Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Senator Ron Johnson and The American Jobs Act

Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson recently replied to President Obama’s address to the joint session of Congress. In email sent to Wisconsin voters, Senator Johnson called The American Jobs Act “the definition of insanity” because, to the Senator’s way of thinking, it merely repeats American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

Actually, Mr. Johnson could not bring himself to use the proper titles of either the ARRA or the President’s proposed legislation. The latter is simply the “latest government stimulus program.” Neither could Mr. Johnson address any of the specifics of the proposed legislation.

Mr. Johnson did begin with ad hominem.

“As I sat listening carefully to our President, it was painfully clear that his remarks were merely a campaign speech. His proposals were designed to assist in his reelection campaign, rather than a serious attempt to forge alliances, address our massive debt, strengthen our economy and create jobs.”

It has been difficult for Republicans to deal with a president who is arguably the best communicator to occupy the Oval Office since President Ronald Reagan. It is particularly grating as this president follows eight years of Mr. George W. Bush, who was the master of malapropisms. President Obama, however, repeatedly spoke to the concerns of both Republicans and opponents in his own party. He appealed for their support in terms of their own goals. Mr. Johnson’s claim that Mr. Obama’s address was only a campaign speech is inaccurate and unfair.

Certainly Mr. Obama’s speech cheered his supporters and annoyed his opponents. It is undeniable that Mr. Obama is running for a second term and the speech did not hurt that effort. That there was a political aspect to the speech is unsurprising to any mature observer of our government. Characterizing the detailed proposal the President set before the joint session of Congress as merely a campaign speech, however, only reveals the weakness of Mr. Johnson’s position.

That weakness is manifest as Mr. Johnson sputters on in his email.

“Even worse, the overall substance of his proposals were nothing more than a rehashing and repackaging of the same big government, ideological agenda that our President has already tried – driven our debt up another $4 Trillion - and have failed miserably. These ideas would simply double down on that failure.”

Mr. Johnson needs a grammarian. Verbs are supposed to agree with the subject of a sentence. “Substance” is singular and requires the singular “was” not “were.” He should have chosen “rehashing” or “repackaging.” Using both is redundant. The accusation that the President’s “ideological agenda” drove up the debt “another $4 Trillion” calls for another sentence and should not have been smashed into this one. (Trillion should not be capitalized.)

Mr. Johnson ignores the niceties of grammar and the specifics of the President’s speech because all he has is Tea Party boilerplate. Mr. Johnson rants about “big government” but says nothing about the President’s expressed goal of jolting the private sector back to life. He ignores the President’s proposals to help small business. He makes no mention of the President’s tax cuts for middle class consumers. He is oblivious of the need to help the long-term unemployed.

In sum, Mr. Johnson’s complaint does not touch upon anything the President actually said, but merely repeats the talking points of the House radical Republicans. By ignoring the proposed American Jobs Recovery Act, he fails to prove that it is merely a repackaging of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The most significant falsehood of Mr. Johnson’s missive is his assertion that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was a failure.

“Since his inauguration, during admittedly tough economic conditions, President Obama has taken America 180 degrees in the wrong direction. His failed $800 billion stimulus, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and the explosion of his Administration's other job killing regulations have combined to put a stranglehold on our economy.”

Mr. Johnson’s only concession to the President is that he took office “during admittedly tough economic conditions.” This is a gross understatement. The President took office after decades of deregulation of the financial market initiated by Republican President Ronald Reagan and fostered by Randian Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Republican policies resulted in the 1980s Savings and Loan Crisis, the 2001 Internet Stock Bubble and finally, beginning in 2007, greatest financial meltdown since the Depression.

Mr. Johnson conveniently ignores the details so that he can continue to rail against government regulations. He specifies no regulations that kill jobs. It is he, not the President, who fails to learn from history.

(Note: Inside Job (2010), the Academy Award-winning documentary film about the late-2000s financial crisis directed by Charles H. Ferguson and narrated by Matt Damon is one-sided, and, I believe, unfair to President Obama. Its subject is complicated. Nevertheless, it is a good introduction to all the facts that Republicans would have us ignore.)

The Republicans have blocked the full implementation of the Dodd-Frank bill, so it is impossible to attribute anything good or ill to it. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – which Mr. Johnson calls “Obamacare”—will not be fully implemented until 2014. That leaves only the so-called “failed $800 billion stimulus,” ARRA, as a possible “stranglehold on our economy.”

Did the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 fail to increase employment? Mr. Johnson and his fellow Republicans have repeatedly said that it did. The economy is still in recession. Unemployment is still high. The ARRA did fail to meet with the administration’s projections. All of this, together with the fact that many citizens cannot distinguish GDP from GPS, makes the Republicans’ simple declarative statement, “The stimulus failed,” persuasive.

Repeat a falsehood long enough and you will convince the masses. This is particularly true with a subject as complicated as the economy.

On September 27, 2010, the independent FactCheck.org posted, “The economic stimulus package is a favorite target of Republican candidates and groups, but more than a few ads falsely claim it did not create or save any jobs. … The truth is that the stimulus increased employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million people, compared with what employment would have been otherwise.” (FactCheck.org, “Did the Stimulus Created Jobs?”) 

The Richmond Times-Dispatch PolitiFact.com examined Republican Eric Cantor’s May 26th, 2011, statement, “They (Democrats) passed a nearly $1 trillion stimulus bill which failed to get people back to work.” The Virginia publication rated Mr. Cantor’s statement false after consulting experts from both the right and the left.

Both of these publications based their conclusions in part on the 2010 report of the Congressional Budget Office, which stated: “… CBO estimates that ARRA’s policies had the following effects in the second quarter of calendar year 2010:
  •    They raised real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by between 1.7 percent and 4.5 percent,
  •    Lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points,
  •    Increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million, and
  •    Increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 2.0 million to 4.8 million compared with what would have occurred otherwise …” ( http://www.cbo.gov )
If Senator Ron Johnson had been doing his job, he would have known about the CBO report.

What animates Mr. Johnson, however, is not concern for the unemployed or the challenges of a global economy in recession. Mr. Johnson, as I pointed out in October of 2009, is an advocate of the Atheistic Capitalism of Ayn Rand. He is a true believer in an ideology that holds that government involvement in the economy, in any way, at any time, is wrong. From health care, to stimulus, to regulation, the government can only kill jobs.

Mr. Johnson writes, “President Obama simply and sadly does not understand the basic economic truth that expansion and job creation must come from the private sector, not government.”

One hopes that President Obama understands that in difficult economic times, remedies must be sought from both the private and public sectors. Progressives hope he understands that the history of this country is in part the history of a mixed economy, with the government playing a positive role in protecting the country from the excesses of capitalism. Mr. Johnson and his ilk hanker for a pure capitalism that has never existed and is every bit as false as Marxist-Leninist millennialism.

It is the insupportable small government advocacy of Mr. Johnson and his Republican colleagues that will take us in the wrong direction, as the August unemployment figures indicate.

“On September 2nd the government reported no net jobs were created in August. To be precise, private firms created 17,000 jobs while governments trimmed payrolls by the same amount. Adjusting for striking mobile-phone company workers, underlying private job growth was actually more like 60,000, consistent with an economy still growing; but barely.” (The Economist, “A Choice of Medicines,” September 10, 2011.)

The Economist does not say so, but I suspect the “governments” that trimmed their payrolls are the state governments run by Republican governors, like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Among the jobs trimmed are those of school teachers. President Obama’s American Jobs Act calls for the hiring of teachers to train students to be competitive in an increasingly global job market. This is just one small detail that shows that President Obama is the one working for America’s future, not Mr. Johnson and his small-government colleagues.

President Obama’s American Jobs Act is not all that progressives wanted. It is more than they expected. It is not a magic bullet. It will not immediately reverse the global recession. Mr. Johnson may choose to ignore it. The Congress should pass it and press on to strengthen both the private and public sectors of the economy.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Is the Opposition Loyal? Part Two

Tonight we will not hear the President of the United States address a joint session of Congress regarding the dire economic condition of the nation. It was Mr. Obama’s intention to begin this new session of Congress by addressing the issues about which the whole country is concerned. As is well known, Speaker John Boehner has informed the President that the United States House of Representatives will be otherwise engaged.

“ ‘As the majority leader announced more than a month ago, the House will not be in session until Wednesday, Sept. 7, with votes at 6:30 that evening,’ the speaker wrote. ‘ With the significant amount of time, typically more than three hours, that is required to allow for a security sweep of the House chamber before receiving a president, it is my recommendation that your address be held on the following evening, when we can ensure there will be no parliamentary or logistical impediments that might detract from your remarks.’ ” (“Obama Moves Jobs Speech After Skirmish With Boehner,” The New York Times, August 31, 2011)

Mr. Boehner’s unprecedented refusal to grant the President’s request has been reported, reviewed, and, from the very beginning, denounced as just another petty political squabble. Blame has been cast on both the Speaker and the President.

“ ‘If the objective of the White House and Speaker Boehner was to demonstrate to the American people that they have gotten the message from the markets and from voters that our economic straits are so dire that it is time to set petty politics aside, they have failed before they started,’ said David Rothkopf, a former Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration. ‘This childish gamesmanship regarding timing reconfirms to the world that Washington is a sandbox full of petulant children who don’t play well together.' He called Wednesday’s antics 'late-summer silliness.’ ” (The New York Times, same article as above)

Despite the fact that Mr. Boehner is the first member of Congress to deny a president permission to speak to a joint session of Congress, it is the President who has received the most criticism. He is accused of playing politics.

“The real story, of course, was that the White House had high-handedly announced its preferred time for the speech, which just happened to conflict with a long-planned GOP presidential candidates’ debate at the Reagan library.” (The Weekly Standard, “The Scrapbook: Dissing Boehner,” September 12, 2011)

Even before Mr. Boehner took his stand against the President’s supposedly political proposal, talk radio condemned the idea. How could the President dare to upstage a Republican Party candidate debate? It is only reasonable to conclude that Mr. Boehner’s motive to deny the President’s proposal is to thwart Mr. Obama’s alleged political gambit and please the likes of Mr. Limbaugh. His stated reason is lame. The House has no business this evening that cannot be postponed.

Other aspects to this story have been reported, mostly from anonymous sources. Most of what has been reported is irrelevant. It remains that Mr. Boehner has done what has never been done before. In this, he has shown that, despite the fact that the Republican Party likes to wrap itself in the Constitution and boast its fidelity to the intentions of the Founding Fathers, it knows and cares little for either.

Let us grant the Republican contention that Mr. Obama scheduled his address to Congress to upstage Republican candidate debate. I do not know that this is so. It is, however, the best reason the Republicans have to deny the President’s request. So let it stand.

The activities of any political party should not interfere with the work of the elected government. A single debate, this early, is of negligible importance, particularly when compared to an official address by the sitting president.

The Republicans are far from selecting a candidate for the coming election. They have held one straw poll, in which Mrs. Bachman was selected. The Iowa straw poll historically has had little positive effect on selecting the eventual Republican candidate and even less on the results of the national election. Mrs. Bachmann’s victory was quickly eclipsed by Texas Governor Rick Perry’s mere announcement of his candidacy.

Even with Mr. Perry’s announcement, there is dissatisfaction among Republicans with the candidates vying for the ticket. Despite the fact time is growing short, there are calls for Representative Paul Ryan, Governor Chris Christie and even Mrs. Sarah Palin to enter the race.

The Republican contention that tonight’s debate should take precedence over a president's speech to Congress is nothing less than hubris.

The Constitution established three branches of government, the legislative, executive, and judicial. There is no mention of political parties. Political parties have no official standing in the work of government. In fact, the Founding Fathers disliked the idea of political parties and hoped that the nation could do without them.

The Republicans should know this if they knew the Constitution and its history as they claim. James Madison penned Federalist 10 as a warning against political parties, which he called “factions.” The Founding Fathers hope of politics without political parties did not survive their lifetime, and even Mr. Madison became a member of a political party. Nevertheless, the Founding Fathers would be appalled to see this day when a single party’s candidate debate interferes with the work of the elected government.

Perhaps some would question the wisdom of Mr. Obama using his office to upstage a single debate of the opposing party’s candidate debate. Let them. There is no reason that any sitting president should take into consideration the internal work of the opposing party in the rightful execution of his duties. More importantly, there is no reason the opposing party should expect such consideration.

The Constitution established three branches of government. Mr. Boehner won a majority of the votes of the 8th congressional district of Ohio to become a member of the lower chamber of the legislative branch. The majority of that lower chamber elected Mr. Boehner Speaker of the House of Representatives. Mr. Boehner thus represents both the 8th congressional district and one half of the bicameral legislature.

The President of the United States is elected by the whole nation, albeit indirectly through the Electoral College. Mr. Obama won the office of President of the United States by a clear majority of the popular vote and the Electoral College – without the assistance of a decision of the Supreme Court. He represents not a district, or even a state. He is President of the whole country and for the whole country.

To be sure, the president is not a dictator. There are constitutional limits to his authority. The Constitution provides checks and balances so that no single branch of government has power beyond what is necessary to exercise its duties to the country.

However, the Republicans have taken the legislature beyond anything the Founding Fathers imagined. Republican senators, by the mere threat of filibuster, have turn back presidential appointments. The single disqualifying mark of an appointee is that the appointment came from Mr. Obama.

“Speaking with National Journal magazine about Republican Party priorities for the 2008-2010 Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explained that ‘the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.’ ” (Wikipedia, Mitch McConnell)

Senator McConnell has expressed clearly that the single priority of the Republican Party is not the welfare of the country, but the augmentation of the power of the Republican Party. In keeping with this priority, the Republican Party perpetrated the unnecessary debt-ceiling crisis. In keeping with this priority, Mr. Boehner denied the President of the United States a joint session of Congress. In these and several other instances the Republican Party has demonstrated that it has no respect for the constitutionally established office of the executive as long as Mr. Obama occupies it – the vote of the people be damned.

This is not the governance the Founding Fathers envisioned. This is the factionalism that James Madison abhorred.

In September 2009, the President addressed a joint session of Congress. It was there that Representative Joe Wilson set the true precedent for Mr. Boehner’s action this month. Mr. Wilson broke with tradition and shouted at the President. On September 11, 2009, I asked the question, “Is the Opposition Loyal?” on this blog (see archive). This question stands.

[Works consulted for this essay: The Debate on the Constitution, Part One, Library of America, 1993; James Madison, Writings, Library of America, 1999; Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, Richard Beeman, Random House, 2009; The Oxford Companion to United States History, edited by Paul S. Boyer, Oxford University Press, 2001.]

Monday, September 05, 2011

They Are Back ...

For a while we did not hear from them. They did not call. They did not write. It is hard to say why. Perhaps they were embarrassed. Perhaps they felt threatened. It would be too much to think they were repentant. One thing is certain. It was nothing we had done. We went on with our lives the best we could after the 2007-2009 financial meltdown.

This year they returned. We strictly observe the rule that coincidence is not causation. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that their return coincides with the ascendency of the radical faction of the Republican party, particularly in the House of Representatives.

“This is Rachel with credit card services, calling in regard to your current credit card account. There is no need to worry. Your account seems to be in order. But you need to respond immediately to get the new reduced credit card rates…”

Rachel has a sister.

“This is Lisa. We have contacted you before. This is your last chance…”

Rachel and Lisa have another sister, who does not give her name.

“…In order to take advantage of this offer you must have $3,000 in credit card debt and at least one credit card in good standing.”

The above is an accurate representation from memory and not verbatim. One offer goes so far as to illogically reference “the current Federal stimulus package.”

One thing is certain about these three – they are all lying b…witches. The three weird sisters by subtle word choice would have us believe they represent the credit card that is in our pocket. Parse their sentences and it is evident they have no idea what credit card we have. Lisa has offered my last chance two, even three times in one week.

I have not returned their calls, so I cannot be completely certain of the extent of their scam. It would appear however, that their “regard” for my “current credit card account” is to switch it to another credit card. Since their offers begin with mendacity, it is highly doubtful that the switch will be to my advantage.

The wicked advances of the three weird sisters are small beer compared with the predatory lending practices of certain mortgage brokers that brought about the recent housing bubble. Nevertheless, our humble household has experienced the need for government oversight of the consumer financial market, maybe five times a week – sometimes twice in one day – by the three weird sisters.

Of course many, if not most, people are protected from the spells of the three weird sisters by good sense. Most people are not the prey of these anonymous overtures. The poor, the financially desperate, and those who are easily frightened are their intended victims.

Here come the radical Republicans. Mr. Eric Cantor has announced that the agenda for the next session of the House is to repeal so-called job-killing government regulations. Already the Republicans have significantly stalled the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and their efforts will continue. They have the backing of the completely unrepentant banking industry.

Let us concede that government regulations do kill jobs. Let us also recognize that the jobs of the three weird sisters deserve to be burned at the stake. And we have not even touched on the indefensible usury of payday lenders who charge as much as 524% APR.

Mr. Cantor and his colleagues need to be held accountable for siding with companies whose only purpose is to prey upon the poor and financially uninformed.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Failure among the Faithful

I'm just not cool with the government insisting that an excessively large and growing share of the output of the motivated and responsible achievers ought to be diverted to the unmotivated and irresponsible. -- A Christian’s posting to Facebook.

It does not matter who wrote the above. The sentiment is common, particularly and sadly among politically conservative Christians.

The argument is that any tax on corporations and persons of wealth to fund programs to help the poor, sick, and elderly is immoral. When the government uses its power of taxation for any other than military appropriations, it is an act of theft. The rich are rich because they are “motivated and responsible achievers.” The poor are poor because they are “unmotivated and irresponsible.”

This argument is straight out of Ayn Rand’s essay “Collectivized Ethics” from the book, The Virtue of Selfishness. “Only individual men have the right to decide when or whether they wish to help others,” Rand pontificates, “society – as an organized political system – has no rights in the matter at all.”

Rand offers no supporting evidence for her assertion. There is not any. The progress of Western civilization itself is the refutation of Rand’s thesis. More on that another time.

I have no reason to believe that the Christian who made the above post to Facebook has read Rand. However, as I posted on 23 October 2010, Randism has poisoned our political discourse (See “The Threat").

Take for example the untenable distinction of the rich as the “motivated and responsible achievers” from the poor who are “unmotivated and irresponsible.” There is no empirical evidence for this. In fact, it runs the other way. Most rich individuals in the United States acquired their wealth the old-fashioned way – they picked rich parents. The poor, conversely, are to be faulted for not choosing parents of ample means.

It is, however, of little concern that our Christian has imbibed a bit of Randism or does not know the social science that refutes his simplistic distinction between rich and poor.

What is disturbing is that the Faith has little or nothing to do with the political thought of too many conservative Christians. Instead of the compassion of Christ, we have the cruelty of Randism. Instead of concern for the weakest in our country, there is a perverse concern for the supposed imperiled rights of the most powerful.

I do not doubt that most conservative Christians believe this is a fallen world, corrupted by the sin of our first parents. Nevertheless, they also seem to think that, miraculously, justice has been preserved in the distribution of wealth in this country. They seem to think our Lord was issuing a command when He said, “The poor will always be with you.”

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Short Sermon

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and all my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” – Luke 12:16-21

Begin with the first sentence. Begin with what is verbed in the first sentence. It is “the land” which is the first actor in this parable. It is “the land” that brings forth fruit. The rich man merely receives what “the land” brings forth.

The rich man does not consider that the land was there before him. The rich man considers only himself, talks only to himself, plans only for himself, and lives only for himself. Note the monotonous possessive pronoun – my crops, my barns, all my grain, all my goods and finally my soul.

The rich man thinks himself a completely autonomous, self-made individual, owing nothing to the land, family, community, or even God. He is supreme monarch of all he surveys. He is captain of his own soul.

If it were not for the first sentence, if we looked at things only through the rich man’s eyes, we would undoubtedly admire his efforts. We would commend his plans for his future. We live in a country that heedlessly praises the self-made individual. We live in a fallen world with the Old Adam hanging around our necks.

With the first sentence our Lord pulls us back. Our Lord would have us see our life and all our possessions as they are in God’s eyes. The Lord gives the land and seed to the sower, the first rains and the latter rains. The Lord gives us life and places us in families and communities. The Lord calls upon us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

The rich man loves only himself, plans only for himself, and hoards what he has been blessed with for only himself.

This is a parable of our Lord. It is not a political treatise. The parable is not in the least way a promotion of Socialism or a condemnation of Capitalism. It would be wrong to think the parable condemns private property.

The Gospel is more radical than any political or economic philosophy. The Gospel does not call for revolution or seek to upend the way men attempt to organize life in this fallen world. The Gospel cuts to the hearts of men and gives them eyes of faith by which they are to view their lives and all they possess.

The rich man is condemned not because he is rich, or because he is prosperous, or even because he makes plans for the future. The rich man is condemned because he is ungrateful for the land, ungrateful for the fruit it produces, ungrateful for the community he lives in, and most of all, ungrateful for the life given to him. All these are from the Lord.

The rich man’s ingratitude is born of nothing less than idolatry. He is the only thing that matters to him. He worships himself.

Now one must be careful not to abuse this parable and make it into a political tract of some kind. On the other hand, one must not ignore the application of this parable to Christians living in these times. It would be negligent, in particular, to ignore the explicitly anti-Christian political philosophy to which this parable applies.

Ayn Rand would have hated this parable. The individualism that she espoused is the individualism of the rich man in this parable. Rand’s individual lives only for himself. The poison of Rand’s individualism has infected our public life through her latter-day disciples, Paul Ryan, Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, and a number of other radical Republicans.

One does not have to probe the pronouncements of the radical Republicans to see that in much of what is said there is a lack of gratitude for the work of the laborer, an idolatrous affection for the rich, and a disregard for the neighbor who is in need. Supporting all of this is the myth of the self-made individual.

We do not live in a Christian country. We live in a country that has always tolerated Christianity. We live in a country that allows the preaching of the Gospel. For this, thanks be to God. It is incumbent upon preachers to preach that radical Gospel in all its truth and purity. Such preaching should invoke gratitude for all the Lord’s blessings on this land. It should also renounce idolatry in all its forms – including Randian individualism.

One can only pray that politically conservative pastors are strengthened to be faithful to their calling.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Things Have Changed

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid. -- President Dwight David Eisenhower

Sunday, April 17, 2011

This Gun Smokes

       I wish you would ever write me a Letter half as long as I write you; and tell me if you may where your Fleet are gone? What sort of Defence Virginia can make against our common Enemy? Whether it is so situated as to make an able Defence? Are not the Gentry Lords and the common people vassals, are they not like the uncivilized Natives Brittain represents us to be? …
      I am willing to allow the Colony great merrit for having produced a Washington but they have been shamefully duped by a Dunmore.
     I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for Liberty cannot be Equally Strong in the Breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain that it is not founded upon that generous and christian principal of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us.—Abigal Adams to John Adams, March 31, 1776

Mrs. Adams was an amazing lady. In the above citation, taken from her prescient “Remember the Ladies” epistle to husband and future United States president, John Adams, she hits at the contradiction of the ideals of the Founding Fathers and their practice.

She is a bit chagrinned that Lord Dunmore has caught them out.

In 1775 Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, declared martial law and promised freedom for slaves who would desert their patriot masters and join the British in stopping the revolution. His proclamation was somewhat successful, and at the end of the war, the British evacuated some 20,000 freedmen from their former colonies.

Mrs. Adams in the midst of all this blames the Virginian slaveholding patriots. They talk liberty, and “deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs.” This is not right. More importantly, for Mrs. Adams, this is not Christian.

The founding of the United States of America was a wonderful, multifaceted event that bequeathed both a blessing and a curse. The blessing was the promise of liberty for all. The curse was the denial of liberty – the continuation of slavery, particularly in the southern states like Virginia, the home of slaveholders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Even James Madison, who played a major role in the drafting and ratification of the Constitution and later in the appending of the Bill of Rights, owned over 100 slaves to do the work on his Montpelier plantation.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of beginning the Civil War. In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called upon the country to “recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals…” The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s further addressed the “faults and crimes” which issued from the curse of slavery. With the election of Barack Hussein Obama in 2008, America’s first African-American president, one would like to think that this country had finally consigned the curse to history.

The birther movement, however, squelches such optimism.

The birthers claim that Mr. Obama is not legally president of the United States of America because – they contend – he was not born in America. Mr. Obama’s birth in Hawaii was never questioned before his election. He fought a vigorous campaign first against his Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton and then against the formidable Senator John McCain. Both opponents were capable of raising the question of his origin and did not. It was only after the election that the movement gained a following.

The blogosphere was the medium and the message resonated with everyone who believed that a man with a name like Barack Hussein Obama, and a skin of a different hue from their own, could not possibly be the legitimate president of their country. This was despite the facts that both elected and bureaucratic officials of Hawaii vouched for his birth in their state, and contemporary news accounts in the local papers witnessed to the birth. Even the publication of a copy birth certificate suitable for the issuing of a United States passport did not satisfy them.

Still the birthers claim fraud. Recently the state of Arizona has taken up the lost cause by requiring presidential candidates to supply documentation proving birth in the United States. The law does not stand a snowball’s chance on a summer day in that sunny state of surviving a court challenge. It will contribute to the state’s growing reputation as the most xenophobic state in the nation.

The connection between birtherism and racism I must admit has been tenuous. No birther has appeared on Fox News in a white robe with a peaked white hat – the only confirmation that would satisfy some on the right.

Still, in the light of the supplied documentation and government testimony little else explains the irrationality of the birther. I suggested as much in an exchange on Facebook and was taken to task. It was awkward, because while many indications of racism are present in birtherism, it is never explicit.

Then this came up on my Google news page, without a search. It is an Associated Press report, not the New York Times or some other biasedly liberal source.

An Orange County Republican Party official is under fire after sending an email with an altered photo depicting President Barack Obama as an ape.

The email, sent Friday afternoon by party central committee member Marilyn Davenport, depicts a family portrait-style image of apes with Obama's face superimposed on one of them. The photo is accompanied by text that reads, "Now you know why no birth certificate."

Now in all fairness this needs to be added:

Scott Baugh, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, has called on Davenport to resign and said the party's ethics panel will hold a hearing into the incident if she does not do so. The panel will make findings, and a majority vote of the entire 73-member committee can oust her.

"It's just highly inappropriate, it's a despicable message, it drips with racism and I think she should step down from the committee," Baugh said. "It undermines everything we are doing to reach out to ethnic communities."

Kudos to Mr. Baugh. The Republicans of Orange County are not at fault here. This connection of birtherism to racism should not be blown out of proportion. Not all Orange County Republicans are racist. Let us go further and say not all birthers are racist. All that being granted, the irrational birther movement owes much to racism. That much is established by the Orange County Republican Party official’s email.

This is Palm Sunday. Christian churches begin the most holy week of the church year by stripping the liturgy of the lesser Gloria and responses. The Lenten liturgical austerity bespeaks a heightened emphasis on repentance.

This is the 150th anniversary year of the beginning of the Civil War. When the war ended, the life of President Abraham Lincoln ended on Good Friday, April 15, 1865.

Now, we have our first African American president. Love him or hate him, he is the President and Christians are admonished by the Apostolic Scriptures to pray for those who rule over them.

The confluence of things suggests a time for conservative Christians to examine their hearts. It is a time to denounce what is false and rejoice in what is true, but most of all, to know the difference.
Monday April 18, 2011

When I wrote this the Arizona legislature had passed a bill requiring Mr. Obama and all other candidates to provide proof of their birth as United States citizens. I should have waited before making the broad judgement above.

This just in from AP:

[Governor] Brewer said in her veto letter that she was troubled that the bill empowered Arizona's secretary of state to judge the qualifications of all candidates when they file to run for office.
"I do not support designating one person as the gatekeeper to the ballot for a candidate, which could lead to arbitrary or politically motivated decisions," said Brewer, who was secretary of state until she became governor in 2009.
"In addition, I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for president of the greatest and most powerful nation on Earth to submit their 'early baptismal circumcision certificates' among other records to the Arizona secretary of state," she said. "This is a bridge too far."
The certificates are among the documents a candidate could submit in place of a birth certificate. 

So, two cheers for Arizona. Their governor has pulled the state back from the brink. On the other hand, the reported details of the bill raise serious questions about their lawmakers. Nevertheless, two hearty cheers for Arizona.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Liberal Discipline

Children’s Crusade

There was a bit of overtime this week. As an office temp with no benefits, I milk every assignment for as much cash as possible. When the contract is fulfilled at this assignment, there is no telling when, if ever, I will get another assignment. Working four hours on Saturday morning is easy money.

When I got off the bus on Downer Avenue, it was cool but sunny and pleasant. I looked forward to enjoying the rest of the weekend.

Then I saw the picketers. They had small white cardboard signs attacking Governor Scott Walker. They were walking in a circle in front of Sendik’s grocery store chanting, “We like teachers. Not Scott Walker,” and “Shame on Walker. Shame on Sendik’s.” The picketers all appeared to be college students from the nearby University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM), although I received reports later that there may have been one woman beyond college years in the group.

Comedy of Errors

Readers who are not citizens of our fair city need a little background.

Sendik’s is the name on three different grocery store chains in Milwaukee and its suburbs. In the beginning, an Italian family named Balistreri founded Sendik’s. How the stores came to be called Sendik’s is too complicated to recount here. (It involves the purchase of a stove by the Italian patriarch with a thick accent.)

Over time, the Balistreri cousins reportedly had … ahh, differences. Now there is one chain of nine stores that advertises itself as Balistreri owned and operated for over 80 years.

Another branch of the family owns the store on Downer Avenue in Milwaukee and stores in the suburbs of Bayside and Elmbrook.

Then there is the scandal of Balistreri cousins selling the Oakland Avenue store in Shoreword to the Nehrings. The Nehrings shamelessly advertise their store as A Milwaukee Tradition for more than a Century. (Yeah, right. And my name is Michelangelo.)

Let us return to our story. Anti-Scott Walker activists selected the nine-store Balistreri-owned Sendik’s for boycotting and protest action because the owners reputedly supported Mr. Walker in the November election. A Facebook page is dedicated to the cause and lists the stores to be boycotted.

The college students picketing the store on Downer were at the wrong store. They picketed from noon to one o’clock. Two protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct. Reportedly, after one hour of heavy lifting on Downer, the protesters proceeded to protest at the Nehring’s store on Oakland Avenue. This store also was not part of the chain singled out by the activists running the Facebook boycott page.

There is one thing that both the Nehring’s Sendik’s store on Oakland Avenue and the Downer Avenue store have in common beyond the fact that they are not the target of the Facebook activists. They are both within walking distance of UWM.

The blogosphere and talk radio would have you think union thugs are harassing local businesses. There were no union thugs on Downer Avenue. These were na├»ve, ill-informed, foolish college students getting a little drama into their lives. It is quite likely that these students came from suburbs to study in the big city. They may not have had cars to travel to the Balistreri stores, but “Hey, there are two Sendik’s in the neighborhood. Let’s do a show!”

Bad Aim

This whole comedy of errors calls for an adult conversation about the anti-Scott Walker boycotts. Boycotting is the wrong tactic. Boycotting benefits no one but Mr. Walker. Boycotting aims at the wrong target and hurts the very workers that Mr. Walker’s fiscal policies hurt.

Those who funded Mr. Walker’s gubernatorial campaign and those who voted for Mr. Walker are not the enemy. There is nothing illegal or immoral about contributing to Mr. Walker’s campaign. There is nothing illegal or immoral about voting for Mr. Walker. Those who supported Mr. Walker need to be persuaded, not punished.

Mr. Walker has made a career of misleading Wisconsin voters. As Milwaukee County Executive he pitted suburban voters against city voters. As governor, he has pitted union workers against non-union workers for the benefit of his corporate sponsors. Stripping the public sector unions of their 51-year-old bargaining rights was not a plank in his gubernatorial campaign for the simple reason that if it were he would not have been elected. Even the pro-Walker Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJS) admits this.

If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. At least some of the anti-Walker party seems to think they only have a hammer. That hammer is a boycott. The hourly workers at Sendik’s or M & I Bank or Johnsonville Brats are not nails, however.

Boycotting reputed supporters of Mr. Walker is the wrong tool. Boycotting is effective when its aim is to change behavior. Those who funded Governor Walker’s campaign cannot take back their funding. Those who voted for Mr. Walker cannot take back their vote. Now that these supporters have fulfilled their purpose in the last election there is no reason that the ideologue Mr. Walker will listen to them. He has loftier goals.

But Isn’t Liberal Discipline an Oxymoron?

“Between Feb. 14 and March 12 more than a million people protested in and outside the Capitol,” Steven Walters writes in the MJS. “No one was injured; 16 citations were issued for minor violations.”

I suspect Mr. Walters’ figures are cumulative. Over the period he cites, I suspect some people are counted twice. I know of one MPS teacher who was there for four days. Nevertheless, there were tens of thousands of citizens outraged by the policies of Mr. Walker.

Rueters reported that on Saturday, March 12, the number of protesters was anywhere from 85,000 to 100,000 according to Madison police estimates. The news service observed that this “would top the size of protests in Madison during the Vietnam War.”

On the other hand, the pro-Walker MJS has buried any mention of the size of the March 12 crowd and then has never put a number on it. On Sunday, March 13, it tepidly reported, “The crowd that gathered in Madison was the biggest yet during four weeks of protests.” This understatement is on page 18, bottom right hand corner. The very bottom.

There have been attempts by Governor Walker’s administration and its allies at Fox and on talk radio to portray these citizens as dirty rioters imported to the state by greedy unions, causing cost overruns in police service and millions of dollars in damage to the Capitol.

The protestors were in fact clean, upstanding Wisconsin citizens exercising their rights to peacefully assemble and petition their government. Well, except for that guy on the tractor pulling the manure spreader. It seems that Mr. Tod Pulvermacher “has been convicted of drunken driving four times and has no valid driver’s license” (MJS, 3-16-11). Exceptions must be granted in such a large crowd.

Honest citizens, both conservative and liberal, should be nothing but proud of the uprising of citizens in Madison. Did we mention no one got hurt? Should we not be proud that the police, from the chief down to the patrol officers, professionally kept the peace? Should we not remember that protests in the sixties, over issues every bit as important, shared nothing of the character of this lawful assembly of citizens in Madison?

The fight must go on. The policies of Mr. Walker are dangerous for Wisconsin and the country. The loyal opposition, however, must exercise discipline.

Boycotting hits the wrong targets. Pouring glue into the locks of businesses is vandalism that every citizen should decry. These actions merely feed right-wing talk radio and Fox News. The wrong target is being hit.

On the other hand, the recalling of the senators who support Mr. Walker is on target. The recall of Mr. Walker himself in January 2012 is necessary.

These recalls require persuading citizens who voted for Mr. Walker that he misled them, that his senate supporters are culpable, and that neither the Governor nor his Senate supporters are working in the best interests of Wisconsin. This is hard because it requires patience, maturity, and the work of marshaling the facts. It is easy because the facts are against Mr. Walker and the good citizens of our Wisconsin do not share to his radical Libertarian ideology.

These recalls require disciplined liberals. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Walker's War on Workers

We've seen local union after local union rush to their school boards, their city councils, their technical school boards and rush through contracts in the past two weeks that had no contributions to the pension and no contribution to health care. – Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Governor Scott Walker won a battle against public sector unions last week when the Republican-controlled legislature passed a portion of his so-called Budget Repair Bill. The new law strips public sector unions of bargaining rights granted by this state fifty years ago. The Governor contends that powerful unions prevent the state and its municipalities from assessing workers for pensions and health care costs.
From the beginning of this fight, Governor Walker has maintained that public sector workers covered by collective bargaining agreements pay little or nothing for pensions and health care. This assertion has been picked up by the local and national media and reported as fact.
When the fight went on over the so-called Budget Repair Bill, the Governor made the above statement. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel franchise of PolitiFact, a reputed investigative fact-checking enterprise, examined his statement and reported:
Two governmental bodies -- Madison and MATC -- tapped on the accelerator to get deals approved before state lawmakers could slam on the breaks. But two others, Janesville schools and Sheboygan County, are making their workers wait until the contracts are brought up for a vote at regularly scheduled board meetings. That doesn’t reflect the ram-it-through image Walker pointed to. We rate his statement Barely True.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorsed Mr. Walker for governor. Now MJS continues to support him in both its news and editorial pages. Even their fact-checkers need to be fact-checked, because the Governor’s assertion about employee contributions to pensions and health care is complete economic hogwash.
Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.
How can that be? Because the "contributions" consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages – as pensions when they retire – rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan. If this were not so a serious crime would be taking place, the gift of public funds rather than payment for services (http://www.tax.com/taxcom/taxblog.nsf/Permalink/UBEN-8EDJYS?OpenDocument).
The above is from David Cay Johnston. His excellent article deserves your attention and I encourage you to follow the above link.
Mr. Johnston shows that every employer has employee costs that go beyond the cash on the paycheck. Pensions, health care, sick pay, vacations, and employer contributions to Social Security all figure into the compensation earned by a worker for services rendered. Workers earn this compensation.
Every employer must count the full position costs of a worker, whether his employees are union members or not. No employer, public sector or private, gives his workers something for nothing. Even employers who do not compensate their workers with pensions, health care, and other benefits have to contribute to Social Security. The only exception would be if their employees are undocumented and off the books.
Governor Walker has premised his attack on public sector unions on economic nonsense. Undoubtedly, fair-minded citizens of Wisconsin were appalled to hear that state workers were not contributing to their health care and pensions. They should be even more upset to learn that the Governor has completely misled them.
Governor Walker likes to compare his battle with public sector unions to President Reagan’s conflict with the unionized air traffic controllers. There are significant differences.
President Reagan fired the air traffic controllers when, contrary to law and union contract, they went on strike. To the best of my knowledge, all public sector union members are forbidden by law from striking, unlike their private sector counterparts.
Governor Walker has attacked public sector unions that conceded to his economic demands. They were not striking. They were not threatening to strike.
President Reagan enforced the law. Governor Walker changed the law. President Reagan fought a battle forced on him. Governor Walker has picked a fight. It will not be his first.
After this battle won against public sector unions, there is the battle with the private sector unions. Even before the proposal of the so-called Budget Repair Bill, Republicans in the state legislature were talking about making Wisconsin a so-called Right-To-Work state, thereby ending closed union shops.
Governor Walker has won a battle with his so-called Budget Repair Bill. After this came the budget that cuts local funding and grants tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy. Terminations of local municipal workers are sure to come. Terminated public sector employees do not buy many goods and services. As unemployment surges, wages are depressed. Every worker in Wisconsin, union and non-union, is beginning to realize that there is now a war on workers.
This is a war the Governor cannot be allowed to win.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Scott Walker, Meet Harry Lime

“Don't be so gloomy. After all, it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love -- they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long, Holly.”  -- Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in The Third Man.

Harry Lime is the charming entrepreneur in the Carol Reed classic, The Third Man. Graham Greene wrote most of the script, but the above quotation, one of the most famous in the history of film, reportedly came from the third genius of the film, Orson Welles.

Harry Lime is an entrepreneur because in post-World War II Vienna he bought low – actually stole - penicillin, and sold high, diluting the penicillin to maximize profits. Harry Lime is charming because even after his nefarious enterprise results in the death and suffering of hundreds, his friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) and lover Anna Schmitt (Alida Valli) cannot bring themselves to betray good old Harry.

The Third Man is a truly great film. I have seen it a half dozen times and have always found something new to appreciate and wonder about.

The quotation above is part of the Ferris wheel scene where Holly Martins confronts Harry about his crime and Harry explains his philosophy. He is a complete egoist. As they reach the pinnacle of the Ferris wheel ride he beguiles Holly with the idea that one should always regard his self-interest above all the “little dots” below.

Selfishness as a virtue, disregard for the masses, disparagement of democracy, and appreciation of the advance of creativity regardless of bloodshed, these are all attributes of an Ayn Rand hero. Fortunately, here they are the attributes of a Greene/Reed villain.

The analogy is this: Randians cannot disassociate their hero John Galt from the villain Harry Lime any more than Marxists can disassociate Marx from Stalin. The moral bankruptcy of Randism and Marxism is equivalent.

Capitalism is not inherently evil. Neither is it unqualifiedly good. Like any human invention, it is susceptible to corruption. The ideology of Randism threatens to corrupt capitalism in our republic.

I doubt that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has read Ayn Rand because I doubt that this college dropout has read much of anything. His singular talent is to get himself elected to office. As Milwaukee County Executive, he solved none of the county's problems. He dedicated himself to reducing government and taxes without regard for the consequences.

I do not know that he is a Randian. He has drunk the Kool-Aid. His ideological purity has brought on moral corruption.

Governor Walker was pranked. A caller pretending to be radical capitalist David Koch recorded a conversation with the governor. It was damning at several points, most of all in revealing the Governor’s regard for the citizens protesting his latest power grab before the state senate.

Murphy [pretending to be Koch]: Right, right. We’ll back you any way we can. But what we were thinking about the crowd was, uh, was planting some troublemakers.

Walker: You know, well, the only problem with that — because we thought about that. The problem with — my only gut reaction to that would be, right now the lawmakers I’ve talked to have just completely had it with them. The public is not really fond of this. …My only fear would be if there’s a ruckus caused is that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has to settle to avoid all these problems.

The protests in Madison have been amazingly peaceful. Even when pro-Walker demonstrators showed, there were no incidents of violence. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have flooded the capitol and there have been no arrests. The capitol police have been wonderfully professional and the demonstrators have been respectful.

Little did the police suspect, however, that the Governor himself had been thinking about sending “troublemakers” into this situation. He did not send them, which is to his credit. The reason he did not, however, deprives him of all credit.

He did not send troublemakers into the crowd because it would be immoral, illegal, and very likely, dangerous in a crowd that at one point swelled to 70,000. He did not consider that such an action might cause bodily harm or even death. His only concern was that such an action might backfire and cause the public to turn against him.

Eagle Scout Scott Walker is a radical who believes in himself as the strong individual who is without all doubt on the right side of history. He dismisses, without the least consideration, the concerns of the tens of thousands of little dots who surrounded the capital. He is concerned about their safety and well-being only to the extent that they threaten him and the success of his ideology.

Mr. Walker has graduated from being a bungling county executive to being a truly dangerous governor.

Scott Walker, meet Harry Lime.