2024 Election, Trump

Send in the Loser …

One of the most iconic moments in the history of baseball took place on October 8, 1956, the fifth game of that year’s World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The moment was captured on film when Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, a 5-foot, 8-inch fire plug, leapt into the arms of his battery mate, 6-foot, 4-inch Don Larsen. They were celebrating Larsen’s moment of perfection – a perfect game in the World Series, something never done before or since.

October 8, 1956, Yankees catcher Yogi Berra leaps into the arms of pitcher Don Larsen after Larsen struck out the last Brooklyn Dodgers batter to complete his perfect game.

Larsen, a 14-year Major League veteran and, with all respect, a player with a genuinely mediocre career save for that perfect game, never did anything on the field even remotely as memorable as that Game Five in 1956.

Big Don, who lived his post-playing life in Hayden Lake, Idaho and was a very affable guy, ended up with an overall losing record as a pitcher – 81 wins, 91 loses. During his career Larsen won more games than he lost in only six seasons. Maybe the second most memorable thing he did was get traded to the Athletics in 1959 for an up-and-coming right fielder named Roger Maris.

I thought of Don Larsen this week as I read a biting takedown of another mediocre, fluky one-time winner by Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney. “It’s like the aging pitcher who keeps losing games,” Romney said of a proven political loser who wants the ball again. “If we want to win, we need a different pitcher on the mound.”

Don’t count on it.

Reports of the demise of the most corrupt, incompetent, sedition-inspiring president in American history are likely premature. There remains 40 percent of the GOP electorate willing to join him in burning his party to the ground as he warms up to complete a historic losing streak.

Still, it’s almost an insult to a mediocre ballplayer to compare Don Larsen’s losing record to The Former Guy, but there are some parallels, and some differences.

Donald Trump’s one moment of triumph came against arguably the one person in American politics he could have beaten. At least Don Larsen created his one moment in the sun by no hitting a line-up that included Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider, all Hall of Famers.

Trump, on the other hand, prevailed over a remarkably lackluster Republican primary line-up – remember Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco and Low Energy Jeb – and then lost the popular vote to the hardly “likeable enough” Hillary Clinton. It wasn’t a feat of strength of real ability, it was a testament to being in the right place at the right time and having lightening strike.

Now having lost a second presidential election, after being impeached twice, after inciting an insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, after grifting through his oath of office, and now facing more legal jeopardy than a Gambino family crime boss, he wants another chance. There is no fast ball, but the sucker pitch is still in his repertoire.

Larsen began his 1956 season with what the New York Times called “an early dawn escapade” during spring training when the lanky pitcher “wrapped his automobile around a telephone poll.” Larsen said he had fallen asleep at the wheel, an explanation about as believable as Trump’s claim that he declassified hundreds of documents, many top secret that he pilfered from the White House.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post placed news of Trump’s announcement on Page 26

When the failed real estate developer announced for president again this week not a single Republican member of Congress bothered to attend his low energy rollout of grievance and lies. Rupert Murdoch’s conservative propaganda empire has written him off. Billionaire donors are saying they’ve had enough.

Wyoming Republican Senator Cynthia Lummis, no liberal squish, bristled when asked if she’d be backing Trump again. “I don’t think that’s the right question,” Lummis said, “I think the question is who is the current leader of the Republican Party. Oh, I know who it is: Ron DeSantis.”

Such displays are “completely cynical,” in the words of Peter J. Wehner, a top aide to the second George Bush. “They’re now breaking with him not because he’s done anything unethical or immoral — he’s been doing that for decades. It’s simply because they are now making the judgment that he is no longer the path to power.”

If you recall, it was just a few weeks ago that Lummis and most fellow Wyoming Republicans united behind a Trump backed election denier in order – and on Trump’s orders – to defeat Liz Cheney, the anti-Trump scourge who has vowed to make sure the GOPs permanent seditionist never again gets close to the Oval Office.

Two weeks is a lifetime in politics and the last two have shown how fleeting influence and power can be. The one thing every politician understands in self-preservation. They don’t like to lose, and while most Republican’s aren’t saying it out loud they know The Former Guy is a loser.

Yet, hold on. Don’t count him out. In the coming GOP primary insult-a-fest where policy counts for nothing and bombast will rule again, it’s entirely possible an indicted, seditious former president will prevail. Which is to say if you’re betting on DeSantis, you might like some of the swamp land for sale in Florida.

Trump won’t go away. Period. He can only be defeated – again. If you think he cares about the Republican Party or its prospects you haven’t been paying attention to that fragile ego and profoundly unbalanced personality. He’ll gladly point to the smoking ruins of the modern GOP and blame the wreckage on anyone and everything but himself. 

Trump, for one, brief and altogether tragic moment caught his lightning in a bottle. He was and remains a political fluke, not unlike a mediocre journeyman pitcher hurling a perfect game in the World Series.

However, Don Larsen was man enough to admit he wasn’t happy with his won-loss record, and he knew, as Richard Goldstein wrote at the time of his death in 2020, that he had been damn lucky on that long ago October afternoon.

In the fourth inning of that historic game at old Yankee Stadium, “Duke Snider missed a home run to right by a few inches. In the fifth, Gil Hodges’s drive to left center was run down by [Mickey] Mantle, and Sandy Amoros missed a home run to right by a hair.” Any of that would have ruined Larsen’s one big moment.

 “Goofy things happen,” Larsen once said. And surely they do.

Goofy things like Donald Trump projecting off Mitt Romney in 2016, “He was a failed candidate … He failed miserably and it was an embarrassment to everybody. I guess obviously he wants to be relevant, he wants to be back in the game.”

The sucker pitch is all he’s got. He’ll keep throwing it.

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Additional Reading:

A few more items I found interesting this week …

It wasn’t just “the economy stupid”—it was abortion

Why did Democrats do so much better than most of us thought they would?

“If you put together the sheer size of the women’s vote, the intensity of the issue and the fact that, unlike inflation or the economy, the two parties have stark differences on the issue, you get a powerful driver of the vote. There were five states with abortion referenda on the ballot and in every single one—including the deep red state of Kentucky—the pro-choice position won.”

A good think piece from Brookings.


What Joe Biden and LBJ Have in Common

A good piece from Washington Monthly.

“When Joe Biden took office days after insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol, many with Confederate flags, he drew comparisons to Abraham Lincoln. After passing significant economic and social spending packages, Biden welcomed references to Franklin D. Roosevelt. As inflation and gas prices rose, observers noted the similarities to Jimmy Carter.

“Perhaps the most unappreciated presidential parallel is between Biden and Lyndon Johnson. Both became unexpected civil rights presidents and promised sweeping legislation if voters and activists delivered crucial support.”

I’ve been deep into Lyndon Johnson’s presidency for my next book on the Senate in the 1960s, and I think this comparison is apt.


Why Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal is priceless – and unforgettable

I never played much attention to soccer until a trip to Argentina some years ago. The game is a national obsession there and this story offers part of the explanation for why.

“ … a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” 

“Such is its legacy, that some 36 years after bouncing into the back of the net, the soccer ball involved was set to be sold at auction on Nov. 16, 2022, at an expected price of up to US$3.3 million.

“So why does this goal, which should not even have been a goal, carry so much significance? As an economist who studies sport, I’ve long believed that you have to grasp the cultural significance to understand the financial dimension of sports. This goal was one of soccer’s most iconic events for a number of reasons.”

Getting you ready for the World Cup.


How to move a country: Fiji’s radical plan to escape rising sea levels

Still wonder if climate issues are being overplayed?

“What Fiji is attempting to do is unprecedented. For years, politicians and scientists have been talking about the prospect of climate migration. In Fiji, and in much of the Pacific, this migration has already begun. Here, the question is no longer if communities will be forced to move, but how exactly to do it. At present, 42 Fijian villages have been earmarked for potential relocation in the next five to 10 years, owing to the impacts of climate crisis. Six have already been moved. Every new cyclone or disaster brings with it the risk of yet more villages being added to the list.”

From The Guardian.


That’s it for me. Have a good weekend … and thanks for reading.

2022 Election, Andrus, Democracy

The Takeaways …

It wasn’t a “red wave,” more like, as conservative writer Mona Charen put it, “a small toxic spill” where “voters of Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Michigan, among other places, apparently weighed more than inflation in their calculations, and that gives a fighting chance to those who hope to right this listing ship.”

Democrats have little to crow about, particularly in some of the reddest of the red states – Idaho, Montana, South Dakota among others, but they didn’t get swamped nationally, which typically happens to the party in the White House in a midterm election.

The “red wave” that wasn’t …

Many, but certainly not all, election deniers lost, ensuring that the “big lie” will continue to float at the top of our national political septic tank. Idaho, to cite just one example, hasn’t yet copped, but soon enough will, to having elected a professional agitator (and election denier) as attorney general, a political opportunist who will cause a wholesale exodus from the state’s largest law firm. You heard it here: Raul Labrador, a Tea Partier who left a lot of wreckage in his wake while in Congress, wanted a new job in order to play politics with the law and then use that ruse to run for governor.

Montana voters looked past the scandals and carpetbagging of Ryan Zinke, their former congressman and our ethically challenged former Interior Secretary, to send Zinke back to Congress. He’ll fill a seat once occupied by the likes of Jeannette Rankin, Mike Mansfield, Lee Metcalf and Pat Williams. This is politically trading down on an epic scale, rather like swapping your new Bentley for a rusted out Edsel you can’t get started.

My old South Dakota stomping ground once had a Democratic Party. It doesn’t anymore. There a very Trumpy, made for TV governor, Kristi Noem, used her position of public trust to pressure a state agency to provide preferential treatment for her daughter, and spent most of her term flying around the country to raise her national profile. Noem won with 62% of the vote, proving that many – maybe most – red state conservatives are willing to tolerate a little garden variety corruption as long as their side wins.

There will more than enough time – too much time – for the extended postmortems and the already endless speculation about 2024, but this much seems fairly clear.

The ol’ US of A is profoundly divided, a country riven by one side’s willingness to embrace grievance, demonstrable lies and entertain authoritarianism, while the other side thrashes about to barely compete in a majority of states, often failing to supply a compelling narrative about the economy or the future.

Democrats in places like Idaho and South Dakota must make a choice. Continue the old practice of working from the top down, failing miserably in doing so – the Idaho gubernatorial candidate had the worst Democratic showing since Calvin Coolidge was in the White House – or embrace a bottom up strategy that begins with an all-out appeal to younger voters, many of whom haven’t been alive long enough to see how a two party system once worked.

The party must go both extremely local and determinedly old school, with a relentless focus on engaging voters where they are. It won’t be quick or immediately satisfying, but doing the same old thing isn’t either.

Where abortion was an issue, Democrats – again with the help of younger voters – prevailed. Pro-choice provisions succeeded in nominally Democratic Michigan and solidly Republican Kentucky.

Where abortion rights were on the ballot they prevailed

As University of Montana political scientist Rob Saldin and I observed immediately after May’s stunning Supreme Court decision overturning abortion protections, Idaho’s 1990 experience with the issue offers a big tell. That election, Cecil Andrus’s fourth term, marks the modern high water mark for Idaho Democrats, in no small part because the then-governor framed the anti-choice issue as one of vast Republican overreach.

“If the issue is framed correctly,” Saldin and I wrote for the Washington Post, “the sense of grievance surrounding abortion that has long propelled the right will shift, energizing voters looking to preserve access to abortion and catalyzing their support.” And it is happening.

One outcome of this wild midterm election would have passed without comment before 2020 – there was no rigged outcome. Elections from Pennsylvania to Arizona were run professionally and fairly. To believe otherwise is to live in a Trumpian la la land where a rigged election is the only way to explain why a twice impeached failed real estate developer who only won against the weakest Democratic candidate since Michael Dukakis, lost in 2020.

Both parties are due a reckoning, as should happen after every election. Democrats need to commit to a kitchen table agenda and the kind of blunt language Harry Truman used so effectively. The party needs to compete aggressively in rural America, just as it does on the left coast. Democrats need more of Jon Tester, the blue collar farmer from Montana, and more like new senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, a tattooed exponent of no nonsense politics who beat a slick, quack TV doctor like a drum, and Fetterman won after suffering a stroke during the campaign.

The Republican reckoning will be vastly more unpleasant, as well as more important to the future of the country. Republicans seem sure to have a wafer-thin margin in the House of Representatives and the most radical right wingers in the party seem determined to display immediately why they shouldn’t be anywhere near political power. The crazy caucus already has the knives out for would-be speaker Kevin McCarthy, and like John Boehner and Paul Ryan before him McCarthy will likely be no match for fellow Republicans wielding pitchforks.

And Republicans will eventually have to deal – or not – with the insurrectionist wing of their party, a genuine problem in Idaho where militia leader Ammon Bundy pulled 17 percent of the vote.

And, of course, there is the ghost of Mar a Lago. What to do with the cancer growing on the Grand Old Party, what the Wall Street Journal – yes, that Wall Street Journal – termed “the Republican Party’s biggest loser?”

Sane and sober Republicans surely know Donald Trump would gladly burn the party to the ground if it served his malicious purposes. Better get the fire extinguishers ready.

The recent election wasn’t a diabolic mess for democracy, thank the lord, but rather a choice for more of the same. The party that does some soul-searching and recalibrating to find a new and better path forward for the country is the party to favor the next time we whip ourselves into a frenzy over an election.

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Additional Reading:

You may find something here of interest …

“Don’t Join the Book Burners”

In June of 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower delivered the commencement speech at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. That old speech is strangely relevant again. This piece from a student who was there.

“I was not thinking of Sen. Joseph McCarthy as I watched Eisenhower rise to deliver what were expected to be his brief remarks. But Eisenhower decided to add something more substantive.

“‘Don’t join the book burners,” Ike said.'”

Here’s the link:


Is this the end of Britishness?

Ian Jack was a terrific British journalist and editor. Jack died recently and a lot of folks in the Mother Country are remembering his enormous body of work, including this piece written at the time Scotland was considering independence.

The pull of Scottish independence remains strong

The writing is superb. The history lesson valuable. The storytelling marvelous.

“Is it, as VS Naipaul once remarked of British culture, all over?

“During the past dozen years, the Scottish National party has worked an astonishing transformation, turning the tables so that unionism now looks sentimental – the home of exhausted tradition – while independence stands for energetic progress. Over that time, the death of Britishness has been predicted as often as the death of the novel, but it has managed to survive and even to grow.”

It’s a long and lovely read.


When bipartisanship really happened

I wrote a piece recently for a wonderful online publication – The Daily Montanan.

For the essay, I drew on the research I’ve done for a new book – coming in 2023. The book is the story of the political and personal relationship between Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield of Montana and minority leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois.

Everett Dirksen and Mike Mansfield: Giants in the Senate

The two men worked together, in a beautiful bipartisan way, to pass civil rights and voting rights legislation, create Medicare and ratify the first major nuclear arms control treaty, and they supported the president during a tense showdown over missiles in Cuba.

“When President John Kennedy had to confront the Kremlin’s nuclear threat in 1962, he enjoyed, indeed solicited, bipartisan congressional support for his strategy, even to the point of insisting that the Republican leader of the United States Senate suspend his re-election campaign in order to participate in urgent consultations at the White House. In our times of fractured partisanship when Republican and Democratic congressional leaders seem barely able to talk to one another let alone offer words of encouragement and support while reasoning through a crisis together with a president, the domestic political lessons of that long ago nuclear showdown bear remembering – and emulating.”

The book was great fun to work on. Here’s a sneak preview.


For those who are thinking democracy dodged a bullet this week – you’re right. There is much work to do. Be about it, friends. All the best.

2022 Election, GOP, Idaho Politics

It Wasn’t Inevitable …

The moral collapse of the American conservative movement has taken place with remarkable speed.

The movement that advanced a measured, careful, temple worthy LDS Church bishop, Mitt Romney, as its presidential candidate just a decade ago has morphed at warp speed into an election denying, white-centric party of grievance and bat crazy conspiracy.

The Republican Party that put forward Romney and then-Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as its candidates in 2012 was, measured in the long arc of conservative politics, pretty standard issue: tax cuts and controlling the size of government with a conservative commitment to national security and foreign policy. Romney’s characterization of Vladimir Putin as the world’s greatest geopolitical threat was widely dismissed a decade ago. Now with many in his party openly embracing the Butcher of Ukraine, Romney seems a genuine prophet

Mitt was criticized for carrying his dog on top of his car not for wanting to be an authoritarian

Romney was hardly a great presidential candidate. His private equity career was easily demonized, particularly after his campaign was roiled by a tin ear remark claiming that “47 percent” of the country were effectively deadbeats. Even then few of his partisan detractors could reasonably claim that Romney was going to take his party over an authoritarian cliff.   

Mitt didn’t traffic in hate. Didn’t demean his opponent. He didn’t accuse Barack Obama of being a dangerous Muslim and didn’t surround himself with a bottom feeding collection of conspiracists, grifters, law breakers and people most of us would cross the street to avoid.

Unlike the current leader of his party, Romney hasn’t spread lies about the recent attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband and he didn’t refuse to concede an election he clearly lost.

So, what happened to the Grand Old Party? Well, start with the fact that the nutjob fringe has long been lurking in the dark corners of a party that once celebrated Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and The Gipper. Goldwater gave the Birchers and the Klan a dog whistle in 1964, while opposing civil rights legislation and claiming “extremism” as a conservative virtue. Nixon went all “law and order” in 1968, while stoking fear and loathing among his “silent majority.” And Ronald Reagan was smart enough to know that cementing a solid, deeply race conscious American South for the GOP long-term was essential to winning the White House. Ronnie was also savvy, as Democrats were not, about courting middle class, blue collar white voters who had seen their small towns and factories wither and die.

But this represents only a partial answer to what happened. The rest of the story is the near total capitulation of elected Republican “elites” who have hunkered in office while many of their followers celebrate political violence and rally to Putin.

Only since Romney’s run has his party come to resemble – and emulate – the full-on authoritarianism of would-be rightwing dictators in places like Brazil and Hungary. The current leader of the party of Reagan doesn’t praise the western democratic alliance. He likes the “strength” of the new Chinese Mao or the “brilliance” of a 21st Century Stalin. And who counters him?

This is a party of moral rot and character perversion, a danger to the very idea of democratic pluralism.

Idaho is as good a petri dish as any to assess the wholesale abandonment of conservative principle in pursuit of political power, no matter the cost to democracy.

Next week Idaho’s very conservative Republican governor, Brad Little, will win re-election against a no-name Democratic challenger and the widely acknowledged leader of a West-wide militia movement, a law breaking radical named Ammon Bundy, who is running as an independent.

This race is a political weathervane indicating how far, far right the unhinged Idaho white nationalists are willing to go – people I respect worry that Bundy will win 20 percent of what would  normally be the GOP vote – as well as a missed opportunity for Little and other officeholding elites who might have used the contest to assert control of a party they have largely lost.

Ammon Bundy gets a free pass from Idaho’s GOP “elites”

Imagine had Little, knowing he could coast to re-election, made the election a referendum on a more sober, sane and serious type of conservatism. What if he had made Bundy and his violent ways an explicit example of what is wrong with the radical right? Yet, near as I can tell Little hasn’t uttered a word about Bundy, his antics or lawless past. And no debate and not much of a campaign.

I’ll just remind you that Bundy organized demonstrations outside elected officials homes aiming to intimidate during the worst of Covid times. He and some of his followers broke down a door in the state capitol building, a stunt ultimately earning Bundy and his big hat a jail term. The judge who sentenced Bundy after he blew off a requirement for community service told the radical had made a “mockery of the sentence you received.”

Bundy threatened state police officers with a promise that, “I’ll come after you, each one of you personally.” He is still embroiled in a lawsuit with a Boise hospital where he forced a shutdown. Bundy’s ridiculous 2016 takeover of a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon where a protester died should have marked the end of his rise, but radical politicians in Idaho and elsewhere embraced him with little or no pushback from people like Brad Little. Now he’s on the ballot.

Bundy has been endorsed by the PAC connected to the radical Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), an anti-education, anti-government, anti-science lobby group that is no friend of Governor Little. Bundy also “enjoys” the endorsement of Roger Stone, the corrupt Trump advisor, Ron Paul, the crackpot former Texas congressman and Louisiana Klan leader David Duke.

If it’s true in politics that you are defined by your enemies these jokers would be worthy enemies.

Had Little the intestinal fortitude to cast the decency spotlight on this collection of radical right misfits he might have begun the process of leading the Idaho GOP back to sanity. That he has stayed quiet while Bundy peddled nonsense about schools, the state budget, the courts, Covid vaccines and more explains the ultimate moral rot that has eroded the foundations of legitimate conservative politics.

Little and other Republican elites know that Bundy – you could substitute the name Trump, as well – represents a real danger, long ago proving what he’s capable of doing. Rather than making him an example of what is wrong with the conspiracy mangled radical right, Little has ignored him hoping he’ll go away. He won’t.

At so many points in the remarkably swift descent of the modern GOP into a fun house arcade of conspiracy, mendacity and hate the Brad Little’s of the party could have – but did not – make an explicit stand for truth, decency, personal character and a better way. 

It’s really too bad history doesn’t offer us examples of what can happen when hate peddling demagogues given to violence are left unchecked by people who should know better.

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Additional Reading:

Some things I’ve found that you may find of interest …

Was Nixon’s Reelection Ted Kennedy’s Fault?

There is, for good reason, great anticipation about John A. Farrell’s new biography of Edward Kennedy. Farrell’s book about Richard Nixon is one of the great political biographies in recent memory. His Ted Kennedy book looks to be just as good.

John Farrell and the cover of his new book

This piece by Farrell appeared recently in Politico.

“Kennedy’s career has many might-have-beens. The most widely known occurred in 1991, when one of his investigators, Ricki Seidman, was the first Senate aide to speak to Anita Hill and hear her allegation that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her in the years before his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The piece goes on to explore Kennedy’s role in not investigating Watergate in 1972. Here is the link:


Reading Langston Hughes’s Wartime Reporting From the Spanish Civil War

Black Americans were some of the most powerful voices warning about the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s, including Langston Hughes’s warnings about Franco’s Spain.

“Hughes was not a bombastic speaker, but rather spoke in an even, assured tone. He could sometimes appear bored while reading his older poems for audiences, but when discussing contemporary events, his understated and direct speaking style conveyed passion and urgency. ‘Yes, we Negroes in America do not have to be told what Fascism is in action,’ he said. ‘We know. Its theories of Nordic supremacy and economic suppression have long been realities to us.'”

A fine piece by historian Matthew F. Delmont in Literary Hub.


Russians Used a US Firm to Funnel Funds to GOP in 2018

This story has flown under the political radar in the run up to the midterm election. It should be getting more play.

The story illustrates two huge problems: the toothless tiger of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and the fact that vast sums of foreign money continue to pollute our politics.

“Anyone who follows campaign finance knows that the FEC has been toothless for years due to GOP commissioners’ opposition to any enforcement of laws designed to oversee money in politics. But Weintraub and Broussard suggest the agency hit a new low by letting the US firm, American Ethane, off with a deal in which it agreed to pay only a small civil fine.”

The FEC was created in the post-Watergate world and it’s never been particularly effective in policing money in federal politics. It’s a scandal. One of many, I fear. Here’s the story from Mother Jones.


That’s it. Vote for democracy.

Economy

When Monopoly Was More Than a Board Game …

In 1933, during the darkest days of the Great Depression, a Kansas City businessman, Charles Lyon, made a driving tour of the Midwest. Lyon would later write to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and offer his observations. He didn’t like what he saw.

“Every good town had the same stores,” Lyon wrote. “The downtown of one city was a replica of the next one, and for every chain store that reared its head, three individually owned stores laid down and died.”

Lyon’s discourse on the predatory nature of chain stores and their impact on small town America is recounted in a 2008 article by historian Daniel Scroop in the scholarly journal “American Studies.”

“Chain stores pay very little toward the upkeep of a town,” Lyon wrote in the 1930s. “They gradually kill it.”

Woolworth’s, one of the first of the giant chain stores in the 1920s and 1930s

Remember that line as you contemplate the history of what didn’t happen to slow or eliminate the monopolization of most of American retailing in the last half of the 20th Century. And reflect what it means for your grocery bill when Kroger combines with Albertsons, and together this grocery behemoth – the largest and second largest grocery chains in America – will have more than 6,000 grocery stores spread across the country.

Political and social pushback against the chain store – and branch banking – in the 1920s and 1930s is a mostly a forgotten chapter in 20th Century American history. It is a chapter, nonetheless, that illustrates some of what has happened to small town, rural America, the struggling American middle class, as well as notions about what a healthy, vibrant economy actually includes.

The anti-chain store movement gained traction in the West, Midwest and South during the seemingly prosperous Roaring 20s. The Missouri legislature considered measures to limit chain stores in 1923 and by the end of the decade several states had put various restrictions – mostly tax-related – into effect. The Depression accelerated the movement and by 1937 nearly 30 states had anti-chain store laws on the books.

Woolworth’s, the drug store chain, became a target of many of the anti-chain efforts, fueled not only by the vast number of stores the chain developed in the 1930s, but also because of the firm’s brutal efforts to beat back union organizing efforts. Workers in some stores resorted to “sit down strikes” that served to paralyze business and frustrate customers and managers. While the strikes made headlines, they ultimately did little to hinder the constantly expanding development of chain stores.

By the 1940s, the leader of the anti-bigness, pro-consumer, anti-monopoly forces was a crusading congressman from Texas named Wright Patman, a politician who, as his biographer has said, combined two political traditions: populism and liberalism.

Patman pushed legislation to create a national chain store tax where, as historian Scroop wrote, “chains would be taxed from $50 to $1,000 per store depending upon their number and location. Because this figure would then be multiplied by the number of states in which a chain had stores, there was a chance that the tax might in some cases exceed annual profits. If this scale had been applied in 1938, for example, the biggest chain store company, the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P), would have been taxed $524 million on its $882 million in sales.”

This simple idea – taxing bigness – failed, and the anti-chain store crusade, as well as state and local laws to control the monopolies, eventually faded away.

You can see the legacy of this hollowing out and embrace of monopoly bigness in today’s Walmart, Amazon, Costco, Home Depot, CVS, Walgreens and Dollar General, the ubiquitous discounter with nearly 19,000 stores and minimum wage jobs. You’ll almost always find Dollar General stores at the far edge of rural communities that have lost the kinds of home grown retailers that once existed in America’s small towns. The bigness movement also involves newspaper and broadcast consolidation, cable TV systems, hotel chains, even the not so local Taco Bell.

Back to the Kroger-Albertsons mash up which hit a speed bump – maybe – this week when a bipartisan group of state attorney generals called on Albertson’s to back off a planned $4 billion dividend to its shareholder while the $24.6 billion merger deal is evaluated for its anti-trust implications.

Number one wants to combine with number two …

Thanks to the AGs for looking out for competition, but you don’t need to be a Harvard-trained economist to know what the merger implications will be – less competition, fewer employees in retail jobs and surely higher prices at the checkout aisle. The dividend payout, the AGs suggest, could hamper Albertson’s ability to compete, weakening Kroger’s merger partner before the merger, which may be the real reason behind handing shareholders an extremely handsome payday just before the deal closes.

“Anticompetitive mergers have real impacts on everyday people,” said District of Columbia attorney general Karl Racine, who organized the AG’s letter. Washington AG Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, and Idaho AG Lawrence Wasden, a Republican, signed the letter directed to the CEO’s of Kroger and Albertsons.

“We’re deeply concerned about the level of concentration in essential industries,” Racine said, “such as grocery stores. And we’re asking Albertsons to not proceed with the payout while we thoroughly assess whether this merger is anti-competitive, anti-consumer or anti-worker. While we trust that Albertsons will adhere to our request, we are actively exploring other options to achieve our objectives, including litigation.”

Here is one of the ironies of these massive mergers: the rationale behind the big getting bigger is that stores like Albertsons need to compete against other huge retailers like Whole Foods or Walmart. Yet advocates of supersizing grocery stores in to fewer and fewer companies, while letting these stores sell gas and virtually everything else, ignores that a largely unconstrained system that demands a capitalism of bigness represents a circular argument – we must get bigger because everyone else is getting bigger.

The ignored parties here are consumer and workers. A growing, robust American capitalism won’t be built around a few CEOs or institutional shareholders getting fabulously wealthy, while much of the rest of society barely scrapes by. Those Woolworth and A&P stories in the 1930s that grew too big in their day have become today’s Kroger and CVS, while the American middle class, the families that buy the groceries, the washing machines, the bedroom sets and the coffee makers struggle to meet a mortgage and send the kids to college.

The big get bigger, the rich get richer, and the engine that really drives the economy – the consumer – is less and less a part of the American economic calculation.

The politicians and social activists in the 1930s who recognized the dangers inherent in concentrated bigness weren’t wrong. We had a chance to build a different kind of capitalism, that we didn’t helps explain a lot about your grocery bill, not to mention the depressed state of much of small town America.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items that are worth your time …

The Portland Van Abductions

A deep dive into the Portland street protests in 2020, including the still mysterious “van abductions” by unidentified law enforcement officials.

“The video of Evelyn’s arrest went viral on social media; the account of Mark’s arrest first broke on Oregon Public Broadcasting and was re-reported in the national news. 

“The men who took Mark and Evelyn did not identify themselves as federal law enforcement. There are no publicly known records of their arrest or detention. To this day, it’s unclear who took them — what agency they were from, let alone what their names were.”

From The Verge.


How World War I Crushed the American Left

I am a huge fan of the historian Adam Hochschild who has a new book American Midnight about how World War I dramatically changed American politics. It looks like a fascinating study.

“The crushing of socialism—and a new bugbear, communism—was total. The treatment of Eugene Debs was a stark illustration of the crackdown. Debs had won 6 percent of the popular vote in 1912, as the Socialists were making gains at the local and state level, threatening both Republicans and Democrats. By 1917, Hochschild notes, there were 23 Socialist mayors in office across the country, leading cities including Toledo, Pasadena, and Milwaukee. Debs opposed the war steadfastly, but he was so widely respected that the government feared directly attacking him. Instead, a disinformation campaign was launched—by whom, historians are still unsure—which implied that he had changed his position.”

Debs went to jail, the very idea of socialism became a third rail of American politics.

A review from The New Republic.


‘A zombie party’: the deepening crisis of conservatism

This piece about conservatism in the United Kingdom is a couple of years old, but it does highlight many issues that dominate modern conservative politics in the UK and in the United States.

“In Britain and the US, once the movement’s most fertile sources of ideas, voters, leaders and governments, a deep crisis of conservatism has been building since the end of the Reagan and Thatcher governments. It is a crisis of competence, of intellectual energy and coherence, of electoral effectiveness, and – perhaps most serious of all – of social relevance.

“This crisis has often been obscured. The collapse of Soviet communism in the 80s, the apparent triumph of capitalism during the 90s, the western left’s own splits, dilemmas and failures, and the ongoing surge of rightwing populism have all helped maintain conservatism’s surface confidence.”

Good piece from The Guardian.


The grand old man and the ingénue queen

I’m admittedly an Anglophile, as fascinated by the mess that is British politics these days as I am appalled by US politics. So … Winston Churchill and the late Queen.

The Queen and Winston

“Winston churchill was besotted with Queen Elizabeth II: the word is precise. He worshipped and adored her. His relations with some other members of the royal family were, on occasion, complicated — not least when King Edward VII was sleeping with his mother. But for the late Queen he had nothing but an almost puppy-dog love.”

Fun story.


That’s all I got. Be safe. Vote like democracy depended upon it – and it does. Thanks for reading.

2022 Election, GOP, Great Britain, Politics

So Goes The UK …

There is a particular type of American conceit, a persistent belief that our country is uniquely special in the world, indeed exceptional, a place that stands apart from other merely mortal nations with long traditions of democracy and respect for individual freedoms.

We are reluctant, perhaps even unable, thanks to this belief system, to see and absorb lessons unspooling in plain sight in other countries. It is in the nature of many Americans to think the rest of the world can’t really teach us much of anything.

We are in for a rude awakening.

Most Americans think we are in trouble, but act like it’s someone else’s problem

A recent New York Times/Siena College opinion survey contains this remarkable finding: “Voters overwhelmingly believe American democracy is under threat, but seem remarkably apathetic about that danger, with few calling it the nation’s most pressing problem.”

Furthermore, researchers who produced the study say, according to the Times: “doubts about elections that have infected American politics since the 2020 contest show every sign of persisting well into the future, the poll suggested: Twenty-eight percent of all voters, including 41 percent of Republicans, said they had little to no faith in the accuracy of this year’s midterm elections.”

The Big Lie is, in other words, persisting and metastasizing. “So far,” say analysts at the Brookings Institute, “we have been able to identify 345 candidates who will be on the ballot in November who have expressed election denial beliefs—false claims that the presidential election in 2020 was flawed. All of them are running as Republicans. The most important group—governors, secretaries of state and attorneys general—consists of candidates for statewide offices who, if they are elected, will have a great deal to say about how elections in their state will be run in the future. A second group are members of Congress.”

All of this adds up, if you’re paying attention and particularly if you care more about American democracy than your partisan priors, to a real time crisis. The mid-term election in 18 days could be the tipping point.

If Republicans capture control of the House of Representatives, as history and gerrymandering indicate they will, they promise to spend the vast majority of their time ginning up more fear and loathing with investigations of everything from the laptop computer of the president’s son to the immigration policies of the secretary of Homeland Security.

Additionally would-be future House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tells Punchbowl news that a House GOP majority will place the American economy at risk by leveraging an increase in the debt ceiling to force cuts in Social Security, Medicare and other government programs. It could well prove to be an example of the old GOP fiscal hostage taking on steroids.

Commentator Jonathan V. Last puts a fine point on all this when he writes “Republicans have announced that their electoral case to voters is a promise to create economic instability.”

McCarthy also says his House majority will curtail U.S. aid to Ukraine, a signal to Vladimir Putin that he should carry on his brutal war of genocide because the political party the Russian dictator supports in the United States really has his back.

A House Republican majority will also repudiate the essential work of the January 6 committee and will surely install election deniers and conspiracy theorists in key committee positions. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the utterly reprehensible congresswoman from Georgia, is already saying McCarthy better give her lots of power or he will live to regret it.

A recent profile of the far-right radical correctly places Greene’s craziness at the center of the modern Republican Party. “Over the past two years,” reporter Robert Draper wrote, “Greene has gone from the far-right fringe of the G.O.P. ever closer to its establishment center without changing any of her own beliefs,” beliefs that include insurrection encouragement and embrace of Q-Anon nonsense.

Republicans still have a legitimate chance to retake control of the U.S. Senate, as well, and if they do it will be through the election of a weird assortment of election deniers, insurrection promoters, a fraud doctor, a former football player who seems to really believe he’s a law enforcement officer and doesn’t know how many children he’s fathered and a guy who is running with the endorsement of the former president who says he provided that endorsement only after J.D. Vance kissed his, well, ample backside.

Add to this toxic mix an almost certain indictment – or indictments – of one Donald J. Trump, who will be running for president in 2024 from a courtroom in Georgia, or Florida, or New York or Washington, D.C., or possibly all simultaneously.

But back to that peculiar American conceit – we are special, a place where political chaos, even a democratic meltdown isn’t really possible. The country has persisted for nearly 250 years, after all, this conceit goes. We’re exceptional.

Nah.

There are many examples in the chaotic modern world of democracies fraying, even coming apart. Italy has installed the farthest right government since Mussolini marched on Rome in 1922. Hungary is dominated by a right-wing zealot who daily stokes fear and fans outrage, while being a role model for white nationalist zealots like Tucker Carlson. Trump fawns over authoritarian strongmen like Turkey’s Erdogan, China’s Xi and, of course, the murdering Putin.

On Wednesday Liz Truss said she was a fighter, not a quitter. On Thursday she quit

But if you care to really see where American conservatism is headed consider what’s happened to the Conservative Party in the UK where a hopelessly incompetent prime minister has destroyed her political career (and maybe her party), while simultaneously seriously damaging the British economy.

Liz Truss’s demise connects directly to her embrace of just the kind of economic policy future speaker McCarty is planning to implement – austerity, slashes to the social safety net and tax cuts for the most well off. Truss embraced and then u-turned on policies that she admitted would cause vast disruption. Now her approval stands at 9% and conservatives say they long to reinstate the disgraced former prime minister Boris Johnson. Whew.

This is a level of chaos and dysfunction that Americans should brace against. It is all possible here and then some.

British journalist Tanya Gold wrote about this British mess recently. My version of her conclusion changes just a couple of names. It amounts to a forecast for the future of our conceit.

“In time, America may free itself of Mr. Trump’s spell and Mr. McCarthy’s unreason — and choose leaders who deal in facts, not fantasies, and think of the country, not themselves. We may say at last: Enough of post-truth and extremism and drinking the dregs of empire. Yet that horizon is still a way off.

“Right now, we know, Mr. Trump (and McCarthy) will fall.

“For the Republicans, it won’t bring renewal. And for the country, it won’t bring catharsis.”


Additional Reading:

Some additional reading if you are inclined …

WILL PUTIN’S WAR IN UKRAINE CONTINUE WITHOUT HIM?

Dictators don’t often die in bed. We can hope.

We can also hope the loathsome ex-KGB agent’s days are numbered, but it may not matter to the war in Ukraine is Putin stays or goes.

Any new leader who seeks to extricate Russia from Putin’s war likely will face tough domestic hurdles. Russia’s current domestic political environment, as characterized by an intense blame game pitting political versus military leadership, would be especially dangerous for Putin’s successor and disincentive any move to abandon Russia’s war aims in Ukraine and seek peace, at least in the short term. This holds even for a successor who opposed or did not openly support Putin’s war prior to taking office. Thus, Putin’s war may very well continue without Putin.”

Shawn T. Cochran writes at the website “War on the Rocks” about Ukraine, Putin and what happens if he goes.


A Brief History of One of the Most Powerful Families in New York City: The Morgenthaus

“The Morgenthaus were called the Jewish Kennedys, and remained, as the former mayor Ed Koch remarked, ‘the closest we’ve got to royalty in New York City.'”

Andrew Meier on a Gotham dynasty.


Arsenic and Old Lace: Madness in the Family

Film critic David Cairns on the Frank Capra classic with lots of Cary Grant for his fans, and who isn’t a fan of Cary Grant.

Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace

“Grant had been a freelancer since 1936 and would always remain one, enjoying his pick of projects from all the majors; Capra had recently ended his twelve-year alliance with Columbia—a studio he’d made respectable—and had tried his hand at independence with Meet John Doe (1941), but with war looming, he ducked back into the security of a studio project. He was drawn to the novelty of a movie without a message: during the thirties, he had become closely identified with a kind of populist social commentary. This time, he just wanted to have fun.”

This is a great piece if you like stories about the stories behind a movie.


WHAT THE DODGERS AND GIANTS’ 1958 MOVE WEST MEANT FOR AMERICA

I’m pretty certain that if the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn I would be a fan. In LA, not so much. This is a good story about how the the “move West” changed baseball, among other things.

“During the first decades of the twentieth century, what passed for national culture was very much a product of the East, particularly New York City. By 1980 or so, that notion no longer held.

“The move by the Dodgers and Giants helped kill it. The baseball shift West sent the message that you didn’t have to make it in New York to make it anywhere. Anybody could leave and thrive.”

Lincoln Mitchell literally wrote the book on baseball moving West. Here’s his essay on the subject.


Thanks for reading. Be well. All the best.

2022 Election, GOP

It’s a Lie …

Faced with an ultra-conservative, reactionary opponent in 1964, Lyndon Johnson went for the political jugular – he attacked Barry Goldwater, the grandfather of today’s white nationalist, fear obsessed Republican Party, as a danger even to Republicans.  

Johnson’s campaign employed the services of what was then a brash, still developing New York advertising agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), a collection of culturally aware ad makers that made names for themselves by introducing the Volkswagen to American car buyers and developing the “we try harder” campaign for Avis, the number two car rental agency behind Hertz.  

LBJ’s presidential campaign was the firm’s first foray into politics, and they debuted with a boom, literally, producing the famous – or to Goldwater Republicans infamous – “Daisy ad” featuring an adorable, freckle faced little girl counting to ten as she pulled the petals off a daisy. What was really happening in the ad was the countdown to a nuclear explosion. 

Perhaps the most famous political ad ever

“These are the stakes,” Johnson says as the screen fills with a mushroom cloud, “to make a world in which all of God’s children can live or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.” 

White letters then fill the black screen – Vote for President Johnson on November 3 – as a male voice intones, “the stakes are too high for you to stay home.” 

Goldwater’s name was never mentioned. It didn’t need to be. The message was clear. The Republican candidate, with his reckless and casual talk about nuclear war, was too risky, even for Republicans. 

The ad aired only once in the middle of a network television broadcast of a movie, but the impact was as powerful as any political television spot ever made. A follow-up commercial featured another “deliciously beautiful little girl innocently licking an ice-cream cone,” while a gentle female voice explains the dangers of Srontium-90 in the atmosphere, making sure to mention that Goldwater had voted against ratification of a treaty to limit nuclear testing

The journalist Theodore White called the ad “as cruel a political film as has ever been show,” but effective. Goldwater scared people. The ads reminded them why. Another DDB ad simply showed the fingers of two hands tearing up a Social Security card and another featured “Confessions of a Republican.” That ad – a young, self-described GOP voter who had supported Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon speaking casually, if a little haltingly to the camera – defined the race. 

“But when we come to Senator Goldwater,” the voters says, “now it seems to me we are up against a very different kind of a man – this man scares me.” The best line in the “Confession of a Republican” was simply: “If you unite behind a man you don’t believe in – it’s a lie.” 

Teddy White, whose famous book “The Making of the President – 1964” became an instant classic, observed that Goldwater was forced to run against the fear that he himself had created, while pressed over and over to try and explain that he wasn’t a warmonger, a destroyer of Social Security or just flat out dangerous. Johnson, of course, won a historic landslide. Goldwater won only six states, five in the deep South where white voters rebelled against Johnson’s civil rights legislation that Goldwater opposed, and his own state of Arizona. 

There were predictions from serious people after the Goldwater debacle that the Republican Party, divided between ultra-conservative John Birch-types and moderately liberal northeasterners could not survive. The reports of the death of the party were greatly exaggerated, to say the least. The white nationalist party Goldwater led to defeat came roaring back, then as now home to plenty of cranks, adherents to the Klan and fear mongers who are obsessed by immigrants, minorities and socialists. 

While admitting there are no perfect analogies in politics – 1964 is not 2022 – there are increasing signs that a civil war is brewing inside the GOP, one not unlike the pushback against Barry Goldwater than Lyndon Johnson exposed nearly 60 years ago. The political weapon then, as now was fear of what a fringe Republican might do in elected office

Cases in point: 

Utah Republican senator Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential candidate, has refused to endorse fellow Republican Mike Lee, a schemer who advanced election denial claims in 2020 who now embraces the chief proponent of our “big lie.” Independent and former Republican Evan McMullinLee voted for him for president in 2016 – has made the race close, so close Lee was on Fox News this week literally begging Romney to help him survive. 

Utah Senator Mike Lee seems to need Mitt Romney more than the guy who has endorsed him

The Republican governor of New Hampshire, more a libertarian than a conservative, has refused to endorse the election-denying GOP candidate for the Senate in his state. Charlie Baker, the GOP governor of Massachusetts who is term limited, won’t endorse the Trump-back candidate who is trying to replace him. 

Marc Racicot, the former GOP governor of Montana and one-time national party chairman, has endorsed a Democrat over scandal-plagued former congressman and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. 

Fourteen family members of Trumpy Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt have endorsed his Democratic Senate opponent. 

Liz Cheney, the real conscience of the conservative movement, is supporting Democrats for governor and secretary of state in Arizona because the Republican candidates are lying about the last presidential election. This is but a partial list, not yet an avalanche of pushback to far out Republicans, but also more than trickle. 

A striking example of the GOP mainstream trying to rescue their party has emerged in always very conservative Idaho. More than 50 prominent Republicans, including Phil Batt, a venerated former governor, Lori Otter, the wife of another governor, Butch Otter, and an impressive collection of prominent former state legislators and elected officials have endorsed Tom Arkoosh, the Democrat candidate for attorney general. Arkoosh is an experienced non-politician lawyer, his opponent is a partisan radical who happens to have a law degree.

Long-time Idaho state senator Patti Anne Lodge, a Republican powerhouse for years, said Arkoosh is the “first candidate on the Democratic ticket I have supported in my 66 years of work with the Republican Party.” It’s impossible for Republican candidate Raul Labrador, a rabble-rousing, accomplishment-free Tea Party darling when he was in Congress, who is also an election denier to claim this collection of conservative luminaries is anything other than the heart and soul of the Idaho party, at least the party that once existed and might again. The clear message: many Republicans have real problems with the GOP candidate. They know of what they see. If only more had the courage to speak.  

The modern Republican Party finds itself in a truly awkward place, not unlike 1964. The party is dividing among practical, truth-telling conservatives who, despite the last few years of persistent lying and bad faith, still recognize a charlatan when they see one, and a faction that would rather burn the party – and the country – down in pursuit of a radical vision of conservatism. It all comes down to a choice.

After all, “If you unite behind a man you don’t believe in – it’s a lie.” 

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Additional Reading:

A few other stories that you may find of interest …

New FBI clues reveal more about the mysterious couple who had a stolen de Kooning painting

A really fascinating story about an art theft, a mysterious couple and a $100 million dollar painting found in a remote house in New Mexico.

“The theft was brazen and bewildering, the getaway swift, the trail of clues sparse and long-since dried up.  

“None of their relatives could explain how the painting, years later, ended up in their house. Could this pair of retirees in southwestern New Mexico have pulled off such a clean heist?  

“Suddenly, Rita and Jerry Alter were infamous.” Anne Ryman stitches together the story in the Arizona Republic.

The stolen painting and sketches of those who might have stolen it

Just Do It: How the iconic Nike tagline built a career for the late Dan Wieden

A NPR piece on the advertising legend and Oregonian Dan Wieden.

“Wieden was widely known for his innovative and hugely successful marketing campaigns for companies like Old Spice, Procter and Gamble, and Coca Cola.

“But his biggest claim to fame came in 1988, when he created a slogan for his newly formed advertising firm’s first client: Nike.”

Read the story – some great examples of his work included – right here.


Did JFK Really Eat the World’s Largest Tamale?

The Boston-Irish Kennedy and Mexican food don’t typically fit in the same sentence, but this story makes the connection because JFK received – maybe – one really big tamale from Texas in 1961.

“The political heft of the gift was clear. But then came a mystery: the tamale disappeared. Three days after its grand send-off from San Antonio, the Tampa Tribune declared the ‘Giant Tamale for Kennedy Has Gone Astray.’ On May 26—less than a month removed from the Bay of Pigs invasion, and one day after Kennedy announced plans to put a man on the moon—White House reporters pressed the administration for answers about the tamale’s whereabouts.”

From the Texas Tribune.


That’s it for me this week. Be well. Get that next booster, and thanks for reading.

Britain, Economy, Politics

Old … and Bad

Old ideas die hard. And perhaps old, bad ideas die hardest.

I had the fascinating experience last month of spending time in London in the days preceding Queen Elizabeth II funeral. To say it was an of out of this world scene would be rash understatement.

Crews were still cleaning up the mountains of tribute bouquets in Green Park near Buckingham Palace last weekend. Workers still collected the thousands of written condolence messages, many from children, that were left with the flowers. The grass was worn from the hundreds of thousands of people who did what they could to pay homage to a monarch who seems to have represented for many the very idea of dignified service, while also being the last symbol of a generation that faced down fascism and then lost an empire.

Crowds outside Buckingham Palace

One newspaper account of Queen Elizabeth’s impact wondered if her personality was simply bigger than “the firm,” the Brit way of referring to the royals, and whether the new king could ever hope to match his mother’s magic. He won’t, but the smart money would be on the British monarchy continuing. It’s an old idea and an outmoded one, but compared to the slimy, bad faith politics run amok in many western democracies, a hereditary monarch who strives, however imperfectly, to represent the best of a nation seems downright decent, not to mention needed.

The solemnity of the Queen’s memorial stands in sharp contrast to the current chaos in British politics. The new prime minister, Liz Truss, a tin-eared true believer in Reagan-Thatcher-like trickle-down economics, a Sarah Palin without the charm, would be comfortably at home among the radical political right here in the former colonies.

Truss and her equally hapless finance minister rolled out a new Tory economic plan immediately after the royal funeral that immediately tanked the pound, roiled the mortgage markets and brought emergency intervention from the Bank of England. It was a $500 billion dollar unforced error literally in the first days of her tenure.

The package of tax cuts and regulation trimming was deemed so draconian that Truss’s approval numbers didn’t just drop they went down lower than the Piccadilly line. One poll had the opposition Labour Party up in a future election match up by more than 30 points, prompting one conservative backbencher to quip that Tory leadership had decided against reading the instruction manual until after they had broken the economy.

Slogans and dogma and Liz

You wouldn’t know it listening to the radical right in the American conservative movement, most of whom have embraced Truss and the even more right wing Italian prime minister, but every western economy is dealing with inflation and spiking energy costs. If you think gas prices are high here, price a liter of petrol in Europe. Yet, what Truss and British conservatives have done with fiscal policy only exacerbates the impact. They have latched on to old ideas about tax cuts for the wealthiest – sound familiar – somehow trickling down to the country’s working class at the bottom.

Truss talks, like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan before her, about a “rising tide lifting all boats” and “growing the economic pie.” It’s an old idea and a bad one.

This old, won’t die trickle-down notion goes a long way toward explaining why US and British economies are among the world’s worst examples of economic inequality. As John Burn-Murdoch reported recently in the Financial Times – not exactly a left-wing rag – the UK and the US have become poor societies with a few really, really wealthy people.

“Our leaders are of course right to target economic growth,” Burn-Murdoch wrote, which is what Truss and fellow travelers in the US say they want to do, “but to wave away concerns about the distribution of a decent standard of living – which is what income inequality essentially measures – is to be uninterested in the lives of millions. Until those gradients are made less steep, the UK and US will remain poor societies with pockets of rich people.”

All this talk of inflation, economic growth and people left behind has a particularly fun house mirror-like quality when seen in the context the looming US mid-term elections. Republicans want to frame the election around gas and grocery prices and their never ending “crisis on the border,” yet they offer absolutely no policy prescription for either of the problems they hammer on daily.

The dirty little secret is they have no policy answers, because like the clueless conservatives now running Britain they govern by slogans and what the brilliant Financial Times columnist Edward Luce calls “the curse of magical thinking – promises that bear no relation to any realistic ability to deliver; extravagant lies that cater to some felt need for self-delusion; gullibility dressed up as hard-nosed ‘taking back control.’”

Conservatives in what Winston Churchill dubbed “the English speaking world” have come to equate bluster and gaudy wealth with smarts and expertise – see Elon Musk, to cite just one example. Brits were flimflammed by a collection of conmen and clowns into abandoning the European Union, a decision that more and more of them regret just as many Americans bought into the lying bluster of a guy who bankrupted his casino and failed at everything in his life save reality TV and Republican politics.

It’s a complicated world out there. As the old saying goes: every problem has an easy, simple solution that is wrong. It takes expertise and knowledge to grow an economy coming out of the worst pandemic in a hundred years, while dealing with a nutcase in central Europe with his trigger finger on the nuclear button. Yet, Liz Truss’s first act as prime minister was to fire the senior civil servant at the British treasury office. Her second act was to trigger an economic disaster for her country.

As Ed Luce notes, “The one clear plan that Trump has for a second term, which more assiduous types have been working on, is to give him the power to fire the federal bureaucracy and replace them with loyalists. That’s anti-expertise, anti-qualification politics on steroids.”

It’s a path so stupid that of course he’ll do it if he gets a chance.

The UK, a place I love, has seen better days, sadly too the breakaway colonies. It feels like the political end times are upon us. Rational action and decent behavior built around old values like honesty and service are forever floating away. Given all the mess, little wonder the Queen, a quiet, dignified symbol of duty and character was so widely mourned. Say what you will about hereditary royalty, she represented something better than what she left behind.

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Additional Reading:

A few more suggestions …

How the right’s radical think tanks reshaped the Conservative party

One more piece on how and why the Conservative Party in Britain has ended up where it is. Turns out you can trace a good deal of it to US “think tanks” funded by right wing billionaires and corporations.

When Boris Johnson assumed office as prime minister in July 2019 and proceeded, without the mandate of a general election, to appoint a cabinet that was arguably one of the most right wing in post-second world war British history, many commentators called it a coup. The free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs felt self-congratulation was more in order, however.”

Maybe there really is a vast right wing conspiracy after all. Read the full piece.


The Sweat and Blood of Fannie Lou Hamer

As the U.S. Supreme Court heads toward what could well be the complete dismantling of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, this timely piece is a reminder of why that law came to be and why we still need it.

Voting rights pioneer Fannie Lou Hamer

“At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, Hamer rose to national prominence. She and other activists had started the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party. Because Blacks were denied the right to vote in Mississippi, the MFDP argued, the state’s Democratic delegates were not legally elected. The group presented a report showing Blacks were denied the vote. The Mississippi delegates should not be allowed to vote at the convention, the report stated, and the MFDP delegates should be seated instead.”

Fannie Lou Hamer is a civil rights icon. Read her story and do all you can to support efforts to expand, not limit the right to vote.


Stephen King on What Authentic Maine Cuisine Means to Him

OK, something a little lighter. The celebrated novelist on the cuisine of his native state.

“When I think of Maine cuisine, I think of red hot dogs in spongy Nissen rolls, slow-baked beans (with a big chunk of pork fat thrown in), steamed fresh peas with bacon, whoopie pies, plus macaroni and cheese (often with lobster bits, if there were some left over). I think of creamed salt cod on mashed potatoes—a favorite of my toothless grandfather—and haddock baked in milk, which was the only fish my brother would eat. I hated it; to this day I can see those fishy fillets floating in boiled milk with little tendrils of butter floating around in the pan. Ugh.”

King has written an introduction to a cookbook that draws inspiration from his books. Read the whole thing.


Thanks a million for following along. See you again soon. Be careful out there.

Economy, Education, Idaho Politics

Who Needs Enemies With These Friends …

Years before it became an engine of the Idaho economy, and a leading American manufacturer of what Micron Technologies describes as the “world’s most advanced memory and storage technologies,” the Boise-headquartered company was a struggling start up.

Founded by twin brothers Joe and Ward Parkinson in the basement of a dental office in the late 1970s, Micron became a home-grown Idaho success story, not unlike Jack Simplot’s sprawling agri-business empireSimplot was an early Micron investor – or Joe Albertson’s big grocery store company.

A home grown Idaho success story

Like many successful startups, Micron often depended on support from politicians to go from the ideas hatched in that basement to a company today with facilities in 17 locations around the world and 40,000 employees. Micron recently received some of that governmental help, the so-called CHIPS Act, a bipartisan initiative that invests billions in “semiconductor research, development, manufacturing, and workforce development.” Days after Joe Biden signed the legislation, and not coincidentally, Micron announced a $40 billion expansion, including a $15 billion commitment to new manufacturing facilities and many new jobs in Idaho.

Here is the curious thing, indeed the mind-boggling thing: Idaho’s all Republican congressional delegation opposed the CHIPS Act. So did the Chinese government. Square that circle if you can.

As Reuters reported: “The Chinese Embassy in Washington said China ‘firmly opposed,’” the legislation “calling it reminiscent of a ‘Cold War mentality.’” In other words, China wants a weak American manufacturing sector, particularly when it comes to technology.

Biden pointed out that the US needs computer chips for major weapons systems like the Javelin missile. “It’s no wonder the Chinese Communist Party actively lobbied U.S. business against this bill,” Biden said.

Boise’s mayor supported the legislation and is entitled to celebrate

Here’s another curious thing: the all Republican Idaho delegation voted against the legislation that paved the way for the hometown expansion of a major Idaho business, and then celebrated the company’s decision to expand. It is the most shamelessly hypocritical act of political jujitsu that I can remember in more than 40 years of following Idaho politics.

The shameless pandering was widely pointed out by among others the editorial board of the Idaho Statesman. “There’s something worse than hypocrisy going on here … There was no clearer beneficiary from the CHIPS Act than Idaho. Roughly half of Idaho’s total manufacturing exports are computer chips, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Indeed, chips are on par with, though a bit behind, agricultural products. Idaho exports more value in microchips than in potatoes.”

The newspaper concluded Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressmen Russ Fulcher – Fulcher was an early Micron employee – and Mike Simpson ignored a basic duty of their office to support a policy that directly benefits Idaho and the country, while attempting to keep this vital manufacturing here at home.

The no votes were votes against jobs, against international competitiveness, against common sense. Apparently, the Idaho delegation was more focused on opposing a policy that originated in a Democratic administration, even though many House and Senate Republicans ignored the pleas of party leaders to deny Biden a legislative victory.

The most shameless pander of all came from Risch, who had the gall to say on his social media feed that “Idaho & Micron have been partners since Day One of the company’s founding. This announcement of a new fab coming to Boise deepens that partnership.”

Senator Jim Risch’s celebration of an event his vote tried to prevent

In Risch’s case that statement is particularly untrue. I know. I was there.

In 1988 when Risch was president of the state senate, then Democratic governor Cecil Andrus championed increases in educational support, including the first concerted and ultimately successful effort to bring higher education science and technology courses to the Boise Valley. Risch was a no then, too.

In 1988, Micron was in its first big expansion phase with plans to create a new manufacturing facility and 1,000 new jobs, but the company worried that Idaho – and legislators like Risch – wouldn’t support its aspirations for better educational offerings close to its Boise headquarters. Micron seriously considered siting its new facility in Oregon.

But Andrus intervened, along with then Boise State University president John Keiser, and quietly helped engineer a land swap and funding from the university foundation to build the necessary educational infrastructure. Risch, not surprisingly, defaulted to his kneejerk position which was to oppose anything Andrus tried to accomplish. He complained that Andrus negotiated the deal without legislative input. On that Risch was correct.

The governor was afraid that age-old rivalries between Boise State and the University of Idaho over control of engineering offerings would kill the deal, and he worried that land values would skyrocket with speculation about a new university building. And that nearly happened, as Risch complained that he’d “never seen a situation like this,” meaning apparently, he’d never seen a governor solve both an educational problem and secure an economic development win by leaving naysaying Republicans on the sidelines.

So, when Risch says Micron and Idaho have been partners since day one, he’s counting on the fact that none of his constituents will remember that 34 years ago – Risch really is a career politician – he actively opposed the educational investments that jump started Micron’s rise to become one of the biggest international players in semiconductor technology.

As far as I can tell no one in the Idaho business community, including Micron, has called out Risch and the rest of the Idaho delegation for opposing the CHIPS Act, and that is really a shame because failing to hold the shameless responsible for turning their backs on a major employer, not to mention ignoring a national security matter, will merely encourage more such behavior in the future.

Twin Falls Times-News, April 17, 1988

It wasn’t always so. In 1988, then-Micron CEO Joe Parkinson, hardly a liberal, took Risch on, saying the company was dismayed with his legislative leadership. “We thought we were talking to a senator who represented us,” Parkinson said in an interview where he announced Micron would oppose Risch’s re-election due to his lack of support for education.

Risch responded that he was just doing what his “constituents want,” which was to hold the line on educational spending “and not raise taxes.” The senator’s position was as shortsighted then as it is now. And, just to complete the history lesson, Risch lost re-election in 1988 by more than 10,000 votes.

After that election, which Andrus described as “a referendum on education,” Risch told reporters he was done with politics. “I never intended to make politics a career,” he said.

It wasn’t the last time he misled his constituents.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other stories from around the Internet …

The Bizarre Story of Piggly Wiggly, the First Self-Service Grocery Store

Another economic origin story.

“Before Piggly Wiggly, groceries were sold at stores where a clerk would assemble your order for you, weighing out dry goods from large barrels. Even chain stores used clerks.”

The Pig, as my mom called the store, changed the game. Link here.


Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness

A review of a book by Elizabeth D. Samet who teaches at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“The great thing about the American empire,” observes historian Niall Ferguson—a fan of that empire—“is that so many Americans disbelieve in its existence.” Samet argues that a major reason for this disbelief is the collective misrepresentation of America’s triumph in the Second World War. Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, Steven E. Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, and Stephen Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan are only some of the better known evangelical texts of American exceptionalism. A sea of popular culture—books, movies, newspapers, radio and TV shows, comics, and social media campaigns—has transformed the war into what Samet calls an enduring “testament to the redemptive capacity of American violence.” This, she writes, “leads us repeatedly to imagine that the use of force can accomplish miraculous political ends even when we have examples of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan to tell us otherwise.”

From Dissent Magazine.


THE QUEEN OF THE WORLD

The Queen is dead.

The Financial Times front page

“On Princess Elizabeth’s 21st birthday, she delivered a radio broadcast that would define her life. Addressing all ‘the peoples of the British Commonwealth and Empire,’ and specifically ‘the youth of the British family of nations,’ she asked for their permission to speak as their representative. Delivered from Cape Town, South Africa, this was not a message to England, or Britain, or even the United Kingdom, but to the already fading empire.

“The message was designed to inspire, but also to begin a transition. The princess declared that just as England had saved Europe from Napoleonic domination in the 19th century, the British empire had saved the world from Hitler in the 20th. The task now before the empire was just as pressing, she said: It needed to save itself.”

From The Atlantic.


I’ll be away from my regular Friday column for a while, but may be posting here and there during some down time. I’ll be in touch and thanks for reading. All the best.

GOP, Trump

The Dilemma for Republicans … 

Elected Republicans, at least those not swamped by conspiracy theories about stolen elections or Hunter Biden’s laptop, find themselves in a really awkward place. It’s not really a new place, but it is a newly urgent place.

Day by day these Republicans watch as a legal dragnet closes around the leader of their party. What do they do?

Do they lash out at the FBI as the party leader wants them to? Some have done just that. The party that has owned the “law and order” issue since Richard Nixon – another crook who thought himself above the law – was in the White House now has members trashing the integrity of federal law enforcement officers

Top secret documents the FBI says were illegally at Trump’s Florida club

Do they join in, as South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has, to summon another mob on the notion that a former president could actually be charged with crimes by the American judicial system?

The party leader is sending decidedly mixed messages. The documents recovered from his closet and office were planted. No, that’s not it, the papers are genuine, but he declassified them. No, on second thought they were his private property, and a federal judge had no business allowing the government he once headed to recover them. No, check that, a special master should review those documents. And the nation’s premier law enforcement agency was corrupt and out to get him.

This guy has had more explanations than a sixth grader caught red handed with a fist in mom’s cookie jar.

Do these Republicans just look away from this national security and potentially violent train wreck?

Some, like Idaho Senator Jim Risch, a senior member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee, seem to be doing just that. These profiles in courage have gone silent. They got nothing for us – no defense of the rule of law, no support for the fact that presidential records, particularly top-secret records, are not legally permitted in a Florida resort no matter who lives there, no word about trashing a federal judge and disparaging individual FBI agents is, well, not a very conservative thing to do.

The senator is very focused on national security threats

These silent ones can’t even claim the dog ate their civics homework. What homework? Risch loves to tell his constituents he was once a prosecutor and knows a crook when he sees one, but not now. Risch routinely touts his Intelligence committee and foreign policy bona fides, but in the present case he’s the political equivalent of old, bumbling Sargant Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes fame. He see “nothing, nothing.”

When the leader of their party spouts absolutely ridiculous stuff, as the man did repeatedly this week, including a whole long list of Q-Anon nonsense, you might think it would be time for an intervention. Something like: Check up on the old boy, something is sadly amiss here. But when you allow the party brand to devolve into crazy conspiracy at the hand of a serial liar what are you gonna do? Speak out about it? Nah.

As journalist Bess Levin pointed out recently, “Even before the FBI came a-knocking, the 45th president was up to his neck in legal woes,” including, by Levin’s count, 17 different criminal and civil cases ranging from the party leader’s role in the January 6 insurrection, to the corruption of his family business, to credible allegations of sexual abuse.

This guy is Tony Soprano without the charm, and he will spend the rest of his natural life in and out of depositions, investigations, lawsuits and, as increasingly seems clear, indictments and trials.

But back to the Republican’s dilemma. On the one hand they know all this attention centered on a guy who twice lost the popular vote, was twice impeached and whose actions have shaken the quivering footings of American democracy is an enormous distraction, particularly heading into a midterm election.

On the other hand, they’re stuck with him. After excusing his lack of character and honesty, after shrugging off his misogyny and racism, after cringing, but still tolerating his coziness with Putin and other assorted thugs and low lives, they’re afraid to cross him. Cutting bait now means crossing his most deranged followers, and that is very dangerous politically and even personally. 

And they know it will get worse. Congress will soon return, and the January 6 committee will deliver more revelations. A plucky prosecutor in Atlanta is systematically building a case that a criminal conspiracy attempted to interfere with the presidential election in Georgia. The family business is under extreme pressure. Despite the fulminations and lying and constantly shifting storyline, the government documents case, which has become an obstruction of justice and false statements case is solid and will play out in ways that will almost certainly be detrimental to the party and its leader.

Even a frequent apologist for the former president like National Review columnist Andrew C. McCarthy sees where this is going. “I believe former president Trump is likely to be charged with obstruction of justice and causing false statements to be made to investigators,” McCarthy wrote this week. And he added: “It does not appear that those charges would be difficult to prove.”

So, these awkward place Republicans have squandered the high ground around “law and order” by enabling a guy in so much legal trouble he can’t find competent counsel to represent him. The tough, no nonsense foreign policy realists in the party have allowed their movement to be coopted by delusional fan boy adulation for the white nationalist president of, wait for it, Hungary.

And the MAGA movement is led by a guy, as The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols describes him, that is “one of the weakest and most cowardly men ever to serve as president,” a “leader” lacking the backbone – not to mention the judgment – to stand up for his country rather than bowing down to a former KGB hack.

Having let him off once for inciting an insurrection, these awkward place Republicans know from personal experience what their leader is capable of. He’s really cornered now, and the stakes are a lot higher than losing an election and lying about it.

Joe Biden, demonized as a socialist, a Marxist, a creepy old left wing radical (among the nicer things said about him), caught some grief recently for describing the other party as “semi-fascist.”

He’s not wrong, and we’re closer every day to seeing just how far the awkward Republicans will go to keep from confronting the monster that grew and grew while they wrung their hands, turned their backs and worried about their jobs.

What will they do? What will we do?

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Molly Ivins on Roe v. Wade

The Texas Observer has gone to its archives to revisit this piece from the late, great reporter.

“One way to look at the struggle over abortion is the journalist’s way, sifting slowly through the clips, most of them yellow and brittle with age. Story after story is added to the big heap — the legal maneuverings year after year; the legislative reform efforts year after year; the obligatory “balanced” series from the women’s sections, some good, some poor; the case histories, all that terror and misery reduced to 10 inches of type; the brief death notices; the statistics stories, the opinion polls; the gory ads from the Right to Life groups; the Catholic papers, arguing again and again that that their position is not based on religious doctrine; doctors under indictment; the Florida woman convicted of manslaughter because she got an abortion; the slow changes, the medical association votes in favor of reform, the mental health organization votes in favor of reform, a legislator speaks out, a good government group; more deaths, more statistics, more polls.”

Worth your time. We rarely get a chance to go back in time, but that is where we are.


The John Birch Society Never Left

Another piece putting history – and our current moment – in context.

“Trump may have been our country’s first post-truth president. But the post-truth environment of conspiracy we are living in today has been a long time coming. We owe it in part to the truth-optional habits on the right that Robert Welch and the Birch Society exemplified—and in part to the same Republican elites who were complicit every step of the way.”

From Rick Perlstein and Edward H. Miller.


Retiring AP reporter chronicles 4 decades covering Congress

Longtime Associated Press reporter Alan Fram has thoughts.

“Trump’s norm-busting four years featured constant clashes with Congress including Republicans, from whom he tolerated no dissent.

“I prodded one Republican, privately critical of Trump, to talk on the record. ‘He’d send me to Gitmo,’ he said.

“House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., just 48, announced in early 2018 that he would retire. He later told author Tim Alberta he could not endure two more years working with Trump.”

Here’s the link.


See you again soon. Many thanks for reading.

Books, Libraries

Zealots are Coming for Your Rights …

The venerable New York Public Library – you probably have seen a photo of the library with its two massive marble lions guarding the entrance – hosted an event recently to show support for Salman Rushdie, the British-American writer who narrowly survived an assassination attempt two weeks ago.  

Rushdie became a political target after the publication of his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, a work of fiction that features a dream sequence involving the Prophet Muhammad that the supreme leader of Iran at the time declared blasphemous.

New York Public Library support for Salman Rushdie

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Iranian leader who engineered that nation’s revolution in the late 1970s, never read Rushdie’s book, the journalist Robin Wright confirms. Nevertheless, for largely political reasons, the Ayatollah ordered death for a writer. For years thereafter Rushdie lived a life of isolation, surrounded by bodyguards. Years later he assumed a more public life, and nearly died as a result. 

Wright, who has covered the Middle East for years, recently wrote that “Khomeini often capitalized on issues that distracted public attention from the Revolution’s fissures and failures. He had done the same thing after students took over the U.S. Embassy in 1979. In the months after the Shah was ousted, the revolutionaries split over Iran’s political future, a new constitution, and the powers of the clergy. (They also started killing one another.) The Embassy takeover provided a useful diversion.”

So, too Rushdie’s book. It was all political.

The attack on a writer by a knife wielding assailant is a good a reminder of what political and religious zealots determined to destroy fundamental personal freedoms are capable of. Rushdie nearly died after ten stab wounds that will likely cause him to lose an eye, severed nerves in his arm and damaged his liver.

The attack is an extreme example of the kind of anti-intellectual craziness and free speech denialism that is now running wild in the United States. Threats to personal freedoms, like the freedom to check out a particular book at your local library, a right we once took for granted, are under broad assault.

Librarians, as a class, the nicest, most caring and interesting people in every community, are under attack. School boards are facing down angry, and wildly misguided parents who demand that books be banned.

Some political candidates, ironically the Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, J.D. Vance, a best-selling author, are applying ridiculous restrictions on reporters covering their public events.

Before J.D. Vance became a very Trumpy Senate candidate he was a best selling author … now he campaigns with the book banning governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis

Vance held a rally recently with Florida’s book banning governor, Ron DeSantis. Reporters were told they could cover the event only if they agreed to a list of conditions, including not interviewing anyone in attendance.

The editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer called b.s.: “Think about what they were doing here. They were staging an event to rally people to vote for Vance while instituting the kinds of policies you’d see in a fascist regime. A wannabe U.S. Senator, and maybe a wannabe president.” Appropriately Vance and DeSantis got the bad publicity they deserve.

The GOP lieutenant governor of North Carolina wants to go farther. Mark Robinson, a likely candidate for governor in two years, says he’d abolish the state board of education and eliminate science and history education in elementary schools. “In those grades, we don’t need to be teaching social studies,” Robinson writes. “We don’t need to be teaching science. We surely don’t need to be talking about equity and social justice.”

The religious zealot and free speech deniers are literally everywhere. “For months,” NBC News reports, “a group of conservative Christians have inundated the staff and board of a public library in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, with complaints about books they didn’t want to see on the shelves.

“Their list of more than 400 titles predominantly focuses on young adult books with LGBTQ characters, scenes describing sexual activity or invoking the occult.”

Ayatollahs are alive and well in Boundary County, Idaho. None of the 400 books are even in the library. These zealots want to pre-emptively ban books, which you can be certain, like the Ayatollah, they haven’t taken the trouble to read. If they don’t like “young adult books with LGBTQ characters,” they shouldn’t read them. But the zealot’s real aim is to restrict your choice, your freedom of action, to think for you.

And, of course, they seek to intimidate and frighten. The Boundary County librarian, Kimber Glidden, resigned saying, “Nothing in my background could have prepared me for the political atmosphere of extremism, militant Christian fundamentalism, intimidation tactics, and threatening behavior currently being employed in the community.”

At the Keller Independent School District near Fort Worth, Texas, more than 40 books were ordered off the library shelves, including the Bible and an illustrated book based on Anne Frank’s diary, because someone complained.

Seriously? The Bible? Anne Frank?

One Texas parent got to the heart of the matter. Laney Hawes, parent to four children, said she understood that some parents might not approve of some materials for their children, and perhaps for very good reason, but why ban books that another parent might deem appropriate for their child?

“I don’t think that certain materials that you don’t feel like are appropriate for your children should be withheld from my children, too,” she said. Exactly. 

Andrew Solomon, a free-speech activist who spoke at the New York library rally supporting Salman Rushdie, put a fine point on the threats to personal freedom the book banners and free speech tramplers engage in. “We are living at a time when the right of free speech has been under constant assault from both the left and the right,” Solomon said, “when there have been closures of libraries, books removed from schools, when everything that used to be tokens of America’s freedom of speech is under threat.”

Like Khomeini’s death order against Salman Rushdie, the American book banners and thought police are acting on a zealous religious and political agenda. They want to shape how you think, what you read, what you say and what you believe. They don’t trust you to make decisions for yourself.

This is real. Act on these threats, as more than 200 people did recently in Meridian, Idaho when they showed up to support their local library after zealots demanded book bans.

Act. Show up. Pay attention. Don’t let them censor and ban. You won’t know what you’ve lost until its gone.

—–0—–

Suggestions for further reading:

Trump “Will Be Indicted”

“As the former president faces legal investigations, the author and white-collar-crime scholar Jennifer Taub identifies the probe that’s furthest along, what January 6 Committee graphic was key, and why you can’t get a toupee in federal prison.”

Informed speculation here from Washington Monthly:


The Red-State Governor Who’s Not Afraid to Be ‘Woke’

I found this TIME magazine piece on Utah Governor Spencer Cox to be fascinating.

Utah’s GOP governor is very conservative, but he’s much more

In April 2021, just a few months into his governorship, Cox held a virtual town hall with students across the state. Midway through, a senior from Utah’s rural southwest corner asked what he planned to do about the high rates of suicide and mental illness affecting LGBT youth. The girl identified herself as bisexual and gave her pronouns as ‘she/her/hers.’ In response, Cox said, ‘My preferred pronouns are he/him/his, so thank you for sharing yours.’ Cox had previously chaired a teen-suicide task force and championed hate-crime and nondiscrimination legislation, and he responded to the question by talking about the importance of increasing both mental-health services and societal acceptance. ‘You do belong, you do matter, no matter what you might be feeling,’ he said.”

Read the piece by Molly Ball here:


How Britain Built an Empire of Fraud

How the Brits built a financial haven for oligarchs.

“There is no clearer indication that Britain has lost its way, politically, economically, strategically, and ethically, than the outgoing occupant of 10 Downing Street. We have had good prime ministers and bad prime ministers, but never before a totally unprincipled opportunist and self-seeking mountebank, and it’s fair to say that, until recently, a man of Boris Johnson’s character and conduct could not possibly have become prime minister.”

Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviews a new book and also takes the hide off the British ruling class.


The century of climate migration: why we need to plan for the great upheaval

Sorry. This won’t improve your outlook for the weekend. A great upheaval is coming.

“The world already sees twice as many days where temperatures exceed 50C than 30 years ago – this level of heat is deadly for humans, and also hugely problematic for buildings, roads and power stations. It makes an area unliveable. This explosive planetary drama demands a dynamic human response. We need to help people to move from danger and poverty to safety and comfort – to build a more resilient global society for everyone’s benefit.”

A long read from The Guardian. You’ve been warned.


On that happy note – that’s all I got. Be well. Read books. Protect librarians.