October 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
A teenage girl from Central America entered the United States seeking asylum. She was apprehended by customs officials and detained, awaiting a ruling on her right to remain in the United States.
The girl was pregnant when she entered the United States. She concluded, based on her knowledge of her own ability and the circumstances in which she found herself, that it would be unwise for her to assume responsibility for raising a child. So she sought an abortion.
When she asked for the care of a doctor she was confronted with interference by the United States government, prompted and led by Scott Lloyd, appointed by President Trump to oversee the Resettlement of Refugees.
Mr. Lloyd had little or no experience to qualify him for that post but he did have a long record of expressing his Roman Catholic religious opposition to abortion. Based on the beliefs of that religious sect, he unleashed the power of the federal government to impose his zeal on the teenage girl and, heedless of her beliefs, force her to give birth to a child.
She was told she could abandon her right to seek asylum in the U.S. or abandon her right to abort her pregnancy. If she asserted her right to asylum, she would have to give up her right to abort her pregnancy.
The ACLU responded to this assault on the girl’s rights and, not surprisingly, obtained judicial relief for her. She obtained an abortion. This result was achieved, however, only after the girl was forced to watch a movie starring the fetus and enduring a harangue by one or more representatives of religious sects trying to impose their religious beliefs on her and warning her that, by asserting her right to abort her pregnancy, she was committing a sin.
The First Amendment to our Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” I know the key court decision guaranteeing a woman’s right tto abort a pregnancy was based on the “right of privacy” and not on this (to me at least) plain language of our Bill of Rights. The result delights me but the facts of this latest episode express, to me at least, eloquently and precisely why it is so un-American and disgraceful to subject a young woman to religious tests and forced shaming before she is allowed to make a decision about her own body.
To me the “free exercise” of religion means rejecting religion altogether is a right no less valuable than the right to choose adherence to any one of the myriad of religious doctrines commanding the devotion of men and women all over the world. I have no hostility toward religion and I am proud of our Constitution’s protection of its exercise. I do, however, regard forcing one’s religious choices on another person as a vile and evil practice with a history rife with examples of man’s ability and inclination to engage in cruelty and mass murder on a scale that beggars the imagination.
If any of my readers doubt the truth of this last statement, here is citation obtained by a brief Google search: https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/interview-converting-by-the-sword
The Importance of Language
I have so far expressed my outrage at the effort to impose a particular religious idea on a girl seeking an abortion. I now need to respond to those who dissent by expressing care and concern for the fetus who was the subject of the girl’s abortion.
First, I think it is useful to address the meaning of the word “person”. Here is the definition: “[a] noun : human being, individual, man/woman, child, human, being, (living) soul, mortal, creature; personage, character, customer; ,. . . .”
The absurd problem with which our laws now entangle us began with the judicial necromancy that equated the word “person” with a legal device designed to facilitate the organization of investors to pool money in a business enterprise and to limit their potential liability to the value of the device. The device is a corporation. A corporation has no pulse. It cannot be drafted or imprisoned. It can be terminated without judicial intervention. It cannot breathe. It has no pulse. It has no heart. In short it has no resemblance to a human being. Despite these facts, for more than a century, as a result of a feat of verbal gymnastics by the Supreme Court, corporations are deemed to be “persons”.
This kind of redefining words is the type of language abuse foreshadowed in Lewis Caroll’s Humpty Dumpty:
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”
Decades later, George Orwell warned us about allowing government to redefine words in his novel “1984”. He reminded us that our laws and our Constitution protect us only to the extent stated in their words. And when we loose words from their moorings and allow them to be redefined by power-seeking politicians, we endanger our freedom. Here is New York Times 2007 essay expressing this concern, one I fully share:
As a result of the above referenced Supreme Court decision conflating a corporation with the word “person”, when the government of the United States seeks to regulate the activities of a corporation it must do so within the confines of our Bill of Rights. It is my fervent hope that, sooner or later, our Constitution will, be amended to solve this absurdity with an amendment. We regulate the actions of motor vehicles on our roads and I am confident we will be able to regulate the activities of corporations without the pretense based on this nonsense.
One result of this misinterpretation of the word “person” is the Supreme Court decision that enabled corporations to engage in politics and finance candidates for election. In other words, a brainless, conscienceless zombie creation of one or more people has potential influence on the election of government officials equal to an actual human being.
Another pernicious result of this institutionalized ignorance is the notion, enthusiastically embraced by the religious zealots who feel divinely appointed to impose their religious doctrine on expectent mothers, equating a zygote to a “person” entitled to all of the protection of the Bill of Rights. [To appreciate the twisted interpretation of language this idea requires: Here is a definition of a zygote: “A fertilized female egg from which a baby will develop is an example of a zygote.”]
A zygote is not a person. A person is a living breathing animal who has been removed and disconnected from a woman’s womb. Confusing the meaning of words to blur this distinction leads to unnecessary intrusion into the rights of a woman while she cares for and nurtures her unborn child. It does not add protection to the child and it infringes the rights of the mother. Separating the rights of a mother from the rights of her unborn child enables meddling outsiders to interject themselves into what is the most personal and intimate relationship of our species: the relationship of a woman to her own body.
We now have members of various religious sects picketing clinics where abortions are performed; political efforts to make such clinics impractical for low income patients to access by locating them hundreds of miles away from population centers; requiring waiting periods requiring overnight stays, thus increasing the expense and, again, denying access to low income patients – the imagination of those hateful people intent on “protecting the unborn” while harassing expectant mothers is fueled by their self righteous zeal.
I know this effort is an angry one. I am angry. I have daughters, grand daughters and great grand daughters. The possibility that they can be bullied and defamed because of their personal religious ideas or their lack thereof outrages me. I know they, like he rest of us, may be prey from criminals who wish to harm them. That risk is part of living in a world with a diverse population.
That said, however, it makes me angrier that their safety and self respect may be threatened by religious zealots who presume to impose their ideas of morality on my family. I believe morality and religiosity are personal matters so long as they don’t infringe the rights of others. If a person’s religious belief is that abortion is wrong, he or she should discourage his family from engaging in it. If, instead, he or she believes his relationship with the God of his or her understanding empowers him or her to meddle into the beliefs of my family, then he or she loses my tolerance as I would expect him or her to react if I presumed to lecture him or her about my ideas about his or her religion. The idea that religious zeal entitles one to use the force of government to impose religious conformity on others is abhorant to the idea of America.
It is of no concern to me whether my neighbor chooses to worship God through the good offices of a Pope or through his own understanding of the Bible or through some pattern or structure he conceives for himself after solemn thought. I once knew of a man who, after reaching middle age without giving any serious thought to a belief in God, felt the need to add religion to his life. He finally elected to worship a palm tree in the South Texas town where he lived as the object to which he directed his prayers.
I sincerely respect the right of everyone to choose for himself or herself the object of religious devotion. I do not, however, have any tolerance for anyone attempting to recruit me into his or her religious sect by disparaging my conclusions or the conclusions of others about religion. I believe the choice of a religion and the choice of whether or not to give birth to a child are two of the most personal matters best left to the personal judgment and choice of each human being in a free society. Those choices should not be voted on. They should not be publicly shamed or disparaged. They should not be the subject of laws seeking to impose religious tests and doctrines. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is not a laboratory for experimentation and moral dictation by self appointed religious monitors.
December 28, 2012 § 1 Comment
I have been thinking about John Boehner’s prat fall on December 20. 2012, when he discovered that the GOP caucus would not support his proposal to preserve the Bush tax cuts for all but a relatively tiny group of millionaires. Like a two-by-four forehead bash, that allowed me to see what we face: Nothing less than a group of U.S. Congressmen (and perhaps Congresswomen) who are disciplined and committed to sabotaging our government. Given the fact that the handler for this group had declared years ago that his “. . . goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub”, I should not have been surprised.
One headline writer likened them to Bolshiviks. I am uncomfortable with that analogy. I have far more favorable emotional links to that historical reference than I do to these corporate flacks. Grover Norquist is no Nikolai Lenin. Also, and this is vitally important, unlike the Bolshiviks, these so-called “Tea Party Republicans” are not ideologues. They affect the trappings and rhetoric of conservative ideology and we and the media have been gullible enough to discuss them in terms of their “right-wing” views. No. I believe the truth is that they are merely motivated by a sort of primal fear of losing their jobs and their status as important, respected elected government officials.
I understand this. I remember very well the unexpected thrill I felt when I was sworn in as a lawyer and realized that, regardless of whatever happened after that, I had been indelibly stamped with a new status: I was a lawyer. After a few years, that became so much a part of me that I realized if someone wakened me suddenly at three o’clock in the morning and said, “Who are you?”, I would probably answer “I’m a lawyer. My name is Bob Hall.”
Just as the Taoists teach, there is a reciprocal dark side to this phenomenon. The dark side is that when a person identifies himself or herself with a status, there is a built-in fear of losing it. Old ex-Wobblies say with a sigh that labor unions lost their claim to be a “movement” the day they successfully bargained for retirement plans. The workers then had a vested interest in preserving the economic power of their employers. As Bobbie McGee’s companion sings, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When you have something vital to lose, you are not free.
Norquist identified the fear of losing their jobs and the attendant status as the lever to compel obedience from these elected officials. There is a fictional example of how this works. In Orwell’s “1984” novel, there is an unforgettable description of this kind of compulsion. Winston Smith, a dissident, is tortured by O’Brien who, having identified Smith’s worst fear, straps a cage containing ravenous rats to his face. Smith immediately breaks and becomes a willing candidate for “re-education” and conformity to Big Brother’s teachings.
As stated, the embarrassing part of my epiphany is that the truth is, and has been, so obvious. Grover Norquist understood these ideas very well. That is the reason for his “pledge”. One important advantage that corporate business analysts have over liberals like me is that they have no patience, confidence or interest in noble or idealistic motives in people. They believe only in the power of fear and force to compel behavior suitable to their goals.
So, these saboteurs are willing to render inoperable the government whose constitution they are oath-bound to “. . .defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic. . .” and to “. .. faithfully discharge the duties of the office” to which they were elected. They are willing to ignore their oaths because they are convinced that, otherwise, they will be removed from office by primary opponents. This is a realistic fear because their constituents inhabit a district deliberately drawn to enclose people devoted to hostility toward government, especially the federal government.
When I looked at the problem in this way, the solution became apparent. Their belief that adherence to Norquist’s pledge would protect them from primary threats must be destroyed. A careful and intelligent plan should be designed and implemented to generate opposition to these saboteurs.
Now here is where this essay becomes somewhat paradoxical. To be effective, the identity and motivations of the people responsible for the design and implementation of such a plan should be kept secret. This is not a program calling for public demonstrations and letters to editors. These domestic enemies cannot be defeated, or even credibly threatened by “moderate” or “reasonable” opponents. Such opposition would serve only to afford them more credible appeal to their carefully picked and packed supporters. Those working on this strategy must fashion appeals to people whose political beliefs are opposite to their own. Then those people must be recruited to mount primary opposition to the present saboteurs.
This is not hard-ball politics. This is rat-cage politics. There is a vast difference.
So, you may logically ask: “Why, then are you posting this idea on the world wide web?” My answer is: “Because I think it unlikely that very many people who would oppose this plan will notice me and, even if they do, they will probably not take me seriously. Also, I do not have the energy or the talent to carry out this plan. I am hopeful that someone who has those abilities may consider these ideas.”
The first step is to recruit about fifty people willing to spend some time during the next two years working on this. They should be smart, skilled at electronic research and use of internet media (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, et al.). They should be willing to work without recognition, without titles, and perhaps without compensation. I think some money might be raised to finance this operation, but only after some preliminary organizational work has been done to convince contributors their money will not be wasted. Also, soliciting money must be done carefully to prevent any public disclosure. This kind of politics requires people who will work quietly, without fame or glory.
It is not necessary, probably undesirable, for the members of this team to be in the same place. People can now work together without being together. They can share information and ideas from any place. At some point, it might be fun for some or all of them to meet, but that has nothing to do with the plan. Of course, to launch the plan, some person must begin the process. He or she should find four others to help. Then each of the five should find others until a cadre of at least fifty have been found. Twenty target members of Congress should be selected. Each one should have a record of undeviating adherence to Norquist’s pledge. Each one should have been a participant in the caucus that torpedoed Plan B. That may be a problem because no public record of that caucus was kept. Someone in Washington surely knows what went on there and that information should be obtainable. Everything leaks in Washington. That event offers a simple way of identifying those who, when required to choose between their fear of Norquist and their concern for the welfare of over ninety percent of their fellow citizens, responded to their fear.
An early objective should be to locate sources of information in or near the districts from which the target officials were elected. Ideally, the fifty team members should include as many as possible from the areas (not necessarily the districts) from which the targets were elected. Appropriate persons would be liberal political activists, young lawyers, young teachers, professors, graduate students, Unitarian ministers – anyone with knowledge of the political and social history of people in the target districts. Local newspapers, bulletins and newsletters published by local civic organizations might furnish useful information. The records of recent political conventions would be useful. Minutes are kept by political parties. Some local TV station tape archives can be accessed. Seasoned researchers can add to this list.
There are two goals for this research: The first objective is to create a comprehensive opposition-research data base on each of the targets. That should also identify any political enemies they may have acquired during their rise to elective status. If they held other offices before election to Congress, then those histories might yield useful information. Any gaffes will be useful. Any speeches or written communications should be reviewed to glean any bases for future attack ads. Associations within or without their families should be reviewed for possible sources of embarrassment. We have learned that “out of context” quotes can be harmful, so the material should be read with this possibility in mind.
One other thing: It seems likely that, if we don’t have a deal by January 1, 2013, and the sequester kicks in, the stock market will tank at least briefly. If that happens, some people are going to make a killing if they have been buying puts for the past few days or weeks. Someone should find out if any of the Norquist zombies make money from the market gyration. If so, they should be exposed for manipulating the stock market for their personal gain. Family members, close associates, staff members should all be checked out.
The second objective is to identify potential primary opponents and ways to motivate them to make the effort.
The ultimate goal is to recruit at least ten GOP primary opponents for each of the targets. The candidates for primary opposition to the incumbent target will probably be people who have run for other offices and have either been defeated or have been elected to some lower caliber office and would like to move up to Congress. Or, they might be people who have cherished the notion of running for office, but have not been flattered and encouraged to do so. Or they might be lawyers who would regard a campaign for office as a way to promote themselves and their law practice. Or they might be single-issue fanatics who feel their issue has not been adequately represented by the incumbent target. People who want to hold public office are a varied group. Only folks like me make the mistake of classifying them as liberals or conservatives. Eric Hoffer’s “True Believer” identifies a whole pantheon of people who embrace political movements for reasons that have little to do with the substance of the movement, but everything to do with their personal psychological needs. Such people might be potential recruits for primary opponents. A challenger with the same last name as the incumbent would have an extra edge. Primary elections are low-turn-out affairs and the voters are usually more informed than average general election voters. Still, confusion about the name of a candidate is usually worth some measurable percentage of votes.
At some point in the process of recruiting these primary candidates, the issue of money will arise. If one million dollars can be raised, it would finance $5,000 worth of seed money for each of ten candidates in twenty primary races. A non-profit corporation could be created called “AmericanPageTurner, Inc.” A logo might say,”New Blood For a New Beginning” or “Healthy Competition Builds Political Strength” “No One Is Indespensible” “Time To Turn the Page” “Public Office – Not a Career – A Turn At Bat”. This corporation should proclaim that we should return to the ideas of the Founding Fathers: That public office should not be a full-time job or a life-long pursuit. It should be, instead, a brief interlude of public service in a life devoted to private enterprise and to family. Pursuant to those goals, the corporation’s purpose would be to encourage competition for public office to increase the likelihood that official positions will not become entrenched bunkers of power occupied by professional politicians. Pursuant to those goals, the corporation could offer initial financial help for willing primary candidates.
I have no experience with raising political money. If I were seeking money for this project, I would go to Wall Street and Hollywood. I assume that people who depend on the stock market for income are uncomfortable with the kind of uncertainty and instability generated by Norquist’s captives. I also assume that some activists in Hollywood would, at least, listen to a pitch for this kind of political strategy. Beyond that, I would have to rely on others more knowledgeable about how to go about raising the necessary funds.
At the stated rate, $50,000 would be available for each target district. I don’t think the money should be handed over to each candidate. First, they might just pocket it. Second, they wouldn’t know how to spend it intelligently. It should be used to pay filing fees and to buy services available to all of the challengers, like office rent, telephone service, second-hand furniture, professional advice.
Finding and recruiting the primary candidates will be the most difficult part of this strategy. If possible, the help of a Republican professional campaign consultant should be enlisted in the effort. This may not be possible and broaching the subject with such an operative will risk blowing the entire scheme. There may, however be such an operative who honestly opposes Norquist’s effect on the Republican brand and who will be willing to act as an adviser. A chance to participate in twenty different primary election campaigns might be a way for a professional consultant to make some money.
I don’t know anything about the ethical code for political consultants. I can imagine an arrangement like this: The consultant might draw up a contract stating that he or she would advise ten different primary candidates in the same primary, subject to the following rules: No advice would be given concerning any negative campaign strategy or public appeal aimed at any primary candidate other than the incumbent candidate. Each of the consultant’s candidates would be entitled to the benefit of the consultant’s time and talent. A good faith effort would be made by the consultant to afford equal effort to each client. One way this might be done is for the corporation to sponsor a two-day weekend school, taught by the consultant, about how to conduct a primary election campaign. Attendance would be limited to challengers and every effort would be made to avoid publicity.
To summarize: The objective is to have the following ready before GOP primary season begins: Well done opposition research on each target incumbent Congressman or Congresswoman. A list of at least ten people in each target district who are willing to become primary candidates against the target incumbent. $50,000 or more seed money available to each of those target districts. Perhaps the part-time services of at least one professional campaign consultant for each target district.
Finally, I want to express my profound hesitancy about publishing this idea. I have seen and heard lots of cockamamie grand plans and schemes to change the world, establish world peace or reform American politics. I’ve regarded them, as you may regard this one, as either nutty, pathetic or just harmless fantasies. I well understand that this effort may qualify in those categories. In my own defense, I offer the following:
I am convinced that the Norquist hold on Congress must be destroyed because I don’t see how our country can be governed without reasonable measures concerning revenue and expenditures. The United States is, in some ways, like a business. Without effective ways of acquiring money, it cannot function. Without the ability to provide necessary services to protect and sustain its citizens, it should not function. When the Congress serves as a gate-keeper that sabotages these functions, our “checks and balances” system becomes a garrotte.
Ordinarily, we can rely on our democracy to solve these problems. If a set of ideas causes extensive harm, the next election will repudiate those ideas and rationality will prevail. The enemies of our government have devised a by-pass work-around to thwart that safety valve: They have created islands of voters who, because of selfishness or ignorance or both, believe that the functions of our government should be transferred to corporate business and unregulated markets. They have succeeded in creating enough of these barrier islands to disable both our government and the democratic system that protects it.
Based on these beliefs, I think something must be done to destroy these barriers. I have described how I would proceed if I were thirty instead of eighty-one. I don’t know whether or not I would succeed. My record does not inspire optimism. I would not suffer from pride of authorship. I would seek advice from others and would accept all ideas that offered chances of success. I would not, however, pay attention to those who offered only despair and hopelessness. I think the problem is serious and the time for planning a solution is now.