Saturday, February 4, 2023

East of Here: Welcome to Londonland!

By Isabel Archer
London Correspondent

LONDON – The former capital of the British Empire looks great.  The streets are filled with smartly-dressed smart-looking people, a few of whom are speaking English.  The West End is lit up with great British shows like Jersey Boys and Wicked.  Entire dreary neighborhoods like Southwark and St. Pancras have been replaced by bustling modern buildings and restaurants serving food that's actually, wait for it,  good.

But the reality of modern post-Brexit Britain is not nearly as brilliant.  It is the only large industrial nation in the world expected to fall into recession this year.  The rising prices of heat and mortgages are reducing millions into a cold, miserable existence.  Workers' real wages have stagnated for 12 years, and unions are no longer willing accept the real income cuts demanded by the unpopular Tory government.

At the same time, economic growth is being strangled by a shrinking labor force and the inability to fill vital positions in health care, public services, and agriculture, among others.

The result is that Britain's standard of living is no higher than Slovenia's, a country that most Brits couldn't find on a map, and by 2030 will be no better than Poland's.

Which brings us to the catastrophe that caused so much of this suffering: the idiotic decision, rammed through by Tory extremists and yahoo media magnates like Rupert Murdoch, to leave the European Union.  Just as Brexit's opponents predicted, the results have been all bad:


Brexit's proponents claimed falsely that the money saved from not paying into the EU budget would be used to fix the chronically underfunded National Health Service.

How'd that work out?

In December, as many as 500 patients per week were dying in Britain because of E.R. waits, according to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, a figure rivaling (and perhaps surpassing) the death toll from Covid-19. On average, English ambulances were taking an hour and a half to respond to stroke and heart-attack calls, compared with a target time of 18 minutes; nationwide, 10 times as many patients spent more than four hours waiting in emergency rooms as did in 2011. The waiting list for scheduled treatments recently passed seven million — more than 10 percent of the country — prompting nurses to strike. The National Health Service has been in crisis for years, but over the holidays, as wait times spiked, the crisis moved to the very center of a narrative of national decline.

Senior NHS doctors have confirmed the harsh truth of this tale.  The loss of free movement of medical professionals from across the EU has made everything even worse. The supposed new investments in health care are nothing but Tory bloviation.  And there is no relief in sight, as Tory ministers try to plug funding holes in ambulance services by robbing other NHS budget accounts, rather than provide the desperately-needed new funding.

And it's not just the NHS that's suffering from Brexit; Britain's great universities have been hit as well, according to The Guardian:


 

The ruling Tories, who under the British system can cling to power despite the resignations in disgrace of their last two Prime Ministers, have nothing to offer except their usual bracing mix of bluster and condescension.

Fed up with declines in their standard of living, teachers, nurses, and train drivers (OK, engineers) have all gone on strike.  In response the Prime Minister, an insanely rich former investment banker named Rishi Sunak, has told them they have to suffer if inflation is to be beaten.

The Brits need Lara now

The good news for Sunak is that his wife, the billionaire (depending on exchange rates) daughter of the owner of a huge Indian software consulting firm, who avoided UK taxes for years by claiming she was “non-domiciled” in the UK despite being married to a senior Tory politician, will not have to suffer to beat inflation.

And the Conservatives still refuse to close the “non-dom”tax loophole that has enriched their billionaire funders for decades, preferring instead to introduce laws outlawing public-sector strikes.

All of this naked pandering to the plutocratic few has made the ruling party massively unpopular in Britain (too bad the same can't be said on this side of the pond), but until 2025, they will be able to do their worst as the people of Britain suffer.

Even as (or perhaps because) their economy rots and their standard of living declines, Brits have embraced bigotry and meanness with an avidity that can only be described as “Republican.”  In response to a few thousand of desperate refugees crossing the Channel to seek asylum, Sunak through his Nikki Haley-like minion, Suella Braverman, wants to kick them out (or perhaps to Rwanda) without a fair consideration of their claims, in violation of the UK's international legal obligations.

Meanwhile the plutocratic press is full of pro-austerity propaganda, including ridiculous pieces claiming that it's fun to work forever for kindly Uncle Rupert Murdoch, rather than retire at 78 on a livable pension.

Instead of focusing on real suffering, the chattering classes seem to be preoccupied with the supposed threat of trans persons, although what they are threatening remains obscure. Sadly, in UK this drivel is spread not by yobs from Rummidge-in-the-Muck but by well-educated and filthy rich writers and pundits who ought to know better.

If that were not enough, the future of the United Kingdom itself seems increasingly doubtful.  Scotland, removed from the EU against its will, is ready to secede if given the chance to vote now being withheld from them by the colonial authorities in Whitehall.  Northern Ireland, now with a majority-Catholic population and caught on the wrong side of the EU-UK border to avoid another sanguinary division of Ireland, may soon follow.

The Tory loudmouths in London can bellow all they want that England can well do without these appendices, but if they really thought that, why are they fighting so hard against democratic referenda on independence?

The shrinking of the UK to England and Wales is but a synecdoche of Britain's rapidly shrinking role in and relevance to the world, a trend that began after World War II but paused in the era of EU membership.

Over 60 years ago, the great automotive journalist Brock Yates reported on the then-dismal state of the British car industry.  Its inability to compete with German and Japanese manufacturers led Yates to wonder if Britain's industrial base would wither away, leaving the country with no economic activity other than as a sort of global theme park:

Speaking of British car production, it's not going so good since Brexit (which fatally interrupted the complex supply chains that undergird modern manufacturing):


 A 66-year low?

The London theme park of culture, shopping, arts, fashion, dining, and other activities enjoyed by global tourists is more fun and exciting than ever.  Outside the gates, the once-great United Kingdom is slipping into decline and darkness, if not dissolution, and its insufferable governing class doesn't seem to notice, or, more likely, care.


Sunday, January 22, 2023

From Our Archives: Both Sides Through History

By Aula Minerva
Spy Archivist

The recent announcement that House Republicans want to default on the sovereign debt of the United States unless Democrats agree to gut Social Security and Medicare has produced the usual both-sides coverage.  Here's but one example from the Pez dispenser of conventional wisdom, The New York Times's Carl Hulse:

This framing is, as Media Matters has pointed out, bonkers:

If Republicans really want to slash spending – including to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – that’s their right.....

But they don’t seem interested in trying that, presumably for the same reason that unified Republican governments under Presidents Trump and George W. Bush didn’t lead to massive spending cuts – those cuts would be incredibly unpopular and would likely destroy the party’s political standing.

Instead, the GOP plan for cutting spending is to try to force the Democrats to agree to (maybe even propose) the cuts as the price to avert global economic catastrophe. That sounds insane when you write it out, so a big part of the strategy is trying to prevent the press from doing so. The party’s leaders and its propagandists are busy working the refs. 

It's essentially extortion: Republicans will plunge the world economy into disaster unless Democrats agree to their demands to starve grandma, not to mention poor children.  That's not Both Sides.

But the prevalence of this ridiculous false framing got us to wonder if the media had ever in past used it to describe events to which it arguably did not apply.  Fortunately, for most of its 253 years of publication, the Spy subscribed and printed reports from The New York Times and other news services, and our archives turned up the following gems:

April 14, 1861:

IT IS WAR! MASSACHUSETTS TO THE COLORS! REGIMENTS MUSTERING NOW!

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     April 14, 1861                                Worcester, Mass.                        PRICE: TWO CENTS

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FORT SUMTER SURRENDERS TO REBEL FORCES 
AFTER ALL-NIGHT BOMBARDMENT

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BOTH SIDES HELD TO BLAME FOR IMPASSE
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LINCOLN MUST NEGOTIATE OVER SLAVERY IN TERRITORIES, SOUTH SAYS

From the Spy's News Services (via Telegraph)

The unprovoked secessionist attack on Fort Sumter, which guards Charleston Harbor, South Carolina has stirred in the minds of many a lust to thrash the Rebels and reunite the Union.  Yet other respected sources around the nation note that both sides were to blame for the current deadlock.

Both sides are responsible, say informed sources

Informed sources in Washington City have told reporters for the Washington Times and the Richmond Dispatch that the attack was caused by President Lincoln's reckless and aggressive decision to reinforce the fort, surrounded as it is by territory claimed by the new “Confederacy.”

“If only the zealots of the Black Republican Party had negotiated in good faith with South Carolina for the peaceful turnover of the facility to the local government, this entire conflict could have been avoided,” said a source close to leading Virginia General Robert E. Lee.  “The South tried its best to avoid these sanguinary proceedings but Old Abe's obstinacy prevented a peaceful resolution.”

These critics pointed to the breakdown of recent negotiations in Washington that would have reunited the Union as long as Northern states were willing to let slaveholders bring their brutalized human chattels into all U.S. territories and assist slaveholders in the return of their lawful property found in Northern states.

“If only the Republican extremists were willing to meet the legitimate concerns of the South half-way, we could have reunited the United States on a basis that our glorious Founding Fathers, almost all of whom held humans in bondage, would have recognized in an instant,” said influential advisers to Virginia politico Jefferson Davis.

In a broadside issued under the pseudonym “CONCERNED AMERICAN” but widely thought to represent the consensus of informed white men in the Upper South, the author warned, “We can limit the amount of blood shed in this stalemate to a veritable thimble as long as Republicans agree to negotiation and moderation and the triumph of slavery.  If they won't meet us halfway, there is no alternative to war.” 


 

March 8, 1932:

DISTRIBUTIONS OF EDIBLE SWILL ANNOUNCED BY AREA RESTAURANTS

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     March 8, 1932                               LATE CITY FINAL                        PRICE: One cent

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LINDBERGH URGED TO NEGOTIATE WITH KIDNAPPERS;
     BOTH SIDES BLAMED FOR IMPASSE OVER MISSING BABY

From Spy News Services

Both Sides need to work together

The failure to resolve the ongoing kidnapping of the baby of famed American aviator Charles A. Lindbergh has raised questions about the handling of the case by the New Jersey State Police, which has at least in public ruled out negotiating ransom with the baby's kidnappers.  Sources close to the investigation note that Col. Lindbergh is considering ignoring the advice. 

“In any kidnapping there is a conflict between the kidnapper and the family and friends of the victim.  The best way to resolve the conflict is through dialogue and negotiation,” said sources close to J. Edgar Hoover, who is advising the New Jersey authorities on how to resolve the matter, which has transfixed the nation eager for even more bad news after almost four years of crippling economic depression.

In public, however, Hoover is projecting firmness. At a press conference held yesterday in Washington City, the director, clad in a stunning dark-blue silk shantung frock with matching hat and gloves, he said “there can be no negotiation with terrorists and criminals.  Giving them an inch would be as ridiculous as wearing a black handbag with a blue outfit.  It is unthinkable.”

Lindbergh is known to be unhappy with the advice he is being given by U.S. law enforcement authorities and is seeking guidance from some of his distinguished foreign friends.

“I'm a great believer in the view that both sides must reach out together to resolve difficult questions, like the menace of international Jewry, so I'm urging my good friend Col. Lindbergh to reach out to the kidnappers and work on a negotiated solution,” said the man whom Col. Lindbergh is said to respect more than any other leader, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. 

December 9, 1941

IT IS WAR AGAIN! RECRUITING STATIONS OPEN!

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December 9, 1941                     LATE CITY EXTRA ★★★★                       5 cents

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ROOSEVELT CALLS FOR ALL-OUT WAR ON JAPAN AS
    CRITICS BLAME BOTH SIDES FOR PEARL HARBOR


From the Chicago Tribune News Service
with additional material from Asahi Shimbun

With the U.S. Pacific Fleet lying at the bottom of Pearl Harbor following the sneak attack Sunday morning by the Japanese Empire, President Franklin D. Roosevelt has called upon the United States to exercise every effort to defeat Japan.

Both sides to blame, experts say

But influential critics of Roosevelt's war policy have told the Tribune that they believe that Both Sides are to blame for the eruption of hostilities [Late cable to The Spy – Further air attacks reported on Manila]  and both the United States and Japan should negotiate a peaceful solution to the Pacific war. 

Sources close to distinguished North Dakota Senator and America Firster Gerald Nye have said that Roosevelt is to blame for the current calamity. 

“If Roosevelt had only been willing to sit down and negotiate with the Japanese on their reasonable requests for continued imports of oil and scrap metal and accommodated their desire for an Open Fist [Surely, Door? – Wire Ed.] policy in China, Japan would be only too happy to continue the current state of affairs, which has brought co-prosperity throughout East Asia,” these sources told the Tribune on the condition that they remain anonymous so that they would not be indicted for violations of the Espionage Act.

White House advisers have stumbled in responding to these concerns, preferring to stress the dastardly nature of the attack and the need for a unified American response.  But some Washington pundits believe that Roosevelt's failure to come clean about his unwillingness to compromise with the Japanese empire will cause the nation to be unwilling to give him “the benefit of the doubt” when questions arise about the conduct of the war.

Republican critics of Roosevelt's aggressive foreign policy fear that the President is repeating the same mistakes with Germany that could lead soon to war with them. “Instead of compromising with Herr Hitler and finding areas of bipartisan cooperation, such as the fight against Soviet Communism, Roosevelt is beating the drums of war,” Senator Burton K. Wheeler (D – Prussia) told the Tribune's owner, Col. R.R. McCormick.

In Tokyo, sources close to Prime Minister Tojo have told the Asahi Shimbun that despite the current breakdown in relations between the Japanese Empire and the United States, Japan remains ready to compromise on all issues related to the conflict as long as their historical claims to China, Indo-China, and the Indies are recognized. 

“Why not avoid the unpleasantness of all-out war and negotiate?  Japan is ready to listen to any concrete proposals the United States may have to restore the peace and address Japan's legitimate interests as the ruling power in Asia,” the Imperial spokesman said.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

How the Times Covers Republicans: A Roadmap with all the Places Missing

Editors' Note:  Many years ago, the Times fired their Public Editor, claiming that the job was no longer necessary because the Internets would keep them honest.  In that spirit, we've appointed our own Public Editor who periodically shares his thoughts on what's in the Times, and, more to the point, what isn't.

By A.J. Liebling
Public Editor

The new Republican-run House of Representatives has got to be God's gift to reporters.  With so much crazy running around, it's almost like there are too many stories to chase.  So many lunatics, but only so many column-inches.  That's why someone in the Washington bureau thought it made sense to provide readers with a “road map” to their plans to bring down [Surely, investigate? – Ed.] the Biden Administration.

We unfolded their road map and it drove us crazy, but not before leading us down one blind alley after another.  It turned out their road map was missing a lot of important information, leaving the reader lost, dazed, and confused.

First stop on the map: the Weaponization Committee:

A special subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, led by Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio. 

Substantive policy questions: This remains to be seen.

That sounds a little dubious. What's this Committee going to look at?

The text of the resolution establishing the subcommittee gives the panel essentially open-ended jurisdiction to scrutinize any issue related to civil liberties or to examine how any agency of the federal government has collected, analyzed and used information about Americans — including “ongoing criminal investigations.” It also gives the subcommittee the authority to obtain classified information typically only provided to the Intelligence Committee, including some of the government’s most protected secrets.

What could possibly go wrong? We've reached the end of the road map before getting some possibly useful background about the Committee's Chair, Jim Jordan.  He's not just another Republican from Ohio.  He's the same Jim Jordan who has concealed his extensive involvement in the January 6 insurrection that came within feet of overthrowing the Government of the United States and hanging Mike Pence:

Jordan indicated he doesn’t plan to cooperate with the committee’s request because he has “no relevant information that would assist the Select Committee.”

Is Gym Jordan's alliance with these guys relevant?

Facts First: Though Jordan might not believe he has relevant information, what matters is that the Select Committee does. Committee Chair Bennie Thompson requested Jordan’s cooperation on the basis that he “had at least one and possibly multiple communications with President Trump on January 6th.” A January 6 select committee spokesperson said in response to Jordan’s letter that due to these communications he does have information the committee is seeking and is a “material witness.”

It’s worth noting that Jordan is a long-term Trump ally who objected to the certification of the November 2020 election in the House on January 6. In December 2020, Jordan attended meetings at the White House with Trump, then-Vice President Mike Pence, and a handful of other congressional Republicans to discuss how to overturn the election results.
Ultimately, Jordan voted to overturn the results in the two states where Republicans’ objections made it to a vote – Arizona and Pennsylvania.
 

So the Republicans have put in charge of investigating subcommittee a man who ignored the legal subpoena of a duly constituted Congressional committee, participated actively in the January 6 insurrection, and to this day refuses to provide evidence relevant to determining the extent of his participation in illegal violent subversion?  

Wouldn't some of that background help Times readers evaluate the likely role, purpose, and legitimacy as they, um, wrestle with the problems posed by putting an insurrectionist in charge of a wide-ranging inquiry into both legitimately constituted government and its efforts to protect itself from violent subversion?

As noted above, CNN thought this was worth noting. The Times?  Not so much.

Moving along, the Times touched upon the second House Republican pile of whackjobs [Surely, Select Committee? – Ed.]:

What committees are involved: The Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is led by Representative James R. Comer, Republican of Kentucky, and potentially the new Judiciary subcommittee.

Substantive policy questions: The Oversight Committee says the purpose of its inquiry is to inform legislation to strengthen federal ethics laws....

Political agenda: Mr. Comer has pledged for months to investigate Mr. Biden’s family and its business connections. His staff has already obtained the contents of a laptop owned by Hunter Biden, the president’s son, whose business activities are under federal investigation. Mr. Comer and Mr. Jordan held a news conference on Capitol Hill detailing their plans to take the inquiry’s focus beyond the younger Mr. Biden. “This is an investigation of Joe Biden,” Mr. Comer has said. 

Is there anything that inquiring Times readers might want to know about this Comer fellow? It's not like this loud proponent of fine Christian values like forced birth might have a skeleton or two in his closet, is it?  That well-known Communist fake news source, the Louisville Courier-Journal, reported

“It's just a simple procedure.”

A woman who dated gubernatorial candidate James Comer while the two were in college said in a letter to The Courier-Journal on Monday that he was physically and mentally abusive to her during what she said was a two-year relationship.

"Did Jamie Comer ever hit me? Yes," wrote Marilyn Thomas, who attended Western Kentucky University with Comer in the early 1990s....

In the four-page letter, Thomas detailed a relationship that she said "was toxic, abusive and caused me a lot of suffering. His controlling and aggressive personality alienated me from most of my family and friends at the time."...

In the letter, Thomas does not offer specific details of the alleged physical abuse other than to say Comer struck her. She told a reporter that she never filed a police complaint against him. In the letter, she said she had been "emotionally weak" at the time.

"Everything I did, everywhere I went, and everyone with whom I interacted had to be approved" by Comer, Thomas wrote. "Consequences were violent and swift otherwise."

She said Comer became "enraged" in 1991 after they visited a Louisville abortion clinic and learned that she had used his real name on a form requiring proof that she had an escort to drive her home. ...

Wendy Curley, who said she shared a dorm room at Western Kentucky with Thomas, said that Thomas and Comer had "a very rocky relationship."

"I would see bruises on her wrists and stuff where she'd say, 'Oh, I ran into a table,' 'I fell,' just that kind of stuff," Curley said....

She also said Comer took Thomas for an abortion.

"I know she ended up getting pregnant in like October of 1991 and had an abortion in the beginning of November, and I remember him seeing her to the dorm and just dropping her off after they got back from the abortion," Curley said.

Certainly a guy you'd trust to investigate allegedly unethical conduct.  (Just as a side note, don't expect to read much more journalism like this in the once mighty Courier-Journal, now owned by the bloodsucking vampire finaglers running all Gannett papers into the dust.)

More recently,

...Chairman Comer made news for two remarks (both seen in the clip below): calling Ukraine – which is fighting to protect democracy in Europe and thus around the globe – an “adversary” of the United States, and strongly suggesting President Joe Biden is “compromised.”

So Comer both supports Putin's violent Russian aggression in Europe and makes baseless charges about President Biden, who, unlike his crooked predecessor, is compromised apparently by having children.

We'd think that Times readers would be interested to learn that the Congressman in charge of investigations into “ethics” beat his girlfriend, helped her get an abortion (despite publicly proclaiming his opposition to abortion), and promotes Putin's anti-U.S. subversive agenda.  

The Times thinks otherwise.

How about the COVID Committee?  Now that seems like a subject ripe for congressional inquiry and oversight.  How is it that the richest and most advanced country in the world suffered over 1,100,000 deaths and millions more seriously ill, while dropping virtually all public health efforts to control the pandemic?

Nah, we're just s***in' you.  The House Republican COVID Committee will focus on:

whether the U.S. government should be funding so-called gain-of-function research, a narrow sliver of scientific inquiry that can involve tinkering with viruses in a way that could make them more dangerous. Such research is at the heart of Republican assertions that the pandemic may have been caused by a laboratory leak — a suggestion disputed by scientists whose research shows the outbreak most likely originated at a live animal market in Wuhan, China.

The point of course is to smear Anthony Fauci as somehow behind the epidemic (a lie pushed by bats**t crazy pride of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul), rather than to come up with any serious effort to evaluate the success of America's pandemic response program.

Cathy Rodgers has always hated the environment

And which deep scientific thinker will be running this inquiry?  Even though George Santos won several Nobel Prizes in medicine (according to him),

A special subcommittee of the Oversight Committee, and the Energy and Commerce Committee, [will be] led by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican of Washington.

Perhaps Times readers would like to hear something about her grasp of science, not to mention facts in general. Spoiler alert: it's not too good.

She's a climate change denier:

In her 20 years in the House, she has compiled a strong anti-environmental record. According to the League of Conservation Voters, she has cast pro-environment votes just 5% of the time during her career.

In 2012, McMorris Rodgers parroted climate denialist talking points to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, falsely stating, "Scientific reports are inconclusive at best on human culpability for global warming." The overwhelming consensus among scientists is that humans are the major driver of climate change.

She told the same newspaper in 2018 that humans are "partially" to blame for climate change, but still opposed government efforts to curb the problem.

She's been lying about health-related issues for some time too.  A thousand years ago, in 2014, she gaveg the Republican response to the State of the Union.  She chose to highlight a manufactured Obamacare horror story, which turned out to be nothing more than a person who believed Republican lies and therefore didn't bother to sign up for the benefits the Democrats had bestowed upon her.

Her inability to distinguish fact from fiction in both science and health care might have helped Times readers evaluate her bona fides on the Lynch Fauci Committee.  Again, the Times thought these details unworthy of mention.

What accounts for this reluctance to fill in the blanks in the Republican investigation road map?  We'll make a few guesses.  First, the Times presumes Republican bad faith and insanity and therefore does not regard it as newsworthy. Second, the Times may think that pointing out the sordid pasts of these esteemed Republicans might be considered unfair or slanted, even if true.

But the House Republican plan to convene lynch mobs under the leadership of already-discredited liars, cheats, election deniers, and fraudsters is news.  Big news.   

Why isn't it fit to print?

STOP PRESS:  As the Spy went to press, it finally received a response to these questions from an assistant to Times Executive Editor Joe Kahn.  He wrote:

How dare you criticize the world-famous Times Washington Bureau?  What do you know about journalism?  Have you ever written for the Harvard Crimson?  We thought not.  Why don't you just crawl back into whatever hipster hairy vegan hellhole you inhabit and let our brilliant, objective, fair-minded reporters shine their light without any more interference from the peanut gallery?

PS Please enjoy our special Opinion section today on the future of the Republican Party, featuring the brilliant insights of Kellyanne Conway and twelve ordinary typical patriotic diner-loving Republicans!

The Spy appreciates Kahn's thoughtful and nuanced response to our concerns.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

This just in: mediocre white man wins again!

By Nellie Bly
Washington Correspondent

After a week of performative futility, marked by only one fistfight, House Republicans finally managed to install Bakersfield insurrectionist Kevin McCarthy (R – No-tell Motel, New York Ave. NE) as the Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

We'll let others describe how McCarthy eked out his win by handing out slices of his testicles to the lunatic hatemongers that make up the Republican caucus.  But we were struck by McCarthy's bottomless confidence, based on nothing, that he had somehow “earned” the second most powerful job in American government.

Who is Kevin McCarthy anyway?  

The new Speaker, shown here with his "assistant"

He was born and raised in Bakersfield, a s**thole at the anal ligature of California's Central Valley.  He ran a deli for a couple of years and then sold it, using the proceeds to attend Cal State Bakersfield.  He served as a staffer to a notoriously nasty Republican Congressman, Bill Thomas, and then started climbing the Republican greasy pole, first in Sacramento, and then succeeding Thomas, who to this day doesn't have a good word to say for his, um, protegé:

“I can’t recall a time when he came into the office to talk about a substantive political issue,” [Former Rep. Bill] Thomas told me. “The political goal as he moved up the district structure” was “to build up” relationships. “He’s the guy in the college fraternity that everybody liked and winds up selling life insurance, convincing people they need it.” ...In his view, the business of legislating is foreign to McCarthy. “He’s already said, ‘As soon as I become Speaker, I’m going after the Attorney General,’ ” Thomas told me. “Why would you want to spend your whole life trying to be Speaker to go after somebody? What are you for?

This may not sound like much.  Indeed, it seems, like Bakersfield itself, to embody mediocrity.  But lack of talent or principle didn't cause Kevin to doubt his entitlement to fame and power:

From the start of his career, in the late nineteen-eighties, as a congressional staffer at a district office in the Central Valley of California, his ambition was to reach the House; once he arrived in Washington, it was to become Speaker. The House is where he’s most himself. He likens spending time there to “having breakfast at a truck stop.”

The continued undeserved success of Mediocre White Men, which somehow eludes the mediocre white gasbags and pundits, is glaringly evident to one group that has suffered the most at their hands: Black women

It's so obvious to Black women. Why can't anyone else see it?

Let's look at the parade of Republican Presidents and other worthies since say 1968: Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Denny “Wrestling Room” Hastert, Eric Cantor, Wilfred M. Romney.

That's a veritable Murderer's Row of Mediocre White Men.  In fairness, some of these white men were much worse than mediocre, and Romney was at least thought to be a smart and effective finagler who made a handsome fortune stripping and flipping America's great industrial heritage.  But anyone as clueless as Wilfred or as stupid as Trump deserves the sobriquet of mediocrity, whatever else can be said about them. 

You don't have to be a Black woman to recognize the phenomenon of entitled MWM.  You could be a Black man pushed out of his congressional district by a Mediocre White Man, who proceeded to go down in flames:

But the phenomenon is hardly limited to politics.

You can't swing a cat or a cliché without hitting a Mediocre White Man in a position of undeserved power, wealth, and fame.  The op-ed pages of America's two remaining newspapers are clotted with MWM's blathering on about nothing very much: Soprassata Dave Brooks, Six-Months Tom Friedman, Community College Adjunct Prof. George Will, and, at least once a year, the brother of retired Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Kevin.

Turn on cable TV news, and there's Impeachment Joe Scarborough, Sean Hannity, Wolf Blitzer, Lawrence O'Donnell, Chuck Todd, and somewhere around Channel 24,546 Chris Cuomo.

The unearned dominance of MWM is a facet of every aspect of American life where money or power is at stake.  In your daily life, everyone has met, to use David Letterman's lethal description of Wilfred M. Romney, “the man who looks like he turned your dad down for a loan.”  The guy who blackballed you at the country club.  The guy who was promoted over you because he was better at “managing up.”  The guy who sent Larry and Kent to sit on the sofa next to the freshman in the wheelchair.

L to R: MWM

The Halls of Mammon are crowded with Mediocre White Men.  Some started with a fortune and now are engaged in destroying once-prominent social media companies.  Others so lacked management skills that they caused a major airline to collapse at Christmas, but still have a job and long-term incentive compensation package.  You can hardly pick up ae proxy statement without reading about a CEO who gets $20 million a year either for not wrecking his company or engaging in ridiculous mergers that make it impossible to know if he has any idea of what he's doing.  Just walk down any beachfront on Nantucket or Osterville or drive around Deer Valley and you'll meet them in their native habitat.

And of course if you work your way down the list of Republican House and Senate members you'll run the gamut from Mediocre White Men to truly frightening bigots and lunatics.   One thing unites them though: the bedrock belief that they deserve to be there, which is usually accompanied by the equally firm belief that minorities and women don't.

Actually, what really infuriates Black women is that the MWM who have achieved success at the expense of less favored groups is that the MWM's don't even notice that they have succeeded due to undeserved privilege.  In fact, it infuriates them when that obvious truth in pointed out to them.  In Florida, Ron #DeathSantis (an exemplar of a Mediocre White Man right down to his slammin' white go-go boots) has actually outlawed saying as much:

...staffers for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) were asked an interesting question: What does “woke” mean?....Ryan Newman, DeSantis’s general counsel, said the term referred to “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

Taryn Fenske, DeSantis’s communications director, said that “woke” was “a slang term for … progressive activism,” adding that the term also referred to a belief that there were systemic injustices in the United States.

The question came up because Florida was being sued for trying to outlaw teaching wokeosity in its institutions of public education.  Both of them.

Why do Mediocre White Men have a hammerlock on all the goodies that America has to offer?

Two reasons (actually, the clever reader may discern a single common thread):

1.  White Men.  The election of the worst human being in America as President confirmed what we had long suspected: mediocre white men want other mediocre white men to succeed.  It gives them hope, and they imagine it angers people they suspect of being non-mediocre: educated progressives with their fancy degrees and insufferable intellectual superiority.  They may be right about the insufferable bit, but what a price mediocre white men pay for venerating mediocrity: broken unions, bad health care, and a melting Earth to bequeath to their children, mediocre or not.

This is not a new phenomenon: when mediocre President and even worse criminal Dick Nixon tried to shoehorn a mediocre judge onto the Supreme Court (setting a path that later mediocre Republican Presidents have emulated), Sen. Roman Hruska, a mediocre Republican from the mediocre state of Nebraska weighed in:

As the Senate is in the process of debating the nomination of Judge G. Harrold Carswell as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court -- to fill the seat vacated by Abe Fortas -- Nebraska Republican Roman Hruska says in a TV interview, "Even if he [Carswell] were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they? We can't have all Brandeises and Frankfurters and Cardozos."

Imagine how thrilled Sen. Hruska would be to see the current Republican Supreme Court sextet!

Which brings us to

2.  White Women.  The support that mediocre white men give to other MWM's is understandable.  The decades of support given by white women is harder to grasp.  Why do they support MWM?  Maybe it's like asking fish what water is like.  They don't know anything else.

But that can't really be it.  We've never met a woman, no matter her politics, who was unable to distinguish mediocre (or worse) men from the others.  They may not have been right, but they grasped the distinction.  

Why won't they save us from MWM?

So is it simply a matter of bad judgment?  If women will marry a MWM, they'll certainly vote for one, or all of them.  Is it a lack of self-esteem, justified or otherwise, that make women think they don't deserve anything better than a mediocre white man as a husband, an adulterous lover, or a Speaker (and Kev has been all three!)?

Then there's the white bit.  If your greatest fear is loss of white privilege, maybe voting for generations of oppressive sexist mediocre white men is a small price to pay for your own (and your children's) loss of rights and benefits.  Hell, if you can fly to Midway for $79 on Southwest, your access to abortion is assured.  As for those who can't afford the ticket, well, that's their problem.

The solution to the domination of American politics and society by Mediocre White Men, like our new Speaker, is in the hands of white women.  But they're not willing to act, according to sources close to Hillary Clinton.  And that's why Mediocre White Men, like Kevin McCarthy, think they are entitled to anything they can get, even if their success requires 15 ballots, endless humiliation, betraying their country, and the loss of their privy parts. 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Good and Dead: Ex-Nazi, child abuse enabler, and tormentor of AIDS victims dead at 95

The obituary page of The Massachusetts Spy


By Luke Reschuss
Obituary Editor

Before it headed off into history, 2022 gave us one last parting gift: the long-overdue death of one of the most notorious religious leaders of our time, the reactionary Nazi-loving, Jew- and gay-hating ex-Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in disgrace after his decades-long coverup of priestly rapists became public.

Benedict, in pre-pope uniform

Installed in 2005 by his fellow Cardinals to stamp out any embers of tolerance and compassion in the Roman Catholic Church (which, good to say, continue to burn despite his best efforts), he spent his pontificate tirelessly advocating on behalf of cruelty and intolerance.

The lengthy but hardly adulatory obsequies performed the public service of dredging up his sordid career, including these especially notorious clangers:

His embrace of demented Catholic Jew haters:

In January 2009, he lifted the excommunications of four breakaway bishops who belonged to the far-right Society of Saint Pius X. One of them, Richard Williamson, had roused outrage when he said in an interview days earlier that Nazi gas chambers had never existed and that only several hundred thousand Jews had died in the Holocaust, and not as a deliberate Nazi policy.

The pope cast his decision as an effort to heal a schism in the church. His critics said it was an extreme example of his willingness to cater to the far-right Catholic fringe. 

We would never be confused with St. Thomas Aquinas, but isn't it proper for a church supposedly based on charity, love, and the dignity of all to be in schism with hatred and anti-Semitism?  Guess we don't have the keen intellect supposedly possessed by this guy.

His coverup of the worldwide epidemic of priestly rape:

In 1980, when he was archbishop of Munich, he had permitted a priest undergoing psychological treatment for abusing children to be transferred to another parish. The priest abused more victims there and was convicted in 1986. But when the story broke in 2010, it emerged that he had been allowed to return to the ministry and was still serving in a parish.

Defending Benedict, the Vatican said that his assistant in the archdiocese had been responsible. But archdiocese documents revealed that Benedict had led a meeting and was copied on a memo in which the priest’s assignment was discussed.

He leaves behind many children

Sounds like the it-wasn't-me-it-was-Jared defense didn't wash. Although he made a few token efforts to reach out to victims, he did nothing either to provide transparency into his Church's worldwide coverup of sexual abuse (including the efforts of local henchmen like Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law '50, shuffled off to a sinecure in Rome one step ahead of a Suffolk County grand jury) or to honestly grapple with the root causes of priestly sex crimes and their coverup.

Instead, like the Republican defenders of pedophilia and abuse here in America, he chose to smear his political and philosophical opponents:

Benedict attributed the crisis to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, secularization and an erosion of morality that he pinned on liberal theology.  

Because if there's one thing that liberal theologians and thinkers have advocated for, it's the right of priests to forcibly rape children in secret with impunity. (The intentional inflammatory and false conflation of tolerance for those with difference gender preferences with advocacy of child rape has become a core principle of today's Trumpublican right. Benedict should be so proud.) 

His intolerance for other religions, notably Islam:

Everyone thinks their church is the One True Church, so it's to be expected that a Pope would be generally pro-Catholic.  But Benedict went far out of his way to condemn other religions that arose out of the same ethical monotheistic tradition as his.  Like Islam:

Benedict did not shy from voicing what he regarded as uncomfortable truths about Europe’s Christian roots and about other religions, Islam in particular. In his 2006 speech at Regensburg, he said, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.... With tensions already high after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the speech provoked an outcry in the Muslim world. 

Imagine a religion so evil it believes it has a duty to spread its faith at the point of a spear or sword.

Now imagine the Crusades.

His apologists blamed the outrageous insult on his supposed “tin ear” for politics. But you don't get to pass yourself off as the most brilliant Pontiff in a millennium and claim at the same time that you said dumb shit because you were insufficiently political. Especially when you successfully climbed the Vatican greasy pole all the way to the top, which suggests rather more acute political instincts. 

His cruelty to LGBTQ individuals:

You may argue that Benedict's anti-gay position could be justified on the grounds that Catholic doctrine  regards homosexual conduct as sinful, although it gives a pass to the 612 other supposed religious commands in the Book of Leviticus.  But Benedict didn't stop there:

With John Paul’s blessing, the church embraced an orthodoxy that Cardinal Ratzinger largely defined. His office moved against dissenting theologians; spoke out against homosexuality, birth control and abortion; and questioned the validity of other faiths. ...

The congregation’s [the Inquisition Office headed by Benedict d/b/a Ratzinger] delving into social issues provoked similar protests. In 1986, liberal critics objected to a document on pastoral care of homosexuals that discussed homosexuality as an inclination “toward an intrinsic moral evil” and as “an objective disorder.”

Priestly rape by contrast was just a by-product of ... liberal thinking.  As for the Levitical proscriptions against eating storks and wearing blended fabrics, those were not objective moral evils.  Because he said so.

Perhaps that's why with AIDS ravaging the world, Benedict came out against simple life-saving measures:

The bad publicity continued. In March, on his first trip to Africa, Benedict provoked new criticism when he said that condoms were not the answer to the continent’s AIDS crisis. Public health advocates complained not only that he had repeated the church’s long-held opposition to condom use, even as a way to fight the AIDS epidemic, but also that he had gone even further by saying that the distribution of condoms “aggravates” the problem.

You'll be thrilled to know that this brilliant thinker and religious statesman changed his mind two years and thousands of needless deaths later.

He looks forward to meeting new friends in his new home

His, um, flexibility when it came to matters of principle was evident at an early age, when, despite his strong Catholic views, he served as a member in good standing of the, wait for it, Hitler Youth.

That's right: Benedict will go down in history as the only Pope to have served as a card-carrying Nazi.

His apologists said he was automatically and involuntarily enrolled in the fun- and Adolf-loving teen club, based upon the accounts of – Benedict himself.  The future Pope admitted there was a financial aspect to Hitler Youthing: 

later, as a seminarian, I was registered in the HY. As soon as I was out of the seminary, I never went back. That was difficult, because the tuition reduction, which I really needed, was tied to proof of attendance at the HY.

Do these people ever think about anything besides money?

At that time in Germany there were a few brave souls who refused to submit to Nazi terror based on their religious principles.  Some, like Sophie Scholl, paid for their beliefs with their lives.  In her case, though, there was no chance she could ever be Pope.  

Young Ratzinger, on the other hand, wanted to keep his options open.  For him it was the right choice, leading to a lifetime of ease passing judgment on Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ persons, social activists, and many others who were united by little else other than that they were never members of Hitler Youth. 

Perhaps for these reasons the reactions to Benedict's death were a tad on the restrained side:

The archbishop of Boston, Sean O'Malley released a statement:

“In all of my personal interactions with Pope Benedict (the sixteenth) XVI, I found him to be an engaged leader, thoughtful in his decisions and always committed to the mission of the Church.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s statement also highlighted the former pope’s decades of service. Benedict will be remembered as the first pope to voluntarily resign in nearly six hundred years. He stepped down in 2013, citing his advanced age and ebbing strength amid the clergy sex abuse scandal. 

And Delta House had a long tradition of existence to its members. 

We note the passing of this committed if not commitable Catholic leader mostly because the intolerance and immorality he hypocritically espoused in the name of religion lives on, in the United States as white Christian dominionism.  

That should warm Benedict's heart, although given his current location, we suspect he's warm enough already.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

A Heart-Chilling Republican Christmas Story

At least baby Jesus was warm and dry, unlike homeless refugees at the US border.

 

By Emma Goldman
Immigration Correspondent

EL PASO, Texas – It's Christmas in America and around the world.  If you don't remember what is being celebrated, here's a report from this Luke guy, who claims to have inside knowledge:

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 

Luke 2:4-7.

It's damn cold in the hills of Judea in December and the family was fortunate to have a warm place to give birth to their son, Jesus.  From this story Christians derive the mitzvah (perhaps they have another word for it) of caring for those in need, especially those traveling in cold or slowed by pregnancy or infants.

Speaking of poor families trapped in the cold and seeking shelter, the Border Report tells us:

Churches and nonprofits that help asylum-seekers in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas are rallying to assist thousands of migrants before temperatures plunge below freezing.

Officials in South Texas also are opening up warming centers to help asylum-seekers who have been released from the Department of Homeland Security but have nowhere safe to go as a frigid blast of Arctic air is expected to move into the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday.

By the way, here's the weather in El Paso: 

So it's no wonder that Catholic organizations, aided by local governments and other institutions of good will, are mobilizing to shelter homeless refugees who have crossed the border into the U.S.:

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told Border Report that officials are working to convert the Mercedes Civic Center into a warming center.

“There’s been a coordination between all the different partners dealing with this matter,” Cortez said. “I’m concerned but the good thing is we have Catholic Charities and a large group of Catholic churches and centers and we’re trying to prepare.”

At the same time, other Catholic relief agencies, such as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), inspired by what they believe are Catholic values, are providing legal counsel to penniless refugees seeking to establish their legal right to asylum:

CLINIC’s Catholic identity infuses every aspect of its work—how it is governed, who it serves, how it treats its clients, the way it works, and why it does the work that it does.

CLINIC was founded by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops and is governed by a board comprised of a majority of bishops, along with women and men whose professional backgrounds provide helpful context for our work. CLINIC serves as a legal support agency for diocesan immigration programs.

Second, the kinds of cases and advocacy positions taken by the network—involving family reunification, protection of the persecuted, empowerment through work, authorization, legal status and citizenship—have their roots in Catholic social teaching.

Third, CLINIC views newcomers in their full human dignity, not solely from a legal service perspective....

Fourth, CLINIC takes the Catholic view that advocacy draws its legitimacy from service. Service allows advocates to give voice to newcomers, not to speak “for” them.

Fifth, CLINIC has adopted a principle of Catholic social teaching—subsidiarity....This allows CLINIC to focus its limited resources on needs that local programs cannot meet. In this way, CLINIC seeks to leverage maximum legal representation for low-income newcomers.

Sixth, the CLINIC safeguards the rights and promotes the dignity of all newcomers. The network does not distinguish among prospective clients based on race, religion or ethnic background. 

These gratifying humanitarian efforts are surely worthy of praise from anyone with an ounce of human decency or empathy, and certainly from anyone who proclaims themselves a Christian, right?

As others have pointed out, though, there's a world of difference between Jesus and Republican Jesus.   Following the teachings of Republican Jesus, the supposedly Christian Governor and Attorney General of Texas (the latter under criminal indictment) have threatened Catholic relief organizations and anyone else with the temerity to provide aid and succor to sojourners at our doorstep:

Threatening Catholic volunteers who have chosen to spend their holidays feeding, sheltering, and representing freezing refugees with criminal prosecution – it's Christmastime in Texas:

In announcing his call for an investigation, [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott cited reports that NGOs assisted in illegal border crossings near El Paso, and that those same NGOs and some in other border sectors also orchestrated other border crossings “through activities on both sides of the border.”

“In light of these reports, I am calling on the Texas Attorney General’s Office to initiate an investigation into the role of NGOs in planning and facilitating the illegal transportation of illegal immigrants across our borders,” Abbott said, adding that he is ready to craft legislative solutions aimed at solving the border crisis and the role of NGOs that Paxton’s office proposes.

[Texas AG Ken] Paxton swiftly replied to Abbott’s call saying he will launch the investigation, and pledging to take action against organizations found violating the law.

Rupert's yellow press sez it's a crisis

Now maybe crooked Attorney General Ken Paxton thinks that indicting Catholic relief workers is no big deal.  After all, he's been under indictment for five years and he's nowhere near facing a jury. 

The organizations aiding refugees, perhaps having read about other Catholics who suffered even worse fates for acting on their religious principles, were undaunted:

El Paso faith-based immigration organizations were quick to rebuke the claims, and the investigation.

Dylan Corbett, executive director of the HOPE Border Institute, said...that Abbott’s call for an investigation “is a vile threat to all of us on the border working to pick up the pieces of a broken immigration system, to create legal pathways for vulnerable migrants and to offer a dignified welcome.”

Fair and balanced CNN says so too.

“This intimidation is beneath the dignity of public service,” he said.

Not in Texas.

Of course, state interference with the lawful practice of providing representation to asylum seekers, a right guaranteed by federal law, violates the Supremacy Clause as well the civil rights of refugees. If only the United States Department of Justice had a division devoted to protecting civil rights, something might be done about this obviously illegal intimidation.

You won't hear much about this outrage in media coverage of the looming “crisis” at the border, which crisis consists of the specter of harmless refugees crossing into El Paso without safe temporary accommodation until they can arrange transport to their intended destinations.  The crisis is supposedly that they are sleeping on the streets, within eye-shot of white Texans.

Axios for the crisis hat trick!

Since the illegal and patently fraudulent invocation in 2020 of spurious public health grounds to bar asylum seekers by the bigots and plug-uglies of the Trump Administration, there has been an ongoing crisis at the border.

The Mexican side of the border, that is.

That's where desperate refugees, unable to cross, are living out in the cold on the streets of cities like Tiajuana and Ciudad Juarez.  Their suffering over the past two years does not constitute a “crisis”because white Americans don't see it.

Suffering south of the border: not a crisis!

And the suffering on the Mexican (non-crisis) side of the border is by no means limited to mothers and babies camping out in the freezing cold.  It's so much worse, according to Human Rights Watch:

Last week, I spoke to Amelia H. (not her real name) in Juárez, Mexico. She told me that after she entered the United States in September, US border agents stopped her and sent her back to Mexico just before midnight, even though US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) claims it doesn’t expel people after dark. They ordered Amelia to cross despite her pleas to make the trip in the morning. A group of men raped her on her way to a shelter in Mexico that night.

This horror was foreseeable and all too common. I’ve interviewed others who endured rape, abduction, or other violence after US border agents expelled them. Human Rights First has documented nearly 10,000 attacks on people summarily expelled. 

Republican Jesus must be so proud.

This Christmas Eve, it's freezing outside across the country, with a few annoying exceptions (like California).  But no matter how blustery it is outside, it's nowhere near as cold as the hearts of Republican anti-immigrant bigots.

Feliz Navidad. 

 UPDATE, December 25: