tough blow for a political party that wants desperately to identify itself with the middle class.  Trump may see himself as a "job creator" but his bankruptcies have ruined countless lives, as he shed employees the way he does dandruff.  His record not only makes prime fodder for late night comedians but for political opponents as well.  But, can any of the other GOP candidates really stand up to him.  More likely, they will find themselves browbeaten like the contestants on Celebrity Apprentice, finding themselves forced on the defensive.  I guess they can take some tips from Leeza Gibbons who won this past season.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Education of Rachel Dolezal




In an odd way, Rachel Dolezal may be learning what it is like to be black now that she has been outed.  She finds herself ostracized from a community she had fully attached herself to and unable to immediately return to the community she was once part of.  The only difference is that TLC or some other cable network is probably already shaping a reality show around her, much like Caitlyn Jenner is due to have her coming out party this Fall.

Even odder is how readily Caitlyn Jenner's transformation has been accepted by the mainstream media, to the point ESPN even gave "her" the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, but Rachel is viewed as a pariah.  Hasn't Bruce appropriated a new gender for his own vanity, without having had to really know what it is like to be a woman in society?  His status as an honored Olympic athlete and his proximity to the Kardashians have allowed him to live what can only be described as a charmed life, but to hear him tell it, he has "suffered" through this mixed gender identity for decades and only now is being able to express his (or her) true identity.

Jelani Cobb tries to make sense of these transformations in this New Yorker article.  He notes that this kind of racial and gender appropriation is nothing new.  He describes the complexity and contradictions in regard to skin color he experienced at Howard University.  Also, the battles over one's degree of "blackness" within the NAACP, which gave rise to black nationalism in the 1920s.

Racial appropriation has been around for a long time.  In the beginning it was mostly for the sake of comedy with white actors donning blackface to make fun of what most audiences regarded as an inferior race.  The sad irony is that many early black performers had to similarly don blackface, as coal black was the preferred color on stage.  When white musicians like Benny Goodman and Ira Gershwin appropriated jazz music, the entertainment industry moved beyond this form of racial degradation.  However, black performers still had to live a double life, enjoying the glory on stage but continuously reminded of their second-class status backstage.

The Jazz Age elevated many black performers to star status, including the great Paul Robeson, who tried to use his status to create greater awareness for the plight his race suffered in America.  His embrace of black nationalism drew the attention of Senator Joseph McCarthy who did everything in his power to discredit the world renown opera singer and social activist.  The constant battle Robeson went through took a huge toll on his health over the years, suffering greatly in his latter years.

Critics of Rachel Dolezal would like to remind us that she doesn't carry this burden, but then how many Blacks living in America today do?  If we look at the highly successful hip-hop artists, notably Kanye West, we can only surmise that he's lived a charmed life and whatever trauma he suffers he brings largely on himself with some of his outlandish statements.

Rachel didn't aspire to be a hip-hop star, like Chet Haze and Iggy Azalea, who have similarly been accused of racial appropriation.  She tried to be an active figure in a black community in Spokane, speaking out against racial discrimination, organizing rallies and teaching Africana studies at Eastern Washington University.  Unfortunately, what the media focuses on is the "hoax" she perpetuated for ten years, as it is easier to draw conclusions from this "objective truth," as Sean Hannity put it, than it is to find out what Rachel really was up to.

She has apparently identified herself as black since she was in elementary school, drawing herself with brown skin.  Her parents later adopted four black children, apparently for religious altruistic reasons.  Conflicting reports of life in the Dolezal household have emerged and have become fodder for the media, as television news has quickly reduced Rachel's story to a reality show.

Sadly, this is how most stories get presented these days.  News has become a form of entertainment meant largely to arouse our emotions, rather than inform us.  No news network does this better than Fox News, which has seized on the story and run with it, casting Rachel Dolezal as an indictment of  misplaced white liberal values.  Rachel's story justifies their myopic view of the race riots in Ferguson, Baltimore and Cleveland, where much harsher realities have played out.

For Conservatives, America crossed the Rubicon with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  They now like to see us living in a "Colorblind Society," as Ronald Reagan stated in his effort to abolish affirmative action.  These deluded persons seem to honestly believe we live in a "post-racial world" where discrimination only occurs in the minds of those who for reasons entirely of their own making find themselves on the lower rungs of society's ladder.  After all, we have a black president, seen by many as an "objective truth" that anyone can attain what they want to attain in America, regardless of their dubious background.

I'm sure Rachel Dolezal is aware of all this, probably much more so than many of those who are attacking her for the "hoax" she perpetuated for a decade.  I would like to see her story told, but not in the way it is currently being told.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Black Like Me




No one likes to be punked, especially one's parents, who cried foul when their daughter had invented a rough and tumble family of her own to gain entry in the Spokane black community, where she quickly rose up the ladder to become the local head of the NAACP.   To hear her parents tell it, the last straw was when Rachel reported a "threatening package" to local police, which the post office challenged.

Her parents decided to pull the plug on their daughter's masquerade, providing photographs that showed she was white and described her heritage as primarily Czech.  It proved to be a tough blow for Rachel, who had to step down from her head post of the local NCAAP chapter amid all the furor surrounding this startling revelation.  She has managed to upstage Bruce, I mean Caitlyn Jenner, which is no small feat.

There have been no end of jokes at her expense, but some comics have chosen to leave Rachel alone.  Dave Chappelle simply doesn't want to go there, which is rare for him, saying it is too sensitive right now.  Of course that hasn't stopped the pundits of Fox News, who have had a field day with this story, leading Jon Stewart to offer one of his patented riffs on the hypocrisy of the news network.

Rev. Al is upset with Rachel's parents for not coming out sooner, having allowed this charade to go on as long as it did.  It doesn't seem to matter that by all accounts Ms. Dolezal was deeply committed to the NAACP.   Jamelle Bouie argues that she could have done the same as a white woman, she just wouldn't have been a "protagonist."   I guess this is what Rachel wanted to be -- a protagonist -- not just some well-meaning white woman.

Of course, the NAACP should have questioned her biography.  Not many persons grow up in teepees in Montana these days, not even Native Americans, which her parents conceded she may have some Indian blood.  She didn't even change her name, other than to take her black husband's surname Moore, since divorced.

Her backstory would have come out at some point, as she had a habit of drawing attention to herself, but I doubt she could have ever imagined her story would have exploded in the media the way it did, replete with memes on social network that manage to drag Liz Warren's faux native American heritage into it as well.

Ethnicity has become a thorny issue.  We've long heard stories of Blacks and Hispanics passing as White because it allowed them greater access to American society.  However, Affirmative Action purportedly changed all that, at least in the mind of conservative White America, which now railed against what it saw as "reverse discrimination."

Rachel was apparently a "victim" of this, claiming she was denied a teaching assistantship at Howard University on account of her skin color in a law suit.  She was white at the time, but had married a black fellow student Kevin Moore.  Apparently, this served as the turning point in her life, as she decided that the only way to be fully welcomed in the black community was to become black herself.

After the dust settles, I'm sure we will see a book along the lines of Black Like Me, in which John Howard Griffin donned black face to see how the other half lived in America.  Of course, he was praised for pulling the cover off Jim Crow South in the late 50s.  Rachel will have much more explaining to do, as hers hasn't been so much an undercover story as it has been a way to move within a community she apparently feels much more comfortable with.  Unfortunately for her, she has now lost the trust of that community and probably won't get it back anytime soon.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Nice job, Democrats




One can certainly argue that President Obama didn't do enough to bring Democrats on board the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the early stages of discussion, but what Congressional Democrats have done is gut one of the few safeguards this treaty agreement had to offer in the way of protection for American workers.  The humiliating rebuff, as the Washington Post calls it, will probably come back to haunt Democrats in the election cycle, as the TAA, which the trade adjustment assistance is referred to, is crucial in leveling the playing field in this bold new trade agreement.

Many Republicans joined Democrats in defeating the TAA because they see it as wasteful to the overall deal.  Dems mostly want to see the fast-tracking aspect of the trade agreement removed, but since that wasn't up for a vote they went after the TAA, essentially throwing a monkey wrench into the works.  Michigan Democrat Daniel Kildee put it bluntly, "if I'm opposed to [fast-track] authority, it's logical that I would use every tool that I can to try to stop it."

Well, Daniel, you can expect the Republicans to use this no vote as a tool in the election cycle, telling everyone they can that you voted against worker protection in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, making you look like the bad guy, not them.

Sadly, the Democrats have become their own worst enemies, undermining the President's authority and themselves in the process.  It is easy to understand their misgivings given how many jobs the AFL-CIO claims NAFTA cost American workers, but the fact is the Democrats didn't do a very good job protecting them, as many of them signed onto NAFTA in the 1990s, and Bill Clinton ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement.

What was good then apparently isn't good now, largely out of fear of voter backlash, not a careful study of the Trans-Pacific trade agreement.  The TPP does try to level the playing field with Asian Pacific countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, which have a much lower tax base, environmental, health and safety regulations than the United States, making it highly lucrative for American companies like Nike to do outsource production to Southeast Asia.  Japan, South Korea and Australia support the TPP for the same reasons.

Unfortunately, all we hear out of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is all the jobs this trade agreement is going to cost Americans.  They managed to create enough of a groundswell among liberal voters that Nancy Pelosi backed away from the agreement at the 11th hour, voting against the TAA rather than trying to rally House Democrats in favor of it.  This was essentially a repeat of Ross Perot likening NAFTA to a "giant sucking sound" on the Campaign Trail 1992, which of course CNN referenced in their coverage of the vote last night.

Like it or not, we live in a highly globalized society and we need partnerships like the Trans-Pacific Partnership in order to maintain some semblance of checks and balances, as obviously the World Trade Organization is not enough.  The TPP will not go away. just like NAFTA was something proposed by the previous Reagan and Bush administrations before finally being approved during the Clinton administration.  If the Republicans win the White House in 2016 (god forbid) you can bet there will be no Trade Adjustment Agreement or any other safeguards to protect American workers in their revised Trans-Pacific Partnership.  What the House Democrats did was make the Republicans' job that much easier.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Shame




Jeb was always regarded as the "smart one" among Pere Bush's four sons, but it seems that somewhere along the line he lost his edge over his three brothers.  So far, he hasn't distinguished himself on the campaign trail, and now his past statements are coming back to haunt him in a big way.

In 1995, when Jeb first ran for Florida governor against Lawton Chiles, he felt it incumbent upon himself to write a book, as all aspiring politicians seem to do these days.  In it, he gave his thoughts on character and how to better mold it, including a sub-chapter on "Shame."  Jeb felt there was something seriously amiss in our society and that maybe we needed to bring back public shaming to put persons back in line.  He referenced Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, which he probably would have been best advised to read again before making these judgments.  Jeb lost his bid in 1995, but won handily in 1999 over Buddy McKay.

Apparently, his thoughts on shaming struck a chord with the Republican-led state legislature, which presented him with a measure dubbed "The Scarlet Letter Law" in 2001, whose principal target was unwed mothers.  Bush declined to veto it, allowing it to become law.  As it turns out, a rather convenient way of ducking the issue, leaving it up to the state court to decide on it, which it did, and the state legislature was forced to revise its shaming law in 2003.

I suppose Jeb thought he had left this little chapter long behind him, but here it is again on the Campaign Trail 2016, and it is not likely to go away.  Given the attention Profiles in Character is getting, it is likely to get reprinted, or at the very least be made available for download so that we can all have a chance to read it.  Not many of us would be willing to plunk down $168.98 for a used paperback copy.   In the meantime, we have to content ourselves with some of the morsels being taken from it and chewed over by the "liberal media."

Jeb was forced to defend himself while touring Europe to bolster his Foreign Policy credentials, which took a big hit on his position on the Iraq War.  He was visiting leaders in Warsaw when the unruly reporters pressed him on the issue.  Once again, he managed to stick his over-sized foot in his mouth by citing a highly disputable figure of over 40% of American children being born out of wedlock.  The actual percentage is 32, but then maybe he was referring to Millennials.   To his credit, he at least put some of the irresponsibility on men who ducked their paternal duties.

Why Jeb ventured into this terrain to begin with is anyone's guess, especially since his daughter, Noelle, has not lived what one could call the virtuous life.  Rather than publicly shame her, he has gone out of his way to lessen her sentence for drug crimes stemming back to 2002, and protect her from the media.  Understandable that a father would do this for his daughter, but smacks of hypocrisy as this was at the height of "the Scarlet Letter Law" controversy.  He apparently deleted a massive number of e-mails concerning the subject.

The odd thing is that Jeb is trying to bring back his brother's campaign motto from 2000, "Compassionate Conservatism."  He has spoken about granting illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship, but seems to have a much harsher view when it comes it teenage mothers and other persons who he deems to have dodged their social responsibilities.

Of course, the latter view fits in well with the religious conservatives in his political party, who would like to see Biblical Law paramount in our society.  The very same views Nathaniel Hawthorne called into question in his novel on 17th century Puritanism with its conflicting interpretations of religious law.  Hester overcame her "shame" and wore the letter as a badge of courage in the end. Today, we see banal attempts to shame children on the Internet that sadly lead to some very dire consequences.  Do we really want to go back to this Puritanical society?

Rather than create distance, Jeb Bush appears to be sucking up to the religious conservatives in his party all over again.  He hasn't learned any lessons over the last 20 years.  Rather, he has bided his time until his opportunity to be President arose, having been forced to live in the shadow of his "dumber" brother.  The only problem is that it appears to be too late for Brother Jeb.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Politics of Stupid


What, me worry?

A politician can be forgiven a few miscues, after all he or she is trying to appeal to a large cross-section of voters and it is easy to get lost in his or her own rhetoric from time to time.  However, this presidential campaign looks like it will keep Politifact very busy.

The problem is that candidates don't seem to work from the same set of data.  They present conflicting reports, if they bother to do so at all, on everything from the Affordable Care Act to Climate Change.  It's not like this data can't be checked.  For matters concerning the government, we have the Government Accounting Office, or GAO, which is bipartisan.  For matters of science, we have a variety of esteemed sources to draw from.   But, if these facts don't play into your political message, they tend to be discarded, so the candidates will turn to other less reliable sources in an attempt to bolster their arguments.

So far, Ted Cruz has been the loosest with the facts, according to Politifact, which found him to be wrong a whopping 68% of the time.  True or mostly true a miserable 17% of the time.  But, Ted doesn't have to worry too much because the conservative echo chamber has gone out of its way to paint Politifact as a "liberal" institution, therefor not to be trusted.

This has proved very convenient for conservatives, who view any criticism coming from the "lamestream" media, as Sarah Palin fondly put it, as biased.  The only news source to be trusted is Fox News.  Yet, even on their favorite network, Republican candidates find themselves being called out by Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Juan Williams.  The most recent example was Chris Wallace taking Rick Santorum to task for questioning the Pope on global warming.  This normally friendly venue for conservative politicians has become a rather slippery slope for presidential wannabes.

It is nice to see Fox challenge these candidates, because many of them avoid the "lamestream" press out of fear of being grilled on their positions, which in most cases run counter to conventional wisdom.  Still, Fox gives these politicians far too much leeway to squirm out of their more contentious statements, giving Jeb Bush four tries to distance himself from his brother George on the Iraq War.  Now, Jeb seems to be standing by his father, not his brother on Foreign Policy.  We can only wish our teachers had allowed us so many make-up exams in high school.

In a long campaign, which will drag out until next summer's conventions, these candidates can only hope that the electorate will forget their early miscues and remember what they said last.  Unfortunately, as Mitt found out in 2012, it doesn't work that way.  There are rival campaigns who will remind you of each and every misstep along the way.  It's kind of like your mother correcting your version of a past event in front of your friends.  It can be quite embarrassing.  Mitt was never able to live down his 47% comment.



What these candidates seem to forget is that when you cater to the lowest common denominator of your political base, it is hard to effectively overcome these gaffes on a national stage.  This isn't a Congressional district race or even a State Senate of Governor's race.  This is a Presidential race in which you have to appeal to a broad cross-section of the country.

Knowing this, you would think presidential candidates would be more careful on the campaign trail.  Sadly, no.  You have compulsive liars like Ted Cruz and those who try to get away with one from time to time, thinking no one will call them on it.   After all, they can always say they misspoke, or blame the liberal press for taking their words out of context.




Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rick Santorum v. the Pope




Rick is the kind of guy who generally thinks he has God on his side, but in his latest battle he is going up against the Pope himself.  In the Catholic Church, you can't get any closer to God than the Holy Pontiff, but Rick seems to think he still has God on his side.

It has to be one of the more absurd developments on the Campaign Trail 2016.  Rick is upset that the Pope is speaking out on climate change, believing that the Pope has other things to worry about than the Earth.   What has angered conservatives like Rick is that the Pope plans to release a new encyclical that will encourage priests to give more attention to climate change.  In Santorum's mind, the Pope should focus on heavenly matters and leave earthly matters to politicians like himself.  It doesn't matter that the Pope has a Master's degree in Chemistry, Rick thinks the Vatican is way out of line.  Of course, he is not alone in this opinion, but being Catholic I guess he feels more compelled to say something on the matter.

Rick is looking for any leverage he can get, as he finds himself outside the Top Ten in GOP polling.  He desperately wants a podium for the first Presidential debate scheduled in August, and what better way to attract attention to yourself than to attack the Pope, who has been frustrating religious conservatives with his outspoken views not only on climate change, but social inequality as well.  It would seem the Pope is a Socialist, and we can't have that!

Rick hopes to split the Catholic vote in the country.  There have been a lot of grumblings over the Pope's two-year tenure, notably Catholic conservatives like Michael Brendan Dougherty, who believes that Catholics should resist their Popes, especially when they veer left like Francis has done.  This resistance is being felt within the Church itself, as several American bishops have voiced their indignation over the direction Pope Francis is taking the Church.

But, Rick has an uphill battle ahead as right now the Pope is not only the most popular person in the world but very popular in America, where he is scheduled to come in September to address a joint session of Congress, giving the pontiff a podium that Rick Santorum covets.

It's a bold gamble and one not likely to pay much in the way of dividends for Rick Santorum, who is pretty much seen as a desperate candidate hoping to generate an early groundswell of support like he did in 2012 when the Republican electorate was looking for anyone other than Mitt Romney.  This time around there are plenty of choices and no clear front runner.

I would think if Rick really wanted to distance himself from his contenders, he would embrace climate change and argue of all the jobs that could be generated if we made the big switch to sustainable energy sources, electric cars, solar and wind driven industrial plants, as is currently taking place on a smaller scale.  He might choose to team up with Jay Faison, a North Carolina Republican, who is investing in alternative energy in a big way, and plans to make this an issue during the campaign.

This would make much more sense than fighting the Pope, who not only has God but Science on his side in regard to climate change.

Friday, June 5, 2015

An Oyster the size of Manhattan


Franklin Roosevelt at Antoines, 1937

I remember being a disappointed the first time I had Oysters Rockefeller.  I wasn't a big fan of spinach so the fancy dish was lost on me.  I associated it with New York, but apparently it was the invention of Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans back in 1901 in honor of John D. Rockefeller.  The original green puree had no spinach, but rather was a mixture of parsley, watercress and other herbs, which lends itself better to seafood.

A few years back, Mark Kurlansky chose to tell the history of New York from the perspective of the oyster, which has an underlying midden of shells discarded by native Americans centuries ago.  On the surface, it seems like a great idea for a book, but Kathryn Hughes questions his thesis in this review.  In her mind, Kurlansky has taken the single commodity history genre one book too far in trying to tell a complex history through oyster anecdotes.  Maybe so, but at a pence on amazon.co.uk it is hard to resist.

I grew up in Northwest Florida, where just about every driveway was paved with oyster shells.  The oysters came from Apalachicola, the marshes of Louisiana and other Gulf water habitats.  It's a little smaller oyster than you get in New York, but tastier in my opinion.  You don't need to put anything on it except a little bit of Tobasco sauce to enjoy it.



Kurlansky tells us that when you eat an oyster raw you are eating a living being, replete with still-functioning brain, liver and sensory organs.  Maybe the oyster squeals when you bite into, but I think the bed of ice it has been sitting on numbs the pain.

Britons were long familiar with the shellfish, and I imagine the Dutch were too.  Cultivation of oyster beds off the coast of England dated back to Roman times. The church tried to contain the passion for shellfish by proscribing days when they were not to be eaten, but I don't imagine well-heeled Britons followed these church laws anymore than local fishermen did.

America's oldest oyster bar is in Boston.  Not to say there weren't others before Union Oyster House in Faneuil Hall, but they are lost in history.  What amazed me was how expensive oysters were in the Northeast.  A plate of oysters on the half shell would cost you as much as a bushel from Apalachicola or Cedar Key, Florida.  Of course, you have to shuck them yourself, which I was quite good at one point.

Pacific oysters took root in Japan and have now been introduced throughout the world, and used to regenerate oyster beds in England.  They have become the most popular oysters in the world.

Maybe it would have been more interesting to follow oysters around the world, as Kurlansky did Cod and Salt, rather than confining himself to one particular region.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The New Israelites


Truman and Ben-Gurion

Harry Truman said a long time ago on the Palestinian Question that Israel had a better lobbying group, which is why he ultimately recognized the Jewish state despite his public misgivings.   Apparently, what Truman wanted was an Arab-Jewish federation, or binational state, which would have given Jews and Palestinians equal voice in government, but Israel rendered that question moot when it declared independence in 1948.  Since then, the United States has been its staunchest ally.  Even Truman found himself revising his opinions on the Jewish state in his memoirs.

It is understandable that Americans would be such ardent supporters despite the anti-Semitism that had long been on display in the country.  Roosevelt made no attempt to intercede on the behalf of German Jewish passengers aboard the S.S. St. Louis, which found itself docked off the coast of Cuba in 1939 hoping to secure passage on its way to the United States.  The ship was turned back, and the 900 Jews were forced to return to Europe, where they were given refugee status in Holland, Belgium, France and Great Britain, thanks to the efforts of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC.

The S.S. St. Louis

The Roosevelt administration knew full well the hardships Jews were facing in Germany, but chose to look the other way.  Congress had placed quotas on immigration in the 1930s.  After the St. Louis incident, efforts were made to grant exceptions for Jewish refugees, but failed to get Congressional approval.  It was only after war broke out throughout Europe that Roosevelt was able to create a War Refugee Board to partially deal with the fallout of the Holocaust, now universally known to be taking place.  However, for most European Jews it was too little too late.

So, why now do we see all this love for Israel?  There are a number of theories, ranging from the darkly conspiratorial Dominionism theories to that of political expediency.

Dominion Theology arose in the 1970s as a kind of Old Testament Christianity in which the only way to recreate a Christian nation on earth was to reclaim Jerusalem.  In order to achieve this lofty goal the Temple Mount had to be rebuilt in order to be destroyed once again.  Unfortunately, the al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, was built on top of the ruins of the Temple Mount, and would have to be destroyed first.  This of course would lead to the "Holiest" of wars that would see the second coming of Jesus.

Bachmann-Perry Overdrive

As absurd as all this sounds, there are many who subscribe to Dominionism, notably Michelle Bachmann, and to a lesser degree Rick Perry. There was major concern voiced in their presidential candidacies in 2012.  Their love for Israel has less to do with Jews as it is using them as their agents to achieve their ultimate goal of a new Christian order.

I suppose that is why you see so many attempts by Evangelicals to reform Jews, making them into Christians.  Mormons had even gone so far as to give posthumous baptism to Jews, which it was forced to apologize for, as the issue also came up in the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romney was asked for his thoughts on the subject.

Naturally, most Jews are suspect of this new love they feel from Evangelicals, but Ariel Sharon seemed to have no misgivings when he addressed a huge rally of Evangelical Christians in Jerasulem in 2000.  He had just come to power as head of the Likud and knew he needed all the support he could muster in the US.

This way my friends

Fortunately for Sharon, Bush won the 2000 election, otherwise his bold gesture would have been lost.  Not that Israel would have seen any loss of support from Al Gore.  However, Sharon could count on the unquestioning support of the new Bush administation to put less pressure to accommodate Palestinians, which had not been the case with the Clinton administration.  So began the uneasy relationship between Conservative Israeli ministers and Christian Conservatives that has become much stronger over the last two decades.

A Palestinian Intifada followed Sharon's victory, but this was conveniently blamed on Yasser Arafat.  Sharon had holed up his long-time nemesis in Ramallah for weeks on end until the hostilities subsided.  In one of the more dramatic moments of this seige, Sharon refused Arafat the right to visit Bethlehem for Christmas mass, a tradition Arafat had long partook in to show Arab Muslim-Christian unity.

This seemed utterly lost on Christian Evangelicals in America, who unquestioningly took the side of Sharon.  He became a hero to the Christian Right until the poor sot decided to pull Israeli troops out of Gaza to help jump start peace talks in 2005.  When Sharon suffered a stroke in 2006, Pat Robertson saw this as divine punishment, earning Rev. Pat the ignominy of the Bush White House.  It seems that some Dominionists were a little too anxious to see their Christian Nation reborn on the ashes of Jerusalem.

Like father, like son

One might think that Dominion Theology and political expediency represent opposite ends of the political spectrum, but the two are very much intertwined, and it is very difficult to separate the two on the campaign trail.  We have Ted Cruz, whose father is an ardent Dominionist, who believes that his son is "anointed" to bring about the End Times.  Bush and McCain had found themselves in similar positions in 2000 and 2008, as they both embraced the radical Christian right in their presidential campaigns.  They were able to create some distance, but Ted isn't about to disown his father.  Tough break.

Ironically, many of the Evangelical sects see themselves as descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel.  Joseph Smith built a wonderful fantasy on one of these tribes coming to America and that his sect was the heir to this tribe.  Of course, early Catholic missionaries similarly thought that the Mayans were a lost tribe of Israel, given the crosses that adorned their temples, blithely unaware that the crosses represented the sun.

With the advent of Christ in the second century and the acceptance of Christianity by the Romans in the fourth century, there has been an ongoing attempt to subordinate and in the worst cases exterminate Jews who didn't accept the new religion.  In fact, Jews found more acceptance among early Muslim leaders than they did Christian leaders, finding themselves expelled from Spain the same year Columbus set sail to America, because they were seen as having been in league with the Moors.  In fact, Columbus had to change his port of call because of "The Spanish Expulsion."

Boehner and Bibi, BFF

Well, no mistaking allegiances today.  We have supported Israel unquestioningly in its ongoing war with the Arab states, notably the 1967 Arab-Israel War, after which Israel annexed Palestine so that it could reclaim Jerusalem and other sites considered holy to Judaism.  We've gotten a little upset with Israel from time to time, but have never threatened sanctions nor in anyway chastised the nation, even as we see Bibi Netanyahu openly flaunt his distaste for what he regards as an unsympathetic White House.

It is hard to reconcile this relationship because you have to take all the bad with the good, and there is a lot of bad.  I don't think the Dominionists will gain the upper hand in the Republican Party, but they will force the GOP to make some decisions it was better advised not to make, i.e. nominating Sarah Palin as Vice-President in 2008.  Meanwhile, the new conservative Israeli government has to ask itself if it really wants to be in league with these yahoos, as these Dominionists have no interest in Israel beyond setting in motion the End Times they so fervidly imagine.

This is a volatile mix that all too often leads to dirty wars that only further serve to undermine our credibility as agents of Peace.  If we want to avoid this, conservative leaders need to stop recognizing Dominionist pastors and treat this radical sect as the cancer it is.  Only then may we find some peace with ourselves.