Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Political humorist and satirist Stephen Colbert has testified before the House of Representatives on the subject of migrant farm workers at the request of Zoe Lofgren, head of the Congressional Subcommittee on Immigration. His testimony was both in and out of character. He delivered his prepared testimony in his pseudo right wing manner saying that he didn’t want to eat a tomato picked by a Mexican. In the question and answer session that followed he responded seriously and directly to all questions, referring occasionally to his recent day working as a farm laborer. 

Unlike the Democrats caught on camera managing at least polite smiles at the funnier parts of his opening statement, the Republicans shown remained stone faced. Their subsequent comments, amplified by the Fox talking heads, complained in effect that the dignity of Congress had been compromised by taking testimony from a comedian, particularly one appearing in character. 

Evidently they don’t know of the testimony of “Elmo” from Sesame Street in a 2002 appearance at Republican request. These two instances aside, I believe that most people of all political stripes would agree that compromising the dignity of Congress doesn’t require outside help. Of course there would be disagreement over who has been doing the compromising.

I have a recording of Will Rogers speaking on this subject. Some Congressman had objected to another member quoting the remarks of a “comedian,” Rogers, which were then put in the august Congressional Record. His classic response was that as a comedian he was an amateur compared to the group’s members, and that “every time they make a joke it’s a law and every time they make a law it’s a joke.” 

In the Q and A session Colbert was asked why he was interested in this cause. This was his answer. “I like talking about people who don’t have any power. It seems like some of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights as a result and yet we still invite them to come here and at the same time ask them to leave.” In response to this kind of talk, it’s understandable that only Democrats allowed themselves to laugh.
·                                                                       *
The poignancy of Colbert’s answer was emphasized by Lawrence O’Donnell on the premier of his show last night. The quotation involved had already become an indelible part of this letter by then.                   

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tea Party

A group of musicians were discussing the faults of a not too popular colleague when trumpeter/cornetist Bobby Hackett commented “at least he’s got us talking about him.” The same can be said about the Tea Party so allow me to join the crowd.

Its name is obviously intended to be identified with the Spirit of ’76, specifically the Boston Tea Party. In case anyone misses the point, some of its more enthusiastic members dress in colonial garments for possible TV coverage. The colonists’ battle cry that brought on the Boston Tea Party was “no taxation without representation.” The tea dumped into Boston Harbor was among the many commodities subject to taxation imposed unilaterally by the British Parliament. 

Here’s where the analogy breaks down. The taxes now being protested were made law by duly elected officials in our national legislature, Congress. One of the two Congressional branches is known as the House of Representatives. If as I suspect the protestors’ candidates of choice haven’t fared well lately it was because more voters preferred an alternative. I’ll venture a guess that most of the noise is coming from people who voted overwhelmingly for the president who signed these tax laws. Another guess is that most of their favorites since that vote were losers.    
The Tea Party movement coalesced in the weeks prior to April 15, 2009. It’s significant that the taxes being protested then came from the same tax code as the previous year’s which was approved by the previous president. Skeptical minds might conclude that Obama’s political party and, I hate to say it again, his ancestry made paying taxes more onerous to many who voted against him.

Much of the anger is allegedly directed not only at paying taxes, but at the way the money will be allocated. Granted, an argument can and is being made against spending to stimulate the economy in hope of creating jobs. But it rings hollow when made by people who had no problem financing a war in Iraq, fought for reasons yet to be disclosed.   

Political movements of historical consequence; the American Revolution, revolutions in France and Russia, the rise of the Third Reich and the New Deal, were driven by clearly identifiable causes. The Tea Party is something else, an aspiring political movement in search of a cause. Anger, by itself, is not a cause.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Goldwater Revisited

“I would like to remind you that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice and let me remind you also that moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.” This statement was a controversial part of Barry Goldwater’s acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican Convention and contributed greatly to the size of his loss to Lyndon Johnson in the general election.

 People of the type to whom Goldwater’s appeal was directed are making headlines today under the logo of the Tea Party. This kind of thinking is not new to American politics. The “Know Nothing” Party of the pre Civil War years may have been so named because its members claimed to “know nothing” regarding suspected seditious ties. But with the benefit of hindsight, sometimes known as history, we know they were short on knowledge. The efforts of their 1964 descendants were assessed ruefully but humorously by Clair Luce in her post election comment, “that’s the way the 'Kookie' crumbles.”

Tea Party folks are more vividly identifiable by more people than their predecessors because of advanced communication technology. From a literary perspective the women and men seem to bear resemblances to Madame Defarge and Rumpelstiltskin respectively. It may a matter of coincidence or choice of media coverage, but it seems that the field is occupied primarily by far out women, or if you prefer, far in. Sarah Palin opened the door, to be followed by Michelle Bachman, Sharon Angle and now by Christine O’Donnell. The Delaware Senatorial candidate has warned of scientists putting human brains in mice. This may not be as far-fetched as it seems. Hearing Ms O’Donnell speak suggests that the reverse of the procedure isn’t out of the question.

In more financially stable times these kinds of people would be merely a blip on the radar screen. The idea of extremism was not a big winner in 1964 with a public that had seen its president assassinated less than a year earlier.  In the Depression years, when times were much harder than today, we managed to avoid the prevailing demagogues. The danger today is exacerbated by the speed of communication and by anger, which is more dangerous to others than despair. This anger runs deeper, if not also broader, because we have a president of color.

All most of us can do is hope that the past is prologue. There’s the rub.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Politically Correct

Between the last two emails it was brought to my attention that I’d changed the spelling of the Islamic scripture from Koran to Quran. This was an accommodation, a sort of surrender, to the way I’d seen it spelled in the print media in the intervening days. What the hell. I’m not intransigent when it comes to substituting three letters for two.

But we all have some limits to our political correctness. I’ve yet to hear anybody use the word “Iranian” to identify a breed of cat or a style of rug, or the term “Thai twins. But for me there are gray areas. If I ever have a hankering for Peking duck I might be ornery enough to order it that way rather than as Beijing duck listed on the menu.

This leads to a pet peeve regarding political correctness, particularly when it comes to geographic imprecision or historical myths requiring extra syllables. In the first case I refer to the word “Asian,” formerly “Oriental,” now used to identify people with ancestors from nations such as China, Japan or Korea. The Continent of Asia, probably the world’s largest, includes India, Saudi Arabia, and all the “’stan” nations. It even covers what was once Palestine, with descendants there including both Lancemen and Goyim. I’ll grant that the old fashioned “Oriental” is less than perfect. To Marco Polo, China was east. But today when we fly there we head west. It’s all a question of where you’re coming from. But then isn’t that true of life?

The second case involves the necessity to refer to what were once called “Indians” as “Native Americans.” Well hold on a minute! I am literally a native American. I was born here as were my parents, although I’ll grant that we’re less native than the folks who squared off against the cowboys.

The appellation “Indian” is supposed to have come from Columbus’s mistaken notion that he was in India. The only thing wrong with this story is that what is now India was then called Hindustan. The natives he encountered got their name because they were friendly, so much so that his crew referred to them as “en Dios” or “in God.” As we are reminded yearly, Columbus was Italian and spoke Spanish with an accent, hence “in Dios” and eventually “Indians.”

Columbus never set foot in America and didn’t land on the continent in Central America until his third and last trip. The natives he met were from the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and they all lived on islands. Any “Native Americans” he saw must have gotten there on a vacation cruise.

I don’t expect you take my word for all this. If you have any doubts just check with my source, Hop Choy Brave Eagle.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

But Seriously Folks

A few days ago I sent a seriously unserious letter about the scheduled burning of Qurans by a small congregation of religious hillbillies. What impressed me at the time was that the plan to burn one hundred books by a membership of fifty, since estimated at thirty, suggested that these primitives may have developed rudimentary mathematical skills, a fact that might be of interest to sociologists.

My mistake was in viewing the matter as it should be, not as it is. The possibilities have become seriously serious. What began as a blatant publicity ploy by a “man of the cloth,” helped by anything goes media coverage, has brought to full blossom the Islamophobia latent in this country since 9/11.

No prominent political figures have spoken in favor of this book burning. But the intensity and nature of their objections paints a clear picture of where they stand politically. Those on the right have been more tepid in their condemnations, concluding with caveats suggesting to skeptical types like me that they are afraid of offending Tea Party members whose votes they need in November. This approach involves conflating the planned demonstration with the “Ground Zero Mosque,” in the process strongly implying, if not claiming, that the two are a wash.

There’s no questioning the legality of either. In a pragmatic context I consider both unwise, although not equally. On principle I think all religions should be able to exercise identical rights in building places of worship and social recreation. On the other hand burning religious sacraments of others is nothing other than spiteful in the extreme.

This affair has resulted in divisions that are unjustified and detrimental to the nation. It is not one of America’s, or organized religion’s finest hours.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burn, Baby Burn

The media, or more precisely the folks who run the media, have done it again. Just the other day the news was dominated by some foreigners, or people looking like foreigners, who decided to build an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero. Lucky us, and just when we thought we’d be limited to ho hum palaver about things like Congressional Elections, the economy and environmental disasters.

Well, again they did it again. The hottest news now is about a holy roller preacher in Florida who let the purveyors of “information” know that he and his congregation of fifty plan to burn a hundred Korans on the ninth anniversary of 9/ll. That comes out to two Korans per parishioner. I hope they’re getting a discount.

The possibilities in this field are mind boggling and lead to the thought that there could be gold in them thar Korans. Burning two of them could become a litmus test of Tea Party loyalty. Medals could be passed out to be worn alongside lapel flag pins. With colder weather on the way they could be sold as material for the fireplace to be used as logs or the pages as kindling. Maybe they could be made into fireworks, a fitting gesture for the Fourth of July. Enough militant Judeo Christian types could spawn an industry which would be a non-governmental economic stimulus and a show of patriotism to boot.

Oh how I ramble! Now I know how a boggled mind feels. On second thought I’ll just give aspiring printers of the Koran this advice. Pay no attention to that Petraeus fellow, whatever is said about you, be sure your name is spelled right and it couldn’t hurt to hire an agent named Murray.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tea Time and the Tail Gunner

I doubt that there was a time in our recent history that some public figure wasn’t calling “critical.” In my judgment there have been three since World War II that stand out. With our very lives at risk, the Cuban Missile Crisis is in a class by itself. Just behind, limited in context to the national fabric, are the McCarthy era and today’s threat from the radical right.

A glance at history will show that the self proclaimed “Tail Gunner Joe” led a movement that ended the careers of people, many of them prominent, suspected of Communist ties. What not everyone realizes is that the suspicion in most cases was based on alleged associations made fifteen years earlier during the Great Depression; That many of the victims were merely friends or close relatives of the suspects; That among them were people who simply objected to having to answer what they considered improper questions put to them by members of Congress.

What also seems to have been forgotten is that this was a major Republican issue in the party’s l952 Republican sweep of the White House and Congress. Ike’s campaign slogan was “Communism, Corruption and Korea.” His party stuck with this theme until McCarthy overplayed his hand by attacking the Eisenhower Administration itself. It was America’s good fortune that he was dealing from a deck soaked with booze.

What can be said of both the McCarthy’s people and, for lack of a better word, the “tea baggers,” is that they fit the “we have met the enemy and he is us” mold set by Walt Kelly in Pogo. The five year McCarthy saga is neatly tied together. Coherent books have been written about it. What we are facing now began with the inauguration of Barack Obama, so a major part of the story is missing, the middle and, most particularly, the end. This leads to the question of when, or perish the thought if, there will be an end.

The vituperative nature of the signs at Tea Party rallies may not exceed the limits of free speech. But the words of a Nevada Senatorial candidate advocating “Second Amendment remedies” to what one disagrees with in government might have broken the barrier. It sounds mighty like getting out guns as an adjunct to voting, something that never would have survived McCarthy scrutiny. Men carrying guns with signs saying they aren’t loaded “this time,” standing defiantly outside buildings where the president is speaking, seems unthinkable under previous presidents.

This crew lies about the president’s proclaimed religious preference, without a shred of evidence.* In the face of requisite Constitutional evidence to the contrary, they challenge his legitimacy as a citizen and hence his presidency. Lies, too numerous to mention in this space, are the foundation of most of their arguments.

The ham handed incivility, if not illegality, with which these people are trying to win control of government makes the possibility of their success cause for alarm. “Concern” is too mild!

*Obama’s religious preference is of no concern to me. “None” wouldn’t be all that bad.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It Couldn't Happen Here

I was watching excerpts from Glen Beck’s recent D.C. extravaganza which, for the most part, struck a more reasoning tone than we’d come to expect. But in one segment he shouted and paced the stage like a caged tiger. My brief first thought turned to the Third Reich.

My second thought was that it couldn’t happen here. During much of Hitler’s ascendency we had our own problems with the Great Depression. We also had scavengers like Father Coughlin, Huey Long and, from the extreme left, Communism, which drew many who appeared on Joe McCarthy’s list fifteen years later. But we survived and Germany didn’t.

The generally accepted and plausible explanation is that we were made of sterner stuff. But the suffering we went through was considerably less and of a shorter duration than Germany’s, which began well before the 1929 market crash that heralded what was to come. It’s reasonable to wonder how much more it would have taken to turn this country upside down.

At this time what is passing as the establishment in one of our two major political parties is trying to do just that, albeit for just the two plus years necessary to gain complete control of the government. What would be left is not as important to these people as the fact that they and their financial partners would control it. Their intent to destroy a four year presidency at its inception was confirmed by one of their leading legislators using the allegoric “Waterloo” to send the new president his best wishes. This approach is by definition deliberately harmful to the nation, and is in spirit, although not legally, perilously close to treason.

We are not hurting, nor do we figure to hurt, as badly as we did during the Great Depression. But today’s organized opposition, both beneficiaries and their gullible minions a bit long in the tooth, as a group have been spoiled compared to their predecessors and quite possibly to those who’ll follow them. Consequently they have a low threshold for what qualifies as hard times. Unlike Depression victims who reflected despair these folks have the luxury of being able to respond in anger, with which they are well endowed. Their deficiency in numbers is compensated by a high decibel level.

The voters who will join and eventually replace them are generally of a different breed. They aren’t familiar with all the “old values” that their elders hold sacred. They tend to be more tolerant of a president with a pigmentation and people of a sexual preference differing from theirs. The influence of today’s domestic “insurgents” will decrease by attrition, unless these reckless people, in the short time they might have, remove any pretense of our being a democracy. But then that could never happen here, could it?