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COVID financial relief should be targeted

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I have to say I agree with Republicans on one thing: COVID financial relief should be targeted to people who really need it, rather than widely distributed to people like me and my family, who don’t.

The Democratic plan, as best as I can determine, is to send $1,400 stimulus payments to Americans. (That’s in addition to the $600 that’s already being sent out.) From my reading of the news, I can’t determine the specifics. Is it every adult American? Is there an upper income limit? I can’t tell, but it certainly seems to be most Americans, which is a large part of why the total amount of Biden’s proposed COVID relief package is a whopping $1.9 trillion.

Republicans in Congress seem united against this, preferring instead a more targeted approach. And for once, I agree with them. Look: I’m hardly rich. Those of you who have followed my story on this blog for years know all about my financial struggles. I wouldn’t mind getting that extra $1,400.

But my point is, I don’t need it. Nor does anyone in my extended family. We’re all doing quite well. Now, in talking about this with my friends and neighbors, they generally say two things: first, “If you really don’t need the money, then give it away to a charity.” The other thing they say is, “Take the money, and spend it locally, on endangered businesses in your neighborhood.” Both of these ideas have merit.

Yet for that $1,400 to get sent out, it needs to survive a vote in the U.S. Senate, and that’s looking increasingly precarious. As the news media are reporting, “moderate Republicans” are “pushing back” on the scope of the Biden stimulus. They simply feel it’s too much money. Now, I have two reactions to that. First, as I just said, I agree with them that the stimulus should be targeted: to the poor, to the unemployed, to those front-line workers (often people of color) who clean our houses and pick our crops, to small-business owners on the verge of closing. My second reaction is that these Republicans are once again showing the hypocrisy for which they are infamous. They never seem to mind budget deficits or the national debt when it’s incurred by Republican presidents (Reagan, George W. Bush, trump), who usually run them up for tax cuts for billionaires and bloated military spending. But when a Democrat proposes spending a lot of money on ordinary, working class Americans, look out! The Republicans get themselves in a frenzy.

Well, we can dismiss such crocodile tears from Republicans for what they are: bullshit. But we can’t dismiss political reality: as long as the filibuster is in effect, Biden will need at least 60 votes in the Senate to pass anything, and if he’s lost moderate Republicans on the stimulus, it’s not going to pass.

That’s why the negotiations are happening even as I type these words. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “Republicans and some Democrats…discussed trying to pass a smaller, more targeted aid package focused on vaccine funding before the beginning of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial,” which begins the week of Feb. 8. I think it’s great that both sides are talking, which almost never happened during the trump years. (Finding common ground will also help to marginalize the worst of the worst, like Cruz, McCarthy and Hawley.) As much as I loathe Republicans and think they’re spineless, insane freaks, I recognize that we need a degree of bipartisanship to pass anything in the Congress (not to mention avoiding a possible civil war). There are certainly things that Democrats can never compromise on (such as protecting gay rights, or defending the Dreamers), but surely, the size of a COVID stimulus package isn’t something to go to the mattresses for.


Celebating America’s civic religion

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Maxine sent me this link to an article by a professor of religion, John Carlson, about America’s “civic religion,” which he defines as “a scholarly term for the common understanding of principles, ideals, narratives, symbols and events that describe the American experience of democracy in light of higher truths.” (Carlson adds, “If you don’t like the word ‘religion,’ think of it as a civic creed, a public ethos or even the set of American values that define our sense of ‘who we are as a people.’”)

I think we all rather admire the notion of “American values,” don’t you? Despite its numerous shortcomings (of which we’re all too aware), our country really is “a shining city upon a hill.” This vision of America as a light unto the nations fueled the efforts of the Founding Fathers, inspired Lincoln to save the union, and got us through the Depression, World War II, and subsequent horrors, including the deplorable era of trump.

Carlson’s argument is an optimistic one. Echoing President Biden’s Inaugural remarks concerning unity as guiding principle, he says civic religion helps to establish the guardrails of our republic and provides a framework within which citizens can disagree.” Carlson ends his essay on this inspiring note: “Leaning on civil religion’s language of a higher calling, justice and common purpose, Biden’s inaugural speech provided a moral framework within which diverse Americans can unite, reconcile and begin to redeem our troubled nation.”

Maxine loved this article, she told me, because she agrees that the need for unity, for all sides to come together, is the overarching theme for our time. So what do I think? Sorry, but it’s impossible for me to be optimistic. In order for “diverse Americans to unite,” Republicans are going to have to change many, if not most, of the ways they think and act. For example, they’re going to have to stop lying about who won the 2020 election, Biden or trump. They’re going to have to call out and sanction the chief liars: not only trump, but Cruz, McCarthy, Hawley and the rest of that corrupt crowd. They’re going to have to acknowledge that only the Federal government is big and strong enough to help millions of Americans who are suffering because of the pandemic. For that matter, they have to acknowledge that there is a pandemic, that wearing masks and social distancing can help control it, and that trump deliberately lied about COVID to the American people and is thus complicit in mass murder. Republicans are also going to have to ‘fess up that science is real, that global warming isn’t a hoax, that trickle-down economics is complete rightwing bullshit, that immigration is the backbone of our national fiber, that gay people are the moral equivalent of straight people in every respect, and that America is a secular nation.

Now, reading through this list, above, ask yourself if today’s Republicans are capable of acknowledging any of these things. The answer is no. As they’re already demonstrating in the Senate and House of Representatives, they’re unwilling to give President Biden 5 minutes of a honeymoon. They’re already attacking him for the audacity of having a national plan for COVID. And the attacks will only get worse.

The reason why is simple: the Republican base, a cabal of ill-tempered religious fanatics whom the Senators and Representatives are deathly afraid of. It is precisely this religious aspect of the Far Right that makes them so impossible to reason with. They’re convinced, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that “God” is on their side. Their preachers have told them that “extremism in the defense of liberty is a virtue,” and they define “liberty,” of course, as elevating their brand of Christian theology above all other kinds of religion (including civic religion), and crowning it atop our federal government, creating a theocracy little different from that of Saudi Arabia.

So we have two opposing kinds of “religion” in this country: Carlson’s civic religion (which I think of as “blue” and “Democratic”), and the intolerant superstitions and irrational biases of Republican religion. Carlson’s civic religion might seek to embrace religious Republicans, but religious Republicans have no desire to cooperate with anyone they perceive as sinful, blasphemous and anti-God. In other words, with those of us who believe in civic religion. The result is stalemate. How can “diverse Americans unite” when one-third of those Americans do not wish to unite?

So I’m pessimistic. I’m glad that President Biden is calling for unity. It’s what he ran on; it got him elected, and he’s merely following through on his promise. But I can’t see it working. We’re dealing with very bad, very stubborn and very deranged people in these religious Republicans, and short of getting rid of them—which, desirable as it may be, is obviously impossible—we’re going to have to grapple with them for a long time. So it’s on to the 2022 election cycle, when we increase Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress (and in governorships). The only language these religious Republican insurrectionists understand is power, and power is what we’re going to show them.


The U.S. had an earlier coup before Jan. 6. Here’s the story

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A common perception of the events of Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol is that it was the first time in American history that a band of criminals tried to stage a coup d’état against the U.S. government.

We’re used to coups, both successful and unsuccessful, occurring in banana republics and authoritarian regimes. The idea of a coup in a democracy like ours was shocking. But it shouldn’t have been. Jan. 6 was the second coup in American history. The first occurred back in 1898, in Wilmington, North Carolina. Nor should it come as a surprise that the people who pulled of that coup were of the same ilk as those who attempted the Jan. 6 coup. “White militias – including a group known as the Red Shirts, so named for their uniforms – rode around on horseback attacking black people and intimidating would-be voters,” reports the BBC.

The 1898 coup plotters were egged on –just as the Jan. 6 rioters were egged on by trump—by a white nationalist rabble-rouser named Alfred Moore Waddell, who “gave a speech demanding that white men ‘do your duty’ and look for black people voting.” The phrase “do your duty” is precisely the kind of incitement that trump gave to the Jan. 6 crowd, immediately prior to the assault on our government. “We are going to have to fight much harder,” he harangued them, adding, “Let’s walk down to the Capitol.”

What prompted the white militias of 1898 to engage in their coup? The era was Reconstruction. The South had lost the Civil War. Republicans had outlawed slavery and passed numerous laws granting freedom and civil rights to Black people. Southerners bitterly resented this intrusion into what they regarded as their “state’s rights,” and nowhere were they more upset than in North Carolina, where Reconstructionists had taken over state government. The Democratic Party back then was the party of white supremacy. With November elections just days away, North Carolina’s racists feared that Blacks would consolidate their power. In urging his crowd to “do your duty,” Waddell gave them this explicit instruction concerning Black people: “And if you find one, tell him to leave the polls and if he refuses, kill, shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win tomorrow if we have to do it with guns.”

That prompted the rebellion. Two thousand white supremacist militia members stormed the city, “expelled opposition Black and White political leaders…destroyed the property and businesses of Black citizens…and killed an estimated 60-300 people…”. It was, says Wikipedia, “the violent overthrow of a duly elected government.”

The coup plotters of Jan. 6 were the mental descendants of the 1898 coup criminals. They even had the same color, red, for their marking: 1898 was red shirts, 2021 was red MAGA hats. Same old same old: pissed off, angry, fearful white men, willing, even eager, to resort to violence in order to bring about their illicit ends. The irony today is that, for all their complaining and fear-mongering about the radical left and Antifa, it’s always white supremacists that launch coups d’état against the U.S.A.


Breaking News: There is no breaking news!

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We’re going to have to get used to news that’s a lot more boring than what we’ve had over the last four years of the trump administration.

Whether you liked him or not—and I assume most of you didn’t—you have to admit that trump gave good T.V. He once said (I paraphrase) that he was the greatest thing for cable news ratings in history. He had that right. Fox News obviously benefited from its role as chief propagandist for the most dishonest president ever. But trump was also great for CNN and MSNBC. The former reality show T.V. star understands television; he knows how to craft a narrative, how to let the drama pile up and keep viewers coming back for the next episode, how to jump the shark. As a nation of television viewers, we grew addicted to our screens. I certainly did.

There’s a warning in this for the cable networks and indeed for all of us. The news anchors came to depend upon trump. He was good for their jobs. He gave them plenty of material to work with. They knew, almost every day when they came to work, that millions of people were going to be watching them in an atmosphere of tension and high political drama. If you’re a journalist-cum-entertainer, that’s the best of all possible worlds.

But we’re in a different world now. Biden isn’t trump. He’s not flashy. He doesn’t excite passion. In many ways, that’s why he’s the president we need now. After all the breathless, divisive flamboyance, we need calm breathing room. Unfortunately, if you’re a cable news anchor, calmness doesn’t work. It’s boring. And in this, lies the warning for the networks. They’re going to want to create controversy, even if there isn’t any. I saw that in Jen Psaki’s first press conference yesterday. She had almost nothing to report because, after all, her boss, President Biden, had only been in office for seven hours. But that didn’t stop the reporters from looking for controversy. And that tendency will only get worse.

I don’t blame the journalists. I made my living as a journalist, so I understand the need for news. But the Biden administration is going to be more about “dog bites man” than “man bites dog.” The former is ho-hum, not news. The latter—well, there’s a story! My concern is that journalists, even those friendly to Biden and Democrats, are going to take every “dog bites man” story and try to twist it into a “man bites dog” scandal.

I don’t know if there’s any way to avoid it. The Fourth Estate is protected by our Constitution. The Washington press corps, in particular, is singularly powerful. (Remember, two relatively unknown reporters brought down Richard Nixon.) They are a law unto themselves, accountable to no one except for their corporate overlords. I admit to being fond of the MSNBC anchors. They’re almost like family. They’re in my living room on a daily basis, especially during this damned stay-at-home pandemic. I trust them and depend on them to give me the news and their views, which are aligned with mine. But I’m afraid they won’t be content with the dog-bites-man routine of the Biden administration.

And it won’t be entirely their fault. Are you and I going to watch cable news when they’re reporting on the ins-and-outs of the Paris Climate Accords or the details of the Keystone XL Pipeline? We were fascinated by the scandals and crimes of the trump regime. It was like watching The Sopranos, only it was real, it was on every day, and Tony had his hands on the nuclear codes. Now, T.V. news is going to be more like the Home Shopping Network.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing. It’s time to break the thrall that cable T.V. has cast on so many of us. The pandemic is going to end sooner or later, and we’ll all be able to get out of our houses, back into gyms, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, malls and each other’s homes. The coming of Spring will further enhance the lures of getting outside. Cable news ratings are going to fall no matter what else happens, as Americans leave their T.V. sets for actual life. Breaking the spell of television will be exactly equivalent to breaking the spell of trump. It’s the least we can do, for ourselves and our country.


The Biden presidency begins

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This is a day to celebrate. An historic date. We’ve come to the end of the most digusting, deplorable epoch in modern U.S. history, and overthrown a psychotic monster and his thieving family.

More than four years ago—in September, 2016—I declared on my blog that I was abandoning wine as its central theme and adopting a new focus: to resist Trump. Since then, I’ve posted almost every day, seven days a week, and 95% of my posts have been about Trump, or his Republican Party, or individual rightwing thugs in that party. It was around the beginning of 2017, after Trump had become president, that the term “The Resistance” came into widespread use. It was gratifying to know that I wasn’t alone in my opposition. Tens of millions of Americans detested Trump. They did so on two levels: on the policy front, they understood how harmful his positions were on everything from immigration to civil rights to global warming to gay rights to income inequality to foreign affairs. And on the personal level, they saw the feral, unnatural sociopathy of this disreputable hack, and they instinctively revolted from it, the way you’d draw back from a cockroach.

I never doubted that we would win in the end—“we” being sane, caring, rational, loving Americans. I always saw the fault lines fracturing the Republican Party. Talk about strange bedfellows! Evangelical Christians (surely a cult, if ever there was one) making nice with white supremacists, Wall Street elitists and Heritage Foundation conservatives. That was a coalition that couldn’t last. And it didn’t. It might have limped along long enough to get Trump re-elected to a second term, but in the end, Trump and his family proved so incompetent, so stupid that a significant number of people who voted for him in 2016 thought, “This can’t go on,” and abandoned him in 2020.

Stupidity always has characterized the modern Republican Party. Look at the Insurrectionists of Jan. 6. They were so dumb, they thought they could pull of a coup d’état by invading the U.S. Capitol. Coups aren’t always successful, but even the ones that fail (such as Russia’s August, 1991 coup against Gorbachev) at least try to play by rational means. The coup plotters in Russia established a firm foothold in the military. They took over government offices around the country, as well as media centers (broadcast and print). They enlisted eight of Russia’s top political leaders in the conspiracy (the equivalent of our Cabinet, CIA and the Republican National Committee). Armored personnel carriers and paratroopers took over Moscow. And yet, even with all that preparation, the coup failed, for a simple reason: it’s really hard to overthrow the government of an industrialized Great World Power.

Compared to the Russian coup plotters, the Jan. 6 Trump plotters were a nursery of diapered babies. What were they thinking? I don’t mean the majority of the ones that invaded the Capitol or surrounded it with their MAGA flags; I mean the leaders, the ones who were giving the orders. Even supposing that they knew they could get into the Capitol building (because they had inside help), what did they think would happen next? Did they actually believe they’d hang Pelosi and Pence while CNN’s cameras whirred? Did they think their compatriots around the country would take over the State Buildings in Lansing, Baton Rouge, Sacramento, Albany? Did they think the Pentagon would just sit back and let them get away with it? I mean, their stupidity was breathtaking. Again, I’m referring to the coup leaders: it’s a given that the rank-and-file of the right are mindless stumps. But the Steve Bannons and Stephen Millers, the Rudy Giulianis and Donald Trump Juniors, the Kimberly Guilfoyles and Sidney Powells: these people supposedly have high IQs. Their dumbness is unfathomable.

They’re gone now. Oh, sure, they’ll crawl around the edges of decent society for years to come. The tabloids will report on them, and rightwing fringe media will fawn on them. But in large part, this deplorable crowd is gone. They’ve had their moment in the sun; the sun has set on them, and they are now sentenced to doing their dirty deeds in the darkness from which they emerged. Shunned by civil society, loathed everywhere, they’ll seethe and simmer for the rest of their lives, waiting for some stolen laptop, some leaked email, some shocking revelation to substantiate their lies. But nothing can substantiate a lie.

I’ve seen a lot of presidential history in my life: JFK’s election. Obama’s election. And, yes, Reagan’s election. But seeing Biden get elected is stunning: finally, a decent, patriotic, loving and compassionate person in the White House. I’m so glad that the vast majority of Americans have realized what I (and many others) have been warning about for four years. I’m glad that History is already recording Trump as the worst president ever. I’m sad we had to suffer his lawless reign. But if there’s any good to be had from this tragedy, let it be that never again can we let this happen.


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