LikeTheDew.com https://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Mon, 21 Oct 2019 21:43:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.4 https://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png LikeTheDew.com https://likethedew.com 32 32 LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/dew3_mh4feed.png https://likethedew.com 88 31 A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics 110899633 Pale Horse, Pale Rider; Pale Car, Pale Driver On The Road To Nashville With Payday https://likethedew.com/2019/10/21/pale-horse-pale-rider-pale-car-pale-driver-on-the-road-to-nashville-with-payday/ https://likethedew.com/2019/10/21/pale-horse-pale-rider-pale-car-pale-driver-on-the-road-to-nashville-with-payday/#respond Mon, 21 Oct 2019 21:43:56 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72130 "You ought to see what I've been picking up off the road. One fantasy after another." – Warren Oates as GTO, in Two Lane Blacktop. When I learned the Popular Culture Association in the South was meeting in Nashville, I knew I had to do something with Payday, that little-known, rarely seen memento mori of a film about a lucky man who blew his mind out in a car on the road to Nashville. Like many others, I first saw Payday in 1976 when it as brought back, three years after its initial release, to exploit the popularity of Robert Altman's Nashville. In fact, I saw it on a triple bill with Nashville and John Avildsen's W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings, in which Burt Reynolds helps a group of unknowns make the big time at Grand 01' Opry. Of the three films, Payday struck me then and now as the most interesting in spite of its obviously minuscule budget, largely unknown cast (headed by Rip Torn), and cold-blooded direction by Daryl Duke, a Canadian veteran of American television making his feature debut.  

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“You ought to see what I’ve been picking up off the road. One fantasy after another.” – Warren Oates as GTO, in Two Lane Blacktop.

Back in 1979, when I learned the Popular Culture Association in the South was meeting in Nashville, I knew I had to do something with Payday, that little-known, rarely seen memento mori of a film about a lucky man who blew his mind out in a car on the road to Nashville. Like many others, I first saw Payday in 1976 when it as brought back, three years after its initial release, to exploit the popularity of Robert Altman’s Nashville. In fact, I saw it on a triple bill with Nashville and John Avildsen’s W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings, in which Burt Reynolds helps a group of unknowns make the big time at Grand Ol’ Opry. Of the three films, Payday struck me then and now as the most interesting in spite of its obviously minuscule budget, largely unknown cast (headed by Rip Torn), and cold-blooded direction by Daryl Duke, a Canadian veteran of American television making his feature debut.

Payday interested me because it has the touch of a single literate vision – that of novelist Don Carpenter, who wrote the script and produced the film. How did the project get started, I asked. Carpenter. Here is his reply: “I was sitting on Shel Silverstein’s houseboat in Sausalito and he was telling me a lot of stories about Waylon Jennings and others, and I said it could make a good movie. He agreed and asked only to write the music. I wrote a treatment and got turned down all over Hollywood because I insisted on artistic control. Then found Fantasy Films in Berkeley, who gave me that control. We were off to the races.”[1]

This control allowed Carpenter, who had never produced a film before, to participate “in every detail of the production, with veto power over every artistic decision … Ralph J. Gleason, late senior editor of [Rolling Stone], kept the money people, the lawyers, etc., off my back. My co-producer, who got the single screen producer credit, received that credit from me, as did the director his job, and the answer print its color tones. It’s safe to say, if there ever was an auteur, it was I.”

Payday also interested me because it had trouble finding release (completed in 1971, it was turned down by Universal, Warner Brothers, Twentieth-Century Fox, and Columbia before being dumped on the market in early 1973 by Cinerama Releasing) and then died at the box office in spite of the fact it was generally well-received by the critics and made the Ten Best lists of the Boston Globe and L.A. Times. A year and a half after its release, Payday had given the lie to its own title by returning to its backers a mere hundred thousand dollars on an investment of almost eight hundred thousand.[2]

Why am I interested in box office receipts? Allow me to propound Smith’s Dictum: to wit, the serious student of popular culture should be particularly interested in two box office extremes: the well-made, intelligent film that fails to make back its print cost – and the poorly-made or mediocre product that makes tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. My dictum assumes that as Payday is an item in the market place, it can be compared to other brands or makes or models. Look on the shelf next to the single dusty can of Payday and you’ll find a hundred cases of Smokey and the Bandit. The basic ingredients may look the same (speeding cars on the back roads of the South, footloose girls, and restless conmen heroes – legends in their own time who spend that time, in Bandit’s words, showing off), but Smokey, which has grossed more than two hundred million dollars, is mainly sugar – bad for the teeth, worse for the soul. There is almost no sugar in Payday (the movie, not the candy bar); perhaps that is why it did so poorly at the box office.

Sticky metaphors aside, there is one very good reason why Payday remains an unpopular product in the supermarket of popular culture. I am referring to the film’s refusal to honor the chief convention of the road picture genre: the sympathetic portrayal of the figure in motion. In damning its protagonist, Maury Dann, for his inability to stand still, Payday goes against the flow of the traffic and becomes an antitype against which to measure every other road picture – and that is what interests me most about Payday.

The great American Road Picture. I sometimes wonder if it isn’t beginning to replace the road itself, at least in emotional terms. “The Open Road goes to the used-car lot,” laments Louis Simpson in a poem addressed to Walt Whitman. And today, I wrote back in 1979, the open road ends at the drive-in or in the parking lot of the suburban mall, where we sit in the dark and listen to the voices of America on the move:

“I’ve been around, you know,” says poor old GTO in Two Lane Blacktop. “I get to one end of the country and I bounce off like a rubber ball and head right back to the other side.”

“Are we there yet?” Tommy asks Alice, who doesn’t live there anymore.

“You know,” Bonnie complains to Clyde, “when we started out, I thought we was really going somewhere. But this is it. We’re just goin’, huh?”

“Listen,” says GTO, “I don’t know where I’m going. You probably didn’t suspect that, but it’s all I can do just to keep moving.”

Just to keep moving. Why do we Americans feel we must keep moving? D. H. Lawrence thought he had the answer: we keep moving because we don’t know how to stand still; we race outwards because we’re afraid of looking inward. “It is the American heroic message,” Lawrence said of Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road”: “The soul is not to pile up defenses around herself. She is not to withdraw and seek her heavens inwardly … She is to go down the open road, as the road opens, into the unknown … accomplishing nothing save the journey, and the works incident to the journey.”

Why do we keep moving? Our movies rarely ask the question, for the answer is obvious to any faithful moviegoer: if you run out of gas in Texas, the cannibals will chew you up with their chainsaws and turn you into sausage; run out of gas in rural Pennsylvania, and the living dead will eat you raw; pause along Damnation Alley, and the man-eating cockroaches will pick you clean. And if you stop for the night near Macon County Line, someone’s bound to take offense and shoot you dead. As the TV commentator warns in Death Race 2000, “How fast you move determines how long you live.”

All through the ‘seventies, we were swamped with movies about people moving on. Those fantasies were often as transient and destructive of the psychic landscape as the roadside culture they mimiced. At best, they provided us with a kind of emotional documentary of a world that was coming apart as fast or faster than the legal speed allowed. Consider, for a moment, three of the most broadly popular pictures of the decade: Harry and Tonto, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and Paper Moon. Two of these films spawned television series and all three won Academy Awards for acting. [3] I suspect those Oscars had little to do with the acting abilities shown in these particular roles – and much to do with the wish-fulfillment nature of the roles themselves: a crazy old man, a crazy matron, and a crazy kid who find happiness by escaping the suffocating apartments, the hateful tract houses, and the dull and deathly parlors called home. A motel is an improvement, these films seem to whisper, because it makes no claim on us – no family pictures stare from the walls, no memories clutter the closets. As a lady in The Waste Land might have said, in a Howard Johnson’s we feel free, watching TV much of the night.

For years now I have been collecting celluloid fantasies about the culture spawned by the automobile. I hope you’ll take my word for it that Payday is something very rare: a road picture that presents a totally negative vision of the road and of the man who makes it his way of life. I know of only one other film, Five Easy Pieces, that comes even close to the dark vision of Payday. Released at the start of the ‘seventies road picture explosion, and a year before Payday went into production, Five Easy Pieces ends with Jack Nicholson’s Bobby finishing the process of cutting himself loose by abandoning his girl friend in a filling station and hitching a ride on a truck heading north. Doesn’t he have a jacket, the truck driver asks.

Bobby: “Jesus, it got burned up. Everything in the car got burned up. Everything.”

Truck driver: “I’ll tell you one thing, where we’re going it’s gonna get colder than hell.”

Payday picks up where Five Easy Pieces leaves off: the central character is a burned-out case who, though he doesn’t know it when we first see him, is already dead. Oh, he sings and drinks and dopes and fornicates and fools around, but these are only post-mortem effects. He is dead and in hell.

Come along with me on a passage through the underworld of Maury Dann. The landscape may look familiar, the road well­ traveled, and the settings commonplace, but the journey is well worth the trouble, for although Payday looks like a typical road picture, the moral iconography is distorted, as though Greek tragedy and the medieval morality play have been welded together and set on wheels.

The movie opens with the camera moving through the car­ choked parking lot of the roadhouse where Maury (Rip Torn) is performing. After singing his sentimental favorite, “Country Girl,” Maury gets a real country girl alone in the parking lot. She babbles at Maury, who says nothing until he kicks the side of a white Cadillac limousine. “Like my car?” he asks, and flicks ashes on its hood. Luring the girl into the backseat with the promise of an album, Maury soon has the car rocking on the springs of his passion. So much for our introduction to Maury, a man who (according to the script<[4]) “does nothing at half speed”: his car is at the center of his world, a conversational gambit, a portable dispenser of mementoes, an ash­ tray, a place to get his ashes hauled, and – as we shall see – the hauler of Maury’s ashes.

At the motel that night, Maury’s manager, a choral figure, tries to slow him down: “We’ve been on the road three months,” the manager warns, asking Maury to take a long rest once he gets to Nashville. “God damn it, man,” Maury shoots back, “There’s money to be made on the road.” Maury’s refusal to stop or to see what the road is doing to him is balanced by the stability of his estranged wife. “Don’t you come in off the road and tell me how to raise kids,” she says just before he hits her. “I know you’re sorry,” she says after the blow; “I know it was an accident – you came in all tense off the road.”

Maury’s simple answer, “Bullshit,” cuts two ways: it warns us not to blame everything on the road, which is, after all, an out­ let for Maury’s nervous energy – but it also demonstrates his blindness to the danger of the road.

Figures at rest being anathema in the movies, Maury will stay in motion for the thirty-six hours his story takes to tell. The time span itself is note-worthy, for it is the time needed to cross America from coast to coast in two recent non-stop dashes against death and boredom, Cannonball and Gumball Rally. But Maury will not even get out of Alabama, where most of the film was shot, for Payday is a death race fever of the soul.

Early on, the film begins to assemble hints that things are not going well for Maury, who cannot sleep. He tries to make a phone call, but can’t get through; he turns on the television, but there is no image; he wakes up his mistress, Mayleen, but his face goes dead when she speaks of love. The lines of communication are down. He is, as he says to Mayleen, “all fucked out.”

At dawn, still without sleep, he speeds off to do a little hunting and visit his widowed, bedridden, worn-out, old-before­ her-time mother at the family farm he has spent his life fleeing. Finding Mom unable to get out of bed, he rains on her a multi­ colored shower of pills: uppers, downers, and the little polka­ dotted ones that make you go sideways, and sets out for the fields. The hunting is photographed as idyllic: soft focus, misty, full of autumn colors. But suddenly the mood is broken as a nervous camera zooms in on Maury’s Cadillac, its motor throbbing, waiting. We can explain to ourselves as we watch, that Chicago, the fat driver, is probably keeping the engine running so he can use the air conditioning, but the total effect is that the car itself has some kind of independent existence, some kind of power over Maury.

By the time Maury gets back to the house (vinyl-clad on the outside, primitive plumbing on the inside – a study in false surfaces), the pills he gave his mother have done their work: she is jumping up and down like a hyperactive kid as she hangs out the laundry. The audience laughs, but old Mrs. Dann’s miraculous rejuvenation provides an ominous background to the fight that develops in the foreground as Maury and his best friend argue over Maury’s neglect of his favorite dog, then come to blows. He fires the friend, gives or sells him the dog, and speeds off as the camera remains behind to show us the friend and dog walking slowly out of frame.

Is his mother’s fate what is in store for Maury? Can a father less, friendless, dogless man long endure?

Back at the motel, Maury invites a local girl named Rosamond to join him in his Southeast Passage: ‘We only pass this way once – might as well pass by in a Cadillac.” He has his way with Rosamond on the back seat of the speeding limousine while Chicago watches in the mirror and Mayleen sleeps fitfully beside them, a horoscope magazine open on her lap. What is in the stars for Maury?

He argues with Mayleen over a scrapbook found in the litter of the back seat and then – in the divorce ritual of the open road – throws her out of the car. Twice the limousine squeals away from the abandoned woman, twice it burns rubber coming back – a two-ton yo-yo on the string of passion or responsibility or memory. Finally, the string breaks and the Caddy screeches away forever and we are left alone beside the road with Mayleen. Almost immediately, a snappy red convertible stops and a middle-aged sugar daddy invites her in (you only pass this way once, so you might as well pass in a red convertible), and we suspect her affair with Maury began in the same way and that his with Rosamond will end just so.

Having visited his old mother and shed his old mistress, Maury now stops by to slap around his old wife. Out in the car, meanwhile, we witness a strange and wonderful scene that illustrates better than any other Payday’s conscious shattering of road picture conventions. I am referring to the exchange that begins when the usually taciturn Chicago suddenly asks Rosamond if she likes to cook. Nonplussed by this very personal question, she confesses that she is addicted to fast food: “You know, Colonel Sanders and McDonald’s. I swear, I’ve ate three thousand McDonald’s hamburgers.”

In response, Chicago pulls out his favorite frying pan and talks about how he makes omelets and how he never washes his pan but cleans it with a paper towel. Why doesn’t he get himself one of those new non-stick pans, she asks – “We sell a lot of them at the dime store.” Chicago’s scorn for Teflon-coated pans and their plastic advocates so unsettles Rosamond that she blurts, “Hey, what are you … I thought you were a driver.” “Chief cook and bottle washer,” he answers with a sad dignity that should make it clear he was not making out with Rosamond or even making small talk, but checking her out as a rival or replacement – for it is Chicago who provides the steady “feminine” center of Maury’s existence. Mistresses and groupies may come and go, but as long as the chief cook and bottle washer is at the wheel, nothing really bad can happen to Maury.

But that night, in another parking lot, Maury stabs the drunken boyfriend of the girl he seduced in that first parking lot the night before. “Fix it,” he barks at his manager, as though the corpse is a busted transmission. When the manager refuses, Maury turns to the stoic Chicago, offering him the bloody knife: “Think you can stand still for this one?” Then, to a witness he is bribing, Maury repeats the formula: “I’m asking my associate … to stand in for me. Do you understand?”

The man of action never stands still in our movies – that is the conventional role of the woman or her surrogate. Chicago, named for a place not known for moving about much, gives Maury the car keys, and Maury hires a busboy named Ted to take his place. Bad move: Ted, who unwittingly set the parking lot killing in motion, is as unstable and ambitious as Maury. As the camera pulls back from the figure of Maury listening to Ted sing one of his songs in the fatal parking lot, we know that Maury is trapped in a hell of his own making.

It is now late on the second night of Maury’s passage; again his manager asks him to get some rest, but Maury can’t sleep. Feeling his world is coming apart, he tries to hold it together through memory by writing a song about the wife he has left behind. And then, before dawn, he hits the road, with Ted at the wheel, for a return visit to his wife in search of “the hand that I once clung to, now all that’s holding me.” But there’s nothing and no one left to hold Maury: his wife is in bed with another man and Maury has to burn rubber again.

After a sequence of tire-squealing escapes from reality, Maury reaches the extremity of his neural flight – at the wheel of the limousine, headed for nowhere as the band plays “Dixie.” At this point I would like to remind the reader of a key passage in the Initial Manifesto of Futurism: “Literature has hitherto glorified thoughtful immobility … and sleep,” Marinetti proclaimed in 1909; “we shall extoll aggressive movement, feverish insomnia … We shall sing of the man at the steering wheel.” Maury Dann is that once futuristic man at the steering wheel, that aggressive and feverish insomniac – but Payday makes it clear such a man is no longer the ideal hero of the future, but an anachronism as tired and useless as the fins on the dreamboat cars of the ‘fifties.

As Maury speeds down the road, he begins to tell Ted the story of his life: how when he was twelve, he ran away from the fields of home – the same kind of fields through which they are now passing on a red dirt road – to make something of his life, something other than a life of sweat in those fields. He is gravity’s rainbow, but the earth is trying to pull him back. He has Ted play “Country Girl” on the harmonica while he sings along, happy as a bedbug at the wheel.

It’s a fine and beautiful scene, and Maury Dann is clearly an archetypal mad American poet, a bastard child of D. H. Lawrence’s Walt Whitman, who “drove an automobile with a very fierce headlight, along the track of a fixed idea, through the darkness of this world. And he saw everything that way. Just as a motorist does in the night.”

I can still remember how that scene moved me – wanting it to go on but knowing that it must end and wondering how it could end. Would the car go out of control and smash into something? Would the film end on a sudden freeze frame, or would we just see the car going down the road into the distance and know that nothing could ever stop Maury? Before I could exhaust the possibilities, Maury exhausted himself: he gasped, his dead eyes rolled up, and the limousine roared off the road and plowed to a stop in the red dust Maury fled as a child.

Good old Maury Dann – he was all heart, but the warranty ran out.

Maury Dann – the very type and mold of the popular artist and politician in America: the man (or woman) who must go where the people are. Remember Robert Penn Warren’s Willie Stark roaring up the down those country roads with Chicago’s uncle Sugar Boy at the wheel in All the King’s Men, and listen to Jimmy Carter’s description of his campaign for governor: “On a typical day I would … drive somewhere in Georgia to make a speech, and return home late at night. … I left everything I cared for – my farm, my family, my bird dogs – and my wife and I went in opposite directions.”

Well, this has been a rather depressing trip, so it’s time for happy endings.

Here’s what I wrote forty years ago: Jimmy Carter (and his driver Jody) finally got off that road and found a nice place to stay and invited his old friend Willie Nelson to come sing him a song. And Waylon Jennings, one of the originals of Maury Dann, is still going strong, faster and faster every day. And the people from Fantasy Films, the people who put up the money for Payday, got it all back – and more – for their second effort, a modest little film about a guy with the initials R. P. M. who steals a busload of loonies but runs (so to speak) out of gas.

Both fantasies from Fantasy Films – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Payday – end with the hero dead and his disciple on the run. There the similarities end, for the Fantasy people learned their lesson from the failure of Payday – they learned not to monkey around with the crazy and liberating drives that characterize the road picture, even when it takes a detour through the madhouse.

A final word from Don Carpenter, the father of Payday: “Fantasy Films is really a man named Saul Zaentz, who simply does what he wants, and he wanted to do Payday and Cuckoo’s Nest. I suppose if we’d done then in reverse order, I would have cast Jack N. as Maury and made a nice bland yeah-but-he’s­so-cute movie and a fortune. As it is, the fortune would now have been dissipated and the picture forgotten, I’d be sitting in a big Beverly Hills house all alone, forgotten, hated by the servants for my unpredictable outbursts of rage, sobbing, etc. As it stands, I’m happy, popular, good at games, etc. But poor as a Christian.”

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NOTES

[1] Quotations from Carpenter are taken from letters he wrote me in September and October of 1976.

[2] “Producer Dream: to Recover the Film,” Variety, 19 June 1974, p. 7.

[3] I have examined another Oscar-winning road picture, Lilies of the Field, in another issue of The Journal of Popular Film: see “Getting Stuck in America: Two Interrupted Journeys,” JPF, 5 (1976), 95-108.

[4] I have deposited a copy of the shooting script and the cutting con­ tinuity in the Film Study Department at the Museum of Modern Art.

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Complaints Department https://likethedew.com/2019/10/21/complaints-department/ https://likethedew.com/2019/10/21/complaints-department/#respond Mon, 21 Oct 2019 21:41:29 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72198 One of Eckhart Tolle’s many provocative ideas is that all,… ALL! complaining is of the ego. It isn’t that one doesn’t recognize unpleasant realities. A central and alarming unpleasant fact is that the wealthy class has disproportionate influence on our political process and so undermines democracy and creates serious obstacles to addressing an urgent crisis, several in fact: climate change, myriad other pollution issues, soil erosion and degradation, the continuing possibility of terminal nuclear war (it ain’t over until these weapons are gone) and overpopulation/extinction of species (including us). There are many other obstacles and issues but the point is that preoccupying oneself in thought – blaming, posing enemies, nurturing grudges, anticipating disaster, or glory – stands in the way of presence, and presence is where our power lies. Ram Dass said it in three words, be here now.

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One of Eckhart Tolle’s many provocative ideas is that all,… ALL! complaining is of the ego. It isn’t that one doesn’t recognize unpleasant realities. A central and alarming unpleasant fact is that the wealthy class has disproportionate influence on our political process and so undermines democracy and creates serious obstacles to addressing an urgent crisis, several in fact: climate change, myriad other pollution issues, soil erosion and degradation, the continuing possibility of terminal nuclear war (it ain’t over until these weapons are gone) and overpopulation/extinction of species (including us). There are many other obstacles and issues but the point is that preoccupying oneself in thought – blaming, posing enemies, nurturing grudges, anticipating disaster, or glory – stands in the way of presence, and presence is where our power lies. Ram Dass said it in three words, be here now.

An attempt to describe presence: ONEness comes to mind, the felt interconnection described by many religious, spiritual, artistic, poetic, scientific writers and thinkers… characterized by incredible beauty, the deeper one goes. The first level? Take a breath, here you are, no thought… as you stay you go deeper, thoughts arise, let them pass, it becomes a well that you can dwell in, to various degrees, coming back to surface to do your taxes or cross the street but keeping a foot in… and it reveals the moment as not a passing one but ONE that encompasses past and future… and the impulse to creativity that occurs in presence transcends ego as it is aligned with primal intelligence. The doing that comes out of presence is authentic, celebratory, joyous, and what is needed for the next step in evolution. And these are thoughts about it, not it… it is felt experience, non-narrative, and it accompanies the transitory bias that leads us to engage discrete slivers of time in order to… dance.

Maybe Tolle’s definition will help: To feel, and thus to know, that you are; and to abide in that deeply rooted state is enlightenment.

Ok, so how does abiding in that deeply rooted state address climate change and rule of the rich? It is only in this abiding, presence, that we are connected to the intelligence that is self-evidently at the root of being, is in fact being, or consciousness. In that connection we experience peace and out of that peace comes creativity, what is needed to address, to overthrow as it were, the dysfunction currently running things here on planet earth. Awareness then is the most effective form of activism. Our power doesn’t lie in persuading others by argument but in standing in alignment with essential intelligence. We don’t decide to do good, we are good to the extent that we are present. In awareness, we may hit the streets, or write a poem, or start a business – we can’t predict from a state of unconsciousness. If this appealing idea is not just another wishful fantasy, then the most urgent task at hand is cultivating awareness. From that will come, what Tolle calls, A New Earth.

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The crucifixion of Jesus continues in Kings Bay Plowshares trial https://likethedew.com/2019/10/21/the-crucifixion-of-jesus-continues-in-kings-bay-plowshares-trial/ https://likethedew.com/2019/10/21/the-crucifixion-of-jesus-continues-in-kings-bay-plowshares-trial/#respond Mon, 21 Oct 2019 21:23:52 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72201 Jesus of Nazareth was given a trial before Pontius Pilate and under Roman Law before being crucified.  Crucifixion was nothing special at the time, it was the usual and ordinary punishment for many crimes.  It was only that Jesus was an extraordinary advocate for peace, justice and love that made that crucifixion extraordinary.

It is odd to note that today, despite the spread of Jesus’s teachings around the world with some 2.42 billion declared followers, and the appearance of millions of Christian Churches, those who carry on Jesus’ teachings today, still face crucifixion, not in the courts of Pontius Pilate, but of Uncle Sam.

It also seems odd that in many supposed Christian Nations, no Department of Peace exists, though Departments of War (“Defense”) are universal.  Those who take up the “military profession” are well paid, have health care, housing allowances, food subsidies, vacation pay and pensions.  No such societal support is given those who work for peace.  

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Pictured are the seven plowshares activists prior to entering the Kings Bay Naval Base, including Claire Grady, Elizabeth McAlister, Steve Kelly SJ, Carmen Trotta, Martha Hennessy, Patrick O’Neill, and Mark Colville.
Image: Pictured are the seven plowshares activists prior to entering the Kings Bay Naval Base, including Claire Grady, Elizabeth McAlister, Steve Kelly SJ, Carmen Trotta, Martha Hennessy, Patrick O’Neill, and Mark Colville.

Jesus of Nazareth was given a trial before Pontius Pilate and under Roman Law before being crucified. Crucifixion was nothing special at the time, it was the usual and ordinary punishment for many crimes. It was only that Jesus was an extraordinary advocate for peace, justice and love that made that crucifixion extraordinary.

It is odd to note that today, despite the spread of Jesus’s teachings around the world with some 2.42 billion declared followers, and the appearance of millions of Christian Churches, those who carry on Jesus’ teachings today, still face crucifixion, not in the courts of Pontius Pilate, but of Uncle Sam.

It also seems odd that in many supposed Christian Nations, no Department of Peace exists, though Departments of War (“Defense”) are universal. Those who take up the “military profession” are well paid, have health care, housing allowances, food subsidies, vacation pay and pensions. No such societal support is given those who work for peace.

For example, the Kings Bay Plowshares, who are on trial now in US District Court, face 25 years imprisonment for praying for peace and seeking to nonviolently bring an end to nuclear threat to humanity. In many ways, the Kings Bay Plowshares trial will be far less fair than that Jesus received from Pilate. Pilate was, according to the Scriptural account, actively interested in pursuing the truth. Pilate asked questions showing he was trying to understand what Jesus had supposedly done that was a crime and what Jesus intended by his actions:was Jesus a criminal or (in Pilate’s worldview) an innocent acting by mistake?Jesus exercised his right to remain silent when He could have raised a substantial defense based on truth and justice.

The Kings Bay Plowshares (“KBP”), I predict, will not try to exercise their right to remain silent—but silence will be imposed upon them. The KBP would like to explain truths that would justify their actions not merely to avoid being convicted criminals, but to show that the true crime is the nuclear threat they tried to stop. If they were being tried by Pilate, the KBP could show that they were motivated by their faith in god and Jesus; their desire to follow the “Prince of Peace,” and that they were petitioning for redress of grievances as allowed by the Constitution of the United States. The KBP would introduce evidence of Treaties to which the USA is a signatory party that make nuclear weapons criminal.

If they received a fair trial, the KBP would show the US Military’s own “Law of Land Warfare” supports the contention that nuclear weapons are criminal and that the USA, operating under such laws executed “Major War Criminals” at Nuremburg War Crimes Trials for “planning, preparing” for wars conducted contrary to the international law of war even in times of peace. Justice Jackson, of the US Supreme Court and Chief US Prosecutor at Nuremberg, made it clear the US position on the law of war was that planning and preparing for criminal wars, even in times of peace, was itself a crime. The KBP in a fair justice system could explain their religious beliefs that motivated them, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. That the KBP acted, not with criminal intent, but with religious motivation to advance the cause of peace. The foregoing is just a hint of the evidence the KBP could adduce that a just trier of fact would want to consider in judging whether or not the KBP were criminals.

The KBP would be far better off were they to be tried by Pontius Pilate. It is likely the Judge in their trial will issue an Order In Limine restricting most of the facts and evidence the KBP would seek to prove in their defense. In similar cases, Judges have ordered the Defendants not to mention certain words: “freedom of religion or speech;” Jesus or god; international law; the law of Warfare; the World Court and its decision that nuclear weapons violate the law of war; Nuremberg or Tokyo War Crimes trials; the prohibited words and facts is longer than this but it will be sufficient to make certain that the KBP will not be allowed to present the most compelling facts supporting their innocence.  

This is not error by the Judges. Rather it is a carefully crafted strategy to avoid having a jury (the conscience of the community) be granted access to the vast body of law and facts indicting nuclear weapons as per se criminal, because if the jury heard the truth, they would be hard pressed to convict any person who opposed such criminal monstrosities. The US Government cannot allow such heresy to reach the jury: that its nuclear arsenal is the greatest crime on the planet. The US Government has learned that when jurors are informed as to the truth of history and law, they are likely to acquit defendants such as the KBP because no rational basis for legality of instruments of world death can survive review of the truth. Thus the use of Orders limiting evidence, or truth, in peaceful nuclear protest cases.

So, I expect the KBP will be railroaded. Carefully restricting the evidence allowed, the Government will be able to convict, simply by making sure the Defense witnesses are prohibited from “telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you god. ”Rather, the defense witnesses, being hobbled by the Judge’s Order in Limine, will be forced to tell the “untruth, part of the truth, and nothing but the allowed facts. ” It is not clear whether the Defense can mention “god”—so is taking the oath a violation?

Some of the KBP, being so hobbled, may not be able in good conscience to testify in their own defense. Being persons of conscience, they may elect to “remain silent” rather than try to testify to “the truth” under the strict rules the Judge will impose—knowing those limits on their statements effectively prohibit them from telling the truth. In this respect, they will be like Jesus before Pilate, remaining silent rather than speaking truth in the face of injustice.

And so it goes. One may be forgiven for concluding such a trial is nothing more than an extension of the Crucifixion of Jesus. One may be excused for regarding the KBP “trial” as one more exercise of naked power railroading over justice. One may beg forgiveness for seeing in the KBP trial another crucifixion:of the innocent peacemakers on a cross of nuclear annihilation. Not even Pontius Pilate could wash his hands clean following such a travesty.

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Trump: No John McCain https://likethedew.com/2019/10/20/trump-no-john-mccain/ https://likethedew.com/2019/10/20/trump-no-john-mccain/#respond Sun, 20 Oct 2019 18:18:53 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72127 “I don’t remember anybody treating ... John McCain the way they’re treating Donald Trump.”- Senator Graham (the Hill, 7-18-19)

Senator Graham, you are 100% correct. For obvious reasons, virtually no self-respecting, intelligent person can equate Trump with McCain. I am at a loss as to why you would expect them to be treated in the same way.

Trump is a divisive draft dodger and a proven con man who only loves power (and himself). Virtually every word out of his lying mouth details how he’s smarter, better looking and richer than anyone else. Trump even had the nerve to say he was helping out at the Towers on 9/11.

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“I don’t remember anybody treating … John McCain the way they’re treating Donald Trump.”– Senator Graham (the Hill, 7-18-19)

Senator Graham, you are 100% correct. For obvious reasons, virtually no self-respecting, intelligent person can equate Trump with McCain. I am at a loss as to why you would expect them to be treated in the same way.

Trump is a divisive draft dodger and a proven con man who only loves power (and himself). Virtually every word out of his lying mouth details how he’s smarter, better looking and richer than anyone else. Trump even had the nerve to say he was helping out at the Towers on 9/11.

As you know, your close friend John McCain was the exact opposite, a true war hero who loved his nation much more than himself or his party. Who can forget his courageous vote against the ill-advised GOP driven ACA repeal (with no replacement at all)? McCain is the only reason people with pre-existing conditions can get insurance today. 

Trump had the nerve to say with a straight face that McCain, who was horribly tortured in captivity, was not a hero.  But Trump said he himself was, even though he got out of serving due to a “Trumped up” statement by his family doctor saying he had bone spurs. My brother served in Nam even though he had a metal pin in his elbow and couldn’t even straighten his arm. 

John McCain was a traditional, fiscally conservative Republican, a modest man with a firm set of values that he lived by. It was elected officials like McCain that made me run for office as a fiscally conservative Republican (I won twice). It was Trump …along with that spineless enabler, McConnell…who forced me to finally leave the GOP this year. Since 2016, it has become the Retrumpican Party, dedicated to backing the President no matter how outrageous his conduct.

Senator, the real question is what happened to you after McCain’s death? You went from being a principled maverick to a shameless shill for a reality show aberration who is destroying civility within our great land as well as any hope of bi-partisanship.

Senator, you represent a state with a large African-American population. How can you believe that Trump has no responsibility for the tremendous increase in racist violence and bigoted incidents that are occurring since he came into politics? Certainly, you are aware of his racist history prior to him taking office, including: cases in the 1970s successfully brought against the Trump companies for discrimination; Trump accusing the Central Park Five of rape and never apologizing after they are found innocent; racist comments to employees at his Casinos; statements about Mexico exporting criminals to the USA; Trump’s birther campaign going back to 2011 when he first started accusing our first black President of being a Kenyan; and other clearly bigoted statements and actions too numerous to state in a short column.

Senator, he has only gotten worse since he became President, splitting our nation into warring factions and encouraging white supremacists. He: gladly accepted support from white supremacists, with David Duke calling it “treason” to vote against him; called white nationalists and Nazis in Charlottesville “fine people”; called African nations “sh**holes”; twisted the kneeling of NFL players to protest police shootings of unarmed black men into dishonoring the flag and nation; and encouraged his followers to yell “send them back” regarding four Congresswomen of color; and has made so many other bigoted comments since his inauguration that we have no space to list them all.

Most of my life has been spent in the rural South. We have a saying: “you lay down with dogs; you get fleas.” Senator Graham, as long as you’re in bed with this unconscionable, lying, racist President, you will be in dire need of flea powder. 

Senator, have you no shame?

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Impeaching Trump: A citizens’ guide https://likethedew.com/2019/10/10/impeaching-trump-a-citizens-guide/ https://likethedew.com/2019/10/10/impeaching-trump-a-citizens-guide/#respond Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:04:14 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72119 The most recent installment of “Apprentice: The Whitehouse” features a new drama involving Donald Trump and his (ab)use of Presidential power. Trump has openly admitted to asking the Ukraine for help, and we have the transcript to prove the abuse took place; he wanted Ukraine to prosecute Joe Biden — his leading opponent, who is vying for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 election — and his son Hunter. 

In the transcript of the call that precipitated a whistleblower to file a legal complaint, we learn that Trump dwells on all the things he says the US does for Ukraine (including military aid as Ukraine defends against an aggressive Russia that already tore the Crimea chunk out of the country in 2014, precipitating the rightful Obama administration sanctions that Putin seeks to end). At the end of Trump’s windup to the Ukrainian president, he makes his demand, garbled and confused, but very firm in the end:  I would like you to do us a favor ...

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The most recent installment of “Apprentice: The Whitehouse” features a new drama involving Donald Trump and his (ab)use of Presidential power. Trump has openly admitted to asking the Ukraine for help, and we have the transcript to prove the abuse took place; he wanted Ukraine to prosecute Joe Biden — his leading opponent, who is vying for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 election — and his son Hunter. 

In the transcript of the call that precipitated a whistleblower caricature of Apprentice star D.J. Trump created by DonkeyHoteyto file a legal complaint, we learn that Trump dwells on all the things he says the US does for Ukraine (including military aid as Ukraine defends against an aggressive Russia that already tore the Crimea chunk out of the country in 2014, precipitating the rightful Obama administration sanctions that Putin seeks to end). At the end of Trump’s windup to the Ukrainian president, he makes his demand, garbled and confused, but very firm in the end: 

I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

Creepily, after the whistleblower complaint was finally made public, Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky hold a press conference at the UN and the Ukraine president, visibly squirming in the rotten position Trump has put him in, tries to extricate himself. Meanwhile, Trump is sitting next to him, and “interprets” for him to the assembled media, “In other words, no pressure.” Trump then goes on to make claims of corruption about the Bidens, though investigative journalists have found no evidence of these assertions to date. 

The catch, according to team Trump defenders, “there was no quid pro quo.” They latch onto Trump’s role in withholding or delaying $250 million in Congressionally approved military funding… no extortion, no quid pro quo, just a favor… they say.

I agree with Adam Schiff’s assessment that it reads like instructions in a Godfather movie. A tension-filled scene with a favor being asked but wrapped in frankly implausible deniability. It dawns on me that with the chaos and confusion that Trump is using as a defense and smokescreen for his corruption it is necessary for citizens to have a guide for what is to come.

Guides are the smart persons’ tools for reaching their final destinations and achieving desirable outcomes. Robert Mueller, for example, used the Watergate investigation, which lead to Richard Nixon’s resignation, as the template for looking into evidence of Russian interference in the U.S. Presidential election. 

On September 24th, 2019 Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, announced that formal impeachment proceedings would begin.  “The President must be held accountable. No one is above the law,” Pelosi said. “Actions taken to date by the President have seriously violated the Constitution.” By the end of September 25th, the magic number—218 — the number of votes required to impeach Trump—has been reached. So, now that the day it seemed may never come has arrived, what do we — as citizens — do?

First, we must take steps to moderate our sense of urgency. It is scary to have a corrupt head of state, who appears cornered, in a position of so much power — even nuclear weapons — with a complete willingness to do whatever it takes to promote his own self interest. We have been gaslighted by the rhythm of scandals and rampant dishonesty, you may have even lost track of how many thousands of lies he has now told (The Washington Post had him over 12,000 a month ago). But we have not been Chicken Little or the Boy Who Cried Wolf, this was abnormal corruption the whole time, but, sadly, the fix will not be as fast as we’d like, nor is this likely to be the last scandal.

Second, we must take steps to avoid hating the other. I turned on Facebook yesterday to see the misspelled messages encouraging people call Nancy Pelosi and have her end this “which hunt.” Calling out the other side as “stupid” or “ignorant” is easy, but it doesn’t change hearts and minds. Compassion and empathy are at a high premium. Understanding that Trump is a corrupt conman is one part, the other is that many people have been deceived and hurt. Farmers going bankrupt because of his failed strategy with China are not experiencing karma because they voted for him, they’ve been duped, and being lied to is not made easier with “I told you so…” Show sympathy to those who’ve been deceived, betrayal is painful. Avoiding social media altogether might be necessary, divisive rhetoric has already been escalating, and it is ugly. Hate groups emboldened by Trump have been trying to start the “race wars” his whole term, but that does not mean everyone who voted for Trump agrees that white supremacists are “fine people.”

Third, be strategic. Be purposeful in who you address, how you address them, and what you ask for. I am of the opinion that pressure needs to placed on all of Trump’s gargoyles. His defenders who hold elected office, like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, need to be reminded that they have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution which supersede whatever loyalty pledges they have made to Trump. The united message reminding them that protecting our democracy should be a non-partisan issue is a great step for addressing the problems and healing divisions. But, it may be more effective to reach out to those on the fence. Remember, it was almost exactly a year ago when survivors of sexual assault confronted Senator Jeff Flake to pressure him on his commitment to approve Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Their passionate plea may not have changed the final outcome, but they changed Flake’s mind enough to improve the process. 

Fourth, mobilize or prepare to mobilize to demand that Trump be removed from office. In a democracy the power is in the hands of the people. The Founders put a system of checks and balances in place, they even included a process for removing corrupt leaders like Trump, but they did not imagine a partisan political situation like we have today. Those who put party and loyalty to Trump above the Constitution and the country it represents may effectively chose to keep a criminal in charge; it would be a mistake to assume any of them would do the right — moral and proper — thing in this time of need. The people need to be prepared to fill the streets and shout “Trump, you’re fired!” with or without the Senate doing their job. Citizens also should not let these morally bankrupt representatives off the hook, it is not just a matter of them being condemned for their failings in history books — failure to do their jobs should also guarantee their unemployment.

Fifth, practice self-care. We are in a tale of two Americas; … “the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity” … as A Tale of Two Cities ends with the feeling of crushing defeat, there is also the imagination of a peaceful future, one where those who’ve sacrificed laid the groundwork for those who were prosperous and happy. Please remember the people and principles close to your heart, they will always provide you with purpose and motivation, but please do not forget yourself. The stress, depression, and worse that are metastasized by the unrelenting selfish corruption, unashamed cruelty, intentional malfeasance, and bigoted xenophobia have degraded our communities, institutions, and daily lives — please take care of yourself. You are needed, we are all needed, in reclaiming an America to be proud of — together, finally, let’s make America great.

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The death penalty is barbaric and ineffective https://likethedew.com/2019/10/10/the-death-penalty-is-barbaric-and-ineffective/ https://likethedew.com/2019/10/10/the-death-penalty-is-barbaric-and-ineffective/#respond Thu, 10 Oct 2019 19:37:45 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72107 October 10 is World Day Against the Death Penalty. That the U.S. continues to use this broken and antiquated system of (in)justice is reprehensive in so many ways, but among the most important is the issue of sentencing people to death row wrongfully and executing people who did not commit the offenses that resulted in those sentences.

As a Floridian, I am highlighting here the case of James Daily. Not because Florida is the only state in which the system is frequently wrong, but in the hopes that his very legitimate claims of innocence may be heard by others who can help save a life.

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October 10 is World Day Against the Death Penalty. That the U.S. continues to use this broken and antiquated system of (in)justice is reprehensive in so many ways, but among the most important is the issue of sentencing people to death row wrongfully and executing people who did not commit the offenses that resulted in those sentences.

As a Floridian, I am highlighting here the case of James Daily. Not because Florida is the only state in which the system is frequently wrong, but in the hopes that his very legitimate claims of innocence may be heard by others who can help save a life.

James Daily, innocent Florida Death Row prisoner
James Dailey

James Dailey is a Vietnam War veteran who served three tours there and one in Korea. If the state goes forward with his execution, currently scheduled for November 7, he would be Florida’s 100th executed person since executions restarted in the 1970s. Dailey has spent more than 30 years on death row for a murder he did not commit, and despite there being no eyewitnesses or physical evidence tying him to the murder. In fact, the physical evidence, a hair found in the victim’s hand, already excludes Mr. Dailey from having committed the offense. The true killer, co-defendant Jack Pearcy, has signed an affidavit swearing that he actually committed the murder. Pearcy failed a polygraph pretrial and told inmates and several correctional institutional officers that he did it. He has a history of violence, particularly against women. Further, police reports from the 1985 crime show that Mr. Pearcy left his home with the victim shortly before the murder and James Dailey was not with them, yet this information was withheld from jurors.

As is too often the case, the prosecutors used an unreliable and uncorroborated snitch/informant to build the case against Dailey. After the state initially failed to secure a death sentence against Pearcy, law enforcement went to the jail, pulled every man from Dailey’s pod, showed them coverage of the case and offered them leniency in their cases if they could “help.” Only then did someone say Dailey did it. Paul Skalnik was a known child sexual offender but charges in his pending case were dropped due to his testimony against Dailey. He was released and went on to commit another sexual offense against a child in Texas, where he is currently incarcerated. The prosecutor in the case has since said she would never use Skalnik again because she had no evidence that his testimony was truthful.

This case highlights so much of what goes wrong in capital cases. Use of problematic witnesses, police and prosecutorial misconduct and jailhouse snitches are frequently factors in exonerations. At this point, Florida leads the nation in getting it wrong—for every three executions, one person is exonerated.

It is way past time that Florida, and the remaining death penalty retentionist states, discontinue this barbaric and ineffective practice.

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On Atlanta’s Northern Border https://likethedew.com/2019/10/10/on-atlantas-northern-border/ https://likethedew.com/2019/10/10/on-atlantas-northern-border/#respond Thu, 10 Oct 2019 16:54:02 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72086 Fifty years after my graduation from North Fulton High School, the pages of my 1969 “Hi-Ways” yearbook fill gaps in my mind better than any real memories. I look at my senior picture, a boy I barely recall with dark eyebrows and blond hair where I have little now. Next to me, in alphabetical order, is Ed Davenport. I didn’t know him.

But I do know that he was the first African-American to graduate from North Fulton in its long history as one of Atlanta’s best public high schools. (I also know, from my research in Southern literature, that the poet James Dickey and writer Flannery O’Connor both went there for at least one year in the 1930s – at the same time!)

The Class of ’69 recently held a 50th anniversary reunion. We met in a crowded bar scene in Brookhaven on a Friday night, had a Saturday tour of the handsome Depression-era school, now occupied by the private Atlanta International School, and met that night in a Hyatt-Regency ballroom just inside the Perimeter.

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Fifty years after my graduation from North Fulton High School, the pages of my 1969 “Hi-Ways” yearbook fill gaps in my mind better than any real memories. I look at my senior picture, a boy I barely recall with dark eyebrows and blond hair where I have little now. Next to me, in alphabetical order, is Ed Davenport. I didn’t know him.

But I do know that he was the first African-American to graduate from North Fulton in its long history as one of Atlanta’s best public high schools. (I also know, from my research in Southern literature, that the poet James Dickey and writer Flannery O’Connor both went there for at least one year in the 1930s – at the same time!)

From the North Fulton High School 1969 “Hi-Ways” yearbook: That's me on the left and Ed Davenport or right.
From the North Fulton High School 1969 “Hi-Ways” yearbook: That’s me on the left and Ed Davenport or right.

The Class of ’69 recently held a 50th anniversary reunion. We met in a crowded bar scene in Brookhaven on a Friday night, had a Saturday tour of the handsome Depression-era school, now occupied by the private Atlanta International School, and met that night in a Hyatt-Regency ballroom just inside the Perimeter.

Something protected us in those years, being at that school at that time in history. We were covered by a gauzy veil, guarded against the Sixties except for the good music. We were oblivious, indifferent to the times and the changes going on. We held on to a good past, and a decent public education, up until the changes couldn’t be avoided. Then we graduated, and dispersed into the maelstrom.

My debate partner went the farthest for college, to Dartmouth, and now practices law in Atlanta. One top student became the U.S. Ambassador to Panama. Another became the first Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, adopting the role that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. created to clean up the Hudson River. The “Artful Dodger” to my “Oliver” in our senior play became the singer-band leader of the best blues band in Georgia, The League of Decency.

In the crowded ballroom Saturday night, I saw Ed Davenport. He was sitting at a small table with his Filipina wife, Dina, talking to another classmate. When my chance came, I sat at his table and we began to talk.

But how do I get his story? I didn’t know him 50 years ago. Across the civil rights history that I study more deeply the further I get from high school – the history we somehow didn’t see beyond our high school gauze – how could I interview him as if he were the embodiment of that history? It didn’t seem decent. But this was a happy enough greeting. Dina laughed a lot, and made me sign my senior picture in his yearbook. I thought of an opening.

“I actually studied this in grad school,” I told him, gently shifting to the sensitive subject of race. “We think of this one big history of the civil rights movement, with the usual heroes.” But really, I said, there are thousands of civil rights histories, most of them untold.

The first big wedge was the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, aimed not at voting rights or grownup discrimination but at children in schools. That’s why every Southern state, every school district, and eventually every public school had its own civil rights story. We know about James Meredith at Ole Miss, and Ruby Bridges walking to school in New Orleans in that famous Norman Rockwell painting. But there are thousands of other “firsts.” And here was one, one of the last – oddly enough, 15 years after the Brown decision. Ed Davenport began to open up, and I began taking notes.

Did he live in Buckhead, a solidly white community that lost its battle against being annexed to Atlanta in 1950? No – he lived in Grove Park, about eight miles away in the west end of the city. He was getting in fights at West Fulton High, a previously all-white school in the middle of its troubled transition into an all-black school. Ed’s mother told the principal she wanted him out of that school.

50 years later that's Ed Davenport on the left and me on the right
50 years later: that’s Ed Davenport
on the left and me on the right.

The principal suggested more solidly black schools like Harper or Frederick Douglass. No, she demanded, he needs to go to North Fulton. But how did she know about the Buckhead mystique?

“My grandmama lived there, in Piney Grove,” Ed Davenport said. She’s buried there now, in a weed-slung graveyard that is the remnant of Piney Grove. Like the other small 19th century black communities squeezed out of Buckhead during the Jim Crow years, Piney Grove has disappeared. One of the streets used to be named for his grandmother’s family, West, he said. Her property was gobbled up for Georgia 400 and Piney Grove Baptist Church has been replaced by high-end canyons of condominiums.

Ed came to North Fulton as a junior. How did he get to school each day, from the other end of Atlanta? “I was 16, so I bought me a car.” What kind? A 1955 Chevrolet. How much did it cost? “I think it was $250,” he said.

Browsing through the yearbook, I asked about his teachers. “They were . . .mean!” he said. That was true, I thought, for some of them. Mean old maids from an older era, but dedicated. One of those that he remembered was Miss Plaster, a tough English teacher. Her meanness toward Ed Davenport had a particular edge to it. He remembers her asking him, when he came into class a little late, “What are you doing at this school?”

He went to the principal, Mr. Bryce, about Miss Plaster. In the mold of his mother’s example, he demanded that the principal get him out of Miss Plaster’s class. It worked.

“Mr. Chesna, he was a great guy,” Ed said. Joseph L. Chesna was white, or course – all of the teachers were white. But he wasn’t someone you would have if you were college-prep. He was the wood shop teacher.

We exchanged business cards, Ed and I. His card had the crisp Delta airline logo, his name and title, “Edward E. Davenport Sr., Base Maintenance Technician, RETIRED.” He lives in the exurban city of Douglasville. He and his wife enjoy the benefit of deep-discount Delta flights to other countries.

Soon, they will be flying to the Philippines to visit her family. Her family is not wealthy, he said, but when he visits them, they treat him like someone very special, a prince, an American. “That feels good.”

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The game of musical chairs https://likethedew.com/2019/10/10/the-game-of-musical-chairs/ https://likethedew.com/2019/10/10/the-game-of-musical-chairs/#respond Thu, 10 Oct 2019 16:49:43 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72103 Just about anyone who’s grown up in the United States will remember playing Musical Chairs in school. Our teachers would place chairs in a circle – one for each child in the room – and then take one chair away. When the music started, we’d all walk around behind the circle of chairs and, when the music stopped, we’d make a mad dash for a remaining chair. The one left without a seat was sidelined while the others cheered and resumed the game.

One by one, as chairs were removed, the number of losers grew while those who had elbowed their way to a chair remained to play another round. Eventually, one person, usually a boy, and usually the largest or the fastest or the fiercest, was declared the winner for having succeeded in pushing everyone else out of the way.

I hated that game.

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Just about anyone who’s grown up in the United States will remember playing Musical Chairs in school. Our teachers would place chairs in a circle – one for each child in the room – and then take one chair away. When the music started, we’d all walk around behind the circle of chairs and, when the music stopped, we’d make a mad dash for a remaining chair. The one left without a seat was sidelined while the others cheered and resumed the game.

Happy laughing pupils of primary school having fun during break with their teacher, playing musical chairs

One by one, as chairs were removed, the number of losers grew while those who had elbowed their way to a chair remained to play another round. Eventually, one person, usually a boy, and usually the largest or the fastest or the fiercest, was declared the winner for having succeeded in pushing everyone else out of the way.

I hated that game. I hated the way I felt when I was called ‘out.’ And I hated that the other ‘losers’ like me had to watch from the sidelines while everyone else seemed to be having such a good time. Where was the fun in that for us? And what were we supposed to be learning from this ‘game?’

When I became a teacher, concerned about the kind of world my students one day would be facing, I devised a different kind of Musical Chairs. The setup was the same, but the rules were slightly different. I told my second-graders that “in this game, nobody wins unless everybody wins. In each round, I’m going to take away a chair, and when the music stops, everybody has to have a place to sit.” And then I’d start the music…

When it stopped, the child without a chair was invariably invited to share a chair with another player. And so the game went on. No one got called ‘out,’ since everyone had to have a place to sit or the game would end. As the circle of chairs grew smaller and smaller, the kids grew more and more determined not to let anyone fail, and they became more and more inventive. They moved the remaining chairs closer together. They piled on three- and sometimes four- deep, the biggest laps on the bottom to hold the smaller ones. They clung to each other so no one would fall; they laughed, they squealed, and they made sure that when it was over, everyone was still in the game… and nobody got hurt.

Now I watch my grandchildren growing up in “the richest nation in the world,” a world in which just one percent of our population hoards the majority of the wealth while the other 99 percent are increasingly pushed to the sidelines. While the five richest families in America own fortunes totaling $426 billion (and growing at a rate of $4 million every hour), the rest of us, often shamed for being ‘lazy’ or ‘parasites,’ must struggle to make ends meet while earning a meager minimum wage, often without health coverage and with mounting debt. We worry that a single illness might wipe us out while the rich look for ways to cut our hourly wages and our Social Security payments.

I’ve always considered Musical Chairs to be a metaphor for the world we live in. Whether we’re playing on the world stage grabbing at its diminishing resources with bombs and drones, or in a second-grade schoolroom grabbing at chairs, I’d like to think that we all might learn to play by a new set of rules where everyone gets a fair share and nobody gets hurt. It’s really just that simple…

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Mississippi and Gun Control https://likethedew.com/2019/10/10/mississippi-and-gun-control/ https://likethedew.com/2019/10/10/mississippi-and-gun-control/#respond Thu, 10 Oct 2019 16:47:12 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72090 Mississippi, a state where I once worked extensively with health providers, had 632 gun deaths in 2017. As a reference point, that same year, we only had 17 soldiers killed in Afghanistan. 

Per CDC data, Missouri has the sixth highest rate of gun deaths per capita of any state. The ten states with a worse rating all have loose gun control laws. The states with the lowest rates are all in the North East, except Hawaii. All have strong gun control laws. Recognize a pattern?

We’ve seen horrible mass shootings around the nation, although not any (yet) in Mississippi. Sometimes, killings are the result of bigoted, hateful, unstable people. But our problem isn’t simply white supremacist crazies committing mass shootings. 

Many more killings are caused by “normal” people using readily available guns to kill themselves or others. The larger question is: “could any of these shootings have been prevented?” As a long-time gun owner myself, I investigated the topic.

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photo of hundreds of silver bullets

Mississippi, a state where I once worked extensively with health providers, had 632 gun deaths in 2017. As a reference point, that same year, we only had 17 soldiers killed in Afghanistan. 

Per CDC data, Missouri has the sixth highest rate of gun deaths per capita of any state. The ten states with a worse rating all have loose gun control laws. The states with the lowest rates are all in the North East, except Hawaii. All have strong gun control laws. Recognize a pattern?

We’ve seen horrible mass shootings around the nation, although not any (yet) in Mississippi. Sometimes, killings are the result of bigoted, hateful, unstable people. But our problem isn’t simply white supremacist crazies committing mass shootings. 

Many more killings are caused by “normal” people using readily available guns to kill themselves or others. The larger question is: “could any of these shootings have been prevented?” As a long-time gun owner myself, I investigated the topic.

Myths

Here are some myths about gun control versus the facts:

Myth 1: The “gun grabbers” want to take away all of our guns.
Facts: Virtually no reputable groups gun control organizations demand this approach. 

Myth 2: The only thing that will stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun and armed guards will prevent all mass shootings.
Facts: Armed guards sometimes prevented some violence (Poway). Other times not (the Parkland Sheriff’s Deputy hid).

Myth 3: No new laws are needed, just enforcement of current laws.
Facts: Without funding, implementation of many measures isn’t feasible. The CDC Director stated they would research causes of and remedies for gun violence, if funds were appropriated. But they are not. 

Myth 4: New laws will not eliminate gun violence.
Facts: No one believes that all gun deaths will be prevented, just drastically reduced. 

Myth 5: If gun laws are so effective, then Chicago wouldn’t have so many gun deaths.
Facts: Guns are easily brought into Chicago from states with loose laws. Nevertheless, the rate of firearm deaths per capita in Illinois with stricter gun laws is much less than in Mississippi (or that of every Deep South state where I live, all having loose laws.) Missouri has a gun death rate nearly double that of Illinois.

Specific gun control laws are needed. Gun deaths are over FIVE times higher in Louisiana versus NY. Are people more violent or crazy on the Bayous than in Brooklyn? Having lived in both areas, I can tell you the answer is no. The difference is gun control. National regulation is needed, but state regulation will have to make do until we have DC politicians who really care rather than just saying that they will pray.

 It’s been clear where the public stands. Here are just a few of the reasonable gun control measures that are supported by at least 50% of Americans of BOTH parties (Pew, 12-27-18): 

  • Stop the mentally ill from owning guns (89% support); 
  • Stop those on “watch lists” from owning guns (86% Dem. and 83% Rep. support); 
  • Halt private and gun show sales (91% D, 79% R); 
  • Institute an assault rifle ban (81% D, 50% R); and 
  • Halt sales of high capacity magazines (81% D, 51% R).

The real underlying problem is that politicians of both parties (but primarily the GOP) are on the payroll of the pro-gun lobbyists… as well as afraid of the NRA. In many states, virtually every major politician gets an “A” rating from the NRA (Everytown.org).

In an ideal world, where people are elected because they follow the wishes of their constituents, that would get them an “F” rating from voters come election time. Mississippi residents: make sure that you remember this fact when you step in the voting booth.

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The Deep State versus the Trump Swamp https://likethedew.com/2019/10/03/the-deep-state-versus-the-trump-swamp/ https://likethedew.com/2019/10/03/the-deep-state-versus-the-trump-swamp/#respond Thu, 03 Oct 2019 16:47:20 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72076

“I hear this term 'deep state' all the time. There's noDeep State, but there is a deep culture and a commitment to the rule of law, equal protection of the laws, the fundamental values that are at the core of our Constitution, that runs really deep.”- former FBI Director James Comey (4-26-18)

There’s a deep state, but it’s not the “undemocratic conspiracy” that is constantly criticized by this President, his administration and its brainwashed, blinded backers. The real deep state is the day to day working men and women, good people and American patriots, who keep our government functioning despite the wild politics of this administration.

Frankly, that’s what the “whistleblower crisis” is all about…American heroes who believe in preserving our way of government, including balance of powers. Versus the out of control undemocratic leader of a budding authoritarian state that abuses its powers and defines whatever it does as right, regardless of law, morals or tradition.

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  • illustration of the white house without a roof and filled with a swamp and creatures.
  • “I hear this term ‘deep state’ all the time. There’s noDeep State, but there is a deep culture and a commitment to the rule of law, equal protection of the laws, the fundamental values that are at the core of our Constitution, that runs really deep.”– former FBI Director James Comey (4-26-18)

    There’s a deep state, but it’s not the “undemocratic conspiracy” that is constantly criticized by this President, his administration and its brainwashed, blinded backers. The real deep state is the day to day working men and women, good people and American patriots, who keep our government functioning despite the wild politics of this administration.

    Frankly, that’s what the “whistleblower crisis” is all about…American heroes who believe in preserving our way of government, including balance of powers. Versus the out of control undemocratic leader of a budding authoritarian state that abuses its powers and defines whatever it does as right, regardless of law, morals or tradition.

    You can easily contrast the selfless patriotism of that whistleblower with the self-created Trump Swamp. Trump came to office declaring that “It is time to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.” and he would quickly drain that swamp. Instead, he’s flooded it with alligators and water moccasins. Here are a few examples:  

    President Trump’s call to pressure the Ukrainian President by bribing him with US arms is the greatest example of the swamp self-interest at work to date.Trump himself has had over 2,300 conflicts of interest resulting from his failure to divest his global business empire before taking office (Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington). His latest involve military and government officials from the United States and elsewhere paying to use his properties. Specifically, 111 foreign officials stayed 137 times at Trump facilities and hosted 12 events.

    At our expense, President Trump himself has stayed at or visited his resorts and hotels an amazing 362 times since taking office. Others in our government have followed the lead. For example, Vice President Mike Pence stayed at Trump’s resort in Scotland even though his meeting was three hours away. And, our military strangely stay at Trump properties abroad.

    Scott Pruitt, former EPA Administrator, placed a soundproof phone booth in his office at a cost to us taxpayers of $43,000. He also wasted $168,000 on first class, charter and military flights.

    Tom Price, former Secretary of Health and Human Services, has a history of investing in firms he was legislating. He also wasted money on travel, nearly a million dollars.

    Steve Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary, wasted $800,000 on seven (that’s not a typo) trips by traveling on military jets.

    Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson’s wife got a sweetheart half million-dollar sole source contract from Department of Health and Human Services.

    Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary, had undisclosed dealings with Russian oligarchs close to Putin. He is also famous for saying he can’t understand why federal workers not getting paychecks during shutdowns can’t just get loans to pay their bills.

    Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, who still has holdings of between $15-25 million in Neuropore, a company involved with children with disorders like autism and hyperactivity which affect their learning capabilities.

    As the whistleblower investigation reveals the coverup of the Ukrainian President call by Trump and his people, we will find out much more about the Trump created swamp. Let’s all hope that the GOP base will someday soon wakeup and discover the game that’s been run on them by a well-known, unethical, immoral NYC conman. But, given several polls showing his continuing popularity with his  hypnotized followers, I’m not hopeful.

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    The Welfare State and Socialism: Americans love it, but don’t admit it https://likethedew.com/2019/09/25/the-welfare-state-and-socialism-americans-love-it-but-dont-admit-it/ https://likethedew.com/2019/09/25/the-welfare-state-and-socialism-americans-love-it-but-dont-admit-it/#respond Wed, 25 Sep 2019 16:17:46 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72045 It is positive to have views from all sides expressed in opinion columns, but some anti-government Tea Party types seem to make up their own facts as they write.  These pieces simply reinforced the catchy but antagonistic Reagan saying: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

    I strongly disagree with their conclusions (and Reagan’s) and here’s why. I have conservative friends who have the same misguided opinions. They dislike the welfare state and “socialism,” like Medicare for All. But these same people have family members that have been or currently are on (among many others):

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    It is positive to have views from all sides expressed in opinion columns, but some anti-government Tea Party types seem to make up their own facts as they write.  These pieces simply reinforced the catchy but antagonistic Reagan saying: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

    Sowing the seeds of socialism was created by Udo Keppler for Puck Magazine

    I strongly disagree with their conclusions (and Reagan’s) and here’s why. I have conservative friends who have the same misguided opinions. They dislike the welfare state and “socialism,” like Medicare for All. But these same people have family members that have been or currently are on (among many others):

    • Medicare
    • Medicaid
    • Government retirement (which may be given after only 20 years of service)
    • Social Security
    • Meals on Wheels and other Office of Aging services

    Every one of these services can be considered “welfare” and “socialism.” Of course, my friends would be insulted if I told them they and their families are dependent on liberal “socialist” programs. In this, they are similar to Reagan who said: “Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit” but then cut it anyway while pushing ill-advised tax cuts which ended up increasing the national debt.

    I’m a capitalist as well as a social progressive. Yes, government on all levels is generally not efficient. But, it’s very effective in many areas.

    And, in some cases it has proven to be more efficient than the private sector. For example, Medicare overhead/marketing is 2% versus 12% for private insurance companies. In this instance, socialized health insurance is clearly more cost-effective than private insurance. We are simply being held back from Medicare for All by the healthcare-industrial complex (insurance companies, providers, drug companies) that like things the way they are, with tens of millions of dollars in compensation to their CEOs. They say that universal coverage is unaffordable, but studies show differently. And, Canada and other democracies with universal healthcare all have per capita health expenditures a fraction of ours… with better results.

    Traditional Medicare was clearly an expansion of government when enacted 50+ years ago, but it’s one that the public supports. Before Medicare, only about half of all seniors were covered by private insurance. Polls have showed that virtually no voters want to do away with it.

    Similarly, numerous polls show support for Medicare for All. According to a 10-24-18 Hill/Harris poll, even 52% of GOP voters want it, as do 70% of all voters. 

    Will Medicare for All cause our insurance system to fall apart as Trump said in his 2018 USA Today editorial? Let’s remember what Reagan said about Medicare before it was enacted: a. “From [Medicare] it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism;” b. ”Medicare will usher in federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country.”; and c. if Medicare is passed: “we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

    None of this came true, America’s still free and capitalistic. This sort of rhetoric was and still is simply a way of scaring American voters away from expansion of domestic programs designed to help the less fortunate… that wealthier people like Reagan will pay for and therefore dislike.

    I’ve used Medicare as an example, but I could use many others. Social conservatives have a bad habit of talking about the ills of “socialism.” However, I don’t hear them asking that we convert our government employees in our military into private mercenaries. And, when we have used military “contractors”, the expense to the USA has been much greater.

    Further, conservatives totally ignore the fact that Bill Clinton and Congress stopped the rise in deficits by balancing the budget without cutting domestic programs. This feat was accomplished by the GOP and Dems working together to: a. cut military expenditures; b. grow the economy; and c. increase taxes.

    The current right-wing administration has substantially increased the deficit for the last two years, largely due to tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations; that’s anything but fiscally conservative.

    The point is that those on the right need to understand that the American public supports social programs once enacted, despite the outrageous rhetoric by conservatives before these programs are passed. And, with a reasonable, bi-partisan approach to budgeting, we can still achieve our goal of a balanced budget.

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    No war for Saudi oil https://likethedew.com/2019/09/18/no-war-for-saudi-oil/ https://likethedew.com/2019/09/18/no-war-for-saudi-oil/#respond Wed, 18 Sep 2019 16:45:05 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72026 Even if US intelligence decisively shows that some of the drones and cruise missiles used in the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields originated in Iran, a decision to go to war with Iran would be inexcusable and insupportable.  

    For one thing, such a decision would not serve US national interests; it would be based on Saudi oil supplies and oil prices – a war for oil, pure and simple.

    Second, the attack would be a logical (some would say, predictable) retaliation for many months of US-supported Saudi air attacks on the Yemeni rebels that have caused tens of thousands of deaths, widespread malnutrition, and a health crisis – crimes against humanity according to many observers.

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    Even if US intelligence decisively shows that some of the drones and cruise missiles used in the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields originated in Iran, a decision to go to war with Iran would be inexcusable and insupportable.  

    For one thing, such a decision would not serve US national interests; it would be based on Saudi oil supplies and oil prices – a war for oil, pure and simple.

    Second, the attack would be a logical (some would say, predictable) retaliation for many months of US-supported Saudi air attacks on the Yemeni rebels that have caused tens of thousands of deaths, widespread malnutrition, and a health crisis – crimes against humanity according to many observers.

    caricature of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman created by DonkeyHotey
    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

    Third, the very idea that the US should go to war in support of a criminal Saudi regime is outrageous.  The government of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is responsible for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the coddling of the 9/11 terrorists, and consistent violations of the human rights of Saudi women and political opponents.

    Fourth, the full backdrop to this war threat must include Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran and the ensuing Bolton-Pompeo strategy of “maximum pressure” on Iran designed to provoke regime change.  Ever since, Iran’s leaders have been looking for ways to fight back against a US policy that has caused considerable economic damage, but without directly hitting US targets. Now, for the second time in a few months, Trump says “we” are “locked and loaded,” on the pretense of retaliation rather than as a follow-up to US economic warfare.  In a word, responsibility for this crisis rests most directly on the Trump administration’s rejection of diplomacy in favor of sanctions and threats.

    The US has no obligation to go to war for the sake of Saudi oil or in defense of Saudi territory. Nor is there a legal basis for doing so: Saudi Arabia is not an ally, and any decision for war, or other military action, requires Congressional approval. If Trump decides on war, it will be to curry favor with his and Jared Kushner’s dear friend, the crown prince, and satisfy the warmongering Israeli leadership – all despite the Pentagon’s reported advice against war. US military leaders well understand the dimensions of disaster war with Iran would create.

    Trump may well back away from his latest threat, as he often does, perhaps motivated this time by election concerns.  He must still be held to account, for his every action contributes to tension in the Middle East and does nothing to restrain Saudi Arabia in its Yemen war or provide incentives to Iran to negotiate.

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    Campus censorship and WV https://likethedew.com/2019/09/18/campus-censorship-and-wv/ https://likethedew.com/2019/09/18/campus-censorship-and-wv/#respond Wed, 18 Sep 2019 16:22:04 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72022 I was glad to see that Nadine Strossen (former ACLU President, an NYU law professor, and daughter of a Holocaust survivor) was at UWV talking about free speech as part of the Festival of Ideas. Her 3-19-19 seminar was entitled: “HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.”

    As a progressive, I believe that free speech is the foundation of our colleges. Therefore, it surprises and disturbs me that censorship from the far left has recently become an issue at numerous American universities. The best example is debate regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

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    I was glad to see that Nadine Strossen (former ACLU President, an NYU law professor, and daughter of a Holocaust survivor) was at UWV talking about free speech as part of the Festival of Ideas. Her 3-19-19 seminar was entitled: “HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.”

    As a progressive, I believe that free speech is the foundation of our colleges. Therefore, it surprises and disturbs me that censorship from the far left has recently become an issue at numerous American universities. The best example is debate regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

    As someone who firmly believes in an equitable two state solution, I see fault with both the Palestinians (especially terroristic Hamas) and the Israelis (especially Netanyahu’s right wingers who want to annex more of the West Bank) on this issue. However, both sides should be able to express their viewpoints on our campuses. That is simply not happening due to pressure from the far left. Pro-Palestine campus protestors do not let both positions be publicly expressed. In undemocratic fashion, they prevent debate from occurring, for example:

    • U of Virginia: “Video of the event obtained by the university showed that Rabbi Jake Rubin, executive director of Hillel at the university, asked those protesting to let the program go on and said they could ask questions of the panelists and otherwise engage in discussion with attendees. The protesting students refused to do so and continued to shout at the speakers, making it impossible for the event to proceed as planned”; (Inside Higher Ed, 2-26-18)
    • San Francisco State University:  Per Mark G. Yudof, former president of the University of California, and Oliver Benn of Hillel: “SFSU is doing a disservice to its community and society as a whole by failing to enforce its rules on nondiscrimination and disruption of campus events, to assert leadership and to educate its students about anti-Semitism.” 

    U of Va. and SFSU protestors (and others like them, see Michigan State University) are deceiving themselves and others about the basics. They mislead uninformed people by repeating the oft stated disingenuous left narrative that Israel is totally composed of “invading” Europeans. 

    In reality there are millions of Israelis who either emigrated from hostile Arab nations or are their descendants. These “non-Ashkenazi” Jews now comprise the majority of Israel’s population (Tucker-Roberts, 5-12-08). 

    Furthermore, Israel as a Jewish state is clearly the underlying issue for Arab countries. Arabs say they have no trouble recognizing Israel…as long as it first becomes a majority Moslem nation. Given this fact, campus protestors very quickly can become anti-Semitic versus just anti-Israel.

    Being of Jewish heritage has generally not been a major point of contention in modern American life. However, both the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) indicate that anti-Semitism is dramatically on the rise, not surprising given the abusive, nationalistic, racist rhetoric constantly spouted by our purposefully divisive President on the right and Rep. Omar (D) on the left.

    Per the ADL, school anti-Semitic incidents alone rose 86% last year, many on college campuses. Nationwide, there were 1,986 total anti-Semitic incidents of all kinds in 2017, a rise of 57%.  “The sharp rise was in part due to a significant increase in incidents in schools and on college campuses.” (ADL) 

    Prejudice can raise its ugly head anywhere. What is surprising is that anti-Semitic attacks are coming from both the left and right.

    Attacks from the left combined verbal assaults on Israel with anti-Jewish statements. For example, as noted above and stated in court documents, Jewish SFSU students were being harassed and speeches being interrupted.

    Once again, this column is not intended to take sides in the basic Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The point being made is that there should be free speech on our university campuses and a calm, objective discussion of ideas. Isn’t that a basic principal which all patriotic Americans should support?

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    You’ll want to share this https://likethedew.com/2019/09/15/youll-want-to-share-this/ https://likethedew.com/2019/09/15/youll-want-to-share-this/#respond Sun, 15 Sep 2019 22:44:43 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=72012 If you are as puzzled as I have been by the spread of corrosive conspiracism in American politics, then reading Nancy L. Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead’s recent A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy will help.

    Harvard University’s Rosenblum and Dartmouth College’s Muirhead are democratic theorists. What they have to say might not reassure readers but they offer a beautifully argued and coherent explanation of a phenomenon that is eating away the integrity of our political institutions. Which is needed if we are to respond effectively. As Sun Tzu would express it: “Know your enemy and know yourself, and prevail in one hundred battles.”

    I was privileged to pursue some of the important ideas in A Lot of People Are Saying with Rosenblum and Muirhead in the interview that follows. You will see why readers are impressed with their work.

    Hickman: Please pardon the disease analogy but American politics seems to be suffering an ideological epidemic of conspiracism right now. So my first question is whether we have any reason to hope that the conspiracism in our politics can be cured, quarantined or treated?

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    If you are as puzzled as I have been by the spread of corrosive conspiracism in American politics, then reading Nancy L. Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead’s recent A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy will help.

    Harvard University’s Rosenblum and Dartmouth College’s Muirhead are democratic theorists. What they have to say might not reassure readers but they offer a beautifully argued and coherent explanation of a phenomenon that is eating away the integrity of our political institutions. Which is needed if we are to respond effectively. As Sun Tzu would express it: “Know your enemy and know yourself, and prevail in one hundred battles.”

    I was privileged to pursue some of the important ideas in A Lot of People Are Saying with Rosenblum and Muirhead in the interview that follows. You will see why readers are impressed with their work.

    Hickman: Please pardon the disease analogy but American politics seems to be suffering an ideological epidemic of conspiracism right now. So my first question is whether we have any reason to hope that the conspiracism in our politics can be cured, quarantined or treated?

    Muirhead: True, conspiracism is enveloping today. There are so many conspiracist allegations that they have begun to collide with each other – as they did last month when moments after President Trump retweeted the charge that the Clintons had sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein killed, others tweeted that it was Trump who conspired to have him killed.

    Rosenblum: There’s always reason to hope, though history is not static and neither is the present, malignant normality of conspiracism that is shaping our politics. On the positive side, presidential conspiracism is unique, and when Trump leaves office the amplifier will be turned down and perhaps the immediate dangers will abate. One danger is the disorientation produced by what we call conspiracy without the theory – for Trump’s conspiracism is all bare assertion, without any effort to connect the dots and reveal hidden patterns, or to adduce evidence and argument which are the aims of conspiracy theory. The other danger is the delegitimation of knowledge-producing institutions of all kinds and, even more importantly, the political opposition.

    True, the conspiracy entrepreneurs who create concoctions like Pizzagate and QAnon will remain potent, and they will find new and even more effective ways to exploit new communications technologies. But without the amplification that comes from having a conspiracist in the White House — the liking and retweeting and proselytizing direct from the Oval Office — conspiracism may become less of an active political force and more of a social/cultural phenomenon. On the other hand, Trump has demonstrated the effectiveness of conspiracy claims to mobilize followers and as a justification for action, and Democrats (who have their conspiracy theories of dark money etc) may be tempted to return fire with fire and to take up the bare, unsupported assertion that marks conspiracism today.

    Hickman: Your definition of the New Conspiracism offers a theoretical advance over what we knew before about the phenomenon. Could you describe your intellectual process in theorizing?

    Rosenblum: What struck us first was the disorientation of conspiracy without the theory. After all, conspiracy theories provide evidence (however unwarranted) and argument; the reasoning is familiar. And some conspiracy theories are true! The conspiracism distorting politics today dispenses with all that. It is sheer assertion, and it is validated not by facts (not even ‘alternative facts’) but by repetition and assent: “a lot of people are saying.” This creates an epistemic polarization deeper than party polarization. It creates a divide over what it means to know something. It is an assault on common sense, and, we thought, an attempt to own reality and to impose it on the nation.

    Muirhead: From there we went on to study how this conspiracy without the theory works – the way that “true enough” displaces the question of whether an allegation is really true; the congruence with conservative assaults on the regulatory state – what we call the “partisan penumbra”; and the dimensions of institutional delegitimation that follow as foundational democratic institutions are derailed, hijacked, invented, and circumvented.

    Rosenblum: Conspiracist delegitimation is unceasing and no institution or official is invulnerable. Trump assaults the chairman of the Federal Reserve: “My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or [China’s] Chairman Xi.” He asserts that the Obama administration engaged in an “all hands on deck” conspiracy against him, enlisting “DOJ/FBI/NSA/CIA/State,” and that the “the real Collusion, the Conspiracy, the Crime was between the Clinton Campaign, the DNC, Fusion GPS, Christopher Steele…and on and on!” Everywhere, Trump sees a conspiracy of “the Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media,” machinating to defeat him and therefore the nation. Always, he rages that the Democratic Party is a nest of traitors evidenced by the petty — failing to applaud at the State of the Union address – and the profound – willfully undermining national security: “I think what the Democrats are doing with the Border is TREASONOUS.” As political theorists of democracy, this stood out for us: the defining institution of representative democracy – regular party rivalry with its idea of a loyal opposition – is being overturned.

    Hickman: You have written that the practitioners of the New Conspiracism are simultaneously delegitimizing and enlisting important institutions such as the press or government agencies. U.S. presidents have historically struggled to establish advantageous relationships with the press and to successfully direct the various Federal departments and agencies to achieve their policy goals. What is different now? Is the ‘delegitimizing plus enlistment’ formula something qualitatively different?

    Muirhead: As a general formula your notion of “delegitimizing plus enlistment” is well taken. You make an important point: every Administration has to find a way to dance with the Press that serves each partner’s aims, and every administration has to find a way to exert control over the sprawling executive agencies that the President in name leads but that often frustrate presidential initiatives.

    Rosenblum: The differences are striking, though. For one thing, when the president imposes his distorted sense of reality on government agencies, it’s not in the service of any articulated policy agenda. In fact, it incapacitates the state from pursuing any coherent agenda, liberal or conservative. In the same vein, the loyalists and amateurs who replace experts and professional civil servants are not loyal to an administration, or ideology, or even to a party in the sense that we know it; this is personal loyalty, demanded by the president. Consider these examples:

    Institutions are derailed: the military is diverted from its appropriate operations and training to the southern border to “deter” an “invasion” of M13 gangs, Middle Eastern terrorists, migrants carrying diseases (leprosy, small pox) and wielding illegal votes.

    Institutions are invented: when National Security Director Daniel Coat’s annual threat assessment identified climate change as a security threat, a commission is created to ‘reexamine’ this finding, and a physicist who likens the demonization of carbon dioxide to Hitler’s demonization of the Jews is appointed to head it.

    Institutions are hijacked: the Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr is enlisted to prove (after earlier investigations failed to show) that FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign was part of a malicious plot by Obama, and that the Mueller investigation was an attempted coup against the President. “I think spying did occur,” the Attorney General said: “it’s a big deal, it’s a big deal.”

    And institutions are circumvented and rendered impotent,most ominously in foreign affairs. Trump assaults intelligence and national security experts and diplomats as elements of a nefarious ‘deep state’ or as liberal proponents of a ‘new world order’ designed to weaken the nation. Foreign relations are now conducted outside of regular process – like Trump’s unmonitored, unrecorded exchanges with Russian president Putin. There are no official diplomatic channels, there is no Congressional oversight, not even banks or markets are constraining the “deals” being made.

    Unlike anything before, this wreckage of normal order adds up to the delegitimation of democratic government itself.

    Hickman: “What you are saying presents democracy as more fragile, less robust than we thought a decade ago.”

    Muirhead: Yes, there’s a tendency to think that democracy is always going to be popular, and therefore enjoy a certain kind of stability: the people would naturally seem to support rule by the people, after all. The democratic revolutions of ‘89 underlined this assumption.

    Rosenblum: But the people are never in fact a natural whole. That’s why we have parties. Because the people are divided and it takes great skill to bring them together and hold them together — this is what partisans try to do. It is hard to make democracy work. And for that reason it is always vulnerable.

    Hickman: I am wondering about the social psychology of the New Conspiracism because I have been startled in the past few years by disturbing encounters, mostly online, with people who credit nonsense such 9/11 as an “inside job,” Pizzagate, or, my personal favorite, Rep. Louie Gohmert’s “terror babies.” Slavoj Žižek references the pervasiveness of appeals to a ‘Big Other’ in ideology. Jodi Dean has written that conspiracism reflects passivity, powerlessness and isolation of members of mass media audiences. So I want to know what you think might make people susceptible to conspiracism or New Conspiracism? And are these different populations of the susceptible?

    Rosenblum: There is an abundance of theoretical explanations for conspiracism; Hofstadter’s “paranoid style” among others. None of these address the conspiracism of the moment – conspiracy without the theory, amplified and spread by the winner of the presidential election!

    We understand the hunger for a sociological key to followers of conspiracism – a parallel to the hunger to find a key to populism – status loss? economic insecurity? the disruption of the recession? scapegoating and racism? the engrained American mistrust of government and elites? Regular followers of conspiracism on social media are likely moved by varying combination of these. The equally important political question is what sort of mindset sees conspiracy everywhere, as Trump does.

    Muirhead: We are not experts in the psychological mechanisms that render people susceptible to conspiracism. That said, two things are clearly at work: the stimulation of conspiracy entrepreneurs and social media. The first transforms conspiracism from serious investigation (see the websites of 9-11 “Truthers”; or the endless theories of the Kennedy assassination) and from entertainment into a sort of activation of hostility – the follower who shot up Comet Ping Pong, for example. The second, social media, creates a “we” of assenters and, again, and invites a sort of performative aggression. The aggression can be aimed at liberals or minorities, as is common, or it may simply be stimulated by creating chaos, nihilistic destruction.

    Rosenblum: What alarms us as political scientists is the political effect of conspiracism – especially the delegitimation of democratic institutions.

    Hickman: So on page 120 of A Lot of People Are Saying you write the following:

    “Conspiracists embrace the self-conception that they are skeptics and critical thinkers. But their epistemic closure undercuts the capacity for skepticism. When knowledge-based pluralism is closed down, when sources are delegitimized and thrust outside the orbit of consideration, when conspiracist transmitters have lost the capacity for receiving, the framework of questioning and assurance is undone.”

    That absence of shared intellectual reference points sounds awfully like a retreat from the modern to the traditional, to something medieval or tribal. In the past, overcoming such blockheaded thinking usually required wrenching social and economic change. But didn’t the disruption of the Great Recession inflame the tendency toward conspiracism?

    Muirhead: Depending on what one identifies with the “traditional,” the erasure of skepticism might seem like a retreat from the modern. But all in all, we take the disorienting effect of conspiracy without the theory to be something quite different than return to some traditional way of thinking or even a rejection of Enlightenment.

    Rosenblum: When on day two of his presidency Trump claimed that the National Park Service had doctored photographs of his inaugural crowd (‘the biggest ever’), he was not invoking folk understandings, or appealing to traditional ways of knowing, or signaling his loyalty to a particular tribe. He was not even signaling his approval of white nationalism, as he has done on so many other occasions. Instead he was asserting his power to impose his own distorted reality on the others. He was invoking presidential power to exact epistemic acquiescence, to force those who could not resist to accede to his description of things.

    Muirhead: Conspiracy without the theory — the sheer assertion exemplified by Pizzagate, for example — does not console those who suffer because of economic change or the recession. It functions rather to eradicate all ambivalence in politics. If you opposed Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, Pizzagate tells you that was not merely, on balance, the less preferable candidate or the bearer of values and aims that, all things considered, are somewhat less compelling than those presented by her opponent. It tells you that she is the heart of all evil — that she would torture and sexually exploit children. She should not merely be opposed, she should be locked up.

    Rosenblum: The erasure of ambivalence in politics is the end of political judgment. It is also the end of one of the most important ideas in democratic life, that the opposition party is legitimate and deserves to be respected and tolerated even as one opposes it. This does take us back in a sense — to a time before the idea of a legitimate opposition took hold, when all opposition parties were classified as seditious conspiracies.

    Hickman: Could you prioritize what needs to be done to respond effectively to this ideological epidemic?

    Rosenblum: Again, at the level of politics, we discuss a range of ways to defang conspiracism – speaking truth when it comes from political representatives who use the partisan connection to correct constituents is one. Another is what we call “enacting democracy”, where officials not only adhere to regular process but explain the governmental forms and processes that constrain the exercise of power.

    Muirhead: Common sense is the essential point of resistance to the conspiracism enveloping our politics today. Conspiracism threatens to sever our connection to a common world of facts and events and to a common moral world. Maintaining that connection, which is to say maintaining our common sense, is at the heart of any effective response. We hope that by naming the unnamed, we can help fortify common sense and resist the invitation to substitute what seems “true enough” for what seems true.

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    Propaganda, politics, and the tragedy of profitable disinformation https://likethedew.com/2019/09/15/propaganda-politics-and-the-tragedy-of-profitable-disinformation/ https://likethedew.com/2019/09/15/propaganda-politics-and-the-tragedy-of-profitable-disinformation/#respond Sun, 15 Sep 2019 19:14:06 +0000 https://likethedew.com/?p=71998 “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” ~ Louis Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1916-1939)

    With bitter irony, I pondered a recent promotional item announcing an upcoming Republican event entitled, “Free Trade vs. Socialism.” Evidently the fundraiser proponents were attempting to exploit their overused claim of being stalwart defenders of the former and reliable opponents of the latter.

    But it doesn’t take much thinking to see through the propaganda. Considering the party’s support of President Trump’s market-disrupting tariffs, there could hardly be more obvious violation of free-trade principles. Not only have these tariffs disrupted ongoing trade, but they have severely penalized American farmers and taxpayers – contrary to continuing claims by the Trump administration.

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    “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” ~ Louis Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1916-1939)

    Monopoly man with feet on desk smoking a cigar

    With bitter irony, I pondered a recent promotional item announcing an upcoming Republican event entitled, “Free Trade vs. Socialism.” Evidently the fundraiser proponents were attempting to exploit their overused claim of being stalwart defenders of the former and reliable opponents of the latter.

    But it doesn’t take much thinking to see through the propaganda. Considering the party’s support of President Trump’s market-disrupting tariffs, there could hardly be more obvious violation of free-trade principles. Not only have these tariffs disrupted ongoing trade, but they have severely penalized American farmers and taxpayers – contrary to continuing claims by the Trump administration.

    Under an emergency provision directed by Trump, taxpayers are now compensating farmers – whose sales to China have plummeted due to the tariff – at a cost of some $20 billion and counting. China has already shifted its sources of supply to Brazil and other nations, raising doubts whether America’s farm-owners will ever regain the enormous trade losses.

    Moreover, among the unexpected consequences of Trump’s unilateral tariff fiasco is the reported clearing of Amazon forestland to make room for growing the soybeans and other crops now being demanded by China. Front-page news stories have extensively documented the alarming spread of burning in the Amazon, but less widely understood is its linkage to U.S./China trade disturbances.

    The Tragedy of Willful Negligence

    In 1968 Garrett Hardin published “Tragedy of the Commons” describing how resources shared by individuals tend to be over-exploited, as each extracts as much wealth as possible yet none has the incentive to conserve and protect the commonly used holdings.

    Many observers have applied Hardin’s “commons” insights in analyzing threats to major ecological assets such as the Amazon Forest and the world’s oceans. Presently, the self-induced human tragedy is having global consequences that threatens our health, food-supplies, and natural life-support systems, as over-exploitation sabotages climate and ecosystem stability.

    Not only has the commons concept been ignored, but similar concurrent warnings were cavalierly cast aside as inconveniences in the ravenous pursuit of economic opportunities, as if cumulative consequences were negligible – or could be made someone else’s problem.

    Rather than prudently heeding warnings of “limits to growth” by the Club of Rome (1972) or Hardin’s commons-protection principles, over the past half-century avid proponents of the so-called “free market” have brought us to the brink of global environmental catastrophe.

    To suggest that “free markets” could be, or should be, part of the solution is both foolhardy and dangerously misleading. First, given billions spent – or forfeited – annually on special tax-breaks, industry subsidies, and public-resource giveaways, “free markets” are long extinct.

    Moreover, profit-makers are routinely rewarded for disregarding longer-term, bottom-line constraining impacts of their activities, no matter how damaging. Tragically, such negligence is accommodated by financially conflicted political institutions and elected officials obligated to corporate sponsors.

    If these destructive forces induced by obsolete economic doctrine and politically corrupted malfeasance are allowed to persist, humanity faces an extremely dire predicament that ensures vast suffering and possible extinction. The consequences accumulate at alarming, accelerating risk to humanity. Take heed and voice support for reforms while there’s still time.

    Thus, Trump’s trade-disrupting tariffs have not only stymied important income sources for working Americans and imposed compensatory burdens on U.S. taxpayers and consumers, but their collateral damages include accelerated destruction of the ecologically vital Amazon. All of this occurs at a time when the growing climate crisis requires conserving and restoring existing forestlands as well as planting billions of trees to help reduce accumulation of greenhouse gases that compound global climate trends. [See text box right.]

    Unfortunately, the dangerously ill-timed political malfeasance and duplicity doesn’t stop there. As many well-informed policy observers have long noted, the U.S. government subsidizes corporate and business development activities to an extent that provides ample, irrefutable evidence of a kind of socialism – commonly known as corporate welfare.

    Such subsidies include, at a minimum, an estimated $50 billion annually in support of the fossil-fuel industry. Similar government bail-outs are squandered in promoting a wide range of business ventures, often without any assurance of outcomes. Billions in tax-breaks, regulatory exemptions, grants, and loans have been offered to business despite failure to achieve the asserted results, such as decent-paying jobs and improved communities.

    While these business bailouts, exemptions, and subsidies have flourished in recent decades, wealth has accumulated among an alarmingly small portion of the super-rich. Such wealth concentration was undoubtedly boosted by the 2010 Supreme Court Decision known as Citizens United, favoring corporate influence in Washington, which clearly aided the above-referenced government dole-outs to business.

    According to Forbes, in 1982 America’s wealthiest 400 had an average net-worth of $590 million, which increased ten-fold [after adjusting for inflation] to $7.2 billion by 2018. Accordingly, the richest 5% of Americans now own two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, incomes of the middle and lower-income groups have floundered, and those in the lower income-range have actually lost net-worth.

    In defiance of an abundance of facts, the terminology used to promote certain political interests is being grossly distorted, employing calculated efforts to mislead and misinform the unwary electorate.

    Since the ill-considered imposition of tariffs is a fundamental disruption of “free trade,” and spending more taxpayer money on corporate bailouts than on education and food-stamps is undeniably “socialism” (though a regressively warped, covert form of it) there is a conspicuous lack of justification for making these shamefully devious, falsely sanctimonious distinctions.

    And none of this politically tainted misinformation even hints at, much less attempts to evaluate, resolve, or reconcile, the consequential rampant environmental damage occurring daily on a global scale.

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