Has Manchin had His Moment of Zen? — Can he rise above the GOP?

Has Manchin had His Moment of Zen?

Can he rise above the GOP?

May 29th 2021

Joe Manchin, Senator from West Virginia, is probably the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. In an evenly split Senate, his decisions on such things as the infrastructure bill and the filibuster can possibly make or break the Biden presidency, and for that matter, the country itself.

Manchin has opposed ending the filibuster rules in the Senate, and while there is all sorts of conjecture as to why he supports this democracy-defeating relic of the ante-bellum days, it’s safe to say that self-interest isn’t one of those reasons. With the filibuster, he’s just another pointless vote in a Senate controlled by 41 of the Senators and 28% of the voting population. Without the filibuster he’s the deciding vote on most legislative items, minor and major, including all judicial nominees. Being the deciding vote is a dream of any congressional; he can parley his vote into advantages for his district and his constituents, and if he’s reasonably straightforward and honest in his dealings, he can use his place in the sun to career-boosting things such as plum committee assignments or support for a future presidential bid. For the next 18 months, getting rid of the filibuster would be very much to Manchin’s advantage.

Until yesterday, he had adamantly opposed changing the rules to eliminate the filibuster. He argument was that if things weren’t done in a bipartisan manner, the interests of the general population weren’t being served. This is a view that required utter blindness to the behavior of Republicans who are openly contemptuous of bipartisanship and regard “reaching across the aisle” as a sign of weakness.

Manchin’s delusion may have come crashing to Earth yesterday. That was when the Senate finally voted on whether to establish a commission to study the events of January 6th. The House has already voted on it, passing what should have been a no-question-about-it resolution with the support of only 35 Republicans.

Manchin regarded a Congressional inquiry into the events of that day as essential and seemed confident that there were at least 10 Republicans with the honor and courage to vote for the bill. After weeks of intense negotiation, mentored by Manchin, it was decided that rather than the usual arrangement of majority party getting 50% +1 in membership and agreeing that tie votes would defeat a passage of a report, the Republicans reneged when the vote came down, with only 6 of them voting for what they had agreed upon.

Republican reasons for their vote varied from not wanting to anger the monster from Mar-a-Lago to covering up complicity with the insurrectionists to avoiding embarrassment to the party to the simple, savage Gingrich-type glee of simply cheating the Democrats by pretending to negotiate in good faith and then shafting them on the vote itself.

The scales fell from Manchin’s eyes. He released a statement that evening, saying in full,

Before January 6, 2021, an attack on Congress and Democracy at our Capitol at the hands of our own citizens was unimaginable. In the 240 plus years of our great nation’s history, we have never seen an attack of this nature. Not even during our nation’s horrific Civil War did this happen. This was our chance to have a bipartisan commission that would allow for an impartial investigation into the events of that horrific day so we are better able to prevent another attack on our nation. Let me be clear – Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate accepted the proposed changes from Republicans because a commission of this nature must be bipartisan to be successful.   

This commission passed the House with a bipartisan vote. The failed vote in the Senate had six brave Republicans, but that was four short of the ten necessary to advance the legislation. Choosing to put politics and political elections above the health of our Democracy is unconscionable. And the betrayal of the oath we each take is something they will have to live with.

To the brave Capitol police officers who risk their lives every single day to keep us safe, the Capitol and Congressional staff that work around the clock to keep Congress running, even the reporters who work hard to deliver Congressional news to the American people and every American who watched in horror as our Capitol was attacked on January 6th – you deserve better and I am sorry that my Republican colleagues and friends let political fear prevent them from doing what they know in their hearts to be right.”

He was later quoted as telling reporters,”This job’s not worth it to me to sell my soul.”

That doesn’t sound like a man who has any trust or respect left for the Republicans in the Senate, does it? Whatever else you might say about him, he was honestly appalled by the events of January 6, and wants a reckoning. And he’s clearly tired of McConnell’s vicious little fascist games.

Biden was expecting something like this. He simply put his infrastructure bill in the 2023 budget intact, realizing that Republican “negotiations” were in bad faith, and just coincidentally, creating a space for a different major bill to be presented under Reconciliation, such as SR1, the Voting Act. He knows what the Republicans have in mind for us, and that they must be stopped.

I believe that Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer were waiting for the Republicans to take a last big bad-faith step like this. Public outrage is high over this vote—I wrote on Facebook that if your representative voted against this committee, you were being represented by a coward, a liar, a hypocrite and in all likelihood, a traitor, I didn’t get a single negative response.

If Schumer moves this coming week to abolish the filibuster—which only requires 50 votes, ironically—I believe Manchin will vote for it. After working hard to give the Republicans full representation on the committee in order to ensure a truly bipartisan result (he hoped!) he has to feel outraged and betrayed, and like all of the rest of us, deeply skeptical of Republican patriotism and basic decency.

We are at our make-or-break moment.

A Harder Trek – They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

A harder Trek

May 24th 2021

Co-written with Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott and illustrated by Harmony Becker.

Top Shelf Productions 2019, 204 pages

 

I first learned of the Canadian internment of Japanese-descended people in British Columbia—some 90% of the Japanese and Japanese-descended residents in that province—when I was 12 years old. My father told me of it. It wasn’t taught in schools. Later, I learned that it was suppressed by two sides of the quiet debate: those who felt a deep shame over the mistreatment of loyal Canadians based solely on race, cowardice and ignorance, and those who felt they should have just shipped all the “Japs” back “home” or simply exterminated them or made them slaves.

There weren’t many Japanese—either actual Japanese or Canadian descendants—in eastern Canada, but it did make one minor change in my outlook towards people. I had shied away from anyone with a Germanic name. In both the UK and Canada I had been taught that Germans were the most horrible people on Earth, who killed millions. Aside from the fact that kids in the playground who had “German-sounding” names (about half of them were probably Ukrainian) had nothing to do with Hitler and it was patently absurd to assume they killed Jews for the fun of it (and I would talk about a bad trade as having been ‘Jewed’ or ‘Gypped’ with absolutely no sense of irony), there was the realization that outrage over mistreatment of one group of people didn’t justify similar mistreatment of other groups of people. (I don’t think I actually ever mistreated any kids with eeevil surnames—I just avoided them). How could I hate Germans for what their leader did to innocent people when Canada was doing a milder version of the same thing and there were Canadians—some in military uniform—willing to say “we should have just exterminated them.”

It was a few years later that I learned that a similar mistreatment of people based on nothing more than the shape of their eyes also occurred in America. While not quite as vicious as the Canadian internment, it was on a much greater scale—some 220,000 people, many of whom had been born in America, were American citizens. I actually felt a bit of relief when I learned that; I had treated the internment as a nasty family secret, and didn’t want my new American friends to learn what a loathsome country I was from. Obviously I still had some thinking and processing to do.

History eventually caught up to the self-comforting lies we told ourselves about how pure and noble we were in the war, fighting ultimate evil and so on, and in both Canada and America, the realization that we had done something horrible led to regret, and to some extent, redress.

One of the youngest victims of the anti-Japan hysteria in the wake of Pearl Harbor was George Takei, now the noted actor and social advocate. Not yet five years old, he and his family were rounded up and sent off to live in the horse stables of Santa Anita racetrack, their home, business and assets seized and sold. Only his father, Takekuma Norman Takei, had actually ever lived in Japan, from his birth in 1902 until he came to the United States in 1914. George Takei’s mother and siblings were all born in America and never set foot in Japan. They had done nothing wrong. In fact, nobody of Japanese descent had done anything wrong. The Attorney-General of California, future Chief Justice Earl Warren, said, “We have no reports of spying, or sabotage, or fifth column activities by Japanese Americans, and that is ominous, because the Japanese are inscrutable.” If any element of this hysteria summed up the unreasoning fear and moral cowardice of the leaders of America (and Warren went on to become a champion of civil rights despite this), that statement encapsulated it.

It was the only time blind hatred and abject fear put the victims of the internment in a Catch-22 position. Long after Takei’s family was moved from the piles of horse manure in Earl Warren’s California to the swamplands of Camp Rohwer, Arkansas, the government demanded that those they had capriciously robbed and imprisoned sign an oath swearing to fight for America if so asked, and to abjure allegiance to the Emperor of Japan, an insulting demand and an even more insulting assumption. Americans whose families had lived in America for three generations or more felt no more allegiance to Hirohito than I do to Bonnie Prince Charles. Most refused to sign on moral principles, and the Supreme Court upheld a government directive deeming such principled Americans to be “enemy aliens.” Later, when the war ended, the government announced they would tear down the camps, and the internees were free to go where they pleased—in a land where looking Japanese could and in all likelihood would get you lynched. Or, the government added slyly, admit to being enemy aliens, renounce citizenship, and eventually get deported to Japan (where over 100,000 children starved to death in 1946, so you can imagine the welcome Americans who couldn’t even speak Japanese would get). Or they could remain in the camps, safe from the lynch mobs. The Supreme Court struck down that agreement as unconstitutional two days before Takei’s mother, who was born in LA and had never been to Japan, was due to be shipped out.

Takei’s graphic novel is full of pathos and pride, dignity and assault, big and small. It’s a fantastic effort, and I would love to see it as a book to be studied in middle-grade level schools in the US and Canada. He shows the monumental injustice that happened, but more importantly, shows what needs to be done.

In a heated argument with his father, Takei, then adolescent and judgmental, responded to a remark the elder Taakei made that “…of all the forms of government that we have, American democracy is still the best.” with “Daddy, how can you say that? After all you went through, losing everything you and mama worked for?” His father replied, “Roosevelt pulled us out of the Depression and he did great things. But he was also a fallible human being, and he made a disastrous mistake that affected us calamitously. But despite all that, our democracy is still the best in the world because it is a people’s democracy.”

Fascism has corruption and cruelty built in as a feature. Theocracies are even worse. The only reason monarchies work these days is because they keep the monarchs sedated and in fancy cages. Takei Senior was right.

But horrors like the internments, mild as they may seem next to the routine horrors of fascist regimes as existed in Germany and Japan at that time, are not to be tolerated in a people’s democracy, and while it took time, it didn’t take the utter destruction of the nation and years of occupation by democratic forces to get America and Canada to admit to their crimes. Time is a poor excuse: Takei’s father didn’t live to see the eventual efforts to right a terrible wrong. Takei, I’m happy to say, has.

Takei is a social advocate, not just about hate crimes against people who look different, but against gays and the dispossessed. And while his book would be important and necessary at any time, we now face a new wave of anti-Asiatic bigotry, based on the incredibly flimsy notion that COVID-19 may have originated in Wuhan, China. Weak and cowardly people think that’s a good excuse to beat up people who look Chinese. But America has a resurgent, paranoid and angry fascist movement, one whose gullible fools believe the Chinese engineered the virus in some way and use that to justify pogroms against Japanese, Chinese, and everyone else they hate, which is most of the country.

Takei’s book, compassionate and unyielding at the same time, is a badly needed antidote to the ongoing madness.

Fighting Fascism — The GOP and the 14 signs of fascism

Fighting Fascism

The GOP and the 14 signs of fascism

 

May 15th 2021

Back in 2003, Laurence W. Britt wrote an op-ed piece for Secular Humanism magazine called “Fascism, Anyone?” The magazine wryly notes that it is “the most reprinted—and most pirated—article in the magazine’s history.” It’s better known around the web as “The fourteen signs of fascism” and it serves well as a warning against any kind of extreme authoritarianism. Of course, fascism is almost by definition extreme authoritarianism, but ever since World War 2, fascists never, ever refer to themselves as fascists. In the US, they like to call themselves “conservatives” or “patriots.” They are neither.

I’ve used Britt’s essay several times in essays since it came out as it it has become a sine qua non for defining—and fighting—fascism.

I’m going to take the titles of each of the 14 signs and give a brief description of how this is a very nearly exact match for policies and practices of today’s Republican party. Readers are invited to take any of the 14 referents and argue how they DON’T represent what are laughingly referred to as “Republican values” these days. Those who like to use the tu quoque logical fallacy (whataboutism) will be happy to know that I’ll freely admit that some points do apply to Democrats as well as Republicans, although most do not. With Republicans, the score is 14 out of 14.

Here they are in the order Britt laid them out, with my own thoughts on how they apply now with the 2021 version of the GOP.

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.

No politician dares appear on a stage without a dozen or fifty American flags in the background. It long passed the point of being ridiculous, but nobody dares say so—in either party. People are obliged to refer to America as a family member or a lover, rather than just a place. The United States is a country. America is a shit pot of cows and trees and Starbucks. It’s not illegal to say so. Or unpatriotic.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.

Three words. “Kids in cages.” Republicans kept kids in cages for weeks and even months, and committed the unspeakably cruel crime of permanently separating them from their families, just because of the common fascist belief that cruelty equals strength.

3. Identification of enemies/scape-goats as a unifying cause.

This week it’s Asians. And transgenders. And Hispanics. And Blacks. And the Poor. And intellectuals. And about 70% of the entire country, really.

.4. The supremacy of the military/ avid militarism.

I read an article that some 120 retired line officers—generals and admirals, all retired—signed a “stop the steal” petition. Bad enough that so many of them would gleefully sign on to what amounts to an act of treason, but that there are so MANY line officers in the first place shows how bloated, inefficient, top-heavy and corrupt the military has become. The military budget is nearly as large as the rest of the world’s combined, and yet it is suicide to suggest cutting their budget. They are the most expensive under-performer in the world. Fascist fetishism of the military does not win wars. And degrades the very military it’s meant to glorify.

5. Rampant sexism.

Gawd. Where to begin? I’ll just note that Marjorie Taylor-Greene is just the latest in a shameful parade of mentally disturbed women the GOP put in the public eye to do their dirty work for them. Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Ann Coulter, Nazi Barbie…the list goes on and on. The permanent sneer that accompanies Republican attitudes toward women is their desire to ban abortion and birth control, but not provide mothers with paid time off, free child care, preschool and neonatal and pediatric care, available in all civilized nations.

6. A controlled mass media.

As with corporations and the government in a fascist country, the issue of whether the media control the party or the other way around is nearly impossible to discern. Which is the puppet and which is the master? In this case, Fox News and the GOP are two facets of the same paste jewelry.

7. Obsession with national security.

How many “crisis at the border” situations have we had since 1992? How many were real? Even after electing a president whose regard for national security was problematic at best, Republicans continue to supercharge the notion that any dissident voices, no matter how patriotic or benign, are threats to national security. Black Lives Matter is a threat. The Naziesque Proud Boys are not. Well, Brownshirts protected Germany from the Jews in the name of national security, so there really isn’t anything new under that dark sun.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.

Authoritarian religion and fascism always have gone hand in hand and now is no exception. People who wonder how professed Christians could possibly align with a moral and ethical wastrel like Donald Trump haven’t read history. These people don’t worship God; they worship Power. And fascism is all about the power, baby.

9. Power of corporations protected.

Have you ever wondered why the Republicans seem to be on the wrong side of nearly all major social and economic positions? A decent minimum wage? Sick leave for all? Child care? Universal health care not tied to employment? Decent drug prices? That represents corporate power, which wants a weak and dependent labor force.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.

See #9. This isn’t a battle between capitalism and socialism; this is a war between the bosses—corporations and the aristocracy—and the workers.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.

The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the anti-science stance of the GOP. Intellectuals tend to ask awkward questions about such sacred cows as the role of gods and businesses in society, and scientists figure stuff out rather than making shit up, which angers the churches.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment.

The GOP have actually gone a bit quiet on this in recent years since Trump forced them to abandon the pretense that they were anything other than an organized crime cartel. They don’t mind calling for the death penalty for political dissidents such as BLM or the largely imaginary ‘antifa’ (and what political movement would hate a group for being antifascist, you ask?) but they have to remain resolutely silent about the criminality of Trump and much of his administration, or well-known figures in his circles such as Matt Gaetz or Jeffery Epstein. Many turn to conspiracy theories and projection, which allows them to remain resolutely ‘tough on crime’ whilst still stealing with both hands.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.

Two words: Trump family.

14. Fraudulent elections.

If the GOP has any central principle at all, it is that of stealing elections whilst loudly shouting that it’s the other guys who are stealing elections. From draconian Jim Crow-type laws to to gerrymandering efforts to overthrowing election results through manipulation of the electoral college through outright insurrection and threats of violent overthrow of the government, the GOP, who hate 70% of all the people in America, have realized they cannot win free and fair elections so they are doing everything in their power to prevent free and fair elections from interfering with their self-assumed right to rule.

Fascism attracts vicious autocrats who bend normal human reason and values in their lust for power. Even without the monsters of the second world war, fascism, with its authoritarian nature, have the same evil reputation that theocracies and other dictatorships have, and for the same reason. Power isn’t from the people: it’s power OVER the people, and it is without exception ugly and vicious and corrupt on all levels.

The GOP are authoritarian and anti-American. They ARE fascists. Do all you can to fight them.