Category Archives: Politics

Two steps forward, one step back?

I’m all for nostalgia. I admit, I think music really died in the ’90s after MTV forgot what the “M” in their name stood for. I go to Renaissance Faires where I can indulge in the fantasy of being Ragnar the Smelly, Viking chieftain or some such.

Some flashbacks we can do without, however. Recently, we got a really nasty trip in the WABAC, back to the bad old days of Jim Crow:

In Philadelphia, a group of black schoolchildren were taken to the Valley Swim Club, an exclusive (but allegeldy “open membership”) pool. These were inner city youths, whose parent organization had ponied up nearly $2000 for access to the club. The moment the children got into the pool, all the caucasian kids were yanked from the pool by their parents. Then, an attendant, according to the local NBC affiliate, told the children they had to leave — explicitly telling them the pool was whites-only.

Mind that I mentioned this happened in July of 2009. Almost 50 years after legislation and court cases put an end to the farcical “seperate but equal clause” mandated by the Plessy case. Some 44 years after “I have a dream.” Some 40 since meaningful steps were made in civil rights. A bare  9 months after a majority of Americans, black and white, elected the first black president in this nation’s history. This was unAmerican. Pure and simple. This is the antithesis of the sacrifices made by hundreds of thousands over the course of this nation’s history. 

Of course, going to the other extreme, the racism industry led by Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are now going to come out of the woodwork and pontificate on how this proves that all caucasians are nothing but sub rosa members of the Klan, and how this proves that blacks still need preferential treatment in all walks of life. Does racism exist? I think this disgusting incident proves that it does. Is the country as a whole racist? Ask Barack Obama, who would not have been elected if not for a large number of caucasian voters (and asian, and hispanic…). If Sharpton, or Jackson, or whoever drops by to coattail on this ugly incident is smart, they would tell Valley Swim Club to get a life (and I hope the trogolodyte WASPs there are protested into the Stone Age for this), but remember that we’re not all horrific racist bastards, and not turn this into another chorus of “oh woe is me, give me money.”

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Don’t like Obama, you’re a terrorist?

I am about to say something that will probably get me labeled as a terrorist: I am sore tired with the conduct of the Barack Obama administration.

In a normal universe, that sort of speech would be met with supreme indifference. Anyway, who says “sore tired” these days? But in this brave new world under the banner of the Obama Administration, such speech could tar me as a “right-wing extremist.” Me, who has no party (if both the Democrats and the Republicans were to disappear overnight and take their most obnoxious supporters with them, I’d be hard pressed to shed a tear) and couldn’t be motivated to choose a wing. 

According to a new report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Anaylisis Assessment,

Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning.

While I’m sure that there are some unreconstructed rednecks who think that Orville Faubus was a great leader who are put out of joint by the fact that we’ve finally been able to elect a black man president, it’s one thing to spew racist screeds (and I’ve heard some distressing doozies — can we finally all agree that whatever the man may be, he is not a crypto-Muslim? Or a secret Muslim? Or a sub-rosa-Muslim? Or any sort of Muslim at all?) and another to take pot shots at his motorcade. The former is, as far as I remember Constitutionally protected. Slimy, disgusting and utterly devoid of rational thought, but Constitutionally protected.

Here’s where the report starts to get worrying, however, as the light is seemingly turned on anyone who has a political opinion that doesn’t track with the current Administration:

The current economic and political climate has some similarities to the 1990s when rightwing extremism experienced a resurgence fueled largely by an economic recession, criticism about the outsourcing of jobs, and the perceived threat to U.S. power and sovreignty by other foreign powers. (p.2)

Rightwing extremist chatter on the Internet continues to focus on the economy, the percieved loss of U.S. jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors and home foreclosures. (p.3)

Rightwing extremists are harnessing this historical election as a recruitment tool. Many rightwing extremists are antagonistic toward the new Presidential administration and its percieved stance on a range of issues, including immigration and citizenship, the expansion of social programs to minorities and restriuctions on firearms ownership and use. (p. 3-4)

Prominent among these themes were the militia movement’s opposition to gun control efforts, criticism of free trade agreements (particularly those with Mexico) and highlighting perceived government infringement on civil liberties as well as white supremacists’ longstanding exploitation of social issues such as abortion, inter-racial crimes and same-sex marraige. (p.4)

Rightwing extremist views bemoan the decline of U.S. stature and have recently focused on themes such as the loss of U.S. manufacturing capability to China and India, Russia’s control of energy resources and the use of these to pressure other countries… (p.7)

See a theme there? Many of those same concerns are held by a large majority of people who would never join an extremist group. I’m concerned about the very concrete loss of jobs to Mexico — the drywall business, according to Doug McIntyre (KABC‘s morning drive-time host), used to be a lucrative industry for African Americans. Then, with the Reagan amnesty, suddenly black drywall installers found their jobs and paychecks dwindling till they were completely driven out of the market by Mexican day laborers. This is not some white-supremacist claptrap — there are many blacks who had to leave a high-paying industry because of illegal immigration. Am I or Doug McIntyre suddenly to be called “rightwing extremists” because we state a quantifiable truth? I can assure you, that the Catholic Church (which is anti-abortion and anti-gay marraige) is not populated with neo-Nazi skinheads ready to blow up a black church. And not supporting the current administration is no hallmark for fascist sympathies.

Of course the KKK should be vehemently gone after when they commit hate crimes. I would like nothing better than to see Tom Metzger and his filthy W.A.R. organization brought up in front of a judge for the mayhem they’ve caused. I cheered when the Aryan Nations was destroyed in a lawsuit brought by a woman whose son was murdered by those thugs, and Idaho is better for their absence. The American Nazi Party and its descendents should be labeled for the traitors they are — their ideological forefathers took a very good try at killing some of my relatives on the beaches of Normandy.

But that’s not what this is about. This is not about extremists. This is not about white supremacists. This is not about Militias, Ruby Ridge, Waco, Oklahoma City, no matter how many times those references are thrown about. This is about political payback. This is about Monica Lewinsky, and Jeremiah Wright, and the fact that people won’t just sit down, shut up and let the Messiah run the country, because he knows what’s best for everyone. This is about the impeachement of Bill Clinton, and about the so-called “power of the conservative media” (though I’d gladly give that droning gasbag Limbaugh a nickle if he’d cork it for a week) and the “us-vs.-them, rah team” mentality that’s unfortunately reasserted itself in politics since the end of the Second World War.  This is about Tea Parties, and protests, and rightful, controlled anger at a nation that many people feel is slipping away into something they want no part of. These are not people about to bomb a Federal building. These are not people who have an interest in retreating to the hills and forming some farcical “resistance force” or “guerilla militia”, play-acting that they’re the loyal Maquis under an occupier. These are not people who have some delusional, paranoid notion that “the Jews”, or the Bilderberger Group, or the Freemasons  are conspiring to take over the world.

They’re just  people. 

People who are tired of “stimulus packages” which are throwing their money down ratholes and given to men who put us into this economic situation.

They’re tired of politicians cramming values, whether those are liberal or conservative, down their throats.

They’re tired of seeing their paychecks diminished by taxes, taxes not going to run the essential functions of government, but to a myriad of social programs that they likely do not or cannot use.

They’re tired of seeing us kowtow to governments who hold ideals foreign, nay — diametrically opposed, to our own, because they hold a marketable commodity that we want.

They’re tired of being told that we have to allow waves of people from a foreign country who, while in a deplorable state, are overburdening an already thinly-stretched  social safety net, and who are taking jobs that unemployed Americans could be doing.

They’re tired of seeing politicians, many of whom have never run so much as a lemonade stand, demanding a direct hand in major corporations. Particularly when those corporations would be better served by just collapsing into dust and letting others take their place. 

They’re tired of being told someone else knows what’s best for them, particularly if that someone is a faceless, nameless functionary in the bowels of government.

They’re tired of the parade of self-serving politicians, so eager to aggrandize their own power and base by taking our money and giving it to worthless projects that just coincidentally happen to be lavished on their home states.

They’re tired of legislators who try to work in secret, drafting reckless spending bills, wasting our money, and then say that the bill must be voted on, sight unseen — that any delay, or even debate, would irreparably harm the nation.  

They’re tired of politicians who demand one code of behavior from us, and then willfully hold themselves to a much looser standard.

And calling these people “extremists”, or trying to tar them all with the brush of “terrorism” is only going to make them that much more annoyed. It seems to be “coincidental” that this report was released a couple of days in advance of April 15, when numerous “Tea Party” rallies are to be held across the nation, by people fed up with a government that is stuck at the feeding trough like a prizewinning pig. It can only be that this report was timed to make people think that the Tea Party protestors are aberrant individuals, focused on the ruination of the country, beholden to a “right-wing hate machine” that seeks to impose a Nazi-style totalitarianism, bring back slavery, force Southern Baptist Charismatic Christianity on us as the state religion, and kick puppies for good measure.

Because this is how it starts. Don’t dare engage with your opponent. Demonize them. Make them less than completely American. Question their patriotism. Question their sanity. Question their capacity for rational thought. Rip them down, deconstruct them and build them back up into a straw-man image of their former self. It’s so much easier to fight a straw man.

So much more one-sided.

So much easier to demolish.

And we’ve been down this road before, too many times, from both sides of the political spectrum. No, the Republicans are not blameless either, when they were tarring anyone who questioned Bush’s polices with the brush of being “unpatriotic” or desirous of a terrorist strike against this nation, and drowned out criticism with the chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” as if that mantra made them more patriotic than the critic. Even now, Marc Levine talks of “socialism.” Sean Hannity fears “marxism.” And Glen Beck is concerned of “fascism.” I don’t see the Swedes taking over, nor the dread hand of Ulyanov hovering over this nation, nor jack-booted, black-shirted thugs force-feeding enemies castor oil. I instead see mediocrity, imbicility and cupidity in government. I also hope to only see four years of it.

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Did he really say it?

There is a quote by Marcus Tullius Cicero that has been making the rounds at blogs for a few years, mostly on the side of the hard right  and Libertarians, usually invoked in the context of an imposing Marxist or “one-world-government” takeover with the occupant of the White House being in on the plot:

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.  For the traitor appears not a traitor – he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men.   He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague.”

 On the face of it, it sounds possibly authentic. the cadences are there and the use of trios of phrases that was a hallmark of the Ciceronian style. If it wasn’t written by him, it was written by someone who at least superficially knew his style. Further, the subject matter of the passage is similar to some attested Ciceronian work. Cicero was known to use the disease metaphor in dealing with specific traitors, in 1 In Catilinam 31 he likens the Republic to a man delusional with fever, the pathogen in question being Lucius Sergius Catilina and his partisans within the city of Rome, and in the other speeches does discuss the danger of having men like Catilina within the city walls. (Catilina was accused by Cicero of having tried to destabilize the Roman Republic in 63 BC, the results of a bitter election battle for Consul the previous year.) For instance, 2 In Catilinam 5:

As for these men [Catilina’s remaining men including Publius Lentulus Sura] whom I see flitting about in the Forum, standing in front of the Senate-house, even coming into the Senate…these I would have preferred him to have taken with him as his soldiers. Remember that, if they remain here, it is not so much his army we have to fear as those who have deserted it. They are all the more frightening because they are unmoved in spite of the realization that I know their plans.

— (from the Loeb Classics Library edition, tr. C. MacDonald. Emphasis mine.)

 But did he actually say it? I can’t find any links to the quote that provide a cite beyond the date it was supposedly said (about which more below). In the speeches that I have read of Cicero’s, the phrase does not appear. The phrasing also seems a bit off from Cicero’s style. It seems to be too conspiratorial, too paranoid, too whispery for a man whose speeches usually are more ringing and showy — his speeches against Catilina are a bombastic denunciation, laying bare everything he knows about the Senator’s plans to destroy the city. Cicero did not do much of anything in sotto voce, if his biographers are to be believed. And that quote looked like it was meant to be read in sotto voce.

 If the quote were genuine, it is a passage that would have stood critical scrutiny in journals and scholarly works — Cicero has been a wellspring for scholars since the days of Macrobius’ Saturnalia (which cribbed liberally from de re Publica and de Legibus and from which many passages from the fragmentary works were recovered). Most other Cicero quotes are featured not exclusively in blogs and reader comment sections, but also in academic works, and in legal texts, and in speeches unto this day of politicians. Nowhere does this quote seem to appear in any work of the sort.

Most of the cites claim Cicero made the statement in 42 BC in a document called “Speech in the Roman Senate.” Two things are wrong with this. I’ll handle the lesser point first.

Cicero was not known for giving nondescript titles to his speeches. “Speech in the Roman Senate” does not appear as a work by him in any known list of his works, mostly because the nearest Latin equivalent, in Senatu habita, literally meaning “delivered in the Senate,” was a tag on such speeches to show the circumstances of the work’s provenance, for instance In Catilinam prima in Senatu habita. His speeches were instead directed for, or against, or on something, like In Catillinam (“Against Catilina”) or Pro Murena(“For Murena”) or De Imperio Cn. Pompeius (“On the Military Command of Gnaeus Pompeius”). The closest thing to such a speech title was Post Reditum in Senatu, which was Cicero’s first speech in the Senate after his exile at the hands of Publus Clodius Pulcher was abrogated, though this was in 57 BC. The quote does not appear there, thought it would have been a prime opportunity for Cicero to have made the remark. 

The more important point follows. There is no way he could have conceivably given a speech in 42 BC. He was not in a condition to speak in 42 BC, having been murdered on the orders of Marc Antony on December 7, 43 BC. Some bloggers, realizing the problems of having a dead man give a speech in the Roman Senate, backdate this to 45 BC, but that presents other problems for authenticity. In 45 BC, Gaius Julius Caesar was still firmly at the helm of the Roman ship of state, and probably would have, given his stated clemency campaign, thought a “traitors in our midst” hysteria counterproductive. There is no real evidence that Caesar, outside of a few troublemakers and recidivists, bothered to enact a purge on the model of the Marian/Saturninian massacres or the Sullan Proscription.  Cicero himself was despondently sitting out much of the Senate proceedings, devoting his time to philosophical works like De Re Publica and De Legibus, and writing a treatise on correct behavior to his son Marcus. He was also in mourning that year for his beloved daughter Tullia, and history records that this was another reason for his somewhat uncharacteristic silence. He did make a few fawning speechs on Caesar’s behalf and in Caesar’s interest (one of Cicero’s failings was that he proved to be a moral coward when faced with overwhelming authority or force — for instance his collaboration with the Triumvirate, which he politically loathed), but for all intents and purposes,  Cicero didn’t return to full public life until after Caesar’s assassination and the delivery of the 14 Philippics against Marc Antony (the speeches that sealed his doom) in 44BC.

Even charitably attributing the quote to his son, also Marcus Tullius Cicero, doesn’t work. The younger Cicero was away from Rome in 42 BC, having fled Antony’s armies after the disastrous Battle of Philippi of that year. And Cicero junior was not known for having the rhetorical genius of his father — there are few, if any, surviving works of his. He’s arguably best known for being the target of de Officiis (“On Obligations”), the above-mentioned treatise that Cicero was working on at the time of his death as a “kick in the pants” to his son, who was spending much of his time in Athens carousing and slacking on philosophical and rhetorical studies (much to his father’s chagrin).

Given all of this, I can only assume that the quote falls in the same category as the infamous “Franklin Prophecy” (an attempt to put in the mouth of — of all people! — Benjamin Franklin an antisemitic rant) or the faked “quotation” from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesarthat surfaced, unbidden, after 9/11 as an indictment of the Bush Administration, or Lincoln’s supposed warning about capitalism.

The dead cannot contradict or deny the words we put into their mouths. But let’s get an expert opinion on this:

Quidem concessum est rhetoribus ementiri in historiis ut aliquid dicere possint argutius. (Indeed, rhetoricians are permitted to lie about historical matters so they can speak more subtly).

  • M. Tullius Cicero, Brutus 42.

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