SECESSION AND OTHER POLITICAL CRAZINESS

By Paul

If it weren’t for what it brings to mind in regard to one of the bloodiest and most inhuman conflicts the country has ever had the misfortune of going through, namely the Civil War, it would almost actually be funny.  Imagine that more than 100,000 people in – where else? – the great state of Texas, and thousands of others in all of the other states, even places like California and New York, have petitioned the White House to secede from the Union.  Not to worry, of course, because it obviously is not going to happen; still, who even knew anyone was thinking about such a thing? 

It does, though, go to show the depth of anger, bitterness, and sense of betrayal engendered in many by the recent presidential race, leading up to the second-term election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.  It has always amazed, puzzled, and frankly sometimes terrified me to see the depth of hatred – and I think that is not too strong a word – that many people in this country feel toward Pres. Obama.  Sadly, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that much of it is based on plain old bigotry, that is, racial animus and bias, exacerbated by what I would call the mildly liberal agenda of our current president. 

The difference is that I heard liberals say that, if Romney were to win, they would be the ones to move, probably to Canada.  Now, to be honest, that too is very likely as much of a load of malarkey as is all this secessionist talk.  In fact, I’ve heard the same thing from liberal friends about pretty much every conservative president from Reagan on down the line, and frankly I’ve yet to have the opportunity to go visit anyone who’s actually moved on to become a refugee, comfortably ensconced by the fire up in Toronto, or trying to stay out of the rain in Vancouver.  The difference, though subtle, is that progressives talk about moving, while the conservative strategy, apparently, would be to stay and keep their holdings.  Take Joseph Farah, as just one example of the many far right crazies out there, who recently said on his ultra-conservative website “World Net Daily”:  “I am convinced we’ve got to begin forming new communities of the faithful and declare our separation and independence once again, just as our courageous forefathers did 236 years ago.  We need to be prepared to defend ourselves, our families, our fortunes and our sacred honor.  Barack Obama was right about one thing:  America is no longer a Christian nation.  Our cultural institutions have been taken over by worshippers of other gods.  More than half of the population has turned its back on God’s Commandments.” 

You definitely do not hear the words “move on” or “leave” or “let’s get the hell out of this place” from archconservatives.  No!  Instead, it’s more like “declare separation,” “form new communities (where they currently are),” and “defend ourselves, our families, and (of course) our sacred honor.”  It fits right in with the conspiracy theorists, who are building bunkers and stockpiling canned goods, along with caches of ammunition and semi-automatic weapons, in preparation for the cultural Armageddon that is sure to come.  It’s kulturkamph, some would say, all over again, that attack in the 1870’s by Otto von Bismarck on the Catholic Church in which hundreds of priests and bishops, along with their faithful followers, were expelled from Prussia.  In fact, conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia even references kulturkamph, or its direct translation, “culture war,” in more than one of his written opinions. 

All this brings to mind another opinion, this one stated just yesterday by none other than the losing candidate, himself, Mitt Romney.  In a talk to his disappointed major donors, he is quoted as saying that “the Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups that he hoped could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls.”  He goes on to specify who he’s talking about, namely, African-Americans, Hispanics, and young people.  I suppose he might have mentioned women, too, and maybe even gay people, if they even counted in his mind, which I very much doubt that they do.  But doesn’t this sound an awful lot like those moochers, those freeloaders, that 47% of the American population (according to his tally, anyway), who basically want to live off of the back-braking hard work of the God-fearing, money-making, tax-paying, overburdened straight white males, who do all the work in this damn country anyway? 

But what actually are these “gifts” that we’re talking about?  It can’t be anything other than the right to be educated, to find a job, to work to better yourself and your family, to be able to afford health care, such that if you’re sick you don’t have to go into bankruptcy, to say nothing of someday being able to buy a house, or at very least afford a rental apartment to live in.  Romney was pulling no punches.  Apparently he felt that there was no longer any need for him to dissimulate, sneak behind anybody’s back and say this only in the privacy of an exclusive banquet room.  No more need to try to make the public believe that he was some kind of compassionate conservative.  He went on to say that these were the people who made between $25,000 and $35,000 a year, but who want healthcare.  Can you imagine?  Poor people (or at least struggling lower middle class people), who actually have the temerity to think that they should get medical attention in the event of an accident or an illness.  Why, it’s unheard of!  And he specifies Blacks and Hispanics as those who are particularly pushy in this regard.  Black and brown people who want the same care he and his white family have always been able to afford – imagine!

He goes on at some length to list other such “gifts” that Obama supporters were essentially bought of by, things like “amnesty for the children of illegals,” and the extension of healthcare on their parents’ policies for people 26 and under, which supposedly brought many college aged women into Obama’s camp.  These are the “gifts” Romney is talking about.  But it’s funny, to me they just seem an awful lot like the things that a majority of the American people actually want and deserve.   You know, the things that a certain segment of the population has always had, and which they want to hold on to: education, jobs, health care, ability to afford a home etc.  And who wouldn’t?  That’s exactly the point, in fact.  These things are not gifts at all, they are basic human needs and desires that everyone wants and requires for themselves and their families.  And to have the audacity to refer to them as “gifts” merely shows how out of touch Mitt Romney is from so much of the experience of everyday Americans. 

So, if there were any possibility, I guess I would say that maybe we actually ought to let this minuscule portion of the population secede that seems to want to do so.  We could give them a couple of counties, maybe, someplace where the rest of us don’t want to live anyway, and see how well they fare.  But since even that isn’t going to happen, for now all we can say is let’s stop getting distracted by this secessionist craziness and get on with the business of attempting to deal with the innumerable problems that actually face this country.  Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof, the nuns always told me in grammar school.  There’s no need to manufacture more. 

I only hope the Joseph Farah’s of the world hear that, and work with the rest of us, rather than trying to do everything in their power to bring about greater disharmony.  And let’s let poor Mitt Romney, too, slink off to one of his mansions, where he can pay for all the medical help he needs to lick his wounds and recover from the political pummeling he so richly deserved.

LET’S GET ON WITH THE BUSINESS OF GOVERNING, AND OF SAVING THE PLANET

By Paul

Now that election 2012 is over, and the results are so promising, it’s time to get on with the business of exactly why we elect people in the first place, namely, to govern. 

Not so much governing has taken place for quite some time in this interminable run up to November 6th.   It seems as though that run up by itself has lasted for at least a couple of years.  So, it’s definitely time to get back in the saddle again.  It’s obvious that the first order of business has to be the so-called Fiscal Cliff, those automatic spending cuts and tax hikes which will go into effect in January of 2013.  In my view, it would be a complete disaster if they happen, as it would probably trigger at least a “mild recession,” according to any number of economists.   But even a mild recession, in the wake of the Major Recession we have just gone through, could be devastating.  In fact, it brings to mind the latest nor’easter to hit New York and New Jersey on the heels of Hurricane Sandy.  Ask the folks there, who were without power and literally under water, and who are again going through a similar ordeal, if another blow is an easy thing to take.  I think you’ll get an earful.  It would be the same thing if the President and Congress are unable to work out some sort of compromise to prevent us from heading over this fiscal precipice.

But that’s just the beginning.  There is a whole host of things on everybody’s plate that needs to be attended to.  It’s almost as if things have been on hold for two years, and now finally it’s time to get a move on.  The President has already said that Immigration Reform will be high on his list, and that is surely a good thing.  This country has actually always had a love-hate relationship with its immigrants, in spite of the comforting old myth of the melting pot.  Very few of the established Anglos wanted those damned Irish, or the Italians either for that matter, back at the end of the nineteenth century, just as many don’t want the Mexicans, or other Latinos, today.  And just as with the Europeans, so too with Hispanics, epithets such as “lazy” and “free loaders” are thrown around with nothing to back them up.  We won’t get to a truly fair and comprehensive immigration reform package, I believe, until we come to terms with how we really want to perceive, and therefore how we treat, new arrivals to this country.

Another major problem that has to be fixed is the economic one.  I am nothing if not a liberal, and I hope a progressive, but I do agree with conservatives that something has to be done about balancing the fiscal books.  We cannot go on spending so much more than we take in, and we most definitely cannot go on simply borrowing money from China and elsewhere in order to cover the gap between spending and income.  Toward that end, we have to be upfront and transparent about how we spend the money we do have.  One of the most despicable things about the administration of George W. Bush was how they hid the cost of two wars.  These military incursions were utterly unfunded; they never even made it to the budget talks.  And this is aside from the fact that, in my view anyway, they were both totally unnecessary in the first place.  But that’s another question entirely.

The only way to balance the books is some combination of reasonable spending cuts and equally reasonable tax hikes.  It also assumes that we will come up with a way to handle so-called entitlements, although personally I hate that word.  It always comes off to my ear as sounding as though people are getting something for nothing, something they don’t really deserve.  That is not the case in regard to Social Security, which those of us who receive it (myself included) have paid into for upwards of forty years, or however long a person has worked.  The same is true for Medicare, although in regard to medical costs in general the country has also got to have a very serious conversation about what is actually appropriate, and in the end, what we can afford.  This will not be an easy discussion, inasmuch as it concerns both ourselves and the lives of those whom we love, and just how much care is enough care.  But the topic has to be on the table.  These are things that adults talk about, and that we need to talk about.

Beyond these things, education looms high on the list, too.  For far too long we have been putting off decisions about comprehensive funding that will get our children – all of our children – ready for the highly competitive world of the 21st century.  It will have to be a discussion that takes place at the national, the state, and the local levels, since funding for education and decisions regarding how kids are educated happen at all three levels.  But when a baseball player (nothing against baseball, as much as I find it one of the most boring sports on the planet), or a football player, or a movie actor, or a CEO of a company that rapes the planet, earns millions of dollars, and educators are paid a pittance, it seems to me that there is something seriously wrong with our value system as a society.  And remember that politicians are really only reflections of ourselves.  We hire political leaders in the first place by voting them into office, and by keeping them in office (or not) once we’ve seen how they perform.  So, if we continue to elect people who do not value the things we say we value, then in the end we have to examine ourselves, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. 

 I could go on with a long list of things that have to be dealt with, and no doubt anyone who reads this could add others, equally as important.  Clearly, the economy and jobs go hand in hand, and you do not fix one without the other.  And this includes jobs for everyone, including people who have been traditionally shunted out of the good life of the American middle class, people of color in particular who have suffered more profoundly than anyone else during the years of the Great Recession.  Other things come to mind, as well, things like the infrastructure of the country, which is crumbling, care for the sick and the indigent and those who cannot care for themselves, always a bell weather in terms of what a society considers important, and so-called energy independence, a silly pipe dream in itself unless and until we wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.  Which leads me to the final point that is on my mind in regard to the new administration, and the Republicans in Congress as well, because the latter can block almost anything they want with the majority they have in the House of Representatives.  And that topic is the eighteen thousand pound gorilla in the room, namely, climate change. 

Now here is a topic for the ages!  And not many more ages, in fact, if we do not somehow come to grips with its disastrous implications.  I have to say that I was appalled at both candidates during the presidential campaign that the words climate change or global warming almost never passed their lips.  It is, though, a topic that in the final analysis trumps all others.  And I do mean all.  Because we can do whatever we want to fix the economy, to create wonderful jobs for people, to educate our children, to care for those who cannot care for themselves, to grant equal rights to minorities, pay down the debt, and on and on, but if the planet rebels – in ways that I think we have only begun to see – then none of these other things matter.  If we do not have a hospitable planet on which to live and to raise our children, and even, God help us, to play baseball on, then everything else is for naught.

The old Republican adage of “drill, baby, drill” sounds almost like a hateful curse to my ears.  It is at very least the cry, and maybe the last cry, of the utterly deluded.  There are surely things that all of us can, and must, do in order to help play our part.  We can and should conserve and not be wasteful, find alternate sources of energy, recycle, and we absolutely have got to stop having so many children. At seven billion people and counting, the world already has far too great of a population for the planet to sustain.  And we must find a way to satisfy our need for power that does not, as a byproduct, pollute the air, the water, and the earth itself.       

All of this is necessary, and some of it can be done on the personal and the local level.  Even so, that will not be enough.  Governments, and whole associations of governments, absolutely must take this on as a priority – no, as THE major priority – because the ravages of catastrophic global climate change will not respect race or ethnicity, wealth or poverty, one economic system over another, or anyone’s arbitrarily drawn political boundaries.  It will get us all, if we do not take steps now to make a difference. 

So, I admire and appreciate President Barack Obama very much.  I also feel for him, and hope and pray that he will have the strength and the wisdom and the determination to take on these problems we are all faced with.  If we do not assist him in this task, then we are all to blame.  It is time now to act and to stop playing politics.  And if we do not, there is no doubt in my mind that we will all suffer the most dire of consequences.