Surviving in a Post-Truth World

When trying to figure out what the incoming administration will do, we should remember that for better or worse, we have elected an Elmer Gantry like “celebrity” as our next president, a seamless mixture of mass distraction and corporate personification, whose bombastic persona will distract the masses from the chaos caused by his administration.

A Potemkin village filled with a collection of swamp monsters overwhelmingly opposed to the very notion of a functioning government.

Rather than making us the “most respected country in the world”, and “make America great again,” we will get an administration run by a Cheeto faced Twitler playing the circus Strongman.

And while everyone is busy gawking at his freak show, his swamp critters and Congress’s deeds will hardly be noticed; Medicare getting “balanced billed” to death, the ACA cut and their Social Security benefits reduced.  All inconvenient facts; like his indebtedness to a host of foreign interests.

Given what we’ve heard from our intelligence agencies and his Russian connections, he might even be our first “Siberian Candidate.”

So it will be interesting to see how he reconciles his personal interests against his oath to “Protect and preserve the Constitution, against all enemies foreign and domestic.Perhaps his fellow Replicants in Congress will try to legislate away any oversight of his and their conflicts. Perhaps they will try to rush his ethically challenged nominees through the Senate with as little review as possible.

And in an age where people will believe anything, even FOX Noise conservative’s primary propaganda outlet is considered part of the Lügenpresse, or lying press. With retired conservative radio talk-show host, Charlie Sykes, observing that: “We have spent 20 years demonizing the mainstream media…. At a certain point you wake up and you realize you have destroyed the credibility of any outlet out there.”

Fake news never was the problem — the delegitimization of real news is the real problem. Its purpose is to eliminate any distinction between true and false and what’s right and wrong,  And now that his tweets will become a ‘really exciting part’ of this administration,

along with their exclusive deal with the Sinclair Broadcast Group for “straighter coverage,” they will be taking that delegitimization, along with holding no press conferences to new levels.

If the news media has any hope of avoiding catastrophe — for themselves and for American democracy — they have to change how they report the news, as opposed to stenographing party apparatchiks and normalizing their behavior.

Something our local paper the Central Virginian should consider, as opposed to subtly delegitimizing one side of the debate while holding up the other with a barrage of syndicated content. Much like the county releasing public records of what took place at last months Planning Commission’s work session, lest people think this new building is another one of County’s multi-million dollar “Christmas Surprises.”

Jon Taylor

Editors Note: The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a January 12th vote for their 5 year Capital Improvement Plan budget that will recommend the allocation of $320 K to assess the County’s needs for these buildings.

So far, no word on when the Board of Supervisors will approve either that request or the estimated $ 4.2 million needed for constructing the building, which presumably will be established in a future year’s budget.

 

Trump’s cabinet – what could go wrong?

Tomorrow the Electoral College meets in each of the states and the District of Columbia where the electors will cast their votes for the candidate to which they are committed.

Being an elector is an honor for any member of a political party and the 7th Congressional District will be represented by Harold Boyd, chairman of the Culpeper County Democratic Committee. He will cast our district’s electoral vote for Hillary Clinton, who won Virginia by 5.3 percentage points. Culpeper should be proud of its participation in this last election because voter turnout was almost 75 percent, significantly higher than the national average of 55 percent, the lowest in 20 years.

Among many other things, the president-elect has most recently promised to “drain the swamp” of the establishment creatures that inhabit the quagmire that bubbles inside the Beltway. What do we know so far about his nominees for high posts in the new administration? Who among them might actually be “swamp things?”

Trump intends to nominate multimillionaire Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobile—the largest, wealthiest multinational corporation on the planet—to be secretary of state, arguably the most important post in the cabinet. No matter that he’s been doing “Big Oil” business with Saudi Arabia and Russia for the past 40 years. In 2013, Russian President and ex-KGB officer Vladimir Putin bestowed the Russian “Order of Friendship” on Tillerson, citing his work for “strengthening cooperation in the energy sector.” International sanctions against Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine have halted Exxon’s multibillion dollar explore-and-pump deal in Siberia. Tillerson is a a vocal proponent of lifting those restrictions. What a surprise.

On the campaign trail, candidate Trump repeatedly boasted that he was smarter than all the generals, but military officers with stars hold three key nominations. Is he surrounding himself with generals just to make himself look smart? Retired Marine Corps General “Mad Dog” (that pretty much says it all) James Mattis could be the secretary of defense. Retired Marine Corps General John Kelly is nominated for secretary of homeland security. Another retired Army general, Michael Flynn, is slated for Trump’s national security adviser. A former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who has already been a close Trump adviser, he is known for his scandalously broad-brush criticism of Islam, flirtation with conspiracy theories and leaking secrets to foreign governments. What will happen to civilian control of the military? What could possibly go wrong?

Then there is Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, who famously couldn’t remember the name of the Department of Energy (DOE) as the third agency he’d eliminate during the Republican primary debate in November 2011. “Oops!” Oh, wait, DOE manages America’s nuclear arsenal and nuclear wastes, among all its other energy research and development responsibilities. What could possibly go wrong?

Establishment insider corporation Goldman Sachs wins the jackpot for the rest of the prizes. After a decade in the wilderness for its role in the 2008 economic meltdown, criticized by both candidates, Trump characterized CEO Lloyd Blankfein as a shady and dangerous character in his final campaign ad. Nonetheless, Goldman Sachs is dominating economic appointments in the Trump administration. Campaign CEO and incoming White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon spent his early career at the bank. So did Anthony Scaramucci, one of Trump’s top transition advisors. The new pick for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, spent 17 years at Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn recently spent time schmoozing with Trump and it now looks like he will be director of the United States National Economic Council.

In addition to the former Goldman Sachs people, Trump has picked billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary and billionaire activist Betsy DeVos, who has absolutely zero experience in education, as education secretary. Another billionaire, Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, has been named deputy commerce secretary. Linda McMahon, a former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, has been chosen to head the Small Business Administration. A millionaire who is married to a billionaire, she contributed $7 million to pro-Trump super PACs this fall.

Not since the Eisenhower administration have so many business executives landed top government jobs, says USA Today, making Trump’s cabinet the wealthiest in American history. “I want people that made a fortune because now they’re negotiating with you,” he told supporters in Des Moines last week during his “thank you” tour. Do you suppose their largesse will trickle down to the working men and women of Culpeper?

Steve Bannon deserves special mention. As chief strategist and senior counsel to the president, he does not require Senate advice and consent. Aside from his stint at Goldman Sachs, he is most notable for being the head of Breitbart news. He’s boasted that he made Breitbart the “platform for the alt-right” (that’s a euphemism for home-grown Nazis and white supremacists). His website has been a clearinghouse for hate speech of all kinds including white nationalism, anti-Semitism, immigrant-hatred and misogyny.

Elections have consequences. What could go wrong?

Mike McClary

Editor’s Note: reprinted with author’s permission, and originally appearing here.

Is democracy worth saving?

With the apparent election of the Drumpf as our next president, many people are asking themselves, will we even have a functioning government? Far from being a rhetorical question; it is one of the fundamental questions and challenges of any representative government, and one to which Ben Franklin once remarked that our government was “A republic if you can keep it.”

At time he said that, the over-riding concern of the constitutional delegates was the disorder which existed in nearly every part of country. Americans had grown accustomed to the doctrine of popular sovereignty–“democracy“–as the rationale for their rebellion against English authority. And now they were struggling with how to implement principles of popular majority rule while at the same time preserving stable governments which protect the rights and liberties of all citizens.

Few of the delegates believed that a new federal constitution alone would be enough to create a unified nation out of a collection of independent republics spread out over a vast physical space, extraordinarily diverse in their economic interests, regional loyalties, and ethnic and religious attachments. And in the 229 years since the US Constitution was written, it has become a powerful symbol of our nation’s unity– moreover, it is a stronger, and better document than what came out the Philadelphia Convention. Through the amendment process, particularly the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th Amendments, it has become the protector of the rights of all the people, not just some of the people.

On the other hand, the challenges to our Constitution are, if anything, far greater than those confronting the nation in 1787. Although the new nation was a pluralistic one by the standards of the 18th century, the face of America in 2016 looks very different: we are no longer united by a common language, religion or culture; and while our overall level of material prosperity is staggering by the standards of any age, the widening gulf between rich and poor is perhaps the most serious threat to a common definition of the “pursuit of happiness.”

Now keep in mind these paragraphs were written as preface for the opening of the National Constitutional Center in 1998, before the deregulation of the stock market in 2000, and long before the Supreme Courts Citizens United decision in 2010. And these prescient words remind us of the role that not only widening economic inequality, but the corrupting influence that wealth plays in our political process, and on our very ability to follow our own “pursuit of happiness.”

Dr. Beeman’s remarks that “In far too many places around the world today, the expression of the “popular will” is nothing more than the unleashing of primordial forces of tribal and religious identity which further confound the goal of building stable and consensual governments,” seem as true today as when he first wrote them.

And, according to this article, part of a larger SAIS twelve country study on authoritarianism and democracy. Democracies are fragile not because of social class or culture clash, but for political reasons. With substantial segments of their populations who are either ambivalent about democracy or opposed to it.

And under particular circumstances and with the right leadership, they can be mobilized to weaken or destroy democracy. Mass attitudes about the legitimacy of the political structure are a reality that transcends cultural, economic and class distinctions, and these well-established beliefs form a potentially explosive element that may be difficult for public policy to defuse.

Long before the Drumpf arrived on the scene, American’s were expressing distinctly non-democratic views, providing the raw material for anti-establishment insurgencies. Between 1995 and 2011, support for our political system declined as ambivalence and alienation grew, and is driven primarily by social rather than economic factors. Support for strongman rule grew by 31 percent, technocratic rule by 49 percent, and even for military rule  by 16 percent.

With many of the 2011 respondents in the US indicating their ambivalence by selecting opposites, endorsing both democracy and having “a strongman who does not have to bother with parliament or elections.

According to this study, the single most important social and political factor is education; those who are less educated are more inclined to authoritarian governance. The second is age; individuals over fifty are more likely to reject different forms of authoritarian rule. Ethnicity also plays a strong role. African Americans and Hispanic’s are more inclined to authoritarian forms of government than Caucasians.

Being a Southerner, even a white Southerner, does not predict any inclination to either democracy or authoritarianism, and casts doubt upon the cultural backlash thesis where older, white males are supposed to be turning to authoritarian populism. Even though the proportion of the general population holding authoritarian views may be higher than anticipated, the good news is that most are less interested in politics, less involved in day-to-day political activities between elections, and are less likely to vote in national elections.

Finally, American non-democratic forces are split among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Making it unlikely these groups will coalesce around an anti-democratic candidate. And since the United States has never tasted the bitter fruit of dictatorial rule, its not surprising that their attitudes remain more pro-democratic than Japan, and much more than Chile or Indonesia.

Historically speaking, the worst democratic leaders have been those marshaling a plurality like Drumpf to take power by appealing to fear and identity politics, subsequently utilizing these forces to abridge the rights and privileges of groups they stigmatize. While the most effective democratic leaders tend to stay close to popular opinion while appealing simultaneously to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.

Which brings us to the question that should be on everyone’s mind, given the current political climate, is it even possible to prevent the former, while encouraging the latter?

Jon Taylor

Next: Acknowledging what happened

 

Acknowledging what happened

It’s been said that when you find yourself at the bottom of a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. And when it comes to understanding how you came to be digging the hole in the first place, it’s important to be willing to examine all information.

That being said, while the statistical validity of political and social science is in all likelihood somewhere on order of one or two degrees of magnitude lower in validity than  hard sciences such as physics chemistry, or genetics, it still has much to tell us if you ask the right questions.

And one response to the question posed at the end of the last post, starts with our ability to honestly acknowledge what has happened during this election. Part of the “answer” to that question comes from political scientist Juan J. Linz who designed a “litmus test” based on studies of the demise of democracy in the 1930’s to identify anti-democratic politicians, some key elements which include; a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments.

And the Drumpf clearly test positive for all three of these traits. Surprising, many Americans are not concerned with his authoritarian inclinations because they “have faith” that constitutional checks and balances will constrain him. Perhaps, but those institutional safeguards may be less effective than we think, since they must be reinforced by strong informal norms.

Like a pickup basketball game without a referee, they work only when unwritten rules of the game, are known and respected by all players, preventing political competition from spiraling into a chaotic, no-holds-barred conflict. Among the unwritten rules which have sustained American democracy are partisan self-restraint and fair play. Yet the norms of partisan restraint have eroded significantly, making our government increasingly dysfunctional at virtually every level.

More importantly, the very idea of legitimate opposition is being dismissed by Republicans. In a democracy, partisan rivals must fully accept each other’s right to exist, to compete and to govern. Without such mutual acceptance, democracy is imperiled. Extremists within the Republican Party have been increasingly questioning the legitimacy of their rivals, and now such extremism, once confined to the fringes has become an acceptable part of the party’s orthodoxy.

If ordinary circumstances prevail, our institutions will manage to muddle through a Drumpf presidency. How we would fare in a crisis is less clear. In the event of large-scale riots or protests, or a major terrorist attack, — all of which are entirely possible — a president with authoritarian tendencies coupled with institutions which have become unmoored could pose a serious threat to American democracy.

And since the enactment of the Patriot and Military Commissions Act during the Bush Administration, along with the increasing electronic intrusions into our lives during the Obama Administration by everyone from the NSA all the way down to local authorities, all the mechanisms for an authoritarian police state are in place.

Unlike any of his presidential predecessors, Don the Con has consistently shown his willingness to be a serial breaker of social and political norms to gain advantage and stroke his ego. History has shown us how authoritarian governments have used the claim that their opponents are disloyal or criminal or a threat to the nation’s way of life to justify their actions.

Some of this is already happening at the state level; With the Republican controlled House in Michigan (home of the infamous Emergency Manager Law) recently voting to make it easier for courts to shut down “mass picketing” demonstrations and to heavily fine protesters.

And while the events in North Carolina are still unfolding, it’s clear that the Republican controlled legislature intends to pass 27 bills, all aimed at stripping the incoming Democratic governor of his ability to make appointments, even going so far as to make his Cabinet appointments subject to approval by the state Senate.

A body of actions which should make it clear that Republican’s around the country will continue to do everything they can to control state legislatures and Congress, in an effort to turn this country staunchly conservative on every issue imaginable, legally and permanently.

And with regards to charges that the Russians “hacked” the election, President Obama said in his final news conference that he has “great confidence” that they did, and that evidence has been provided to him and congressional leaders, adding that “Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin,” essentially confirming the Russian Premiers role in this.

Going on to say that he told Putin at this summer’s G20 conference to “cut it out“, and that “there were going to be serious consequences if he didn’t,” going on to say “In fact we did not see further tampering of the election process.” “But the leaks through Wikileaks had already occurred.” Yet, at the same time making it clear how “scrupulous” he was being by staying out of these investigations, and that “I don’t know why I would start now.”

And finally closing with that when the report comes out before he leaves office, it will tell all. So don’t expect to see any action on this front from either the CIA or FBI, who contrary to Republican spin, have finally admitted these hacks took place before the Electoral College meets on the 19th.

Meanwhile, with an electorate seemingly unconcerned about any these developments, it’s debatable if we have indeed become a nation of “useful idiots,” who have unwittingly allowed themselves to be manipulated by a foreign power, U.S. politicians and a news media hell bent on promoting false equivalency.

Paul Krugman writes, “If we’re going to have any hope of redemption, people will have to stop letting themselves be used the way they were in 2016. And the first step is to admit the awful reality of what just happened. That means not acting as if this was a normal election whose results gave any legitimacy beyond the bare legal requirements.”

And that while “it might be more comfortable to pretend that things are O.K., that American democracy isn’t on the edge. That would be taking useful idiocy to the next level.”

Jon Taylor

Next: Alternatives to the Drumpf

 

 

 

Alternatives to the Drumpf

After the President announced this past Friday, that he would not involve himself in the outcome of this election, and that government intelligence agencies would be issuing their “report” on the Russian hacking of this election before he left office. It’s clear that the Electoral College is the final obstacle standing in the way of the Drumpf being sworn in as our next President.

That being said, it is highly unlikely to happen. First, because nearly all of the members of the Electoral College who have asked to be briefed on the Russian hacking of our election are from states that Clinton won, and it would take at least 37 members of the Electoral College, all from Republican controlled states to either not vote for him, or cast it for someone else to change the outcome of this election.

And given that Drumpf’s campaign has already threatened “political reprisal” against any wayward Electoral College members who might change their vote; it seems even less likely that many will decide to go against how the people of their state voted.

Nor is it clear at this point that the Electoral College would have any cause to do so, since both Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution “Prohibiting presidents from accepting any … emolument … from a foreign state” and article II for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which could potentially address the Drumpf’s engaging in fraud (Trump U) and racketeering (a host of shady financial deals) might not even apply to them.

Should the unlikely happen, and the Electoral College doesn’t cast 270 votes for any presidential candidate, it would go to the Republican controlled House of Representatives. Where each state delegation from the incoming Congress would cast one vote for one of the top three winners of the electoral vote; who are currently Clinton, Drumpf, and there should be no 3rd candidate, since none of the other candidates received any electoral votes.

Meanwhile, the Senate would confirm the next Vice President from the top 2 candidates.

As things stand now, the fate of the presidency would rest in the hands of the Republican dominated House of Representatives, who in theory could act to remove him after he has been sworn in under either Article I or Article II. And it is unlikely that they would do so, since it would mean changing course so close to achieving their fevered dreams.

Especially considering how many of them went out of their way to swallow their intense dislike of him in the interests of party unity…I mean perceived ability to use him a pawn in their never ending quest to roll back the ACA, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

After he’s in office, there’s always the possibility that this walking clownfish will have so many unresolved conflicts of interest, and his short attention span management style will cause so much chaos that congressional Republicans will have no choice but to impeach him.

Then again, he could simply get bored, and “fire himself,” returning to what he does best, being a celebrity television host.

Either way we would end up with Mike Pence as our next President, and Paul Ryan as Vice President. Should that should prove to be the case then the only question is; have we finally become: A) an Autocracy, B) a Plutocracy, C) a Theocracy, or D) all of the above.

Jon Taylor

Next: Where do we go from here

 

Where do we go from here ?

Like an addict who has hit rock bottom, the first thing the Democratic Party has to do is to admit that it has a problem. Republicans control the House, and they control the Senate. And in state government things are much worse. The GOP controls historical record number of governors’ mansions, along with completely controlling 32 state legislative bodies, and splitting another 5, putting them very close to having enough states to call for a constitutional convention.

The same story applies further down ballot, where most elected attorneys general, insurance commissioners, secretaries of state, and so forth are Republicans. And we haven’t even got to the 2018 midterm elections which will be very difficult for Democrats to retake the Senate, and how important that election will be in the run up to the 2020 election when the states redistrict.

According to Thom Hartman, in many ways, Drumpf election represents the final victory of Lewis Powell’s infamous 1971 memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that was a corporate blueprint for taking over the country. One abetted by the Supreme courts 1976, Buckley v. Valeo 5-4 decision, which removed campaign contribution limits, saying that it contravened the First Amendment provision on freedom of speech because spending money, was in its view, the same as written or verbal expression.

In retrospect, the lead dissent of White J correctly contended that Congress’ judgment had legitimately recognized unlimited election spending “as a mortal danger against which effective preventive and curative steps must be taken.” But it took another 4 years for it to take full effect, starting with the Reagan Revolution which begin the systematic dismemberment of the American middle class; a process which is going on.

In Europe, they call it Neoliberalism, and since the 80’s it’s been a philosophy that has been embraced by the elites of both the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Which brings us to Jan. 20, 2009, just hours after President Barack Obama was sworn into office, Jim DeMint and a group of powerful Republicans met in a private room in the Caucus Room restaurant in D.C. to plan how to stop Obama from being successful. A month or so later, at a meeting of millionaires and billionaires put together by the Kochs, DeMint reprised his argument, this time in a debate with John Cornyn in front of the roomful of donors. As Jane Mayer documented in her book Dark Money:

“Rather than compromising their principles and working with the new administration, DeMint argued, Republicans needed to take a firm stand against Obama, waging a campaign of massive resistance and obstruction, regardless of the outcome of the 2008 election.”

Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, on the other hand, argued that they should block Obama where they disagreed with him, but work with him on things where they agreed. DeMint was having none of it, and, apparently, neither were the billionaires. Mayer wrote: “Sitting silently at the table in the front row through all of this were Charles Koch and his wife, Liz. No one came to Cornyn’s defense.” Mayer added: “After hearing both sides, the assembled guests chose the path of extremism.”

Throw in the effects of the Supreme Courts subsequent  2010 Citizens United 5-4 decision, and the 2014 McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission  5-4 decision which struck down individual aggregate limits on political giving as unconstitutional the Republican Party was assured an almost limitless pool of funding at every level of government.

In their dissent, Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan argued that this decision “creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign, and that combined with the Citizens United would eviscerate our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”

While all of this was happening, President Obama—and most of the Democratic Party—continued to ignore the Caucus Room Conspiracy and its Koch brother’s sequel. Had they called out the conspirators, loudly and repeatedly, things today might be very, very different. But they didn’t.

Now we are about to we have a Republican President, House and Senate for the first time since 1928 when Herbert Hoover was elected. And with the Republicans promising overwhelming deregulation and tax cuts for the rich the results will be just as predictable as they were in 1928.

The question we face is whether the Democratic Party at the national and particularly the state level is capable of acknowledging what has happened, and are willing return to what used to be their core values, set down by FDR and LBJ (New Deal and Great Society) while rejecting neoliberalism. Or will they continue down the path of the Clinton’s weak-tea Reaganism/neoliberalism, supporting trade deals while failing to support organized labor and the middle class.

So for those who say we should try harder to “understand rural conservatives,’ or “move back to the middle” to attract independents, I say you’re following a primrose path to nowhere. Thomas Frank, author of “What’s the matter with Kansas” put it best in a 2014 interview, saying that “you cant’ have a center if you don’t have a left.

Adding that “the right deliberately acts like a left-wing movement and uses left-wing language” but their message is deceptive and decidedly not populist. And with regard to the Tea Party, “They have got the discontent. They’ve captured it.

So what can the Democrats do get some of that mojo back? First, by remembering that this country is for better or worse a nation born in revolution, and people look for a revolutionary narrative when they’re hurting. And speaking to those desires is what got Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, JFK, LBJ and even Ronald Reagan elected, allowing them to enact those promises.

Plain and simple the Drumpf offered that narrative, and Clinton did not. Just like in 2008, the people wanted change. Had she picked up on Bernie’s platform, repudiated neoliberalism, and run with it hard, rather than attacking the Drumpf she probably would have won.

Jon Taylor

Next: Getting Democratic mojo back

Getting Democratic mojo back

It’s been suggested that Democrats take a page from their past, and engage in massive resistance against the Republicans agenda where ever possible. From my perspective that’s a zero sum game, because it keeps the framing of the issues squarely in the Republicans corner, not to mention being on the wrong side of progress.

But we can take a page from ALEC and its down stream spin off ACCE, who have worked quietly for decades behind the scenes to get state and local legislators to pass their retrograde agendas. There is a relatively new organization called the State Innovation Exchange, or SiX that could help progressives push a progressive agenda even amid the grim prospect of ultra-right domination in Republican controlled states.

Defending past gains and battling new proposals put forth by these right-wing radicals is essential to an effective resistance. But resistance can’t be solely defensive. A powerful offense also is crucial; an offense of diverse elements that would help spread fresh ideas and programs, or resurrects vital old ones which never got a fair chance in the first place.

Having worked in the corporate world and in government regulation in the past, there is something to be said for standardized procedures, and consistent regulations and laws.  Unlike ALEC, SiX isn’t writing model legislation. But its library contains 2,000 bills which have been passed in several states. The public online library includes laws not just for states, but also at the county, municipal, and school district levels, covering the gamut from reproductive health to energy policies.

Their Executive Director Nick Rathod, said that “In the same way that conservatives 30 years ago decided to put money and investment in the states and are seeing the benefits of that—controlling the largest number of chambers since the 1920s and their ability to move legislation—we hope that this is the beginning of a similar movement for progressives in the states, where we are able to advance progressive legislation and also build a farm team of the next generation of leaders.”

Adding that “We work on what we think is good public policy […] addressing climate change and fighting back against fracking, supporting civil rights and women’s rights. There never has been a strong enough entity that can compete with the infrastructure on the right.”

Therein lies the problem, Democrats at virtually every level will have to adjust their thinking around the reality that they are for all practical purposes an underground resistance party, fighting against the vastly superior forces of the Republican empire. And whatever plans they make will have to be for the long haul.

In addition, they will have to find sources of funding that aren’t dependent on corporate largess, less they fall back into the Clintonesque trap of triangulation and end up standing for nothing but their own little piece of power.

Another thing to keep in mind, about this neo-fascist empire, is that virtually all of today’s Republican politicians are essentially members of a tribe of authoritarian jerks, and have several common and identifiable triggers which in the right circumstances can be exploited to expose their BS.

One strategy that Jeremy Sherman an evolutionary epistemologist has come up with is particularly useful in public settings is called identifying the pig.  And when they are challenged in public, they will instantaneously deflect with a variety of techniques that boil down to “I know you are but what am I?” or “I’m like rubber, you’re like glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.

Here’s a partial list of the cheap tricks, cheap because they don’t cost much to use if one has an accommodating conscience. It’s important to be able to identify pigs carefully. Do it sloppily and you become a pig yourself, someone who cries foul against anyone who stubbornly disagrees with you.

Once you’ve identified a pig, you have to know how not to fall for their traps and cheap shots, because as George Bernard Shaw famously said, “Never wrestle with a pig. You’ll just get dirty and the pig likes it.”

You can never beat a pig at their own game. You’ll never be able to convince them that they’re wrong about anything, since, by definition, they’ll do or say anything to claim victory. You can’t beat them, but you can subdue them through peer pressure.

Don’t make the mistake of wrestling pigs away from an audience, play to them. Pigs live for proving people wrong in front of other people.  Debating a pig is a multi-layered affair. At the ground level there are the issues that pigs pretend are the real point just to set you up for failure and themselves for victory.

Up a level is the pig’s real focus, not the issues but the platform from which he employs the cheap shots for proving you wrong and them right about everything. Don’t take their bait by engaging in cheap shots. If the pig accuses you of something, don’t defend against it.

Focusing on either of these levels is a losing game. Instead, up level to the third tier, addressing the audience with your description of the pig’s MO: “See what he did there? See him just now, employing that cheap trick to deflect all criticism.”

The goal is to trap them in a “tar baby,” straight out of the Uncle Remus stories. The more Brer Rabbit punches it, the more stuck he gets.

Conversational tar babies may beat a pig at its own game. Here are some tar babies to try with your audience:

  • “He’s being defensive.”
  • “He doesn’t care about the truth. He’s only out to win.”
  • “He talks as though he’s the judge. He acts like he’s the umpire neutrally deciding he has won the game he’s competing in.”
  • “It’s not all about him. He just thinks it is.”
  • “He gives the benefit of the doubt, but only to himself.”

Now I wouldn’t recommend going as far as LBJ supposedly did in one of his early campaigns, where he told one of his aides to spread the story that his opponent fucked pigs. The aide responded “Christ, Lyndon, we can’t call the guy a pigfucker. It isn’t true.” To which LBJ replied “Of course it ain’t true, but I want to make the son-of-a-bitch deny it.

That’s how tar babies work because by denying them, the accusations stick.

  • “I’m not being defensive!” is defensive.
  • “You’re wrong! I’m not only out to win,” is an effort to win.
  • “You’re wrong! I’m not playing judge,” is playing judge.
  • “It’s not all about me!” is all about him.
  • “I don’t give myself the benefit of the doubt!” is giving themselves the benefit of the doubt.

And be sure to point this behavior out to your audience. Tar babies will not always to subdue pigs. There are ways to slip out of them. Still, they’re worth a shot because pigs are relentless. They will try the same cheap shots over and over to win by wearing you out and getting you to eventually take the bait, allowing them to claim they’ve won.

That’s what pigs do. But with patience and a plan, you can often eat far enough into their credibility that their claims of victory persuade only a minority. You can render many a pig impotent with patience and a plan.

And like the past struggles of the labor unions, the suffragettes, civil rights, and health care it may be decades before we see significant change.

Jon Taylor

Will Virginia become the next North Carolina?

By the time most of you read this, a legislative coup d’état will have already taken place in North Carolina. While the media may attempt to describe this coup as a partisan over reaction to Governor McCroy’s defeat, it is really all about ensuring that Republican’s maintain control, regardless of the outcome of the election.

Some of the readers of our local paper, the Central Virginian, may recall my March 13th, 2011 letter to the editor titled “We are all Wisconsin,” which discussed how the Republican controlled Michigan legislature voted to allow the Governor to appoint individuals with the power to invalidate local elections, denying municipalities control of their own destinies, if a municipality was deemed in financial trouble, with a so called emergency manager law.

And such ALEC inspired legislature is just one small part of Republican’s plan to take this country ­back to the Gilded Age, part of a well coordinated RICO like effort to seize control of state legislatures and Congress. They are not interested in, creating jobs, or balancing budgets, and are working hard at every level to turn the country staunchly conservative on every issue imaginable, legally and permanently.

Something they have been working on well before Obama’s election in 2008. You may also recall how some of those cities; Flint and Detroit have in the years since become the center of national attention. Flint, because of dangerously unsafe drinking water, caused by the emergency management teams cost saving measures and more recently how both Flint and Detroit ended up with unusually high numbers of people voting in every election but the Presidential, and how some 75, 000 votes in those cities were not counted.

Yet according to Detroit officials those votes can not be recounted because of “poor record keeping” – presumably one of the rationales for any recount.

 

counting-votes

You may also recall my saying that if such a clandestine takeover of local governments was allowed to flourish in other states; American life would become unrecognizable in a remarkably short time. Well in the years since, many Republican controlled states have become experimental labs.

Unfortunately, unlike Thomas Edison’s fabled Menlo Park, dubbed the Invention Factory, the only innovation coming from these states has been the different ways they have found to inflict misery on their inhabitants.

And it’s the predictable result of what happens when radical free market ideology replaces common sense, you get crony capitalism,  failed economies, and failed states. You may already be familiar with some of these experiments in states like; Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Mississippi, and Kansas.

Wherever Republicans have taken over state legislatures, the results have been a dramatic turn for the worse Just look at what has happened to our neighboring state to the south, North Carolina. In 2008, the state elected Obama for president, but by 2011, riding on American’s for Prosperity’s astroturfed Tea Party wave both the House and the Senate had flipped to Republican control.

With Republicans in control of redistricting, they drew up new lines with the generous assistance of Billionaire Art Pope, in an effort to solidify their future electoral chances, laying the groundwork for their “conservative revolution.” In 2012, North Carolina’s legislature banned the state from basing coastal policies on scientific predictions of sea level rise, preferring to base their solutions on “historical data.”

That same year, Republican Pat McCrory, the former CEO of Duke Energy was elected as Governor and the state took an even more dramatic turn to the right.

In 2013, North Carolina cut weekly unemployment benefits by 40 percent,and shortened the period of time when workers could receive the benefits, all at a time when North Carolina’s unemployment levels were approaching 10 percent. Under the guise of “tax reform,” the state imposed a significant tax burden on the middle class. Along with repealing “teacher tenure” for any teacher hired after July 2013, and investing more taxpayer dollars in “private school vouchers,”

Most significantly, they repealed many of the measures previous legislatures had passed to increase voter participation throughout the state.

Then, in March 2016, the deeds of North Carolina’s Republican party became national news when, in a less than 12 hour Special Session, the North Carolina legislature passed a bill that not only prevented localities from enacting anti-LGBT discrimination measures, but made it more difficult for any person to enforce claims of discrimination in state courts.

Needless to say the publicity from this so-called “bathroom bill” generated protests around the nation and has prompted many businesses to stop expansion plans in the state or consider relocating, along with the cancellation of many major sporting events. An issue that was a major factor in Governor McCroy’s defeat in his 2016 re-election bid.

Last month, Democrat Roy Cooper unseated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, while Democrats also gained a majority on the state Supreme Court, breaking the Republican stranglehold on North Carolina’s state government. Now, though, Republicans have used the pretext of a lame-duck special legislative session—ostensibly convened for disaster relief—to introduce a slew of measures that radically curtail the authority of the governor and even the high court itself.

This nakedly partisan plot is unprecedented in modern state history. Indeed, you have to go back to the 1890s to find a parallel, when reactionaries violently introduced Jim Crow after a multiracial coalition of progressives briefly won power.You may recall how almost immediately after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, how Republican controlled states went into action to suppress the vote, and that it was major factor in the Drumpf becoming (at least for now) our next president.

And North Carolina was no exception; McCrory signed the nations most sweeping voter suppression law in half a century, which included a strict voter ID requirement, the end of same-day registration, and cutbacks to early voting opportunities. And Republicans literally ordered data on which voting methods black voters used more and eliminated them.

This law was so extreme that a federal court said it “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision” when it struck it down in July. Meanwhile, Republicans had previously gerrymandered the legislature so aggressively that they won veto-proof majorities in 2012 despite losing the popular vote, and they easily maintained their stranglehold on the legislature in despite McCrory’s loss.

Now that the court has struck down those maps as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, it means that North Carolina Republicans are using an illegally obtained legislative majority to usurp the powers of the fairly elected new Democratic governor.

Plain and simple, Republicans are attempting to usher in a new era of Jim Crow, and what we are witnessing is simply a bid to overturn democracy itself, just as we have seen in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin with the Presidential election recount.

Considering that Republican’s in Virginia are just one vote away from a veto proof super majority in the House, and whose current control of the Senate hinges on a special election to replace “Uncle Tom” Garrett in the 22nd Senate district, don’t be surprised to see all manner of extreme “positioning” during the coming year.

Like; H.R. 268 which proposes to make the January 27th anniversary of “Roe v. Wade,” a Day of Woe in Virginia where citizens are “encouraged” to lower their flags to half-staff in mourning.  And should a Republican become Governor this year, it doesn’t require much imagination to envision how long it will take to Virginia become just like North Carolina.

So the question I have for readers of this blog, considering that we sat back and did nothing during the Bush Era, and passively watched as the Republican’s took over the House side of the General Assembly, do you really want to see what will happen when they have control of all the legislative levers?

If now isn’t the time to start engaging in “massive resistance” and organization against these retrograde ideas and policies, when is?

Jon Taylor

Poking the Bear

In a previous post, I talked about how our local paper, the Central Virginian, does a fairly good job of presenting information about the actions of local officials, but consistently fails to talk about what the implications of those deeds might be.

And if there is any value in as one member of the Louisa Democrats put it “poking the bear,” it’s that sometimes the bear responds. Like this weeks unattributed editorial titled, A Call to Action, their first commentary about the actions of local officials in over three years.

And as nice as it was to finally see such commentary about local events, it remains to be seen if they will consistently address those issues as they arise. Case in point, after several changes of editors following Greg Dorazio’s departure, the CV launched an extensive campaign of editorial commentary in 2013.

Commentary which started in earnest with the publishers, Steve Weddel’s, late March “It’s your right to know–it’s our business to tell you,” and followed by weekly editorials for a month, the most notable of which were titled “Opening the discussion,” and “Lets’ shake things up.”

Unfortunately their editorial series neither opened up any discussion, nor judging from the fact that after that initial flurry tapered off to less than one editorial a month, were they successful in shaking things up. Which brings us back to this week’s editorial.

Whether it’s a product of having a dedicated associate editor to cover the deeds of our local officials, and who has developed a sense of their dynamics and interconnectedness, or the result of poking the bear is unclear.

Given the Board of Supervisors and their anointed … I mean appointed Planning Commission’s penchant for dithering and crony capitalism, there certainly will be no shortage of local issues to comment on.

Generally speaking, it’s the policy of Blue Louisa to try to stay within the limits of fair use, which is defined as directly quoting 3 paragraphs or less from another source.  But given; A) the rarity of such commentary, and B) the fact that few people reading this blog, read or subscribe to the CV, and C) the  importance of educating people about the deeds of local officials their editorial is transcribed below.

 A call to action

It’s good to see members of the Board of Supervisors talking about the county’s comprehensive plan. It would be even better to see them take some action.

The comp plan is the guiding document for how the county should grow, but it’s become a fossil in the 15 years since it was last changed significantly. Most of the data about the county’s population and economy hail to a time when Michael Jackson was the King of Pop and Hillary Clinton was First Lady.

Whenever county staff suggests that it might be time to bring this very important pile of paper up to date, some of the supervisors mutter that the plan was good enough in 2001, and should still be good in 2016.

Much has changed since 2001. The population of Louisa County has increased from 25,000 to 35,000. Zion Crossroads went from a woodlot to a boomtown.

It’s true, as Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes pointed out recently, that the most important chapter in the plan has to do with the county’s growth areas and how they develop. There may not be any need to change their boundaries.

But the plan should be much more than that. For example, it should outline the county’s vision for public safety, including the future of the combined volunteer and career fire and rescue service. It should draw links among the different things that will have to happen if we are to build a healthy local economy, including making sure we secure a broad array of jobs and that our children have the skills to take them.

These are things that matter to everyone in the county. If the vision for the future is clear in the comprehensive plan, when it’s time for the supervisors to vote on something, they can base their decision on that vision.

The board has fretted ever since the 2001 plan re-write that it doesn’t want a committee of countless residents trying to reach consensus. That’s okay. While we’d prefer to see more public participation, the supervisors were elected to represent us, and they should do so by encouraging county staff to produce a plan we can all be proud of.

And as with the previous Blue Louisa post, the question remains; will the CV continue to comment on these issues, or will they continue to cede that responsibility to concerned locals and blogs such as this one?

 

Jon Taylor

 

The high cost of “Normalization”

I never cease to be amazed at local conservatives like Ms. Goode and Mr. Jones capacity for hypocrisy with their 11-17 and 11-24 letters to the Central Virginian.  And contrary to their delusions of persecution, I don’t think less of them because of their faith; I think less of them  because they hid behind it and stood by silently while their short fingered vulgarian spouted non stop xenophobia, racism, misogyny and cruelty and did nothing.

I think less of them because they choose to reinforce that mindset with remarks like this country is “the most divided it’s been since the Civil Rights Act.” Willfully oblivious to the reality that it was their unwavering tribal support for the Republican Party at every level of government that allowed  them to become the inheritors of Dixiecratic institutions like Jim Crow and voter suppression.

Actions which have contributed to a level of division that this country has not experienced since shortly before the Civil War … not the Civil Right’s Act.

I think less of them because they watched him; call for violence against anyone who was “different“, including the press, and members of the audience at his rallies, advocate for war crimes (waterboarding), mock disabled people, equate a woman’s worth on her attractiveness, and still chose to support him. It wasn’t their politics which I found repulsive; it was their decision to side with a swaggering bully, something that I and many others will never forget.

When you elect a preening, self-centered narcissistic con man who takes pride in his ignorance, you will get the type of change such ignorance brings. If his “drain the swamp” venality was restricted to lining his pockets and promoting his business properties overseas, while strong-arming foreign diplomats here at home, our nation just might survive.

But it won’t, because his presidency gives Republicans their long awaited opportunity to drain the US Treasury of any remaining funds. And judging from the actions of his transition team and the past deeds of many of the members of his proposed cabinet it should be clear that he intends on running Washington to benefit himself and his rich buddies. Using taxpayer funds to pay for tax credits for the private companies to “keep their business in the US”, like he’s trying to do with Carrier.

carrier

And it is likely this is how his plan to “rebuild America’s infrastructure” will work, using tax payer money to pay for cost of building toll roads, whose profits will wind up in the coffers of favored companies.

Meanwhile, his supporters will continue repeat whatever they heard on Facebook or some conspiracy website without the slightest thought about whether it’s true.  Such as Mr. Jones claims that in “a world that has always experienced climate change,” we shouldn’t worry about mans contribution to it, or that our cities are being “overrun by crime.”

Actions that make it clear that it isn’t just his surrogates and paid shills who believe that we live in a world where facts don’t matter, and that many people have become willing accessories to their own disinformation.

Keep in mind that the basic principle behind “fake news” is that when you can believe anything, you wind up believing in nothing. And it thrives because there is a lazy, incurious, self-satisfied public that wants it; they don’t want news as much as they want vindication of their preconceptions and prejudices.

It is a lazy person’s news, that provides passive entertainment, demands nothing of us. And it is a major reason we now have a fake … I mean celebrity president.

Even more disturbing than the media’s refusal to call out this alternate reality during the campaign as being “abnormal” is their newfound preoccupation with “normalizing” it after the election, which brings us to the role that local papers like the CV should be playing in addressing similar issues here in the region.

While no one should find fault with the CV’s December 1st editorial about the outgoing director of the Louisa Arts Center, such commentary by the CV on local issues are notable by their rarity.

More importantly, their preoccupation with reporting “just the facts,” allows them to avoid having to discuss the implications of the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors actions; such as how the Board punted on their responsibilities to the people of Louisa County by eliminating all of the counties flood plain and bio-solids ordinances.

Apparently convinced that it’s best to let random forces …. I mean let the free market decide what’s best for the people of Louisa county. Issues which despite being on the opposite end of the political spectrum as myself, that folks like C.W. Williams, Fred Gruber, Mr. and Ms. Small, along with Mr. Purcell have all written extensively about, with nary a peep from the CV’s editorial staff.

And as we move towards other pressing local issues such as; the increasing cost of the Central Virginia Regional Jail, the quality of the town of Louisa and Mineral’s water, along with the cost of James River pipeline, will the CV comment on those issues?

Or will they continue to cede that responsibility to concerned locals and blogs such as this one?

Jon Taylor