Monday, May 29, 2017

War And Rememberance (And Re-Remembering, In Some Instances)

I am very mindful that I am writing my last post for this month during the dying minutes of Memorial Day, a day when we remember those we have lost who helped preserved the freedom all of us have gained.  Many of us count friends and family among those who are absent--an uncle, a cousin, and a father-in-law, in my case--and it is entirely fair to say that, for those of us in that circumstance, this day is especially meaningful.

So it seems weirdly appropriate to reflect on the recent removal, in New Orleans, of public monuments to the "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy, as well as similar action that is being contemplated by the mayor of Baltimore.  For some, this is political correctness (so-called) run amok, an attempt to "re-write" history.

But is it?  Nobody's pretending the Civil War didn't happen, or that the people who fought it didn't live, or that (whether North or South) the people who fought it didn't believe they were standing up for values they believed in.  Nobody's making the case that we should not remember the Civil War, or what it was about.

It's very simple:  it was a war to free the slaves in Southern states, because people should never be treated as property.  Period.  The right side one and, to perhaps put it crudely, history is written by the winners.  That's a fact conservatives are willing to acknowledge when it works in favor of their heroes.  Why shouldn't that principle be a two-way street, politically speaking, in a democracy?  For that matter, no monuments need be destroyed in the process; they can be moved to museums, where they can be viewed in a proper educational context.  All that is being asked is that we stop pretending that the Lost Cause was a gallant one.  It was lost for a reason:  it was wrong.

Perhaps all of this is better said here, by Mitch Landrieu, the Mayor of New Orleans (Moon's son, Mary's brother, for those of you who follow political dynasties).  Read his words carefully.  There was a time when politics was filled with leaders who spoke to our best instincts with such eloquence. Perhaps there can be such a time again.

I hope your Memorial Day was safe and meaningful, and that it has inspired you as much as Mayor Landrieu's words should.

Is There Hope In Numbers?

If you look at the results of the special elections for House seats thus far, there's not a lot of reason for finding optimism, unless you're a Republican.  True, the Democratic numbers in those elections are higher than they have been for the districts in question in past elections.  But just as politics isn't beanbag, it also isn't horseshoes; close doesn't count.  And there are plenty of Republicans who are more than happy to remind you of that fact.

But, if you're willing to look beyond the short-term numbers, there are some long-term numbers that are worth a look.

The first set of these comes by way of, which recently reported a marked decline in the percentage of voters expressing strong approval of Donald Trump.  That figure has, per Nate Silver, declined from about 30% to around 21% or 22%.  Putting it another way, it's down to about the level of support for Richard Nixon around the time that he was forced to resign from his Watergate-ruined Presidency.  Having lived though Watergate (and never dreaming until now that I might have a chance to live through it twice), I can recall that, even at that low level, there was concern about what Nixon's supporters might do in the wake of his resignation.  Fortunately, they did not turn violent.  That may be a worry that, in our present circumstances, we don't have the luxury of of not thinking about.  But it suggests that impeachment of Trump may not be a total fantasy, either. Keep in mind:  impeachment is a political, not a legal process, and it may be only another Congress away.

And longer term?  Take a look at this.  Can you blame them?  A lot of their elders would flee the GOP as well, if it weren't for the political and social capital they might lose.  Perhaps they might not lose as much as they fear if they did flee.

When a party chases a dying demographic using gerrymandering, dark money and voter fraud to corral them, it will not be a political party for long.  Let's hope they don't blow all of us up in the process.

When The Salt Has Lost Its Savor

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
                                                                                             Matthew 5:13 (King James Bible)

These are Jesus' words to his disciples.  He is using the concept of salf as a preservative (which it was in the Roman world) to stress the need for his followers to stand strong in the values of their faith in God. Without that willingness, they are literally good for nothing in His eyes.

Of course, one doesn't have to look in the Bible to find Christian values.  One can find them easily enough elsewhere in literature, especially classic literature such as Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre." Jane's lover, Edward Rochester, attempts to deceive Jane into marriage while he is still married to another woman no longer sane enough to be a wife.  He is, ultimately, effectively punished for this when his wife burns down his home and he, in the process of trying to save her, loses his sight and one of his hands.  Jane ultimately forgives and marries him, and subsequently, he not only regains sight in one eye but is allowed to see his eyes as they used to be in the child he and Jane have.  His reflection on this is that God has tempered judgment with mercy.

Judgment and mercy.  Sin and redemption.  High standards to live up to, but forgiveness for those who acknowledge their shortcomings.  These, in effect, are the positive and negative poles of Christianity, as learned by me in church, and as re-learned during my adult years in a former life as a born-again Christian.

I say "former life" because, over the course of about 12 years, I witnessed too much hypocrisy when it comes to the dispensation of judgment and mercy in the evangelical world, especially when it came to politics and politicians.  The very born-again Jimmy Carter was deemed insufficiantly Christian (translation:  insufficiently conservative) by believers of a Republican persuasion, who where led by their power-hungry pastors to support the not-so-very-church-going Ronald Reagan. That was nearly 40 years ago.  From the vantage point of the Gospels, and otherwise, it's all been downhill from there.

In fact, it has gotten to the point at which a man can brag about adultery in the crudest, most denigrating terms when it comes to describing women, and not only be elected to the White House, but, in doing so, to have the support of the entire evangelical political leadership of this country, who preferred the aforesaid man to a woman who had forgiven her own husband for multiple, similar offenses.

That is what evangelical Christianity in America has become in the past four decades.  Judgment against those who extend mercy when requested, while extending mercy to those who do not even stop to ask for it.  And why not?  If that's what it takes to grip America by the--well, by the whatever--then so be it.  As for what G-d thinks about all of this?  Best not to ask.  You may find yourself to be former salt, ready to be trampled under foot.

How bad is it?  Consider the case of this young woman, who made a mistake in a relationship and is now expecting a child.  She has been honest about her mistake.  She has affirmed her desire to carry her unborn child to term.  She has dealt, in short, with a very painful situation with tremendous integrity and candor--and for that, she is being punished by her school by not being allowed to be part of its graduation procession.

Let me be as clear about this as possible;  the school in question is, theoretically, a Christian school. And, to use Mr. Rochester's formulation, they have chosen judgment over mercy. And these folks seriously wonder why many women in similar situations seek abortions? One is forced to wonder how the thus-far anonymous father would be treated if he were in the position of Maddi Runkles.  If one is a student of social history, sadly, one doesn't have to wonder for long.

It is painfully clear that, for the most part, at the leadership level, the "salt" of evangelical Christianity has lost any claim to savor.  It should rightly be trampled under foot by those it would claim to lead. Thankfully, there are some signs that this is happening.  Take a look.  Take another.

How long, O Lord, before your mercy has reached its limits and your judgment against those who have sold their souls will no longer tarry?  Not long, I pray.  Not long.

What Do China, India, And California All Have In Common?

Answer:  All of them stand in the way of Donald Trump, who seems bound and determined to make the United States the biggest source of greenhouse gases, especially if (as rumored) he is determined to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord next week.

What's that you say, especially if you're a Trump supporter?  China and India produce more greenhouse gases than we do.  Perhaps that's currently the case, but not for much longer.  Of course, you're entitled to view a story in the New York Times as "fake news," but you're not entitled to be justified in holding that view.  Especially when, in the process of accelerating their development of alternative energy sources, China and India (as pointed out in the story) are helping to make these sources more affordable for everyone.

And "everyone" includes at least some of us in the U.S., in states such as California, where Trump's misplaced nostalgia for dirty fuels and the economy they formerly powered has been soundly rejected.  Trump may very well succeed in slamming the brakes on clean energy development on a national scale.  But that may not matter if California, home to one-tenth of the nation's population, continues to focus on that development at the state level.  Indeed, and again according to the Times, California appears ready to force that development not only at the national level, but even at the international one.

In fact, California appears ready to fight Trump on a number of fronts, including immigration.

I've said this many times before, and I'll say it again.  California, the state that launched the tax revolt in the 1970s (and the so-called Reagan Revolution with it), may very well be the state that drags the rest of the country into the 21st century, and beyond.  Let's hope so.  We don't have a lot of other sources of hope out there.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Only Interesting Thing About Roger Ailes

The death of Roger Ailes, the evil genius behind Fox News and, prior to that, to the late-20th-century rise of the Republican Party, should not be any cause for mourning on anyone's part.  His talents for media manipulation, and his propensity for humiliating women, have both been well documented enough that no one with an ounce of decency should miss him.  (If, on the other hand, you are in need of a refresher course, or have not been following politics for the past four decades, you can look here, and here.)

Or, you could look here.  And, in addition to a fair summary of Ailes' odious career, you will learn something about him that may surprise you.  I have to admit that it surprised me.  And made me wonder.

Roger Ailes, as it turns out, was a hemophiliac.  As a child, he was hospitalized several times as a result.  Hemophilia is a serious blood disorder in which blood fails to clot; as a consequence, it can prove to be fatal.   For a boy with hemophilia, life is a constant struggle in which natural childhood instincts to play and explore need to be constrained in order to avoid injuries that cause bleeding and, potentially death.  For an adult with hemophilia, it is a constant reminder of how fragile life can be.

One might expect that living with such a condition would have given Ailes some degree of empathy for the weaknesses of others.  If anything, he seemed to have gone in the other direction.  His entire career in media was defined by finding weaknesses in others, and then exploiting those weaknesses as ruthlessly as possible.  It's easy to imagine that, if one of his clients' opponents had hemophilia, he would not have hesitated to use it offensively, without regard to his own suffering as well as the suffering of others.

It would be worth knowing why tragedy makes some people empathetic, while hardening others. Perhaps we will never know.  In the meantime, I am sure I am not alone in wishing that Roger Ailes had developed some degree of empathy from his affliction.  Among other things, it might have spared him his own ignominious ending, professionally speaking.

The War Has Started. Are We Willing To Fight It?

Perhaps I should say that it's re-started.  Or, perhaps I should acknowledge an uncomfortable but now inescapable fact.  The Civil War never really ended, any more than there were actually two World Wars instead of one with a two-decade time-out.  We've had a time-out of almost a century and a half, with a few intermediate skirmishes.  But it seems to me that the skirmishes are over and, from the pace of recent events, the actual combat has resumed.

Some of it is relatively low-level stuff, and even borders on the ridiculous.  Consider the recent incident in which a man, wearing one of Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" hats (the ones that are made in China, like much of Trump's merchandise), insisted on being compensated with three additional seats because he couldn't get a seat upgrade he had previously requested.  When his request wasn't honored, he decided to turn the confrontation he had created into a political war, as though wearing the hat made him a martyr--or, perhaps, as though voting for a billionaire entitled him to being treated like one.

Or consider this one, with slightly uglier language.  As you can see, Trump voters feel that their vote got them more than their man in office.  It conferred on them an unqualified right to behave badly in public, regardless of who they hurt or why.  Of course, as in the case of the Walmart incident, there were (and, elsewhere, are) very specific targets:  anyone who isn't white, basically.

And, sadly, the ugliness doesn't stop with language.  Nor does it stop with voters.

Consider this incident, from Trump's recent overseas trip, which he himself modestly described as a "home run" upon his return to the U.S..  On top of an arms deal with the nation that supplied most of the 9/11 attackers, and the revelation of more shenanigans involving the Trump family and the Russians, he berated the leaders of the European countries who served for decades as a buffer during the Cold War, and a home for many of our citizens (civilian and military), and culminated his misbehavior with this.  Somebody needs to tell him that wars have been started over less.  But, if you remember the violence that accompanied many of his campaign rallies, should you or anyone else be surprised/

And then, of course, there is this.  Not just an assault on a reporter by a candidate, but an assault on a reporter by a candidate that is subsequently justified by the media supporters of the candidate. Bias, it turns out, is not bias if it's on behalf of the conservative cause, or one of its candidates. But, perhaps, the saddest part about this story is the fact that the candidate won.  Granted, most of the votes were cast prior to the attack, But we'll never know exactly how many of the votes for the candidate were cast because of the attack.  And there's no doubt that some of those votes were cast for exactly that reason.

It is the Montana special election outcome, and the failure of many reporters to come to the defense of their attacked colleague, that should make all of us join The New Republic in wondering whether the institutions of democracy are strong enough to withstand the current assault.  And stop incidents like this one, in which we are sadly reminded that wars produce casualties.

Who should worry about this?  All of us.  The Civil War was originally defined by geography.  Today, technology has rendered geographic limitations meaningless.  The haters are everwhere.  And their hatred has no boundaries.

I'm reminded of the movie (and, later, the Broadway show) "Shenandoah," about a Virginia farmer who thinks that his family can afford to ignore the combat that surrounds them--until, sadly, they can't.

We are all that family now.  And we have no choice but to recognize it.

This is not a problem that is going to be solved by removing Trump from office, nor from any kind of "blue wave" that may or may not surface in next year's midterm elections.  I almost hate to say this but, at the rate at which our civilization seems to be deteriorating, it's an open question in my mind as to whether we will have midterm elections next year.

Does that seem like hyperbole?

A few years, or even months ago, would any of the incidents I've described here have seemed like anything other than hyperbole?  No doubt, but they aren't now.

There's a much more essential question right now.

Are you willing to fight?

Are you willing to sacrifice, as others have sacrificed before us?  That's what it may take.  And, on Memorial Day weekend, there's no better time to ask the question.

I hope the answer is yes for all of us.

I know it is for me.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

An Unexpected Insight From Margaret Atwood

"1984" is a brilliantly written book, but a horribly depressing one.  The totalitarian world it creates for the reader is as realistic--and conceivable--as it is brutal and merciless.  Reading it is not a pleasant experience, but it has been a necessary one almost from the moment it was published, and never more so than now.  It is possible, however, to read it and appreciate it as a literary experience. This is not only because of how well George Orwell uses language to make his nightmare feel real, and to make you care about what happens in it, but because language itself is part of the subject of the book.

Newspeak, the language of the book's totalitarian state designed to suppress dissent, emerged from Orwell's concern as a journalist about the misuse of language by politicians to manipulate or conceal the truth rather than advance it.  He took the subject of language seriously enough that, at the end of the book's main story, he included an essay as an appendix entitled "The Principles of Newspeak," in which he describes in detail the structure of the language and how it operated to limit the potential range of thought.

I have read "1984," including the appendix, several times, and somehow never noticed a rather interesting fact:  the appendix is written in the past tense.  That is to say, it is written in such a way that it describes a process of language creation that had already begun, and was planned for completion in the future, but may or may not have been actually completed.

Margaret Atwood, the author of another dystopian book, "The Handmaid's Tale," recently said that she interpreted this use of the past tense to mean that the "author" of the appendix was writing from some farther point in the future, perhaps at a time when the world as described in "1984" had collapsed.  In her view, the author of the appendix was not meant to be Orwell himself, but some survivor of his nightmare world who was living at a time when life was better, and people were trying to make sense of what had happened previously and learn from it.  She added that this perspective had inspired the structure of "The Handmaid's Tale."

I would like to believe that her take on Orwell and "1984" are accurate.  It makes me think about the end of "The Hunger Games" trilogy, which also depicts a dystopian world that eventually ends up in a better place.  Perhaps hope is ultimately impossible to destroy, as long as there is a single human being capable of feeling it.  Even if the human being is a dystopian author.  Something to hang onto, as the world seems to spin faster and faster toward chaos.

The Closest Thing To A Time Machine?

Virtual reality--the technology that allows you to not simply see or read about an event or experience but to actually immerse yourself in it (visually, at least for the moment)--has become the next frontier in media technology.  Its applications are going exponentially.  Initially, the market for VR seemed primarily to be video gamers who wanted a more "real" experience in game-playing.  It has begun to expand beyond that, however.  News organizations such as the New York Times have used it to create VR feature stories, designed to give their readers/viewers more of a you-are-there experience.  And now, it appears that VR can be helpful to the elderly, in enabling them to relive parts of their lives or experience places and events from the past or present, whether new to them or not.  Here is an article about how this has already begun to happen.

For me, as a preservationist, it's not difficult to see how this could be useful.  I currently serve on the board of the Theater Historical Society of America, an organization devoted to archiving various artifacts from historical theaters across the country, as well as publishing stories about those theaters--many of them demolished, but many of them still standing.  Among our archives are photos, and even architectural drawings, of many of these theaters.  In addition, many of our members have first-hand memories of the events that took place in these buildings---not only the shows themselves, but much of what happened behind the scenes backstage and in the offices, as well as in the audiences.

What if THS were to take much of this information and use it to re-create the experiences of being in many of the theaters that are long gone?  What if it were possible to use VR to allow people to "experience" what it was like to be at the opening night of a particular show, or even at the opening night of a particular theater?  What if that experience was expanded further, to allow a viewer to go outside of the theater and immerse himself or herself in the city outside the theater?  The possibilities are quite possibly limitless.

There's always the danger with technology like this that the users will eventually too "cut off" from the actual world around them to live meaningful lives for themselves or others.  That's something to consider, and perhaps reason to temper one's optimism about VR or any similar technology.  But it's certainly not a reason to shun it.  VR has the potential to be the closest thing we will have to a time machine for a very long time.  It has enormous potential as a tool for entertainment, for journalism, and for preservationists who may be able to "save" old buildings electronically even if they cannot do so in reality.  A digital Williamsburg could be a very useful thing.

Perhaps we at THS could help lead the way in making it happen.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What Is Modern Conservatism REALLY All About?

Last week, in talking about Donald Trump (which his Presidency obliges me to do, whether any of us like it or not), I included a link to a Washington Post column by George Will, in which Will verbally dismembers Trump as only Will can do.  It's worth a second opportunity for you to look at it, so I will provide one here.

What is at the heart of this dismemberment, in this case, is by no means purely an ad hominem attack. After all, Will has long been a defender of the principles of small-government conservatism, as expressed in our Constitution and experienced in our subsequent history.  Trump is a Republican President and, in the post-Reagan tradition of Republican Presidents, supposed to be committed to those principles. But Trump, as was the case in his pre-Presidential life, is committed to only one principle: maximizing his personal popularity.  It is, to illustrate via one example, why he lurches from endorsing universal health care to celebrating the passage of a health care bill that is only universal in the pain it would spread throughout the country.

So, then, Will's lamentations about The Donald can and should be read as lamenting the institutional failure of the Republican Party and, for that matter, the larger conservative movement, to produce a presidential candidate with the intelligence and persuasive skills to advocate small-government conservatism in a consistent, issues-focused manner.  Putting it another way, Will's laments the loss of a conservative politics of ideas.

Even someone as liberal as me can respect this.  I was brought up to understand that conservatism was, at its best, about a respect for the lessons of history, and the need to proceed with caution in considering changes in the status quo.  In and of themselves, those are not bad ideas, nor are they incompatible with policies implemented by a liberal government.  History as a discipline, in part, to discourage us from going in directions that have been tried and failed--or worse, from directions that have been tried solely for the purpose of advancing the interests of a few at the expense of everyone else.  And caution need not be a complete inhibitor of new ideas. Rather, it can be a way of guarding against the effects of the law of unintended consequences.

Will therefore rightly castigates Trump for not being knowledgeable about history or cautious in his actions.  What Will fails to accept, however, is that Trump is the modern conservative movement in its last degenerate phase, one where caution and knowledge have given way to almost religious adherence to fiscal and social policies that have repeatedly failed, and, finally, a lust for power that cannot even conceive of admitting mistakes, let alone tolerate an actual admission.

We should all be willing to admit by now that balancing a budget, like losing weight, demands some level of sacrifice, with the democratic commitment to sharing it as much as possible.  We should be willing to admit that we have only one planet, and that science demands that we take steps to take care of it.  We should be willing to face the fact that you can't have an economy without an environment, and that businesses won't take care of the environment without government coercion. Above all, we should be willing to admit that there is no point in calling ourselves a nation if we are not willing to take care of each other.  These are the lessons of history.  Caution is required in any attempt to depart from those lessons.

But 40 years of worshiping Ronald Reagan and the sunny effect he had on people's emotions has seemingly dragged us in a direction away from all of those lessons--and, worse yet, from the ability to heed them.  We seem to be no longer able to think about anything with any kind of clarity or consistency.  This, perhaps, is why we have conservative Christians who want to defund Planned Parenthood even as they cheerfully endorse aid to Israel, where abortion is practically a civil right. Never mind that the services provided by organizations by Planned Parenthood make abortions less likely.  Never mind that abortion bans make abortions more lethal, not less likely.  It is impossible to argue with these people, as it is with their secular counterparts about other issues, because thinking is no longer part of the conservative tradition.  It is, quite literally, all about belief in failed policies--and woe to anyone who dares say otherwise.

A nation that substitutes belief for thought is a nation that can no longer effectively govern itself, because each of its citizens lack the most fundamental of tools for self-governance:  an open, working mind.  Such citizens can only be herded by those strong-willed enough to take charge, regardless of what kind of charge they want to take.  And that is why modern conservatism is about one thing, and one thing only.  Power.  The need to possess it.  The need to keep it.  The need to use it.  And the need to attack, in every conceivable way, those who might take it away.

And that is the reason why, for the foreseeable future, we are stuck with talking about Donald Trump. Conservatives need to learn how to think again.  They need to learn to embrace conservatism in the very best sense, and learn from history's lessons.  History contains many examples of Trump-like characters.  It also has lessons about how to deal with them.

Perhaps, however, what they need to do first is to stop demonizing those who disagree with them, and to understand that someone like Trump is a threat to all of us.  A lust for power unwed to any redeeming desire or impulse is no respecter of persons.  Perhaps organizing around that thought is where the thinking can begin.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

As For Those Of Us Who Are Already Working ...

... this article from the Times brings up another subject:  the abusive use by employers of non-compete agreements, even for workers in relatively unskilled jobs.

Traditionally, NCAs (as they are colloquially called in the business and legal worlds) have been used to protect businesses against the possibility that an employee who possesses an unusual and valuable set of skills, or perhaps has control over significant market resources or customers, might leave the company, taking valuable insider knowledge with him or her, and launch a competing business, leaving the original employer at a significant disadvantage for taking the employee into its trust. These contracts are generally limited by state law with regard to the types of restrictions that a company can place on a departing employee.  They cannot be indefinite with regard to the limits on time, geography, or even the nature of work to be performed.  The intention behind most of these limits is to strike a balance between an employee's freedom to seek work and an employer's right to protect its own economic interests.

And, in any case, the intention has traditionally been to limit the use of NCAs to those employees who are uniquely valuable to an enterprise, and not to employees with highly fungible skills. Employees in the latter category are often the ones with the least amount of job security, and who have the hardest time finding a job in the first place because of their sheer numbers in relation to the opportunities available to them.  I still remember my shock at finding out from a client that he had to sign an NCA for making sandwiches--sandwiches!--at a well-known fast-food chain.  I will not name the chain in question, but I will say this:  if you've eaten any of their sandwiches, you would wonder why they needed to be protected by an NCA (to say absolutely nothing about the prices).

Fortunately, there appears to be some legislative relief on the way, mostly at the state level at this point.  But it's worth considering the current abuse of NCAs in the context of other efforts over the past 40 years to restrict the rights of workers, while enhancing the rights of the investing class. Somewhere along the way, the idea that free enterprise was meant to play out on a level field got lost, and a large number of employers decided that it was OK to tilt it, so long as it was tilted in their direction.

Again, assuming that there will be elections next year, Democrats and other progressives should make restrictions on the use of NCAs a key component of a major proposal on behalf of workers' rights, one that addresses unions, overtime, leave and a whole host of other considerations that once were considered part of the American Way, and that we've somehow allowed ourselves to be convinced are unaffordable.  The truth runs in the other direction:  it's the absence of these considerations that is unaffordable.

On The Other Hand, If There Are Elections ...

... then one central issue, along with fighting the Republican attacks on health care by advancing single-payer health insurance for all, should and must be to reform so-called "welfare reform."

The 1996 joint attack on the poor by then-President Clinton and then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, intended by Clinton to ensure his re-election (which it did) and guarantee that he would not be impeached (which it didn't), has now provided twenty years of evidence to support its success or failure.  That evidence, sadly, supports the latter.  "Welfare reform" has proved to be an unmitigated disaster, one that helped pull the consumption floor out from underneath the economy in the George W. Bush years and deepened the despair of the Great Recession.  Equally bad is the power it gave to state governments to afflict the afflicted and pour money into helping themselves, rather than helping their most vulnerable citizens.

Under the 1996 law, guaranteed payments to families with dependent children were replaced with block grants of money to state governments, to be used as those government saw fit, complete with lifetime financial "caps" on direct cash payments to citizens and work requirements.  During the relatively flush Clinton years, few people noticed the hardships that these changes began to create. The Bush years, and the Republican-dominated later years of the Obama Administration, changed all of that, as newly-elected GOP governors and legislators competed with each other to impose the harshest possible cash and time limits on the poor, regardless of whether there was work available for them on not.

And, very often, the money went instead into programs allegedly designed to help the poor, but actually designed to help conservative constituencies such as the Christian right (e.g., abstinence programs.  Now, in an all-Republican age, the states are beginning an assault on Medicaid, something that Clinton pride himself on saving during the lead-up to the passage of "welfare reform."  They are beginning to attach work requirements to it, even though doing so was never the intention of either Medicaid or "welfare reform."

But buried in this list of letters to the editor of the New York Times, all critical of the welfare status quo is a valuable suggestion for Democrats looking to both energize their base and woo Trump voters: a return to a Carter-era proposal to guarantee work for all.  Perhaps the so-called party of working men and women could find a way to get behind this in 2018.  If the Republicans give them
--and the rest of us--a chance.

What If There Are No Elections Next Year?

Does that title disturb you?  I hope it disturbs a lot of people.  But I'm not so sure of that, for a number of reasons.  Two of them were highlighted by events this week.

First, there was the passage in the House of Representatives of the Republicans' repeal-and-replace legislation for the Affordable Care Act.  The word Republicans should be emphasized in reading that sentence, because not a single Democrat supported it--and, for that matter, not a few Republicans voted against it as well.  This bill, which would eliminate health care coverage for millions of Americans and destabilize one-sixth of the American economy, was thrown together in a matter of days, and approved not only without an estimate of its cost but without even having been read by the people who voted for it.

The current majority of the House, contrary to what the conservative press would have you believe, is not composed of citizen legislators intent on serving the interests of their constituents, and working on behalf of all Americans.  It is a cabal of crooks, intent upon enriching themselves at the expense of everyone else.  And why not?   They've been bought and paid for by the people who control 50% of the money in our society, and who have also supported largely successful efforts to restrict voting so as to ensure their continued political dominance.

And, on top of that, there are their friends in other countries.  Which brings us to the other major story worth discussing in this context:  the apparent last-minute attempt by foreign (probably Russian) hackers to disrupt the French presidential election, an election in which the far-right Marine Le Pen had previously appeared to be losing badly to Emmanuel Macron, her more moderate opponent.  Does this sound vaguely familiar?  Perhaps, like something that happened last fall here in the United States?

In such a world, what chance does democracy have?  In such a world, in which the entire political process seems to be front-loaded in favor of one side, who needs elections anyway?

Good question.  And don't think that the side in whose favor the front-loading works hasn't been asking it.

In the wake of the Republican House "triumph" this past week, I have read any number of articles about how energized progressive voters and candidates are now, and how this in turn may lead to the Democrats flipping one or even both houses of Congress in next year's mid-term elections. Leaving aside the point that the distance between then and now is an eternity in retail politics, its worth pointing out that conservatives read those articles as well.  They also know that mid-term elections, as a broad general rule, generate far lower levels of turnout than their counterparts in presidential election years.

In fact, they may be able to count on depressed turnout from here on out, just because the seeming inevitability of their control leads people to see their right to vote as a meaningless, what's-the-use relic of a bygone era.  In the case of the French presidential election, even before the hacking reports emerged, there were already reports that turnout might be low, even among the angriest voters.

So, the right-wing thinking might go, what if we created a pretext for cancelling elections?  I have already written about the possibility of manufacturing a Reichstag-fire level event (or a 9/11 event, if you prefer), one that would distract the majority of people and allow a small, conservative group of oligarchs to build the police-state of their dreams.  What if it happened in such a way that this group could propose cancelling (or, more likely "delaying") the mid-term elections, so that the "emergency" could be resolved and power being given over to the people "best" capable of confronting it?  That is to say, members of the group making the proposal in the first place.

And what if, after that, the "emergency" slowly just became the new status quo?  And most of the people accepted it, because they were either too stressed or too lazy to do anything else?

Does all of this sound shocking to you?  Is it really more shocking that a trust-funded, four-time-bankrupted con artist becoming President?  A President who has already been denounced in the loftiest of terms by a political columnist not noted for his flaming liberalism?  A columnist who, in fact, has joined a number of other observers in questioning the sanity of said President?  A President who has already been predicted, by a Yale historian, to attempt a coup at some future point?

It shouldn't be.

It's painfully clear that, in the present crisis, the only ones capable of standing up for the rule of law, and protecting the rest of us in the process, are the lawyers.  There's a reason that Dick the Butcher in Shakespeare's "Henry VI, Part II" suggests killing them should be the first step in taking power. They are the last guardians of justice when all else has failed.  And, at this point, all else is pretty close to failing.  They've already turned back Trump on a number of fronts, especially with regard to his anti-immigration efforts.  It appears that they are ready to do so with regard to his obscene assault on Americans' health care.

Let us hope, and pray, that they are successful.  After them, quite likely, comes the deluge.