I've posted a lot of videos here of the wonderful Tom Lehrer, including some rare material that he wrote and performed for his fellow professors at the University of California, Santa Cruz which fortunately got privately recorded. (Lehrer had taught political science at MIT, and later went to UCSC to teach mathematics -- and even also taught a class in musical theater.) But a couple weeks ago, my pal Mark Evanier had a rarity on his site -- a TV performance by Lehrer with a song I'd never heard before. And it's a lot of fun.
The number is in the spirit of his song "New Math." He was appearing in England on one of David Frost's TV shows (I don't know which one, nor does Mark), and he performed a song he wrote for the occasion. He explains how to convert the old British pounds/shillings system to the new decimal currency, like in the United States, that they were going to be changing to in 1971.
You can find the song here on Mark's website.
And as a bonus, for the folks who like to compare, here is that aforementioned song, "New Math," from his great albums That Was the Year That Was.
Last Wednesday, on Sept. 27, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) gave a speech at the Manhattan Institute in New York City, where he talked about border issues. I was going to say border “crisis” – as his official press release stated – but after hearing some of his comments, I figured that his definition of “crisis” might not be the same as everyone’s.
I don’t say that hyperbolically. I say it because, at one point the Republican governor said – and yes, this is a quote – “And so not only are we building border barriers between the border of Texas and Mexico, we’re also now having to build barriers between Texas and New Mexico.”
Yes, you read that right. Gov. Abbott of Texas wants to build a barrier between Texas and the state of New Mexico. I believe that this has something to do with New Mexico being a safe harbor state. But at this point, I think it’s a losing battle trying to interpret Gov. Abbott’s fascist thinking.
Never mind that prohibiting interstate travel in the United States is wildly and obviously illegal, it also helps define referring to his fascist thinking.
Nonetheless, when reading about Mr. Abbott’s hopes and dreams, I was reminded of an article I wrote for the Huffington Post 16 years ago, on May 16, 2006. I had written a sarcastic article about the State of Illinois building a wall to keep out anyone from Indiana.
And yes, you read the date right. This was back in 2006, a full decade before Trump. It’s not that I was so prescient anticipating him, but rather the idea of building a border wall on the Mexican border to keep out those Mexican folk has been bubbling in the Republican Party since then.
(By the way, this further supports what I’ve long noted that Trump didn’t suddenly turn the GOP fascist. It was percolating in the Republican Party for years, from its xenophobia, hatred of the press and calls for violence against “those damn hippies” and black protestors for civil rights. You may recall the self-proclaimed "Minutemen" group of thugs who were based, I think, in Arizona, and were arming themselves against what they considered border intrusion that required their efforts. Trump merely walked through the fascist door that was left open for him, and called everyone in to join him.)
The weird thing about my satirical article is how many people took it seriously.
[SIDE NOTE UPDATE: After linking to this on Twitter, I got a response that amazed me. Someone wrote that they actually remember my “state border wall” article from 17 years ago! He wrote – “I remember that one! I had just redeployed from Iraq with a unit from Chicago through a National Guard camp in Indiana, and I shared it in our company email chain. If I recall correctly, it was a big hit with them. Never would've guessed less than two decades later the GOP would be beyond parody.” Ha. Amazing!]
And with all this that in mind, and in honor of Texas GOP Gov. Abbott, I thought I’d repost it here. From May 16, 2006 --
Illinois Citizen Group to Build Wall on Indiana Border
A private citizens group in Illinois today announced plans to build a wall along the Indiana border to keep out those they say are streaming across the unprotected state line. The problem, they say, has been growing for the past 30 years.
“Ever since the oil refineries in Gary began closing in the mid-1970s, people there have had to find other income,” states the leader of the group, T. Herbert Duffy. “They’ve been streaming into Chicago ever since.”
Duffy’s organization was founded four months ago in mid-January. “We didn’t actually care about immigration,” he acknowledges. “We just got together because it was so butt-numbing cold that all anyone could do was sit in the basement shivering. So we came up with the idea of this club.”
At first, the only agenda item was to complain about shoveling snow. It was only after the Spring thaw came that the illegal Indianan idea popped up. “Our wives kicked us out of the basement, and we needed another problem or they’d make us come home. That’s when Phil started complaining about having lost his job, and blamed the Illegals from Indiana.”
Although the man had worked in a Galesburg tractor factory that had closed in order to manufacture cheaper overseas, the Minutepeople still knew they had their issue. “It just pissed us off, all those illegal Indianans sneaking into Illinois to steal our jobs and womenfolk. A couple of six-packs will do that.”
The mission grew from there. Starting from only five disgruntled men, they began recruiting, and found that there were enough people who wanted to get out of their house or meet singles that the club grew to its present total of 57 Minutepeople.
“That wasn’t our original name,” Duffy acknowledges. “We wanted to call ourselves Minutemen. We even had a lot of t-shirts made up. But someone thought there was another group with the name. Back in the Civil War or something. [Editor’s note: it was the Revolutionary War.] We figured it was better not to get sued, so we changed it.” A similar situation impacted the women in the club. “We had intended to call them Minutemaids, but we got a ‘Cease and Desist Order” from the orange juice company. So, we’re all Minutepeople.”
The name has its own sense of history, Duffy relates. “My wife would ask me to take out the garbage, mow the lawn, and I’d all always say, ‘In a minute, honey. In a minute.’ The name just stuck.”
As attention to the wall-building grows, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has announced that he is ordering members of the State National Guard to the Illinois-Indiana border. “We will be sending four National Guardsman,” a spokesman for the Governor’s office reports. “There are going to be a lot of drunk guys with loaded firearms in the hot sun, and we don’t want another Dick Cheney incident.”
At present, the wall along the Illinois-Indiana border stretches 12 feet. The Minutepeople hope to have it completed by the end of August, though Duffy figures late-Autumn.
Many experts figure that it will take at least several hundred years. Some suggest longer. “With soil erosion and the natural corroding of cheap materials they bought,” states Lawrence Eberhardt of Eberhardt Fencing, “within 30 years they’ll likely have to start repairing their earlier work.. Then, each year the later-construction will begin falling apart. This could stretch until eternity.”
Duffy and the Minutepeople remain undaunted. They insist they will finish the wall. It’s a mission now to the club. “I know some people have said this is all racist, but that’s not true. If Indians want to live in Indiana, that’s fine. We have some right here. But wherever you live, you don’t enter somebody else’s land uninvited. That’s been true in America ever since the Pilgrims landed in America.”
Duffy is clear to insist, that it’s not just Indians the Minutepeople want to protect Illinois from, but all Illegals. The problem, he says, is that there aren’t enough border guards in Illinois. “Or actually, any.” That’s when they knew they had to build the wall. “To keep all illegal immigrants out. All.”
When asked if that includes illegals from Kentucky, Duffy hedged a little. “That’s the really squiggly part of the state border,” he noted, “and it’s pretty hard to build a wall on something that shape. We can bend our metal piping a little, but not that much.”
However, the Minutepeople are concerned about illegal immigrants from Missouri. “In some ways, they’re worse than Indiana,” the Exalted High Poobah noted. “Who wants all those St. Louis Cardinals fans here?! The Cardinals suck..” But the Minutepeople don’t have any plans to build a fence along the Illinois-Missouri border. “No, that’s why God created the Mississippi River,” states Duffy. “If anyone from Missouri tried to swim across, their fat butts would sink.”
The river, however, is only the first line of defense against both the Missouri and Iowa borders. “If any Illegal tries to drive into Illinois over bridges, you can see them coming. And since it’s mostly single file, that makes them easy to pick off. Also, we’re buying landmines to plant along the shore.”
That only leaves the Wisconsin border to the north.
Duffy admitted that initially the Minutepeople had forgotten about the northern border. But after a good laugh and a couple of beers, he said they all realized, “We really got nothing against Wisconsin. Cheese, beer, how can you not like them? Hate the Green Bay Packers, but the Bears rule, so what? The only thing about Wisconsiners is that when they come here they drive tractors really slow down the middle of the road. Forget ‘em. They’re like us, they’re okay.”
It’s a difficult mission, but one that makes Duffy’s wife Helen extremely proud. “I know the Tribune did a big state poll which said 98% of people in Illinois thought the Minutepeople were idiots, but I don’t believe polls. I’m sure it’s less than that. We do get about 75 phone calls every night yelling at us for being un-American, but I don’t believe phone calls either. I’m sure they’re just wrong numbers. And every morning our house is covered with eggs, but I don’t believe the egg-throwing. I’m sure they’re just trying to give us food for our important work.”
In the end, T. Herbert Duffy is proud of all that he and his Minutepeople have accomplished in so short a time. “Some may call us vigilantes,” he says, appreciating his 12-feet of fence, “and while that is true, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it got us on TV.”
Two days ago, RawStory had an article about Sarah Palin offering her "bizarre" theory on how Democrats "'planned'" the Republican investigation of President Biden. And no, I'm not making that up, including calling her theory "bizarre." But then, since you know plenty enough about Sarah Palin at this point, I doubt that I have to explain that this is real.
Still, though, when it comes to Sarah Palin, the former half-term governor and actual Republican nominee for Vice President has pretty much defied reality, so sometimes things do need confirmation --
I can't say more about her theory, though, since in full disclosure I didn't read the article. Because, in all honesty, I didn't even remotely care. On far, far too many levels. Lunacy should not be coddled.
Seeing this reminded me of one of my proudest columns (and most prescient) for the Huffington Post -- which turned out to be overwhelmingly my most-read article. It's one that I sat down to write literally 30 minutes after John McCain named her as his Vice-Presidential candidate.
I delayed my morning walk that day to watch McCain's announcement. While waiting, the name of his selection had been released to the press, so I did some research about her and started to get upset by the total thinness of her resume to be someone a heartbeat from the most powerful person in the world. But I still wanted to give her a fair chance to see how she presented herself.
I watched the event. and then took off -- but I was so infuriated by his choice, even while knowing little about her and only seeing her introductory comments, that 15 minutes into my walk I couldn't continue, turned around, came right home, sat down and began wrote, "The Worst Vice-Presidential Nominee in U.S. History." Just a half-hour after she was named. She's only continued to prove me right, every single time.
(This article aside, my favorite specific line about her was in a later column during the election. I wrote that "Sarah Palin uses her children like circus props.")
I should add that I was also angry at John McCain, a man whose campaign slogan was to "Putting America First." Because in his very first political decision as the Republican candidate for President, he instead -- as I titled a subsequent article -- put America last.
Put to get back on track, this is about Sarah Palin. And as a Golden Oldie, seeing Sarah Palin trying to re-insert her car crash emptiness into the political landscape, I thought it was a proper time to bring back that original column. So here, from August 29, 2008, is that article written just 30 minutes from when Sarah Palin was introduced to the country as the Republican Party's nominee to be Vice President of the United States.
I believe that over the past 15 years, every word has held up and been born out by history. The article still can be found online, and I am so glad for that because it means the article is date-stamped as proof.
The Worst Vice-Presidential Nominee in U.S. History
There was a TV ad for deodorant that said, "Never let them see you sweat." The John McCain campaign has just showed the world that it is drenched.
Selecting Sarah Palin as its choice for a vice presidential candidate is perhaps the worst such choice in American History. To be fair, maybe there are worst choices, but I don't know how bad William O. Butler was when he ran with Lewis Cass against Zachary Taylor.
But it's far worse than Dan Quayle, who was a sitting senator. Worse even than Geraldine Ferraro, who at least served in Congress for three-terms. And far worse than William Miller, a choice so obscure when selected by Barry Goldwater that he (honestly) later did an American Express commercial asking, "Do you know me?" And that ad was after the election. But even Miller had been a Congressman for 12 years. And been a prosecutor during the Nuremberg War trials against Nazis. Sarah Palin lists her credits as a hockey mom.
There was a point during the Republican primaries when I was trying to figure out who I hoped got the presidential nomination. Someone so weak he'd be easy for the Democrats to beat, or someone more challenging who at least wouldn't be a disaster for America. I decided on the latter because America has to resolve its serious problems and can't afford risking some glitch where another George Bush got elected. And so I felt that John McCain, for all his weaknesses, was the lesser of all evils and was glad he got the nomination. Throw that out the window. McCain-Palin is an unthinkable disaster.
I completely understand the reasoning behind the decision for John McCain to select Sarah Palin. Absolutely. It's the thinking that settled on Sarah Palin that's missing.
No doubt John McCain will get some women to vote for him who wouldn't have otherwise, and even some independents. But he will also probably lose as many Republicans uncomfortable with a woman on the ticket - let alone a woman with so little as Sarah Palin. Not to mention that the choice will cause many undecided Democratic women to be aghast and push them back to following their Democratic beliefs. And further, it will lose all the independents who look at the GOP ticket and say "This is who I'm supposed to give my vote for the next four years to lead and protect America??" It may even appeal to right-wing evangelicals for her strong pro-life stance and get some to vote - but that position and others related to it are specifically what loses even more women voters. And men. Ultimately, the nomination will lose far, far more votes than it gains.
But this is not the reason the decision is so terrible.
It's always said that the most important decision a presidential candidate makes is their pick for vice president. It shows their thinking and judgment. John McCain, in his first decision, has just told the world that he believes Sarah Palin is the most qualified person to be a heartbeat from the presidency. Forgetting all the available men for a moment, if John McCain felt it critical to select a woman in an effort to somehow grab the Hillary Clinton supporters, look at his choice of women he had available: Christine Todd Whitman, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Elizabeth Dole, Susan Collins, even - for goodness sake - Condoleezza Rice. Or Carly Fiorina. Each of these have marks against them, and perhaps some might not have wanted to run, but it's near-impossible to look at the list and suggest to the American public that Sarah Palin is the best choice of Republican women to be vice president. And again, this is ignoring the men he who could have been chosen.
It's not that Sarah Palin is inexperienced. It's that this is gross political misconduct.
Sarah Palin has been governor of Alaska for just a bit over 18 months. Alaska has a population of 683,000. (Though that doesn't include moose.) This would only make it the 17th most populous city in the United States. Just ahead of Fort Worth.
Before that, she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Population 9,000. I know Republicans like to promote "small town values," but this is taking things to ridiculous extremes, don't you think? I'm from Glencoe, Illinois, population 8,762. It's so small it doesn't even have a mayor, it has an appointed village manager. I'm sure that Paul Harlow is doing wonderfully at his job in the village - but I don't expect that he sees himself as even wanting to be a heartbeat from the U.S. President in 18 months. You know what the top news story is on the Glencoe website? "Fire Hydrant Painting Underway." (To be fair, it's the #2 story. The top news is a clarification about displaying political signage.)
Do you know what the first two "powers and duties" are for the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska? Check their municipal code.
1. Preside at council meetings. The mayor may take part in the discussion of matters before the council, but may not vote, except that the mayor may vote in the case of a tie;
2. Act as ceremonial head of the city;
If you live in small town America (and I mean really, really small), look around you and be honest - do you see your mayor (or village manager) as a heartbeat from the presidency in 18 months?
But that's not the reason either that the decision to make Sarah Palin the VP nominee is so terrible.
It's one thing to discuss how unqualified Sarah Palin is. That's a national matter and huge. But on a grassroots political level, her nomination takes away the Republicans' ONLY weapon in the campaign - calling Barack Obama inexperienced. They haven't even been trying to run on the issues, or on the eight-year record of George Bush, which John McCain has supported almost 95% of the time. They've only been running on the faux-issue of Barrack Obama's experience of 14 years in federal and state government. Yes, Sarah Palin is merely running for VP, not president, but with a 72 year-old candidate with a history of serious medical issues, this is who they're saying is able to step in as president in a heart-beat. She has so little experience that she makes Sen. Obama look like FDR, Winston Churchill and Julius Caesar combined. So, the Republicans pulled the rug out from under themselves. They have no issues. The economy? Housing? The national debt? Education? The Environment? Iraq? Afghanistan? Nothing. All they have is "Dear Democratic women: please pretend our VP candidate is Hillary Clinton. Just forget that she's pro-life. And against most things Democrats stand for."
But that's not the reason the decision is so terrible.
Because if the hope for John McCain is to get women to vote for him who otherwise supported Hillary Clinton - if anything could get Hillary Clinton campaigning in full force and fury…this is it. She likely would have campaigned hard, but it's in Hillary Clinton's best interest to be the leading voice for women, and the leading woman candidate for president in the future, so having another woman as the potential Vice President (and potential President) is a significant challenge to that. The Republicans just opened Pandora's Box and brought Hillary Clinton roaring to Barack Obama's side on the Democratic train. And Bill Clinton, too.
Yet even that's not the reason the decision is so terrible.
What this does in the most profound and grandiose way possible is give lie to John McCain's pompous posturing that he Always Puts America First. And that undercuts the most prominent campaign issue of his entire career, that everything he does is for reasons of honor. There is nothing honorable about making Sarah Palin your vice presidential nominee. Nothing. Unless you define honor as "blatantly pandering."
But that's not the reason either that this decision is so terrible.
But before we get to that, let's look at the actual announcement to make Gov. Sarah Palin (AK - pop. 683,000) the Republican nominee for president, and put the horrible decision in perspective.
First, John McCain stood at the podium, looking up-and-down reading his speech. It's impossible not to compare that to Barack Obama giving his majestic speech the night before that even conservative analysts were admiring in awe.
Second, the cameras were polite enough to avoid it, but there were empty seats in the gym. It's impossible not to compare that to a stadium of 75,000 people that Barack Obama spoke to the night before.
Third, when people around the nation were waiting to hear about Sarah Palin's qualifications and gravitas to be Vice President of the United States, the first five minutes of her speech were spent talking about her husband being a champion snowmobiler.
Fourth, when she finally got around to her qualifications, pretty much all we discovered was that she fought to cut property taxes. And then, she basically stopped there.
She did, however, mention becoming energy self-sufficient - by talking about how she supported drilling in Alaska!!! Perhaps to Republicans this is being an environmentalist, but to most of America, not so much. Then again, she's also against putting polar bears on the endangered species list (which the government did), so maybe her environmental qualifications are more lax than she thinks.
And then, finally, she spent the rest of her time praising John McCain. Fine, that's very supportive of her…except that the one question on everyone's mind was not -- "can you say John McCain is a swell guy and tell us that he was a POW", the question on everyone's mind was - "Who in God's name are you, and please tell us why you should be a heart-beat from the presidency?"
In the end, the only case she herself made for being on the ticket was praising Hillary Clinton! That's it, period. Now, it might be enough to attract some women -- but it doesn't make a case for the ticket. Why? Hint: some women did vote for Hillary Clinton solely because she was a woman. But most women voted for Hillary Clinton because she was a Democrat, as well as a woman, who stood for important Democratic values they seriously believed in. If Sarah Palin wants to praise Hillary Clinton, go for it. But at least understand what you're praising. Because it will likely come back and bite you.
It was a thin, nothing, empty speech. It was a speech to be head of the Chamber of Commerce. Compare that to the speech by Joe Biden when Barack Obama introduced him. Eloquent, soaring and explaining in blunt detail why John McCain should not be president. Joe Biden must have been watching Sarah Palin's speech, in order to take notes in preparation for his debate with her and thought, "This isn't fair."
And all that's not even the reason the decision is so terrible.
The reason is because the election is not about Sarah Palin. Or about Joe Biden. As much as TV analysts want to be excited by the balloons and hoopla, tomorrow the air will be let out, and there are still over two months to go for the campaign.
The campaign is about Barack Obama and John McCain.
Sarah Palin's nomination doesn't change that. In fact, it reinforces it. Nothing about putting Sarah Palin on the GOP ticket changes a word that Barack Obama said in his vibrant acceptance speech - about himself, about his issues, and about John McCain's repeatedly faulty judgment on the critical issues facing America.
What Sarah Palin's nomination does do is focus attention on John McCain's age. Indeed, the nomination was made on his birthday, when he turned 72, the oldest man ever to run for president. As the crowd sang "Happy Birthday to You," you almost sensed that through John McCain's clenched smile, saying, "Thanks for reminding me," that what he was thinking underneath was "Please, oh, please, don't sing the 'How old are you now?' part." And how good a message was it that he's saying he supposedly forgot it was his birthday?
Vice presidents are usually selected as people who are adept at blasting the other side's presidential candidate, because it's only the presidential candidate that matters. Joe Biden has already done that - twice - at length, spoken as someone who knows John McCain well and likes him. Sarah Palin had her first chance…and whiffed. Didn't even try. And it's hard to imagine what she has in her arsenal that will remotely allow her to do so in the future.
The election is about the presidential candidates. And the selection of Sarah Palin now allows Barack Obama to campaign untouched by the Republican ticket. John McCain's only other option is for himself to personally become negative for two months - which is disaster in presidential politics.
Now add on all the problems expressed above. Sarah Palin's inexplicably laughable lack of substance, most-especially on the foreign policy stage. Her taking away the one issue, experience, Republicans were even attempting. Her pushing away voters who might otherwise be willing to vote for a senator with 26 years in the Senate. Her bringing Hillary Clinton aggressively back into the campaign. Her inability to offer anything to off-set Joe Biden. Her standing as supposedly the most-qualified Republican woman as John McCain's first decision.
And, in the end, it all focuses back on Barack Obama, with his indictment of eight years of the Bush Administration and of John McCain's flawed judgment - and John McCain's defense of all that.
Republicans might be dancing earlier today, because there was a lot of fun music playing. But the music has stopped. The actual campaign has now started. For Republicans, it might have ended.
Here's is the second of two articles (the first is here) that I wrote for the Huffington Post 11 years ago in 2011 -- and the third in my series of articles about the Republican Party's 70 year war on education. This one is appropriately titled, "The War on Education." It overlaps with yesterday's article, but has different information taken in a slightly different direction. (Honestly, at this point, a decade later, I don't recall why I wrote two similar articles seven months apart, but my guess is that there was something in the news that prompted the second one -- plus it's an observation that I think deserves to be repeated regularly.)
This all began with my article on Monday about how Trump and the GOP are now pushing their base to follow QAnonymous, something that is based on literally NOT KNOWING. Because -- as has been the case for the past 70 years -- the Republican Party has clearly determined that it's in their party's best interest to have a base that sees education as a bad thing and therefore must rely on whatever GOP party leaders tell them. And so, when you get a Trump who says "I alone can fix it" and lies 30,753 documented times during his four years in office and pushes what is literally a totally anonymous voice to trust with its made-up conspiracies, the GOP base -- which has been disciplined to distrust education and learning and knowledge -- will believe and follow whatever fascist, utter foolishness is fed them.
The other day, the Washington Post released a poll that showed, among other things, how the vast majority of Republicans believe, despite reality, that President Biden hasn't done anything. What that means is that GOP base has either blocked from its consciousness or is totally unaware that President Biden had passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (from which all Americans, including Republicans individually actually got desperately-needed money during the pandemic), the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Bill, the $740 million Inflation Reduction Act (which capped yearly drug costs at $2,000, capped insulin costs at $30 for those on Medicare, brought about major environmental protections, created a minimum 15% corporate tax on businesses that have long-evaded paying taxes, and much more), the first significant gun safety bill in 28 years, the PACT Act to provide health care for veterans -- and (again) much more.
And most of these bill were passed with zero Republican support.
And a vast majority of Republicans actually believe (I was going to say "think," but that seems inappropriate) that President Biden has done nothing.
Which brings us back to the point here, and this article from 11 years ago, on how the Republican Party has been working for 70 years to ensure its base sees education as the enemy.
The War on Education
December 1, 2011
Several years ago, a conservative fellow I was talking with got into a lather about a criticism he often heard. “Why is it,” he asked, “that liberals always say that Republican politicians aren’t smart?”
I politely avoided the quick answer. Besides, it wouldn’t have explained things properly. The truth is that “Republican politicians” aren’t remotely stupid. And there are plenty of Democratic politicians who are head-banging idiots.
That doesn’t mean the ball field is equal. It’s not. And conservatives only have themselves to blame for the rules they wrote and have been playing by for over half-a-century:
You Can’t Trust Really Smart People, Education Gets in the Way of Common Sense, Science is the Enemy of Religious Faith, College is for Over-privileged Elitists, Facts Matter Less Than What You Believe.
Those are the familiar rules that Republicans created. But it’s only the starting point. Because after making the rules, they played the game.
When Adlai Stevenson ran again Dwight Eisenhower for president in 1952, the big criticism that Republicans launched against Stevenson was that he was “an egghead.” Meaning, he was much too smart to be trusted.
When John Kennedy was elected president in 1960, Republicans disparaged him for filling the White House with his “Harvard Mafia.” Meaning, there were all these people so smart they were scary dangerous.
After Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, he put college students high on his Enemies List. Meaning…well, that one’s pretty obvious. Especially considering that troops were later sent onto the campus of Kent State, and four students were shot dead.
In 1988, the first George Bush campaigned for president as “the education president” – yet in a speech to service workers in Los Angeles explained it wasn’t necessary to go to college. This was an absolutely valid position, but spoke volumes from a leader supposedly promoting education.
When the second George Bush was president, he trumpeted his “No Child Left Behind” program – and then under-funded it, leaving those very schoolchildren far behind.
In 1996, the Republican Party platform stood for abolishing the Department of Education.
Last year, 111 Republican senators, congressman or national candidates were on record to abolish the Department of Education.
This only touches the surface of the ground-and-air war against education that conservatives have been playing. A relentless pounding against the importance of education, to reject facts, ignore history, dismiss science. To mistrust the news media. When information is diminished, it requires needing to rely on others. It demands having faith that others will lead you safely.
Indeed, it is no accident that conservative politicians court the religious right as their party’s base. Religion is centered on belief, on unquestioning faith. And that is the path to unquestioning faith in everything.
It is no wonder that New Yorker author Ron Suskind reported a Bush White House official ridiculing those who live in “the reality-based community.”
It is no wonder that the far right dismisses the science of global warming. And when science offers the breadth of cures from stem-cell research, we saw the far right fight the science.
And it is no wonder that conservatives cry to see Barack Obama’s report card, hoping the mere suggestion will demean his impressive education that includes being elected president of the Harvard Law Review and graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.
If one doubts this, consider that you never heard Republicans demand to see George Bush’s college report card. Or called for the report cards of John McCain – who graduated 894 out of 899 students at the Naval Academy. Or insisted that Ronald Reagan release his report cards from Eureka College, where he did theatricals.
Yet Republicans made Ronald Reagan a conservative god. And it had zero to do with his education. And y’know, it didn’t even have as much to do with his conservative credentials, given how often he raised taxes, massively increased the national debt, signed a bill for amnesty to illegal immigrants and, as governor, signed an abortion rights bill. He might not be able to get past the primaries if he ran today.
Many conservatives don’t realize all these things about Mr. Reagan’s politics, but then…well, that’s the whole point of education, which teaches you how to learn such quaint things.
But when you are told for half-a-century that you can’t trust smart people and science, you end up with a party that lays itself open to a leadership vacuum.
And so, at one time or another, we get Donald Trump, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, a pizza guy and even Sarah Palin leading the pack for the Republican nomination. And now Newt Gingrich, who, as Paul Krugman put it, is a “stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.”
No doubt, some will be up in arms by how supposedly-elitist this all is. Of course, wanting everyone to be as educated as possible is the exact opposite of elitism.
But then, calling others “education elitists” is one of those standard, conservative rules to demean education. Which proves the point.
Which brings us back, finally, to my conservative acquaintance wondering why liberals always say that Republican politicians aren’t smart. The problem is that he was looking at the wrong thing. This isn’t a matter of who is smart. There will always be people much smarter than you, me and even the smart people. Reading about a Francis Bacon, Voltaire, Galileo, Denis Diderot or Benjamin Franklin can only make one feel breathtaking awe. Republicans and Democrats are both bright and foolish. What this is about is the intentional, driven campaign for 60 years of Republican Party leadership to intentionally downgrade the importance of education. And what results from that when a party does such a thing to itself.
In short, it’s simple: if you don’t want to be angered when your candidates are perceived as less than brilliant, then promote brilliance. Don’t make it your platform to abolish the Department of Education. Don’t claim that opinion supplants fact.
Ultimately, though, there is something far more important at issue than mere politics.
Will Durant, with his wife Ariel, wrote the legendary Story of Civilization. Eleven volumes, over 8,000 pages of discovery that remains today insightful, even-handed and remarkable. And after they finished, they put together The Lessons of History. Written over 40 years ago, in 1968, its perception is as fresh as any news headline you will read.
“Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign. Education has spread, but intelligence is perpetually retarded by the fertility of the simple. A cynic remarked that ‘you mustn’t enthrone ignorance just because there is so much of it.’ However, ignorance is not long enthroned, for it lends itself to manipulation by the forces that mold public opinion. It may be true, as Lincoln supposed, that ‘you can’t fool all the people all the time,’ but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.”
My dad enjoyed my writings on the Huffington Post and we held similar feelings about politics, so our conversations about it were generally good, interesting and fun. He had excellent insights, which tended to tilt far more to the cynical side than me when it came to politics, although he was pretty liberal, even at 94.
However, whenever I wrote a column with an early observation that he hadn’t seen written about anywhere else, it wasn’t so much that he discounted it, but he held it in abeyance. “If that was true, why hasn’t the New York Times written about it?” he would always ask. My answer was always that I had thought of it first, but that wasn’t good enough. He would believe my insight, but not until there was a second source. And that source pretty much had to be the New York Times, to which he had a subscription.
It wasn’t his news Bible, though close. He didn't always subscribe to it -- it didn't even have a national paper until semi-recently, and even then he didn't subscribe. That was only much latter when he and my mom moved to to their independent living residence. For a long while decades before, he probably most relied on the excellent Chicago Daily News, but when that evening publication went out of business in 1978, he lost it as his Talmud. Much of the staff went to its sister morning, the morning Chicago Sun-Times, which we also subscribed to – but though the paper was good, and then improved, it was a “tabloid’ format, so that kept it from being a religious source for him. Eventually, the Sun-Times got bought out by Rupert Murdoch in 1984, a lot of their reporters left – notably Mike Royko – for the long-hated Chicago Tribune, and my dad left, too. He dropped his subscription and instead started getting the long-hated Tribune. (As it happened, Murdoch at to sell the Sun-Times only two years later when he bought the UHF station WFLD, but by then so many people had bailed.) But though the Trib had improved greatly over the years, and in the ‘80s had actually become pretty good, in fact, the reason it was long-hated by so many was its long history of being owned by the virulent ultra-conservative Colonel Robert McCormick. And given that my dad grew up in that era, even as much as the paper improved to the point where he was willing to actually subscribe, it was a hurdle much too high to get over for it to become his news Bible. It was a source, and so were a few other well-regarded publications, but the New York Times was as close to the ultimate Scripture for him.
(A slight digression. I had two columns that were his favorite. One was about Camp Nebagamon, and because so many people who belonged to his country club had kids who went there, he just dearly loved when they'd come up to him and tell him they'd read the article. The other was a weird story: when Barack Obama was running for president and suddenly fell behind John McCain who'd just named Sarah Palin his running mate. I wrote a HuffPo article, "12 Reasons why Obama Will Beat McCain." And soon after, some total stranger in Ohio forwarded the article to a friend of his in Chicago -- not knowing that this Chicago friend happened to be friend of my dad. So, when my dad's friend told him about getting the article forwarded, my dad thought that was just about the greatest thing.)
But back to the point here.
A week ago to the day, last Thursday I wrote an article of “Today’s Pondering” where I wrote that “Trump’s insurrection lawyer John Eastman had been a Supreme Court clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas.” And to this I added –
“It would seem to me that a clerk for Justice Thomas would know the Justice’s wife. Probably quite well. Which would mean that John Eastman knew Ginni Thomas. And it strikes me as not remotely unreasonably that, the two would cross paths and talk on occasion.” And from there I noted it was hard to imagine that she didn't mention to her husband about having talked to his old Supreme Court clerk.
For the record, “Remotely unreasonable” is what’s known as polite understatement.
Which brings us to the breaking news story in the Washington Post last night, written by Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey and Emma Brown. It begins –
“The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol has obtained email correspondence between Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and lawyer John Eastman, who played a key role in efforts to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, according to three people involved in the committee’s investigation.
“The emails show that Thomas’s efforts to overturn the election were more extensive than previously known, two of the people said. The three declined to provide details and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.”
The full article can be found here.
I’m not sure if my dad would have completely accepted my theory from a week ago. He probably would have thought it wasn’t crazy, but said if there was proof to it, why hadn’t anyone else written about it.
This morning I think he'd have believed it. No, it wasn’t from the New York Times -- but he liked the Washington Post, too, and understood the concept of papers getting a scoop on their competitors. Also, he liked "Rachel" and Lawrence O'Donnell, and because the latter reported the story, that would have been added confirmation.
By the way, I would suggest, too, that as blockbuster as this report from the Post is, I feel confident that communication between Trump lawyer Eastman and Supreme Court Justice’s wife Thomas wasn’t limited to emails. I’m sure they spoke, as well, and perhaps even met. And my general certainty aside, even the Post article says, “The emails show that Thomas’s efforts to overturn the election were MORE EXTENSIVE [emphasis added] than previously known.”
To be clear, I don't think my observation was anything special. I'm sure it crossed the minds of many. But I just hadn't seen any articles or commentary bringing it up.
And one other related thing. Let's bend over backwards and beyond all rational reason believe that Justice Clarence had absolutely no idea in the world about his wife's actions trying to overthrow the government and no idea at all who she was writing to and talking to. And so, he's had no reason to recuse himself from any court cases that concern the election. Let's totally unreasonably believe that. Well, fine -- but he knows now. So, he has absolutely no reason to not recuse himself from such cases anymore. Other than, "I don't have to, and I don't want to."
Anyway, for those who may have missed that original article a week ago, you can read the full thing here.
And man, after reading all this and it now being on the record, is is really hard not to snark out, "...but her emails!!!"
So, there were three more mass shootings – yesterday. And seven over the weekend One in Philadelphia had 14 people shot. Another in Chattanooga also had 14 people shot. In all, at last count, 12 people were killed by gunshot.
To help deal with this, maybe Ted Cruz (R-TX) can explain that there were too many doors.
Perhaps Ken Buck (R-CO) can talk once again about needing an AR-15 to protect his chickens.
Possibly Greg Steube (R-FL) can show off his guns again during a House committee Zoom meeting and swagger how he can do whatever he wants with them because he’s at home.
Maybe even Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party might actually mention the word "gun."
I don’t know if “too many doors” is the problem, especially since both mass shootings were outside. However, I think it’s becoming clear that part of the problem is too many Republicans in Congress.
One question for the GOP and NRA and the religious right -- when there are two mass shootings of 28 people and multiple deaths that overlap on the same day, can Republicans use their "Thoughts and prayers" (tm) for both?
Unrelated to these two mass shootings yesterday, but with such impeccable timing, Rudy Giuliani was on TV Friday and at one point was talking about all the mass shootings and mass murders over the past years and oddly asked, "Do you remember a mass murder when I was mayor? I don't. If it happened, I don't remember. It couldn't have been too mass. I don't remember a mass murder." Even putting aside the massive mass murders on 9/11 to only consider gun-related mass murders (which I assume was really his poorly and thoughtlessly phrased point) -- and putting aside, too, that just because he doesn't remember any doesn't mean they don't exist: the assault weapons ban was passed in 1994. Rudy Giuliani was mayor from 1994-2001. So...thanks, Rudy, for confirming the effectiveness of the assault weapons ban!!
Almost 10 years ago, I wrote an article on the Huffington Post about a theory I had for dealing with the gun reform issue. It was largely facetious, though only “largely” because I used over-exaggeration to help make the point. But the point holds, without the exaggeration for effect.
It was also “largely” facetious because I didn’t think any states would pursue it. As it happens, the city of Chicago passed a law that – while not nearly the same – did sort of overlap with it. And when a series of Red states passed their draconian laws to get around federal abortion laws, there was concern on the far-right that liberal states might use the same principle to pass gun reform laws. And as it happens, that was exactly the point behind my theory, which you can see from the title.
So, here is that article from March 13, 2013.
The Good Thing We Can Learn from Anti-Abortion States
I was watching the news the other day, seeing several more stories about how states are continuing to get around the legality of abortion. Though abortion is legal, the states are writing laws to make the availability of abortion near impossible. These could be from zoning laws, or code requirements and medical licensing. As a result, if the ability to have an abortion isn’t available to a woman, it doesn’t matter how legal it is. You can’t get an abortion.
I can only imagine how wrenching this is to women who want to exercise their legal right to have an abortion. Especially if it’s for health reasons. But any reason.
After I finished ungnashing my teeth, however, I realized that there’s a lesson that can be learned here – not about abortions, but another issue that’s just as divisive. And using those lessons, it would be possible to start making a dent in a problem that the vast majority of Americans are now saying they want addressed.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that the most rabid gun advocates and the radical fringe group, the NRA, are right, that the Second Amendment is inviolate and that every American has the right to buy whatever gun they want, no matter how many rounds of ammunition the weapon can fire in 10 seconds.
Using the logic and tactics of the anti-abortion activists, however, there is nothing to say that states – or even local communities – can’t take that legal right and make it as unavailable as possible.
Some suggestions to start with.
Anyone who wants to sell a gun can only do so in a standalone store that has a business license permitting operation.
Any gun store must also have a separate license to sell guns.
Any license to sell guns is good for only one, specific type of gun.
Any license to sell a specific type of gun is good for only one manufacturer.
A gun store must meet certain zoning and code requirements:
No gun store can be within 1,000 feet of a liquor store, tavern or any establishment that sells tobacco.
No gun store can be within a mile of any school or place of worship.
A gun store shall be licensed to sell guns only. No other merchandise may be sold, including tobacco, alcohol, soft drinks, chewing gum or beef jerky.
A gun store must have at least one bathroom for every employee.
No gun store may operate any electronic food devices, including but not limited to a refrigerator, coffee pot, hot plate and microwave.
A gun store is required to have air conditioning, sound-proofed ceilings, locked cases in which all guns are kept, and be wheelchair accessible.
Only one gun may be removed from a locked case at a time.
Ammunition cannot be sold in a gun store, but must be sold in an ammunition shop only.
An ammunition shop shall be licensed to sell ammunition only, and no other products.
Every box of bullets must be individually licensed.
An ammunition shop cannot be within 1,000 feet of a gun store.
An ammunition shop cannot be within 2,000 feet of a liquor store, tavern or any establishment that sells tobacco.
No gun store can be without five miles of any school or house of worship.
The owner of a gun store or ammunition shop must pass an official test to be personally licensed.
A gun or ammunition store owner license is good for one year only.
The owner of a gun store or ammunition shop is required yearly to take a two-week gun safety course.
The gun safety course must be retaken every year.
A two-day refresher course for gun safety must be taken quarterly for gun store owners.
Any employee of a gun store or ammunition shop must be licensed yearly and take a four-day gun safety course every year.
Any owner or employee of a gun store must have a high school diploma from the state in which he or she works.
No owner or employee of a gun store or ammunition shop may have ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or more than two traffic violations in any calendar year.
Any alcohol-related conviction prohibits someone from selling guns or ammunition for a probationary period of three years.
An owner or employee of a gun store must pass a target score at a licensed gun range each quarter with every gun model the store sells. Failure to pass a minimum score for any gun invalidates all other scores and that employee may not sell guns.
Neither guns nor ammunition may be sold on the Sabbath.
Before selling a gun, the salesperson must get an MRI brain scan and consult with a psychologist to ensure that they understand the full ramifications of their actions.
All owners of a gun store or ammunition shop must offer Affordable Health Care to all its employees.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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