Tuesday, January 16, 2018
|Trump apoligist and enabler, Senator Tom Cotton|
The last post looked at Grundy and Buchanan County, Virginia - Trump country, if you will - and the mindset that keeps the area in an economic death spiral. Sadly, I suspect Der Trumpenführer recent "shithole" comments denigrating certain countries and the entire continent of Africa played well in Grundy. Indeed, as a piece in Vanity Fair notes, the crass racist remarks - and that's being polite - played very well among the right wing and much of the Republican Party base. "Friends" who vote Republican can assure themselves that they are not racist bigots, but the company they keep tells a very different story. The base of the Republican Party is now a toxic cesspool visible to except those who refuse to open their eyes to reality - or who subscribe to the white supremacist/Christofascist agenda of the GOP. Here are highlights from the Vanity Fair piece:
For much of the sentient world, deranged and appalling reference to Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries as “shithole” nations during a White House meeting on immigration reform, last Thursday, became the latest evidence of, among other things, the president’s mental instability, the possibly irreparable descent of our democracy into an abysmal cesspool, and the chilling extent to which we have reversed decades of racial progress . . . . Even the president appeared to understand, on some level, that he had spoken with woeful ignorance.
By Sunday, Senators and , both Trump loyalists, said that they couldn’t quite recall the word being used in the meeting, and attempted to publicly walk back the remark by proxy. As the weekend drew to a close, likely sensing the need to open a new front on their war with the media, the White House accused The Wall Street Journal of misquoting the president regarding his amorous relationship with erratic warmonger .
On the far right, however, the president’s use of the word “shithole” was largely celebrated as Trumpism in its purest, most puerile form. “Donald Trump’s first instinct that ‘shithole’ would play well with his base was spot on,” Kurt Bardella, a longtime Republican press relations professional and the former spokesman for Breitbart News, told me. “No issue throughout the past two decades has had a more energizing and mobilizing effect on the conservative base and media than immigration.”
Indeed, the digital redoubts of the far-right were buzzing with excitement to see all their favorite adversaries—Democrats, celebrities, CNN anchors—so apoplectic. Responses ranged from from the farfetched and bizarre, like Fox News host Jesse Watters, who noted, “this is how the forgotten men and women in America talk at the bar,” to much, much worse. Some, such as one Infowars editor, rejoiced that Trump had validated their beliefs that such countries were dumps. . . . . an editor at the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer wrote, calling Trump’s comments “encouraging and refreshing.”
Breitbart, meanwhile, gleefully published stories about outraged, reliably liberal Hollywood celebrities (singling out Sean Penn at one point), as well as a host of triggered journalists from the “Shithole of Fake News.”
They all seemed to share a similar strategy. Given the inarguable ghastliness of Trump’s comments, the far right focused less on the indefensible statement itself than how seriously the left and media were taking the incident, a collective behavior that they attempted to portray as sanctimonious umbrage. . . . “I can tell you this is all faux rage…It is made up,” seethed to his listeners, in a segment that was temporarily pushed on Breitbart’s front page.
Trump’s base has always been a strange amalgamation of people who would normally never associate with each other: liberal-leaning populist-nationalists and evangelical, anti-gay alleged pedophiles; pro-Israeli businessmen and neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers; Republican war hawks and ardent isolationists. They remain united largely by disgust toward various liberal totems, and the fact that the vast and balkanized rightwing digital universe allows them to vaguely agree without ever meeting.
Again, my mother always warned us as children that we would be judged by the company that we kept. It's far past time that Republicans who still have some decency about them walk away from the Republican Party. Otherwise, they deserved to be judged no better than the ugliest elements of Trump's base. They do not get to have it both ways.
The county most spotlighted in the piece was Buchanan County, Virginia. Ironically, despite its severe dependence on federal disability payments, Medicaid payments and remote area medical clinics, Buchanan County voted over 80% for Donald Trump in 2016, and 75.94% for Ed Gillespie this past November. Trump's tax bill slashed taxes for the wealthy and large corporations, few if any of which are found in Buchanan County, and will fuel Republican desires to slash the social safety net spending. Gillespie, had he been elected championed a similar tax cut in Virginia that would have left Virginia with a $1.5 billion deficit which would have likewise brought spending cuts in programs that aid an already desperate area of Virginia. Both votes are yet further displays of the irony that rural regions vote against their own economic interest typically because GOP candidates play upon the residents' racism, homophobia and general rejection of knowledge and modernity itself. How residents expect to turn their regions around economically when their bigotry and backwardness make them anathema to modern and progressive businesses. A further irony is that newly inaugurated Governor Northam - a pediatric neurologist by profession - whom Buchanan County rejected last November has pledged spend time working in the RAM clinics mentioned in the cited article. Here are excerpts from the piece in The Atlantic:
Remote Area Medical ("RAM) was founded in 1985 by Stan Brock, a 79-year-old Brit who wears a tan Air-Force-style uniform and formerly hosted a nature TV show called Wild Kingdom. Even after he spent time in the wilds of Guyana, Brock came to the conclusion that poor Americans needed access to medical care about as badly as the Guyanese did. Now Remote Area Medical holds 20 or so packed clinics all over the country each year, providing free checkups and services to low-income families who pour in from around the region.
Inside, the clinic’s patrons looked more or less able-bodied. Most of the women were overweight, and the majority of the people I talked to were missing some of their teeth. But they were walking and talking, or shuffling patiently along the beige halls as they waited for their names to be called. There weren’t a lot of crutches and wheelchairs.
Yet many of the people in the surrounding county, Buchanan, derive their income from Social Security Disability Insurance, the government program for people who are deemed unfit for work because of permanent physical or mental wounds. Along with neighboring counties, Buchanan has one of the highest percentages of adult disability recipients in the nation, according to a 2014 analysis by the Urban Institute’s Stephan Lindner. Nearly 20 percent of the area's adult residents received government SSDI benefits in 2011, the most recent year Lindner was able to analyze.
[F]ive of the 10 counties that have the most people on disability are in Virginia—and so are four of the lowest, making the state an emblem of how wealth and work determine health and well-being. Six hours to the north, in Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun Counties, just one out of every hundred adults draws SSDI benefits. But Buchanan county is home to a shadow economy of maimed workers, eking out a living the only way they can—by joining the nation’s increasingly sizable disability rolls.
Just about everyone I spoke with at the Grundy clinic was a former manual worker, or married to one, and most had a story of a bone-crushing accident that had left them (or their spouse) out of work forever.
In October, the sun-dappled mountains blazed with red and orange as the leaves turned. If you wanted to send someone a postcard to convince them of the merits of Virginia, this would be it.
But if this place has the scenery of the Belgian Ardennes, it has the health statistics of Bangladesh. People here die about five years earlier than they should. About a third of people smoke, and a third are obese. A quarter of the people live in poverty, compared with about 11 percent in the rest of the state.
These Appalachians, many of them former coal miners, are among the nearly nine million American workers receiving disability payments today, compared with 1.4 million in 1970. Spending on the program has risen nine-fold over the past four decades. Clusters of recipients can be found from California to Maine, though as Lindner points out, the states with the highest numbers tend to be in the South and Southeast.
Critics say the program’s expansion is partly driven by Americans who are perfectly capable of working but are unwilling to do so. Since the mid-1980s, government spending on the elderly and disabled has ballooned, even as tightened eligibility rules have slashed welfare aid for needy mothers and children.
But visiting a place like Grundy reveals a more complicated picture. There are undoubtedly some who exaggerate their ailments in order to collect their checks. But many of the coal workers here have experienced horrific on-the-job accidents and can’t go back to the mines. Other residents have been battered by diabetes, obesity, and tobacco. Others still suffer from severe depression and intellectual disabilities that would preclude most kinds of work. And most importantly, there are no other options here: no orthodontist’s office where someone can work the front desk; no big firms brimming with entry-level secretarial jobs. It’s not even clear how a person would go about calling around for a job here: My iPhone stopped working a few miles outside the county line.
Locals blame the town’s economic slump on the decline of coal, which they in turn blame on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations. Several yards were dotted with campaign signs urging passers-by to “Stop Obama/Vote Gillespie.” (Sixty percent of Buchanan county voted for Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for Senate, though he lost in the state overall.)
The population of the county has shrunk by about 15,000 people since that year . In May alone, 188 workers were laid off in a mine near Grundy. The industry has been slammed by the newfound natural gas reserves and is expected to contract further by 2020. Still, coal remains the largest private employer in Buchanan, and its heavy impact continues to be felt even by those who no longer work in the mines.
Compare all of this with Arlington County, 400 miles away in the northern part of the state, which has one of the nation’s lowest rates of disability. Only 1 percent of people in Arlington are on disability, and it’s regularly ranked one of the overall healthiest (and richest) counties in the nation. Here, there are well-paved bike routes and a Metro-accessible Whole Foods. People complain when they can’t take their tiny dogs into Starbucks.
Virginia, in other words, is a state divided not only by politics, professions, and mountains, but also by how run-down its citizens are. While Buchanan county’s fortunes have been inextricably tied to coal, those of Northern Virginia are hitched to the government.
An outmigration of the young and talented has left behind an aging population that is ill-equipped to deal with a changing economy. Thirty-two percent of Buchanan's residents never graduated from high school, compared with 15 percent nationwide.
Because getting to a doctor is hard and expensive, people self-medicate with prescription painkillers, alcohol, and tobacco. Eventually, said Smiddy, the pulmonologist, “they become dysfunctional. They're weaving behind the car. They're setting the stove on fire. It's not that they're bad people. They’re probably faith-based people, family people. Most are just trying to function.”
The problem is, even if society were to decide that there should be fewer people on disability, that the system has become too bloated with sneaky pretenders, it isn’t clear what a fifth of the population of Grundy would do to survive. It’s entirely possible that some of the town’s residents are faking their disability claims, but it’s hard to imagine that most of them are. People who are rolling in undeserved government dough generally don’t line up at the crack of dawn to get their teeth fixed in an elementary school cafeteria.
The problem, as Smiddy sees it, isn’t just that the economy is limited, or that the region’s education and medical systems could use an overhaul. The county’s health has been so poor for so long, he says, that locals have set their expectations too low. And once everyone—the people, their employers, their doctors, the government—accepts that bleak vision, it hardens into reality. It makes it so there’s no life after coal.
Monday, January 15, 2018
Back when I was a GOP activist years ago, the theme was that the purpose of the Party was to win elections and grow the base of support for the Party and its candidates. Now, it increasingly appears that the only concern is to appease the most toxic and vile elements of the GOP base and to lie to everyone else about the foul nature of the base and the party agenda. There seems to be little thought about building a long term sustainable base, hence the almost deliberate effort to alienate Millennials and as the pandering to aging Christian extremists and white supremacists continues to ramp up. Now, some Republicans seem to be waking up to the reality that 2018 may be the year that the Republican Party and its short sighted leadership reap the harvest of their misogyny. A piece in the Washington Post looks at the growing fear - which I must admit I savor since it is so deserved - that is taking hold among Republicans. Here are highlights:
A raft of retirements, difficulty recruiting candidates and President Trump’s continuing pattern of throwing his party off message have prompted new alarm among Republicans that they could be facing a Democratic electoral wave in November.The concern has grown so acute that Trump received what one congressional aide described as a “sobering” slide presentation about the difficult midterm landscape at Camp David last weekend, leading the president to pledge a robust schedule of fundraising and campaign travel in the coming months, White House officials said.
But the trends have continued, and perhaps worsened, since that briefing, with two more prominent Republican House members announcing plans to retire from vulnerable seats and a would-be recruit begging off a Senate challenge to Democrat Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota despite pressure from Trump to run.
And by the end of the week, many Republicans were scrambling to distance themselves from the president after he spoke of “shithole countries” during an Oval Office meeting . . . . Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), a rising star in the party who faces a strong Democratic challenge this year, quickly denounced Trump for apparently denigrating Haiti, the birthplace of both her parents. . . .
In the Camp David presentation, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) described scenarios to the president ranging from a bloodbath where Republicans lost the House “and lost it big,” in the words of one official, to an outcome in which they keep control while losing some seats.
Republicans hold the advantage of a historically favorable electoral map . . . . But other indicators are clearly flashing GOP warning signs. Democrats have benefited from significant recruitment advantages — there are at least a half dozen former Army Rangers and Navy SEALs running as Democrats this year, for example — as Republicans struggle to convince incumbents to run for reelection.
At least 29 House seats held by Republicans will be open in November . . . . The president’s own job approval, a traditional harbinger of his party’s midterm performance, is at record lows as he approaches a year in office, according to Gallup. Polls asking which party Americans want to see control Congress in 2019 show a double-digit advantage for Democrats.
“When the wave comes, it’s always underestimated in the polls,” said a conservative political strategist who has met with GOP candidates. “That is the reason that Republicans are ducking for cover.”
“The monthly metrics are bad, from the generic ballot to the Republican retirements to the number of Democratic recruits with money,” said one Republican political consultant . . . the major metrics point to us losing at least one house of Congress.”
Republicans have struggled to narrow their Senate fields, with big and sometimes-nasty primary fights shaping up in Indiana, Montana and Arizona. The recent announcement that former Phoenix-area sheriff Joe Arpaio would run for the Senate has raised some Republican concerns about holding onto the seat of retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.).
Trump continually reminds advisers that he remains popular in a number of states, including West Virginia, Montana and North Dakota, according to aides. But slow fundraising and anemic candidate recruitment have caused tensions between the White House and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, White House advisers said.
White House officials said they expect a full plunge in upcoming weeks into a special House race in Pennsylvania, with trips from Trump, Vice President Pence and Cabinet members. The race has taken on a larger-than-life role in the White House because officials want to stem the tide of the losses they suffered last year in Virginia and Alabama.
And they have begun exploring ways to inject “wedge issues” that could trouble Democrats in more conservative states. Those could include immigration votes, requirements for welfare, sanctuary-city reform and revisions to the guest-worker program.
Despite all that, political handicappers have gradually increased the odds that Democrats will retake the House, where they need to pick up 24 seats to do so. Democrats must net two seats to take control of the Senate, a harder task
Republican strategists said they want to spend the next eight months talking about the economy. . . . But maintaining that message can be a challenge, as the president showed this week when his vulgar comments about some developing countries sparked international outrage.
Ed Gillespie tried using "wedge issues" in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial race (as did his GOP ticket mates) and it did not end well. Indeed, it likely increased the Democrat turn out among minorities and Millennials. Let's hope that effort fails again.
Being at the inaugural events this past weekend, including the the inaugural ceremony itself which is held on the south portico of the Virginia Capitol, it is hard not to feel the history of the ceremonies and, of course, the role of the Founding Fathers from Virginia. Among those is Thomas Jefferson who designed the Capitol building, founded the University of Virginia, and authored the Declaration of Independence. But Jefferson was equally proud of his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which in many ways lay the ground work for the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. As evangelical Christians - the Christofascists - seek to exempt themselves from laws binding on the citizenry on the duplicitous claim that to do otherwise deprives them of "religious freedom," it is important to understand what Jefferson and his fellows understood religious freedom to be and that it is the exact opposite of what is now being put forth by Christofascists whom I suspect Jefferson would have loathed. Indeed, the exemplify some of the evils of religion that Jefferson and the Founders decried. A piece in Religion Dispatches by a legitimate historian (as opposed to faux historians favored by the "godly folk") reminds us of what religious freedom means and that it does not grant licences to discriminate. Here are excerpts:
To listen to the Christian Right, which has been busy seeking religious exemptions from laws governing reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights, one might think that armies of secularists are swarming like locusts over the land, seeking to snuff out the light of religious freedom and ultimately, of faith itself.
Informed people on all sides also tend to agree that the taproot of religious freedom in the United States is the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, originally drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1777 and shepherded through the Virginia legislature by James Madison in 1786. The following year, Madison served as the principal (but certainly not the only) author of the Constitution, and in 1789, as the principal author of the First Amendment.
Historian John Ragosta, author of Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed (University of Virginia Press, 2013), has been writing about the origins of the U.S. approach to religious freedom, particularly the Virginia Statute, the circumstances that gave rise to it and what it means for understanding religion, law and politics in our time.
What exactly is the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and how did it come to be?
The Virginia Statute is probably the most robust and certainly the most poetic statement of religious freedom in our history. . . . . it played a critical role in development of the First Amendment and in the way the states defined religious freedom. It was far better known in the nineteenth century when historians, students, newspaper editors and politicians regularly turned to the Statute to understand religious liberty.
Its history is equally important: After the American Revolution there was an effort to impose taxes to support all Christian religions; this was seen as an improvement over colonial laws which had favored specific Christian sects, e.g. Anglican or Congregational. If that effort had succeeded, we could say that America was somehow officially or legally a “Christian Nation.” Fortunately, James Madison and a broad coalition of evangelicals rose up to oppose state interference with religion, even support for religion, and instead managed to have Jefferson’s Statute enacted.
Thomas Jefferson . . . wanted to be remembered as author of the Declaration of Independence, “Father of the University of Virginia,” and author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
Jefferson saw these three things as the great accomplishments of his life: political freedom, religious freedom, and educational freedom and opportunity. Of the three, he thought religious freedom was the foundation because without freedom to think and believe, you could not have the other two. A republic could not work if government and church officials (what Jefferson referred to as an alliance of “kings, nobles, and priests”) were trying to control what we think or prescribe what was the “best” religion or which people were the “best” citizens based upon their religious beliefs. If people were to make informed political choices themselves, they had to be free to think for themselves, especially about religion. For Jefferson and his supporters, religious freedom for all was central to our democracy.
Jefferson emphasized that the bill was meant to protect everyone, including as he later wrote, “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” This idea–that one’s religious identity should be neither an advantage nor a disadvantage under the law–seems to be as relevant today as it was then.
The Statute was intended to create a free market of ideas, including religious ideas. Religion would thrive based not on government decisions but on what people believed and chose to support–the “voluntary principle.” The result was an explosion in religious ideas and denominations, and religious leaders were held responsible to their congregants rather than the government.
At the same time, while belief is completely free from government regulation and government cannot directly regulate the free exercise of religion, government can pass “neutral” laws (not targeted at religion) which may happen to be inconsistent with a person’s beliefs.
The best modern example is laws against racial discrimination: While many people insisted that interracial dating or marriage violated their religion, the Supreme Court, in the 1983 case of Bob Jones University v. United States, rightly refused to grant an exemption to anti-discrimination laws based on religion.
This is exactly what is at issue in the claims for exemptions from laws dealing with LGBTQ rights. Government cannot tell a church that it must marry gay people (that would be a direct regulation of religion), but government can say that if you want to run a business (using public streets, public utilities, police and fire protection, etc.), you cannot discriminate against customers based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. Of course, if people don’t like particular laws, they can be changed, but Jefferson was very clear that you can’t use religion or religious freedom to claim an exemption from an otherwise valid law.
During a crisis, President Jefferson was asked to make an official proclamation calling on people to pray for the country; he refused, saying that it would violate the Constitution. Even if there was no criminal penalty or fine for not praying, Jefferson said that he believed the proclamation would give the erroneous idea that “good” citizens would join in prayer. This was the “tyranny over the mind of man” that Jefferson fought against.
The Declaration of Independence includes very broad and general language about a “creator,” but it is telling that the only reference to God or religion in the Constitution is Article VI which mandates that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.” This was not a mistake. These religious people decided that it would be better for the country, for both government and religion, to keep them separated.
Jefferson once suggested that perhaps the only thing that we should require of anyone to be tolerated in our society is their commitment to tolerate others.
Eighteenth century Presbyterians and Baptists would often note that if government could discriminate in favor of any religion, even all Christian religions, it also had the authority to attack a particular religion or all religions. They realized that complete separation of church and state was the best way to promote true religion.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
My dad’s advice stayed with me when I reached the Virginia Military Institute and was given a different kind of compass, in the simple words of the VMI honor code: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do.” Those words have stuck with me all these years because they’re so clear. They have become a kind of moral compass for me. They always call me back home safely.
Virginia and this country need that more than ever these days. It can be hard to find our way in a time when there’s so much shouting, when nasty, shallow tweets take the place of honest debate, and when scoring political points gets in the way of dealing with real problems.
If you’ve felt that way, I want you to listen to me right now: We are bigger than this.We all have a moral compass deep in our hearts. And it’s time to summon it again, because we have a lot of work to do.
Sadly, as noted, these concepts appear to be lost or non-existence among today's congressional Republicans who could, if they wanted to, counter Trump or even remove him from office. Yet it seems Republicans no longer have any sense of decency. A piece in The Atlantic looks at this threat and the question that moral people need to loudly ask Republicans. Here are column excerpts:
“Have you no sense of decency?” It’s the question that the members of the Republican majority in the Congress—51 senators, 239 representatives—might bear in mind, in the “shithole” era.
If only two of those senators would stand up against Donald Trump, with their votes rather than just their tweets or concerned statements, they would constitute an effective majority.
With the 49 Democratic and independent senators, these two would make 51 votes, which in turn would be enough to authorize real investigations. They could pass a formal resolution of censure. They could call for tax returns and financial disclosure. They could begin hearings, on the model of the nationally televised Watergate hearings of 45 years ago.
They could behave as if they took seriously their duties to hold the executive branch accountable. They could make a choice they know will be to their credit when this era enters history — as did the Republicans who finally turned against their own party’s President Nixon during the Watergate drama, as did the Democrats who finally turned against their own party’s President Johnson over the Vietnam war, as did the Republicans who finally turned against their own poisonous Senator McCarthy in the episode that gave rise to “Have you no sense of decency?” more than 60 years ago. They could spare themselves the shame that history attaches to people who did the wrong thing, or nothing, or kept looking the other way during those decisive periods.
If any of these two, or some other pair from the thirty-plus remaining Republicans, decided to take a stand, they would not change everything about this perilous moment in politics. But they would do something, about the open secret of a destructive presidency that nearly all of their colleagues are aware of and virtually none is doing anything about.
They could remind their colleagues of the Senate’s appropriate check-and-balance function.
And they could spare themselves, in history’s perspective, the question Joseph Welch so memorably asked the rampaging Senator Joe McCarthy, during the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954.
From the Senate’s own historical site: As an amazed television audience looked on, Welch responded with the immortal lines that ultimately ended McCarthy's career:
"Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness." When McCarthy tried to continue his attack, Welch angrily interrupted, "Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?"
Have you no sense of decency? It is a question worth pondering, in the shithole era.