Why Right’s Lemmings Don Suicide Vest

Exclusive: The government-sabotaging fervor of the Republican Right likened by one GOP congressman to “lemmings with suicide vests” can only be understood from inside the right-wing bubble where a distorted view of the Constitution prevails and actual democracy is disdained, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

There is an old saying from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” But the modern American Right seems to believe that “Hey, this is the USA, why shouldn’t we have our own facts!”

That sentiment is at the center of the current U.S. crisis involving the shutdown of the federal government and the threats to default on America’s credit. A determined minority within the House of Representatives has decided that its view of the Founding Principles and its assessment on the role of government are the only ones that count, whether factually anchored or not.

And it doesn’t even matter that this right-wing group has no mandate from the American people. Not only did the Democrats win the White House and the Senate in 2012, but the Democrats garnered about 1½ million more votes for House seats than the Republicans did.

The Republican House “majority” is derived to a significant degree from aggressive gerrymandering of congressional districts, like the one for northern Ohio where the GOP-controlled statehouse combined a Democratic district in Cleveland (represented by Dennis Kucinich) with one in Toledo (represented by Marcy Kaptur). The two cities are 116 miles apart and the connection along Lake Erie is so narrow in spots that you have to leave the district to drive from one half to the other.

But today’s Republican Party cares little about genuine democracy. Especially the GOP’s right wing is about shaping a false historical narrative which misrepresents the intent of the Constitution’s Framers and then insists that the Right’s fake Founding Principles must be applied regardless of how the majority of Americans voted. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-Up ‘Constitution.’”]

Thus, holding the federal government and indeed the nation’s economy hostage to impose the Tea Party’s will on the people makes a sort of perverted sense. If you’ve convinced yourself that the normal democratic process is threatening the esteemed wisdom of the Founders, then as Sen. Barry Goldwater once proclaimed “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

For many Tea Partiers, their hostility toward democracy is even stronger when you factor in that President Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats won their majorities by piling up votes from African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans. In the view of many on the Right, these non-whites are not “Real Americans” and thus their ballots should not count or at least not count as much as the votes of whites.

That racist attitude explains the recent surge of voter ID laws and the reduction of voting hours that are being enacted by Republican statehouses around the United States. They are doing so with the aid and encouragement of the five right-wing U.S. Supreme Court justices who gutted a clearly constitutional provision in the Voting Rights Act which required states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get prior federal approval for changing voting rules.

The Fifteenth Amendment states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” And the amendment gives Congress the “power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Yet, the five right-wing justices deemed that their ideological belief in “states’ rights” trumped the explicit wording of the Constitution.

White Power Structure

Many on the Right with their selective interpretation of the Constitution despise these post-Civil War amendments, in particular, because they were forced on the white power structure of the South after the Confederate insurrection fought to save but failed to preserve slavery, the right of whites to own blacks.

So, these amendments, especially the Fourteenth and Fifteenth which protect the rights of blacks and other racial minorities, are seen as illegitimate, tolerable only if they don’t intrude on ultimate white rule. Or as famed conservative William F. Buckley declared in 1957, “the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.”

Buckley’s edict is still the operational theory of the American Right: it’s okay to let black and brown people express their silly little opinions once in a while but they must never be in charge. So today’s Republican Party feels justified in taking action to make sure that whites can continue to “prevail, politically and culturally.”

There were political optimists who thought that the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president would lift the United States into a post-racial era, but it instead has prompted an angry last stand for white supremacy.

That history of defending white supremacy can be traced back to the battle over the Constitution when some of its prominent opponents, known as Anti-Federalists, saw the document’s concentration of power in the federal government as an eventual death knell to slavery (despite the Constitution’s implicit acceptance of slavery).

To the slave-owning Anti-Federalists, the Constitution’s powerful central government combined with the North’s emerging industrial strength presaged an eventual elimination of slavery. To them, it didn’t help that some key supporters of the Constitution, like Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, were abolitionists.

As Virginian Anti-Federalist leader Patrick Henry warned his fellow slave-owners in urging them not to ratify the Constitution, “they’ll free your niggers!”

The struggle to constrain the Constitution’s potential threat to slavery didn’t end with the Constitution’s ratification in 1788. The slave-owning opponents rallied behind fellow slaveholder Thomas Jefferson to impose a revisionist view of the Constitution, one that elevated states’ rights again and pushed back against federal authority.

Following the same line, today’s American Right consistently adopts not the literal reading of the Constitution or the views of the Federalists, its principal authors, but rather the revisionist interpretation imposed by Jefferson and what might be called “the pre-Confederates.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Four Eras of the American Right.”]

Southern Strategy

The Civil War and Reconstruction ended slavery but enabled the Democratic Party to exploit white resentment against the anti-slavery Republican Party and consolidate a white base within the Old Confederacy. With Jim Crow laws to repress black citizens, the Democratic Party, which had emerged from Jefferson’s southern-based political faction, went from being the party of slavery to the party of segregation.

That changed in the 1960s when the national Democrats took the lead in ending racial segregation. Though the Republican Party had historically been the anti-slavery and anti-segregation party, President Richard Nixon saw an opening for stealing away the Democratic Party’s southern white support. Nixon’s Southern Strategy appealed to white Southerners with racial code words in the 1970s and Ronald Reagan consolidated the Republican lock on southern whites in the 1980s with his populist appeals against “welfare queens” and other racial stereotypes.

Along with the Republican embrace of neo-Confederate ideology, right-wing think tanks and the rapidly expanding right-wing media popularized bogus versions of the Founding narrative, turning the Framers of the Constitution, who actually implemented a dramatic consolidation of power in the central government, into their opposites, big promoters of states’ rights who wanted a tightly constrained federal government.

Given the historical illiteracy of many Americans and the disdain that many on the Left feel toward the Constitution for its protection of property rights there was little protest over this stolen American narrative. Few in mainstream media or academia dared remind the public of the actual history in which the key Framers of the Constitution were pragmatic nationalists who placed very few limits on what the federal government could do.

Despite their many aristocratic tendencies, the Framers arguably had more faith in democracy than the current batch of Tea Party extremists. The Framers created a constitutional system that trusted the judgment of the people’s representatives to do essentially whatever was necessary to “provide for the common Defense and the general Welfare of the United States,” as they wrote in Article I, Section 8.

Further, Section 8’s so-called “enumerated powers” authorized Congress “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

It was initially the pro-slavery forces of the South who imposed a revisionist view of these powers, insisting they should be much more limited than they were written by the Framers of the Constitution. This “limited government” banner was later picked up by the Robber Baron industrialists of the late Nineteenth Century as they resisted reform movements that sought to constrain their power over the economy.

Anti-Democratic Movement

The struggle to impose this revisionist interpretation of the Constitution has always been anti-democratic in its desire to prevent the collective will of the broad American populace to implement changes to “promote the general Welfare.”

The insistence that the Constitution forbids what it actually endorses has been a touchstone of the American Right for more than two centuries, especially relating to expanded rights of non-whites and the effective regulation of powerful corporations. By demanding a “Confederate” interpretation of the Constitution, the Right asserts that reformist government action responsive to the popular will must be prohibited.

While the Right’s view is anti-historical, it can be persuasive if you put yourself into the right-wing media bubble where this made-up national narrative is all you hear. You see yourself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with George Washington and James Madison in denouncing health-care reform as an existential threat to American liberty.

But someone outside that bubble, who actually has read the Constitution and knows the history, would see the Affordable Care Act as simply an imperfect attempt to provide for “the general Welfare” by ensuring that millions of citizens who have been locked out of regular health care by a greedy health-insurance industry can finally go see a doctor without inviting bankruptcy.

Clearly, there were more efficient ways of accomplishing that goal i.e. a single-payer system or at least a Medicare buy-in but those other options were precluded by Republicans and some pro-corporate Democrats, thus leading to a free-market-oriented structure that had originally been devised by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and promoted in Massachusetts by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.

Only when this plan was embraced by President Obama did the concept become an unconscionable assault on the constitutional rights of Americans. But the fury around the issue can only be explained by the Right’s bogus interpretation of the Constitution, which excites the base to don tri-corner caps and wave yellow flags with a coiled snake declaring, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

The extremism of this Republican Tea Party faction is so intense that it has bewildered even other conservative Republicans. For instance, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, likened the behavior to “lemmings with suicide vests,” adding:

“It’s kind of an insult to lemmings to call them lemmings, so they’d have to be more than just a lemming, because jumping to your death is not enough.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




The Right’s Made-Up ‘Constitution’

From the Archive: Behind the U.S. government shutdown is the Right’s erroneous belief that the U.S. Constitution tightly limits the federal government and carves out broad powers for the states, a bogus history that suggests the Tea Partiers don’t understand the Founding document, as historian Jada Thacker wrote in July.

By Jada Thacker (Originally published on July 6, 2013)

The Cato Institute’s Handbook for Policy Makers says, “The American system was established to provide limited government.” The American Enterprise Institute states its purpose to “defend the principles” of “limited government.” The Heritage Foundation claims its mission is to promote “principles of limited government.” A multitude of Tea Party associations follow suit.

At first glance the concept of “limited government” seems like a no-brainer. Everybody believes the power of government should be limited somehow. All those who think totalitarianism is a good idea raise your hand. But there is one problem with the ultra-conservatives’ “limited government” program: it is wrong. It is not just a little bit wrong, but demonstrably false.

The Constitution was never intended to “provide limited government,” and furthermore it did not do so. The U.S. government possessed the same constitutional power at the moment of its inception as it did yesterday afternoon.

This is not a matter of opinion, but of literacy. If we want to discover the truth about the scope of power granted to federal government by the Constitution, all we have to do is read what it says.

The Constitution’s grant of essentially unlimited power springs forth in its opening phrases: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

As might be expected in a preamble to a founding document, especially one written under supervision of arch-aristocrat Gouverneur Morris, the terms are sweeping and rather grandiose. But the point is crystal clear: “to form a more perfect Union.” If the object of the Constitution were to establish “limited government,” its own Preamble must be considered a misstatement.

Enumerated Powers

Article I establishes Congress, and Section 8 enumerates its powers. The first clause of Article I, Section 8 repeats the sweeping rhetoric of the Preamble verbatim. While it provides for a measure of uniformity, it does not so much as hint at a limit on the federal government’s power to legislate as it sees fit:

“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States”

No attempt is made here, or at any other place in the Constitution, to define “general Welfare.” This oversight (if that is what it was) is crucial. The ambiguous nature of the phrase “provide for thegeneral Welfare” leaves it open to widely divergent interpretations.

Making matters worse for federal government power-deniers is the wording of the last clause of Article I, the so-called “Elastic Clause”: Congress shall have power “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

Thus the type, breadth and scope of federal legislation became unchained. When viewed in light of the ambiguous authorization of the Article’s first clause, the importance of the “necessary and proper” clause truly is astonishing. Taken together, these clauses restated in the vernacular flatly announce that “Congress can make any law it feels is necessary to provide for whatever it considers the general welfare of the country.”

Lately there has been an embarrassingly naive call from the Tea Party to require Congress to specify in each of its bills the Constitutional authority upon which the bill is grounded. Nothing could be easier: the first and last clauses of Article I, Section 8 gives Congress black-and-white authority to make any law it so desires. Nor was this authority lost on the Founders.

“Limited government” advocates are fond of cherry-picking quotes from The Federalist Papers to lend their argument credibility, but an adverse collection of essays called the Anti-federalist Papers unsurprisingly never gets a glance. Here is a sample from New Yorker Robert Yates, a would-be founder who walked out of the Philadelphia convention in protest, written a month after the Constitution had been completed:

“This government is to possess absolute and uncontrollable power, legislative, executive and judicial, with respect to every object to which it extends. The government then, so far as it extends, is a complete one. It has the authority to make laws which will affect the lives, the liberty, and the property of every man in the United States; nor can the constitution or the laws of any state, in any way prevent or impede the full and complete execution of every power given.”

Yates, it must be emphasized, took pains to identify the “necessary and proper” clause as the root of the “absolute power” inherent in the Constitution well over a year before ratification.

The Tenth Amendment

A particular darling of secession-prone, far-Right Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the Tenth Amendment is often claimed as the silver-bullet antidote for the powers unleashed by the “general welfare” and “elastic clauses.” Here is the text of the Amendment in its entirety: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Superficially, the Tenth seems to mean “since certain powers are not delegated to the federal government, then those powers are reserved to the states or the people.” This would seem to be good news for champions of limited government. But this is not the case.

The Tenth does not say that important powers remain to be delegated to the United States. It merely says that powers “not [yet] delegated” are “reserved” to the states or the people. This sounds like a terrific idea until we realize, of course, that all the important powers had already been delegated in 1787, four years before the Tenth Amendment was ratified.

As we have seen, the first and last clauses of Article I, Section 8 made the Tenth Amendment a lame-duck measure even as James Madison composed its words in 1791 and so it remains today. The sweeping powers “to make all laws necessary and proper” in order to “provide for the general welfare,” had already been bestowed upon Congress. The Johnny-come-lately Tenth Amendment closed the constitutional pasture gate after the horses had been let out.

This apparently has never occurred to the likes of Gov. Rick Perry and his far-Right cohorts who believe a state may reclaim power by withdrawing its consent, in effect repossessing their previously delegated power through state legislation. Superficially, the logic of this position seems sound: if the states had the legal authority to delegate power, then they may use the same authority to “un-delegate” it by law.

But a close re-reading of the Tenth’s wording nixes such reasoning. Oddly, the Tenth Amendment does not say the states delegated their powers to the federal government although it may be argued that it probably ought to have said so. It says “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution are reserved to the States. ”

Thus, according to the Tenth Amendment, the Constitution itself delegated the power to the federal government. States, in other words, now have no standing to “reserve-back” what they had never “delegated-away” in the first place.

Had it been possible to “un-delegate” the powers of the United States by invoking the Tenth, the Old South would have simply done so and spared itself the bother of secession not to mention the bother of being annihilated by a series of subsequent Northern invasions. The fact that the South did not even attempt such a strategy attests to the toothlessness of the Tenth Amendment.

No other instance in law would be a better example that we should choose our votes carefully. For in ratifying the Bill of Rights, which included the Tenth Amendment, the American people endorsed the legal fiction that the Constitution not the original 13 states, or “We the People” authorized the power of the United States because the Constitution itself said so. If the Constitution has an Orwellian twist, this is it no matter which side of the aisle you’re on.

The states and the people may amend the Constitution. But they may not do so by nullification (according to the logic inherent in the wording of the Tenth Amendment), or by the judgment of state courts (according to the “supremacy clause” of Article VI), nor may any Amendment be made without the participation of the federal government, itself (according to Article V.) If the Founders had meant to
ensure “limited government,” there is no trace of such intent here.

Paucity of Rights

If the Constitution were intended to provide “limited government,” we might expect it to be chock full of guarantees of individual rights. This is what Tea Partiers may fantasize but this is not really true. In fact, the Constitution is amazingly stingy in reference to “rights.”

The word “right” is mentioned only once in the Constitution as ratified. (Art. I, Sec. 8 allows Congress to award copyrights/patents to ensure their holders “ Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”)

The word “right” somewhat counter-intuitively appears only six times in the ten Amendments called the “Bill of Rights.”

Almost a century later, the first of seven other rights were added under pressure from Progressive activists almost all of which were intended to create and extend democratic participation in self-government.

Amendment XIV (sanctions against states denying suffrage); XV (universal male suffrage); XIX (women’s suffrage); XXIV (denial of poll tax); and XXVI (18 year-old suffrage); and twice in Amendment XX, which gives Congress the “right of choice” in presidential succession.

In grand total, the word “right” appears only 14 times in the entire Constitution, as it exists today (including the two rights conferred to government).

Did we all notice that the “Constitution of the Founders” did not include the “right” for anybody at all to vote? Notable, too, is the absence of language implying that any “rights” are “unalienable” or “natural” or “endowed by their Creator.” All such phraseology belongs to the Declaration of Independence, which apparently unbeknownst to Tea Partiers everywhere bears no force of law.

The word “power,” by the way, occurs 43 times in the Constitution, each time referring exclusively to the prerogative of government, not right-wingers. Since “individual” rights are mentioned only 12 times, this yields a ratio of about 4:1 in favor of government power over individual rights. Without the efforts of those pesky, democracy-mongering Progressives, who fought for universal voting rights, the ratio would be more than 6:1 today or 50 percent higher.

This statistical factoid is not as trivial as it may appear. Expressed in practical terms, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin or Clarence Thomas would almost certainly never have achieved public office had they lived under the “limited government” designed by the Founders they so revere.

The Bill of Rights

So what exactly are our non-patent/copyright “rights,” under so-called “limited government?”

Amendment I the right of people “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances”

Amendment II the right “to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”

Amendment IV the right “to be secureagainst unreasonable searches or seizures”

Amendment VI the right “to a speedy and public trial”

Amendment VII the right “of a trial by jury”

Amendment IX enumeration “of certain rights” shall not deny “others retained by the people”

That’s it. What happened to the famous rights of free speech, religion or press? The way the First Amendment is worded does not enumerate these as positive rights that people possess, but rather as activities the government may not infringe upon. If Bill of Rights author James Madison had meant to stipulate them as positive “rights” all he had to do was write it that way, but he did not.

Bear in mind Madison (then a federalist) wrote the Bill of Rights under political duress. Since anti-federalists (recall the skepticism of Robert Yates) flatly refused to ratify the Constitution unless it guaranteed something, Madison had to write something. In effect, the amendments were the pig the anti-federalists had bought in the poke, three years after ratification had paid for it.

Madison, at the time of writing, had little incentive to take pains with what he wrote because federalists did not believe a Bill of Rights was necessary, or even good idea (with Alexander Hamilton arguing a Bill of Rights would be “dangerous.”) This may account for the fact that some of what Madison wrote seems vague, or even ambiguous, as in the case of Amendment II.

Amendment IX, for example, actually makes little sense, which may account for the fact nobody ever seems to mention it: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

This sounds “righteous” enough, until we recall the Constitution to which this Amendment pertains had “enumerated” only a single right in the first place! Even if Amendment IX applies to the Bill of Rights (to include itself), then all it says is “the people may have more rights than the half dozen mentioned so far, but we’re not going to tell you what they are.” (So if Amendment X is Orwellian, Amendment IX verges on Catch-22.)

Of course the idea was to calm suspicions that people would possess only the half-dozen rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights (plus patents!) and no others. Even so, Amendment IX did not guarantee any un-enumerated rights; it just did not peremptorily “deny or disparage” any.

And what sense should we make of the crucial Amendment V one of the four Bills of Rights not actually containing the word “right” at all?

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” [Emphasis supplied]

Thus, life, liberty and property are not expressly granted status as fundamental “rights,” but only as personal possessions that may be deprived or taken according to “due process.” The crucial implication is that Amendment V exists in order to stipulate how the government may deny an individual claim to life, liberty or property. With due process, you life, liberty and property may be toast. That is what it plainly says.

It is interesting, too, that the Bill of Rights does not speak to the origin of rights, but only to their existence. Moreover, the Constitution never speaks of granting rights, but only protecting them. There is a good reason for this: excepting the Progressive suffrage Amendments, none of the guaranteed rights were American inventions, but had for centuries been considered the rights of the English nobility.

For those who want to believe in “American Exceptionalism” as the basis of “limited government,” this is not encouraging news. Moreover, the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, hardly includes any “right” that had not already been recognized at one time or another by medieval English monarchs or in ancient Rome and Greece.

Property Rights and ‘Republic’

The strict libertarians among us claim the sole legitimate power of government is that which is necessary to protect private property rights. On this score, however, the “limited government” of the Founders is practically mute. Except for the aforementioned Article I, Section 8 provision for patents and copyrights, private “property” is only mentioned twice in the Constitution, both times in a single sentence of the “right”-less Amendment V quoted above:

“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” [Emphasis supplied]

Once again, Amendment V fails to guarantee personal immunity from the power of the state, but rather details the way state power may be used to dispossess individuals of their property. And we must bear in mind these words were not penned by Marxists, socialists, or Progressives.

Whether by design or happenstance, the original “Constitution of the Founders,” or the Bill of Rights, or even the Constitution with all its Amendments does not grant any irrevocable “right of possession” to property. Even the Second Amendment’s “right to keep” arms, is subject to the terms by which property may be taken under terms of Amendment V, and it always has been.

Tellingly, the word “democracy” does not appear in the Constitution. This intentional oversight is often smugly celebrated by anti-democrats among us, who insist that the United States of America was founded as a “republic.” No doubt this is true, given that the Constitution was written by an exclusive, hand-picked cadre of oligarchs, whose number did not include a single woman, person of color, or wage-earner.

Unfortunately for the pro-republic “limited government” crowd, the Constitution does not contain the word “republic” either. The word does appear as an adjective, but only once, (Article IV, Section 4): “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them from Invasion”

Typically for the Constitution, which defines few of its terms, the word “Republican” also remains unexplained. The ambiguity of the term turned out to be handy, however, as Radical Republicans continuously and egregiously violated Article IV, Sec. 4 from 1865-1877 as they enforced blatantly unconstitutional military occupation of former Confederate states during the gross misnomer of “Reconstruction.”

It should be obvious that the “Constitution of our Founders,” including the Bill of Rights, may not protect as many rights as many wish to believe. Moreover, we have already noted the Constitution dropped all revolutionary talk of “unalienable” rights and “Creator endowed” liberty. This was not an oversight.

The revolutionary bit about “consent of the governed” posed an especially delicate problem for the Founders. Almost all owned slaves or were masters of property-less tenants or domestic servants, including their wives none of whom could offer their legal consent even if they wished to do so. Thus the Founders shrewdly considered it unnecessary to include any voting rights in the new republic they planned to rule, uncontested by the disenfranchised lower castes.

Did this result in the land of the free, with liberty and justice for all? Let’s see.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Americans were sentenced to death for protesting unfair taxes; journalists and citizens imprisoned for criticizing government officials; citizens’ property seized illegally; workers murdered by government agents; thousands jailed without the “privilege” of habeas corpus; entire states deprived of civilian courts; untold numbers of American Indians defrauded of  liberty and property; debt-peonage and debtors’ prisons flourished, as did slavery and child labor; and the majority of the public was denied the vote.

All this was considered constitutional by the Founders. None of these outrages, please note, was the result of “progressivism,” which had yet to be articulated, and all were common prior to the New Deal and the advent of so-called Big Government. Was this the face of “limited government?”

No, it was not. The concept of a democratically “limited government” was not for a moment entertained by our Founders, nor is it by those who idolize them today. With few exceptions, the Founders were Eighteenth Century patricians who took a revolutionary gamble meant chiefly to perpetuate their privileges, free from English colonial overlord-ship. It should come as no surprise these elitists drafted a Constitution that posed no threat to aristocracy.

‘Limited Government’ as Act of Faith

The original Constitution of the United States of America was just so much ink on paper. The Constitution, as it stands today, is just a lot more ink on paper.

But the Constitution’s ink is important and deserves respect because it represents nothing less than the collective civic conscience of the American people. A great many Americans have dedicated their lives in trust to that conscience on battlefields, in classrooms, in everyday civic life, and even a few in the halls of power.

It is evident that most of the Amendments to the original Constitution as well as the Supreme Court’s decisions interpreting its scope and purpose were made because the document had over the course of time been found wanting by the American people, whose common interests it was not originally intended to serve. As the collective civic conscience of the people changed, so too did their interpretation of self-government.

But the entire concept of social evolution (much less biological evolution) is something the ultra-Conservative rank-and-file likely does not comprehend and it is not something their leaders encourage them to consider. The reason for this may have less to do with politics than with fundamentalist faith.

An anecdote in point: the editor-in-chief at Random House once asked the extremist libertarian Ayn Rand if she would consider revising a passage in one of her manuscripts. She reportedly replied, “Would you consider revising the Bible?”

Ergo, that which is sacrosanct neither requires nor will tolerate change to include the fantasized “limited government” of the immortalized “Founding Fathers.” The fact that Rand was a noted atheist only underscores the point that fundamentalist faith is not restricted to any particular brand of fanaticism.

Yet the Constitution’s conception was anything but immaculate. It was not carted down from the Mount in tablets of stone, nor is it the product of some mysterious Natural Law interpretable only by libertarian gurus. And whether its meaning is best exemplified by the Tea Party flag depicting a talking snake (“Don’t Tread on Me”), perhaps only Eve could judge with authority.

The Constitution is not a holy book, and there is no good reason for anybody to treat it like one. The men who wrote it were not prophets, nor were they particularly virtuous, though some could turn a pretty phrase. In fact, the Constitution’s most unholy-book characteristic is its most welcomed attribute: its readers are not required to believe in its infallibility in order for it to make sense to them.

But we are required to read the Constitution if we want to know what it says. The ultra-conservatives’ obsession with a constitutionally “limited government,” which has never actually existed, suggests they do not understand the Constitution as much as they merely idolize it.

These constitutional fundamentalists along with the American public in general would do better to pick the document up and read it sometime, not fall on bended knee before it and expect the rest of us to follow their example.

Jada Thacker, Ed.D is a Vietnam veteran and author of Dissecting American History. He teaches U.S. History at a private institution in Texas. Contact: jadathacker@sbcglobal.net




The Founders’ ‘Musket Mandate’

From the Archive: At the center of the Republican shutdown of the U.S. government is the claim that a “mandate” requiring Americans to get health insurance violates Founding principles, but the Framers of the Constitution were comfortable with a similar mandate for an armed militia, as Robert Parry noted in 2012.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on April 2, 2012)

If Fox News and Antonin Scalia were around in 1792 when James Madison and George Washington helped push through the Militia Acts requiring citizens to buy muskets and other military supplies, those Founders likely would have heard complaints like: “What else will the federal government do? Make us buy broccoli?”

Okay, broccoli wasn’t really grown in the United States at the time, arriving in the next century with waves of Italian immigrants. But the distinction between the Founding era and today is illustrative of how the seriousness of American politics has eroded.

In 1792, just four years after ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Madison and Washington two key Framers of the document saw nothing wrong with mandating Americans to buy certain products in the private market. It was simply a practical way for the government to arm militias to put down insurrections and defend against foreign enemies.

In 2012, however, the Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court behaved like Fox News pundits, offering goofy hypothetical possibilities about what Congress might mandate if the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to buy health insurance stands. We heard lots about required purchases of broccoli, burial insurance, cars, cell phones, etc.

The debate also was influenced by the false assertion that never before in U.S. history had the federal government required Americans to buy a private product. For “originalists” like Justice Scalia that was particularly important because he claims to believe that only actions reflective of the Framers’ original vision can be constitutional.

But here was a stubborn historical fact, that Madison, as a member of the Second Congress, and Washington, as the first President, had supported the Militia Acts of 1792, which gave each able-bodied white male of fighting age six months to “provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball.”

Yes, I know that the law was passed under Article Two powers of the Executive, which makes the President the Commander in Chief of the military, not Article One’s Commerce Clause, which grants Congress unrestricted power to regulate interstate commerce. But the principle is the same, that the government can order Americans to buy something that Congress deemed necessary for the country’s good.

So Long Ago

I’m also aware that the musket precedent is dismissed by some because it was so long ago. But that should be exactly the point when Scalia and the other Republican justices are weighing the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate.

If mandates were okay for Madison, the Constitution’s chief architect, and Washington, who presided at the Constitutional Convention, then that should be determinative on the question of whether mandates passed constitutional muster with the Framers. Madison and Washington along with other men in the Second Congress and inside Washington’s administration were, like, the actual Framers.

The fact that the musket mandate was approved just four years after the Constitution’s ratification should count even more for the “originalists” like Scalia than if some mandate had been approved later.

Unlike the petty partisans of today, the Framers of the Constitution were mostly pragmatic individuals. Sure, they cared about liberty (at least for white males), but they also were driven by the need to build a strong nation that could maintain its independence against the encroachment of European powers.

That was why Madison proposed the strong Commerce Clause in the first place. He understood that only national action and coordination could enable the United States to marshal its resources properly and fend off Europe’s predatory economic tactics.

Madison’s Commerce Clause idea even predated the Constitution. He initially proposed giving the federal government control over national commerce when the Articles of Confederation were still governing the country (from 1777 to 1787).

General Washington, who hated the Articles because they had created a weak central government that often left his troops unpaid and unfed, backed Madison’s proposal when it was before the Virginia Legislature after the Revolutionary War. In a letter, Washington expressed the need for greater national unity.

“The [commerce] proposition in my opinion is so self evident that I confess I am at a loss to discover wherein lies the weight of the objection to the measure,” Washington wrote. “We are either a united people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of a general concern act as a nation, which have national objects to promote, and a national character to support. If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending it to be.”

Madison failed in his bid to attach his commerce amendment to the Articles, but he revived the idea when the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in 1787. Though the convention was supposed to simply propose changes to the Articles, Madison and Washington engineered the scrapping of the earlier system to be replaced with an entirely new Constitution.

There at the Start

So, on the first day of substantive debate  May 29, 1787 as a fellow Virginian, Edmund Randolph, presented Madison’s constitutional framework, the Commerce Clause was there.

Madison’s convention notes recount Randolph saying that “there were many advantages, which the U. S. might acquire, which were not attainable under the confederation such as a productive impost [or tax] counteraction of the commercial regulations of other nations pushing of commerce ad libitum &c &c.”

In other words, the Founders at their most “originalist” moment understood the value of the federal government taking action to negate the commercial advantages of other countries and to take steps for “pushing of [American] commerce.” The “ad libitum &c &c” notation suggests that Randolph provided other examples off the top of his head.

So, Madison and other key Framers recognized that a legitimate role of Congress was to ensure that the nation could match up against other countries economically and could address problems impeding the nation’s economic success.

After the Convention, when the proposed Constitution was under fire from Anti-Federalists who favored retaining the states-rights orientation of the Articles of Confederation, Madison returned, in the Federalist Papers, to arguing the value of the Commerce Clause.

Ironically, Madison considered the Commerce Clause one of the least controversial elements of his new governing structure. In Federalist Paper No. 45, writing under the pseudonym Publius, Madison referred to the Commerce Clause as “a new power; but an addition which few oppose, and from which no apprehensions are entertained.”

In Federalist Paper No. 14, Madison explained how the Commerce Clause could help the young nation overcome some of its problems with communications and access to interior lands.

“[T]he union will be daily facilitated by new improvements,” Madison wrote. “Roads will everywhere be shortened, and kept in better order; accommodations for travelers will be multiplied and meliorated; an interior navigation on our eastern side will be opened throughout, or nearly throughout the whole extent of the Thirteen States.

“The communication between the western and Atlantic districts, and between different parts of each, will be rendered more and more easy by those numerous canals with which the beneficence of nature has intersected our country, and which art finds it so little difficult to connect and complete.”

The building of canals, as an argument in support of the Commerce Clause and the Constitution, further reflects the pragmatic and commercial attitudes of key Founders. In 1785, two years before the Constitutional Convention, George Washington established the Potowmack Company, which began digging canals to extend navigable waterways westward where he and other Founders had invested in Ohio and other undeveloped lands.

Thus, the idea of involving the central government in major economic projects a government-business partnership to create jobs and profits was there from the beginning. Madison, Washington and other early American leaders saw the Constitution as creating a dynamic system so the young country could grow and compete with rival economies. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Did the Founders Hate Government?“]

Health Costs

In that sense, the Affordable Care Act comports with the original intent of the Commerce Clause, to keep U.S. industry competitive with international rivals. Today, one of the heaviest burdens on U.S. companies in relation to foreign competitors is the soaring cost of health care that has made American products more expensive.

The Constitution also explicitly empowers the federal government “to promote the general Welfare” and when tens of millions of Americans are without affordable health care and tens of thousands are dying each year because they can’t afford to see a doctor, that is surely an impediment to “the general Welfare.”

But what is perhaps most striking when comparing the Founding era of the United States to today’s politicized and petty times is the stunning loss of pragmatism and common sense.

Then, the Founders were finding ways to do what was necessary to build the nation. Now, partisans like Scalia and Fox News are all about scoring debating points. They conjure up arguments to win for the GOP side even if the nation loses.

Today’s Republican partisans, including justices on the Supreme Court, denounce the health-insurance mandate even though it was originally a conservative proposal from the Heritage Foundation. Yet, once a Democratic president embraced it, the individual mandate became a socialistic affront to the Constitution.

One might reflect upon Washington’s letter supporting Madison’s commerce idea: “We are either a united people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of a general concern act as a nation, which have national objects to promote, and a national character to support. If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending it to be.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




The Four Eras of the American Right

Exclusive: In the coming weeks, the Republican Party and its Tea Party extremists vow to create budgetary and fiscal crises if the Democrats don’t gut health-care reform and submit to a host of other right-wing demands. But a driving force in this craziness is an anti-historical view of the Constitution, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As the world ponders why the American Right through its Tea Party power in Congress is threatening to shut down the federal government and precipitate a global economic crisis by defaulting on U.S. debt, the answer goes to the self-image of these rightists who insist they are the true defenders of the Founding Principles.

This conceit is reinforced by the vast right-wing media via talk radio, cable TV, well-funded Internet sites and a variety of books and print publications. Thus, the Tea Partiers and many Republicans have walled themselves off from the actual history, which would show the American Right to be arguably the opposite of true patriots, actually the faction of U.S. politics that has most disdained and disrupted the orderly constitutional process created in 1787.

Indeed, the history of the American Right can be roughly divided into four eras: the pre-Confederate period from 1787 to 1860 when slave owners first opposed and then sought to constrain the Constitution, viewing it as a threat to slavery; the actual Confederacy from 1861 to 1865 when the South took up arms against the Constitution in defense of slavery; the post-Confederate era from 1866 to the 1960s when white racists violently thwarted constitutional protections for blacks; and the neo-Confederate era from 1969 to today when these racists jumped to the Republican Party in an attempt to extend white supremacy behind various code words and subterfuges.

It is true that the racist Right has often moved in tandem with the wealthy-elite Right, which has regarded the regulatory powers of the federal government as a threat to the ability of rich industrialists to operate corporations and to control the economy without regard to the larger public good.

But the historical reality is that both the white supremacists and the anti-regulatory corporatists viewed the Constitution as a threat to their interests because of its creation of a powerful central government that was given a mandate to “promote the general Welfare.” The Constitution was far from perfect and its authors did not always have the noblest of motives, but it created a structure that could reflect the popular will and be used for the nation’s good.

The key Framers of the Constitution the likes of George Washington, James Madison (who then was a protégé of Washington) Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris (who wrote the famous Preamble) were what might be called “pragmatic nationalists” determined to do what was necessary to protect the nation’s fragile independence and to advance the country’s economic development.

In 1787, the Framers’ principal concern was that the existing government structure the Articles of Confederation was unworkable because it embraced a system of strong states, deemed “sovereign” and “independent,” and a weak central government called simply a “league of friendship” among the states.

The Constitution flipped that relationship, making federal law supreme and seeking to make the states “subordinately useful,” in Madison’s evocative phrase. Though the Constitution did make implicit concessions to slavery in order to persuade southern delegates to sign on, the shift toward federal dominance was immediately perceived as an eventual threat to slavery.

Fearing for Slavery

Key Anti-Federalists, such as Virginia’s Patrick Henry and George Mason, argued that over time the more industrial North would grow dominant and insist on the elimination of slavery. And, it was known that a number of key participants at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, including Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, were strongly in favor of emancipation and that Washington, too, was troubled by human bondage though a slaveholder himself.

So, Henry and Mason cited the threat to slavery as their hot-button argument against ratification. In 1788, Henry warned his fellow Virginians that if they approved the Constitution, it would put their massive capital investment in slaves in jeopardy. Imagining the possibility of a federal tax on slaveholding, Henry declared, “They’ll free your niggers!”

It is a testament to how we have whitewashed U.S. history on the evils of slavery that Patrick Henry is far better known for his declaration before the Revolution, “Give me liberty or give me death!” than his equally pithy warning, “They’ll free your niggers!”

Similarly, George Mason, Henry’s collaborator in trying to scare Virginia’s slaveholders into opposing the Constitution, is recalled as an instigator of the Bill of Rights, rather than as a defender of slavery. A key “freedom” that Henry and Mason fretted about was the “freedom” of plantation owners to possess other human beings as property.

As historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote in their 2010 book, Madison and Jefferson, Henry and Mason argued that “slavery, the source of Virginia’s tremendous wealth, lay politically unprotected.” Besides the worry about how the federal government might tax slave-ownership, there was the fear that the President as commander in chief might “federalize” the state militias and emancipate the slaves.

Though the Anti-Federalists lost the struggle to block ratification, they soon shifted into a strategy of redefining the federal powers contained in the Constitution, with the goal of minimizing them and thus preventing a strong federal government from emerging as a threat to slavery.

In this early stage of the pre-Confederacy era, the worried slave owners turned to one of their own, Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and a charismatic politician who had been in France during the drafting and ratification of the Constitution and enactment of the Bill of Rights.

Though Jefferson had criticized the new governing document especially over its broad executive powers, he was not an outright opponent and thus was a perfect vehicle for seeking to limit the Constitution’s reach. Even as Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson began organizing against the formation of the new government as it was being designed by the Federalists, especially Washington’s energetic Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.

The Federalists, who were the principal Framers, understood the Constitution to grant the central government all necessary powers to “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” However, Jefferson and his fellow Southern slaveholders were determined to limit those powers by reinterpreting what the Constitution allowed much more narrowly.

Partisan Warfare

Through the 1790s, Jefferson and his Southern-based faction engaged in fierce partisan warfare against the Federalists, particularly Alexander Hamilton but also John Adams and implicitly George Washington. Jefferson opposed the Federalist program that sought to promote the country’s development through everything from a national bank to a professional military to a system of roads and canals.

As Jefferson’s faction gained strength, it also pulled in James Madison who, in effect, was drawn back into the slave interests of his fellow Virginians. Jefferson, with Madison’s acquiescence, developed the extra-constitutional theories of state “nullification” of federal law and even the principle of secession.

Historians Burstein and Isenberg wrote in Madison and Jefferson that these two important Founders must be understood as, first and foremost, politicians representing the interests of Virginia where the two men lived nearby each other on plantations worked by African-American slaves, Jefferson at Monticello and Madison at Montpelier.

“It is hard for most to think of Madison and Jefferson and admit that they were Virginians first, Americans second,” Burstein and Isenberg said. “But this fact seems beyond dispute. Virginians felt they had to act to protect the interests of the Old Dominion, or else, before long, they would become marginalized by a northern-dominated economy.

“Virginians who thought in terms of the profit to be reaped in land were often reluctant to invest in manufacturing enterprises. The real tragedy is that they chose to speculate in slaves rather than in textile factories and iron works. And so as Virginians tied their fortunes to the land, they failed to extricate themselves from a way of life that was limited in outlook and produced only resistance to economic development.”

Because of political mistakes by the Federalists and Jefferson’s success in portraying himself as an advocate of simple farmers (when he was really the avatar for the plantation owners), Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans prevailed in the election of 1800, clearing the way for a more constrained interpretation of the Constitution and a 24-year Virginia Dynasty over the White House with Jefferson, Madison and James Monroe, all slaveholders.

By the time the Virginia Dynasty ended, slavery had spread to newer states to the west and was more deeply entrenched than ever before. Indeed, not only was Virginia’s agriculture tied to the institution of slavery but after the Constitution banned the importation of slaves in 1808, Virginia developed a new industry, the breeding of slaves for sale to new states in the west. [For details on this history, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Dubious Claim to Madison.”]

Toward Civil War

The course to the Civil War was set, as ironically the warnings of Patrick Henry and George Mason proved prescient, the growing industrial strength of the North gave momentum to a movement for abolishing slavery. When Abraham Lincoln, the presidential candidate for the new anti-slavery Republican Party, won the 1860 election, southern slave states seceded from the Union, claiming they were defending the principle of states’ rights but really they were protecting the economic interests of slave owners.

The South’s bloody defeat in the Civil War finally ended slavery and the North sought for several years to “reconstruct” the South as a place that would respect the rights of freed slaves. But the traditional white power structure soon reasserted itself, employing violence against blacks and the so-called “carpetbaggers” from the North.

As white Southerners organized politically under the banner of the Democratic Party, which had defended slavery since its origins in Jefferson’s plantation-based political faction, the North and the Republicans grew weary of trying to police the South. Soon, southern whites were pushing blacks into a form of crypto-slavery through a combination of Jim Crow laws, white supremacist ideology and Ku Klux Klan terror.

Thus, the century after the Civil War could be designated the post-Confederate era of the American Right. This restoration of the South’s white power structure also coincided with the emergence of the North’s Robber Barons the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan who amassed extraordinary wealth and used it to achieve political clout in favor of laissez-faire economics.

In that sense, the interests of the northern industrialists and the southern aristocracy dovetailed in a common opposition to any federal authority that might reflect the interests of the common man, either the white industrial workers of the North or the black sharecroppers of the South.

However, amid recurring financial calamities on Wall Street that drove many Americans into abject poverty and with the disgraceful treatment of African-Americans in the South, reform movements began to emerge in the early Twentieth Century, reviving the founding ideal that the federal government should “promote the general Welfare.”

With the Great Depression of the 1930s, the grip of the aging Robber Barons and their descendants began to slip. Despite fierce opposition from the political Right, President Franklin Roosevelt enacted a series of reforms that increased regulation of the financial sector, protected the rights of unions and created programs to lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

After World War II, the federal government went even further, helping veterans get educated through the GI Bill, making mortgages affordable for new homes, connecting the nation through a system of modern highways, and investing in scientific research. Through these various reforms, the federal government not only advanced the “general Welfare” but, in effect, invented the Great American Middle Class.

Civil Rights

As the nation’s prosperity surged, attention also turned to addressing the shame of racial segregation. The civil rights movement led by remarkable leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and eventually embraced by Democratic Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson rallied popular support and the federal government finally moved against segregation across the South.

Yet, reflecting the old-time pro-slavery concerns of Patrick Henry and George Mason, southern white political leaders fumed at this latest intrusion by the federal government against the principle of “states’ rights,” i.e. the rights of the whites in southern states to treat “their coloreds” as they saw fit.

This white backlash to the federal activism against segregation became the energy driving the modern Republican Party. The smartest right-wingers of the post-World War II era understood this reality.

On the need to keep blacks under white domination, urbane conservative William F. Buckley declared in 1957 that “the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.”

Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, who wrote the influential manifesto Conscience of a Conservative, realized in 1961 that for Republicans to gain national power, they would have to pick off southern segregationists. Or as Goldwater put it, the Republican Party had to “go hunting where the ducks are.”

Then, there was Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” of using coded language to appeal to southern whites and Ronald Reagan’s launching of his 1980 national presidential campaign with a states’ rights speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the notorious site of the murders of three civil rights workers. The two strands of historic conservatism, white supremacy and “small government” ideology, were again wound together.

In New York magazine, Frank Rich summed up this political history while noting how today’s right-wing revisionists have tried to reposition their heroes by saying they opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 simply out of high-minded “small-government principles.” But Rich wrote:

“The primacy of [Strom] Thurmond in the GOP’s racial realignment is the most incriminating truth the right keeps trying to cover up. That’s why the George W. Bush White House shoved the Mississippi senator Trent Lott out of his post as Senate majority leader in 2002 once news spread that Lott had told Thurmond’s 100th-birthday gathering that America ‘wouldn’t have had all these problems’ if the old Dixiecrat had been elected president in 1948.

“Lott, it soon became clear, had also lavished praise on [the Confederacy’s president] Jefferson Davis and associated for decades with other far-right groups in thrall to the old Confederate cause. But the GOP elites didn’t seem to mind until he committed the truly unpardonable sin of reminding America, if only for a moment, of the exact history his party most wanted and needed to suppress. Then he had to be shut down at once.”

Unholy Alliance

This unholy alliance between the racists and the corporatists continues to this day with Republicans understanding that the votes of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities must be suppressed if the twin goals of the two principal elements of the Right are to control the future. That was the significance of this year’s ruling by the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority to gut the Voting Rights Act. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Supreme Court’s War on Democracy.”]

Only if the votes of whites can be proportionately enhanced and the votes of minorities minimized can the Republican Party overcome the country’s demographic changes and retain government power that will both advance the interests of the racists and the free-marketeers.

That’s why Republican-controlled statehouses engaged in aggressive gerrymandering of congressional districts in 2010 and tried to impose “ballot security” measures across the country in 2012. The crudity of those efforts, clumsily justified as needed to prevent the virtually non-existent problem of in-person voter fraud, was almost painful to watch.

As Frank Rich noted, “Everyone knows these laws are in response to the rise of Barack Obama. It is also no coincidence that many of them were conceived and promoted by the American Legal Exchange Council, an activist outfit funded by heavy-hitting right-wing donors like Charles and David Koch.

“In another coincidence that the GOP would like to flush down the memory hole, the Kochs’ father, Fred, a founder of the radical John Birch Society in the fifties, was an advocate for the impeachment of Chief Justice Warren in the aftermath of Brown [v. Board of Education] Fred Koch wrote a screed of his own accusing communists of inspiring the civil-rights movement.”

Blaming the Democratic Party for ending segregation and coyly invited by opportunistic Republicans like Nixon and Reagan to switch party allegiances racist whites signed up with the Republican Party in droves. Thus, the Democratic Party, which since the days of Jefferson had been the party of slavery and segregation, lost its southern base, ceding it to the Republican Party, which essentially renounced its historical legacy as the anti-slavery and anti-segregation party.

A Flip of Allegiance

This flip in the allegiance of America’s white supremacists from Democrat to Republican also put them in the same political structure as the anti-regulatory business interests which had dominated the Republican Party from the days of the Robber Barons. These two groups again found themselves sharing a common interest, the desire to constrain the federal government’s commitment to providing for “the general Welfare.”

To the corporate Republicans this meant slashing taxes, eliminating regulations and paring back social programs for the poor or in Ayn Rand vernacular the moochers. To the racist Republicans this meant giving the states greater leeway to suppress the votes of minorities and gutting programs that were seen as especially benefiting black and brown Americans, such as food stamps and health-care reform.

Thus, in today’s neo-Confederate era, the American Right is coalescing around two parallel ideological motives: continued racial resentment (from the disproportionate number of black and brown people getting welfare to the presence of a black family in the White House) and resistance to government regulations (from efforts to control Wall Street excesses to restrictions on global-warming emissions).

Though the white racist element of this coalition might typically be expected to proudly adopt the Stars and Bars of the Old Confederacy as its symbol, the modern Right is too media-savvy to get boxed into that distasteful imagery of slavery.

So, instead the Right has opted for a rebranding as Revolutionary War-era patriots calling themselves Tea Partiers, donning tri-corner hats and waving yellow banners with a coiled snake declaring “don’t tread on me.” So, instead of overtly defending the Confederacy, the Right proclaims its commitment to the Founding Principles found in the Constitution.

But this sly transformation required the Right to rewrite the Founding Narrative, to blot out the initial interpretation of the Constitution by the Federalists who, after all, were the ones who primarily crafted the document, and to pretend that Jefferson’s revisionist view representing the pre-Confederate position of the southern plantation owners was the original one. [For more, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-Up Constitution.”]

Now this doctored history hostile to any federal government actions that would “promote the general Welfare” is leading the United States and the world into an economic crisis.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




GOP’s Mad Health-Care Vendetta

Republicans and their Tea Party allies are plotting one more frenzied assault on the Affordable Care Act by disrupting congressional townhall meetings and possibly holding the full-faith-and-credit of the United States hostage. But the madness may just expose how crazy the GOP has become, writes Beverly Bandler.

By Beverly Bandler

Norman Ornstein, celebrated political scientist and independent scholar of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, suggests that today’s Republican Party and its nihilistic approach to the Affordable Care Act takes one’s breath away.

Ornstein has noted that there are traditional and respectable ways for legislators to act toward an existing law that they disagree with and then there is what the current Republicans are doing toward Obamacare.

As Ornstein has commented: “When a law is enacted, representatives who opposed it have some choices (which are not mutually exclusive). They can try to repeal it, which is perfectly acceptable, unless it becomes an effort at grandstanding so overdone that it detracts from other basic responsibilities of governing. They can try to amend it to make it work better, not just perfectly acceptable but desirable, if the goal is to improve a cumbersome law to work better for the betterment of the society and its people.

“They can strive to make sure that the law does the most for Americans it is intended to serve, including their own constituents, while doing the least damage to the society and the economy. Or they can step aside and leave the burden of implementation to those who supported the law and got it enacted in the first place.

“But to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation, which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil, is simply unacceptable, even contemptible.

“One might expect this kind of behavior from a few grenade-throwing firebrands. That the effort is spearheaded by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate, even if Speaker John Boehner is motivated by fear of his caucus, and [Sen. Mitch] McConnell and [John] Cornyn by fear of Kentucky and Texas Republican activists, takes one’s breath away.”

But that’s because today’s version of the GOP has evolved into an authoritarian, right-wing party unlike any political party in U.S. History, a destructive political force worse than McCarthyism by several orders of magnitude.

The Republican Party has been considered obstructionist and nihilistic for some time, even “crazy” comprised of so many laissez faire corporatists and neo-confederates determined to roll back the 20th Century, take revenge on Reconstruction, reverse the outcome of the Civil War and create an oligarchic, antebellum South within the United States of the 21st Century while they attempt to re-write American history along with the Constitution.

In 2012, Ornstein and his equally respected liberal colleague Thomas E. Mann made this assessment: “We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”

That the Republicans are now spinning out of control is demonstrated by their extraordinarily irresponsible behavior in relation to what is known as “Obamacare.”

Ezra Klein, Washington Post columnist points out: “Three years after the law passed, one year after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it, and nine months after Republicans lost the election that might have allowed them to repeal it, the Washington conversation is still about Republicans’ rear guard actions to undermine the Affordable Care Act and profit politically from the damage.”

Prolific blogger Jon Perr writes: “With Congress set to adjourn for the summer, Republican leaders are hoping to reprise the recess of 2009, when furious Tea Partiers armed with incendiary signs, bogus GOP talking points and occasionally guns (though not the truth) ran roughshod over town hall meetings nationwide.

“But along with their streams of sound bites and planted questions [and aggressive bad manners], the centerpiece of the Republican summer strategy to go ‘on the offense’ against Obamacare is what planners are calling ‘Emergency Health Care Town Hall’ meeting designed to showcase ‘the negative effects of the health care law and the House Republicans’ plan to dismantle it.’”

The most likely consequences of the sabotage efforts of Republican congressmen and governors will be that of the 32 million Americans reportedly still without health care insurance, most of them will be in the reddest states in 2014. “Though they have voted 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” notes Perr, “Congressional Republicans have yet to offer their own proposal to replace it.”

Let’s call the law by its correct short name: the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Reuters reported July 25, that when it comes to implementation of ACA, Republicans and their allies “are mobilizing … to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage.”

Steve Benen of the Maddow Blog is one of many who might be called the Astounded and Appalled: “I hope folks will pause to let that sentence sink in for a moment,” he writes. “Unlike every other industrialized democracy on the planet, the United States — easily the wealthiest nation on earth — tolerates a significant chunk of its population to go without basic health care coverage. These Americans and their families can’t afford to see a doctor and are one serious illness from financial ruin.

“After nearly a century of politicians talking about the problem, President Obama actually signed the ACA into law three years ago, giving working families a level of health-care security they’ve never had before, and throwing a life preserver to the uninsured. Now, Republicans aren’t just actively trying to sabotage the law, they’re telling struggling Americans it’s better to drown than accept the life preserver.”

Not only are Republicans dissuading uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage, some slash-and-burn Republican members of Congress are actually refusing to help their constituents benefit from or understand the law. The GOP is trying to stop the law before it take effect. Unbelievable. Irresponsible. Crazy.

Let’s get some basics out of the way:
–Health care reform was initiated by the Obama administration in early 2009 because of the relentless, decades-long rise in the cost of health care that left many Americans struggling to pay their medical bills, the worst long-term fiscal crisis facing the United States, the only wealthy industrialized nation that did not ensure that all citizens had health care coverage.
–In 2009, the statistics were alarming: 18,000 unnecessary U.S. deaths every year, 42% of all adults were either uninsured or underinsured (2007), an estimated 14,000 Americans were losing their health insurance every single year, the health system was rejecting 36% of Americans (12.6 non-elderly adults) who applied for insurance (2008), 46 million Americans (15% of the population) were without health insurance, of which more than 80% were working families. There are reportedly still about 32 million people who don’t have health insurance. Current statistics are still alarming.
–The U.S. spends twice per capita what other major industrialized countries spend on health care. Health care spending in the United States reached $2.4 trillion in 2007, or $7,900 per capita. As a nation we are spending $1 out of every $6 we earn on health care. Ever-rising health care costs are threatening to drive an unsustainable explosion in the national debt.
–One major reason for the health insurance crisis is that many employers have stopped offering insurance to employees because of the high cost of insurance. The proportion of non-elderly Americans covered by employer-based health insurance fell from 66% to 61% between 2000 and 2007.
–Americans are paying more for health care coverage every year. Between 2006 and 2007, the cost of premiums offered by employers increased 6.1 percent. In 2008, the average premium for a family plan purchased through an employer was $12,680, nearly the annual earnings of a full-time minimum wage job. The typical elderly couple may have to save nearly $300,000 to pay for health costs not covered by Medicare alone.
–Half of all personal bankruptcies are at least partly the result of medical expenses. It has been estimated that health care costs cause a bankruptcy in America every 30 seconds.
–In 2009, the U.S. faced that without reform: health care costs would continue to skyrocket. We could be spending $4.2 trillion by 2016, and projections suggest that the number of Americans without health insurance would rise to about 72 million in 2040.
–Across 37 core indicators of performance, the U.S. achieves an overall score of 65 out of a possible 100 when comparing national averages with U.S. and international performance benchmarks. Overall, performance did not improve from 2006 to 2008. The Veterans Health Administration is considered the highest-quality healthcare provider in the United States. [“Healthcare Reform information Packet” by Beverly Bandler, Aug. 17, 2009.]

For Americans who do not know how a bill becomes law (which apparently is most), this is the complex process in brief: Article I of the Constitution states “all legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.” The Congress is charged to: “make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for the carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States.”

The House and Senate are equal partners in the legislative, law-making process, legislation cannot be enacted without the consent of both chambers. Legislation is introduced by any one of the 535 members of the bicameral Congress (435 members of the House, 100 members of the Senate), the Congress being the branch of the federal government that creates laws (the President and the Executive Branch carry out laws), bills are referred to the appropriate committees/subcommittees of the House and Senate for action, bills are sent to the floor for debate and voting. If passed, a bill is then sent to the other chamber unless that chamber already has a similar measure under consideration.

If either chamber does not pass the bill then it dies. If the House and Senate pass the same bill then it is sent to the President. If the House and Senate pass different bills they are sent to Conference Committee. Most major legislation goes to a Conference Committee. The conference report must be approved by both the House and the Senate. An approved bill is sent to the President who can veto or sign the bill. Once a bill is signed by the President or his veto is overridden by both houses it becomes a law and is assigned an official number. [See Vote Smart]

Therefore, “Obamacare” belies the fact that the Affordable Care Act is a law that was created by the U.S. Congress, not by Barack Obama.

That bears repeating: The Affordable Care Act is the law created by the U.S. Congress in 2010.
President Barack Obama presented a health reform proposal to Congress shortly after becoming president. The President asked Congress to come up with a health care reform plan reflecting these eight principles:

Reduce long-term growth of health care costs for businesses and government; Protect families from bankruptcy or debt because of health care costs; Guarantee choice of doctors and health plans; Invest in prevention and wellness; Improve patient safety and quality of care; Assure affordable, quality health coverage for all Americans; Maintain coverage when you change or lose your job; End barriers to coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions

“Obamacare” is not only an incorrect title, it is also a misnomer since the new law is said to most resemble [GOP Gov.] Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care legislation. The term “Obamacare” has been promoted by the GOP for anti-Obama political purposes. The law enacted is: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, Public Law 111-148 (March 23, 2010), the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for short, and should be referred to as such.

ACA is one of the most complex laws ever enacted. It’s so complicated that it is being phased in over five years. Insurance is complex. Health care insurance is particularly complex. The complexity of ACA is partly because its sponsors had to make so many convoluted compromises, convoluted compromises forced by congressional conservatives who oppose universal health insurance period. After making every effort to compromise the bill’s process and content, they didn’t vote for it: no Republican voted in favor of ACA.

Americans need to understand that the Affordable Care Act, the law created by the U.S. Congress in 2010, which is far from the ideal universal national care the country needs and that so many Americans want, represents a major achievement. ACA was amended by P.L. 111-152, an amendment that removed some of the more controversial provisions of the comprehensive health care law, while making others more popular. But there has never been a “perfect” piece of legislation passed by Congress in the history of the United States. There will never be a perfect piece of legislation passed by the U.S. Congress. Get over it.

The Affordable Care Act represents the biggest expansion of the safety net in 40 years. It also represents a remarkable Democratic victory and a culmination of a health care reform quest that began in the early 20th Century, one in which seven presidents tried and failed.

It is the most significant piece of economic and social legislation since FDR signed the Social Security Act in the 1930s, and the largest expansion of health care since Medicare helped to transform the lives of America’s seniors in the 1960s.

A vicious, unprincipled fear offensive failed to block reform. The vast majority of Democrats voted for it; every single Republican opposed it. Conservatives oppose universal health care, a fundamental position that Americans should seriously question in terms of social justice and economic common sense.

This comprehensive landmark law expanded insurance coverage largely for middle-class and poor families. It puts American families and small business owners, not the insurance companies, in charge of their own health care and lowers costs. It brings greater accountability to health care by laying out common sense rules of the road to keep premiums down and prevent insurance industry abuses and denial of care. Americans will see significant benefits take effect this year with other important reforms following shortly after.

ACA reportedly provides coverage to more than 94% of Americans, is designed to strengthen Medicare and lower health care costs over the long term. The bill provides stability and security to Americans who have insurance, affordable options for those who don’t and lower costs for families, businesses and our country as a whole. It provides the largest middle class tax cuts for health care in our history. Some of the bill was paid for by taxing households making more than $250,000 a year.

This historic legislation is also designed to create up to 4 million jobs and to reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the next ten years, with $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction in the following ten years. Beginning on Oct. 1, Obama’s health reform will help millions of uninsured people buy subsidized health insurance for the first time, Reuters has reported.

ACA’s big provisions take effect Jan. 1, 2014. Already more young people have health insurance, thanks to ACA’s requirement that insurers make coverage available to people under 26. That’s a reminder of benefits the law has already delivered, without the ill effects critics had predicted.

The fact that premium bids seem to be coming in lower than the Congressional Budget Office and other experts predicted is a pretty big deal, and not for reasons widely understood. The overall price of ACA, the amount of money the government must spend, in order to make the law function, is going to be even lower than predicted.

Recent news about the Affordable Care Act is genuinely encouraging. Public policy journalist Jonathan Cohn notes that there will be inevitable glitches because of the complexity of the law, but the Obama administration is armed with a host of contingency plans.

Political commentator Jonathan Chait reminds us that: “any new large initiative is complex. Rolling out a new product is hard, and it would be harder if half the retail managers were working for a rival firm.” (For those with short memories, the “new product” that the Republican Party was to “roll out” as announced by President George W. Bush’s press secretary in the summer of 2002 was the Iraq War.)

Cohn emphasizes the need to distinguish between hysteria and well-founded fears, bad-faith arguments from legitimate worries. There are concerns that not enough healthy people will sign up, that computers won’t work, that insurance companies will act like insurance companies and jack up premiums, that anti-ACA state leaders will actively try to make the law fail, that anti-universal health care, anti-Obama, and anti-Democratic Party conservatives will engineer full-blown political firestorms that will undermine the entire system.

The Republicans have clearly demonstrated that they are unabashed purveyors of deliberate misinformation and that they have no hesitation to blatantly lie for political purposes. It is clear that the current version of conservatives, who have been characterized by former Republican now Independent John Dean as “conservatives without conscience,” don’t understand ACA any more than they understand good governance. They appear to be driven by some misguided sense of “ideological purity” that is unrelated to both reality, economics, and U.S. history.

The “overwrought right,” therefore, is given to irrational fakery while the “cautious left” is too often given to confrontation avoidance. Democrats, liberals and progressives should be less worried about what are inevitable wrinkles, and should aggressively step up to the plate and educate themselves and the public about the law.

Chait points out: “the best thing Republicans have going for them is that most Americans have little idea what the law does, which is why its specific provisions always poll way better than the overall impression of the law itself. Forty-two percent of Americans don’t even know the law is in place.” Clear, coherent public education about the law is crucial.

The Affordable Care Act may have a bumpy start Jan. 1, 2014, when ACA starts making insurance coverage available to nearly all Americans. But there is good reason to be optimistic. The nation is better off with ACA than without it. Millions of people will get the kind of affordable, comprehensive, and stable insurance they never could before.

Cohn points out: “that this may be quicker to happen in some states than others and the experience may not always be easy. But it will certainly be an improvement on the current state of affairs.”

Republican “obfuscation” is an understatement. One day, Americans are going to understand just how much destructive damage to our republic has been caused by the radicalized Republican Party and the so-called “fundamentalist/religio/values” conservatives in general. One wonders just how long that is going to take. One wonders if the discovery will come too late.

Beverly Bandler’s public affairs career spans some 40 years. Her credentials include serving as president of the state-level League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands and extensive public education efforts in the Washington, D.C. area for 16 years. She writes from Mexico.

Resources

AARP. http://www.aarp.org
About.com U.S. Economy. (Kimberly Amadeo) http://useconomy.about.com/od/healthcarereform/
Cohn, Jonathan. http://www.tnr.com
The Commonwealth Fund. A Private Foundation Working Toward a High Performance Health System. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/
Congressional Budget Office. http://www.cbo.gov
Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. www.kff.org/healthreform
Urban Institute http://www.urban.org
White House. http://www.whitehouse.gov

Resources and Suggested Links.

Amadeo, Kimberly. About.com Guide. Obamacare series: “Obamacare Explained.” Simple enough to Explain to Your Kids.http://useconomy.about.com/od/healthcarereform/a/Obamacare-Explained.htm ~ “How Does Obamacare Work? Find Out How It Works for You.” http://useconomy.about.com/od/healthcarereform/a/How-Does-Obamacare-Work.htm ~ “How Obamacare Affects You.”http://useconomy.about.com/od/criticalssues/a/Obamacare-Summary.htm ~ “Detailed Advantages and Disadvantages of the Affordable Care Act.” http://useconomy.about.com/od/healthcarereform/a/Obamacare-Pros-And-Cons.htm ~ “Obamacare Ruling A Summary of the Supreme Court Ruling and How It Affects You.” http://useconomy.about.com/bio/Kimberly-Amadeo-22286.htm ~ “Obamacare Bill A Summary of the Bill’s 10 Titles.” http://useconomy.about.com/od/healthcarereform/a/Obamacare-Bill.htm ~ “Obamacare Taxes Find Out How These Taxes Impact You.” http://useconomy.about.com/od/healthcarereform/a/Obamacare-Taxes.htm ~ “The Facts About the True Cost of the Affordable Care Act.” http://useconomy.about.com/od/healthcarereform/a/Cost-of-Obamacare.htm ~ “Repeal Obamacare?” http://useconomy.about.com/od/healthcarereform/f/Repeal-Obamacare.htm

Bandler, Beverly. “Healthcare Reform information Packet.” August 17, 2009.
Benen, Steve. “None dare call it sabotage.” The Maddow Blog, 2013,07-25. http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/07/25/19678707-none-dare-call-it-sabotage?lite
Blumberg, Linda J. and Matthew Buettgens. “Why the ACA’s Limits on Age-Rating Will Not Cause ‘Rate Shock’: Distributional implications of Limited Age Bands in Nongroup Health Insurance. Timely Analysis of Immediate Health Policy Issues. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Urban Institute. March 2013.http://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/…/rwjf404637
Hamilton, Lee H. Strengthening Congress (Paperback). Indiana University Press (August 17, 2009).
_______ How Congress Works and Why You Should Care. Indiana University Press (January 28, 2004).
Center for American Progress. “Animation: Why Americans Need Health Reform.” June 3, 2009. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/06/healthcare_animation.html
Chait, Jonathan. “The Obamacare Opposite-of-a-Train-Wreck Scenario.” New York Magazine, 2013-05-01.http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/05/obamacare-opposite-of-a-train-wreck-scenario.html
_______ “Health Care Reform And Our Myopic Polity.” The New Republic, 2010-03-08. http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/health-care-reform-and-our-myopic-polity
Cohn, Jonathan. “The Obamacare Train Still Hasn’t Wrecked.” New Republic, 2013-07-18. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113935/obamacare-insurance-premiums-rate-shock-or-rate-joy
_______ Another Obamacare Train Wreck Not Happening Federal exchanges look like they’ll have plenty of insurance options. New Republic, 2013-05-31. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113346/obamacare-insurance-options-looks-exchanges-will-have-plenty
_______ “My Five Obamacare Anxieties.” The scenarios that keep this reform advocate up at night. The New Republic, 2013-05-13.
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113175/obamacare-anxiety-five-ways-health-care-reform-could-fail
_______ “Why Obamacare Is Not a ‘Train Wreck’ (Again).” New Republic, 2013-04-29. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113049/obamacare-implementation-2013-busting-myths
_______ Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis,and the People Who Pay the Price. Publisher: HarperCollins (April 1, 2007).
Commonwealth Fund. “Insuring the Future: Current Trends in Health Coverage and the Effects of Implementing the Affordable Care Act.” 2013-04-26.http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Publications/Fund-Reports/2013/Apr/Insuring-the-Future.aspx
_______ “New National Scorecard on Health System Performance: U.S. Gets Only 64 Out of 100.” 2011-10-24.http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Newsletters/The-Commonwealth-Fund-Connection/2011/Oct/Oct-24-2011/Whats-New/National-Scorecard.aspx
Congressional Budget Office. http://www.cbo.gov/topics/health-care/affordable-care-act
Judis, John B. “Return of the Republicans.” Why they’re unlike any political party America has ever seen. The New Republic, 2011-01-13. http://www.tnr.com//article/politics/magazine/81372/return-of-the-republican-party
Kaiser (Henry J.)Family Foundation. “Focus on Health Reform: Summary of the Affordable Care Act.” 2013-04-25. kff.org/health-reform/fact-sheet/summary-of-new-health-reform-law/
_______ Health Care Costs: A Primer, Key Information on Health Care Costs and Their Impact. http://www.kff.org/insurance/7670.cfm The Uninsured: A Primer, Key Facts About Americans without Health Insurance, 2007. http://www.kff.org
Klein, Ezra. “Will Obamacare Kickstart Health Revolution?” Real Clear Politics, 2013-07-26.http://www.realclearpolitics.com/2013/07/25/will_obamacare_kickstart_health_revolution_312328.html
________ “GOP sacrificing constituents to sabotage Obamacare.” VIDEO: Jonathan Cohn, senior editor at the New Republic, talks with Ezra Klein about the renewed effort by Republican activists to sabotage Obamacare ahead of the 2014 elections, and wonder at the political strategy Republicans will employ when states that embraced Obamacare show results and states like Texas that rejected Obamacare to spite President Obama have a healthcare system in shambles. 2013-07-25. GOP sacrificing constituents to sabotage Obamacare VIDEOS from 2009, 2010, 2012. Rachel Maddow Show, 2013-07-25.http://video.msnbc.msn.com/rachel-maddow-show/52583214#52583214
Levitt, Larry. “JAMA Forum. “Great Expectations and the Affordable Care Act.” JAMA, 2013-02-20. http://newsatjama.jama.com/2013/02/20/jama-forum-great-expectations-and-the-affordable-care-act/
Maddow, Rachel. “First, Do Harm.” GOP sacrificing constituents to sabotage Obamacare VIDEOS from 2009, 2010, 2012. Rachel Maddow Show, 2013-07-25. http://video.msnbc.msn.com/rachel-maddow-show/52583214#52583214
Mann, Thomas E. and Norman J. Ornstein. “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.” Washington Post, 2012-04-27.
http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-04-27/opinions/35453898_1_republican-party-party-moves-democratic-party
_______ It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. Basic Books (May 1, 2012).
Morgan, David. “Republicans prepare for ‘Obamacare’ showdown, with eye to 2014 elections.” Reuters, 2013-07-25.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/25/us-usa-healthcare-republicans-idUSBRE96O0EJ20130725
New York Times. “The High Cost of Health Care,” Editorial, 11-25-07. http://tinyurl.com/nnnqco
Obama, President Barack. The White House. http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/03/23/behalf-my-mother
Ornstein, Norm. “The Unprecedented,and Contemptible,Attempts to Sabotage Obamacare.” Doing everything possible to block the law’s implementation is not treasonous,just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials. National Journal, 2013-07-24.http://tinyurl.com/kvzd7d2
Parry, Robert. America’s Stolen Narrative: From Washington and Madison to Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes to Obama. The Media Consortium; First edition (October 17, 2012).
PBS. “Gambling With Health Care.” NOW /2009-08-14. Provides excellent resources, including an interview with Howard Dean, tips, links, reports.http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/512/index.html
Perr, Jon. “The Republican Health Care Emergency in One Chart.” Perrspectives, 2013-07-24. http://www.perrspectives.com/blog/archives/002824.htm
_______ “To Attack Obamacare, Republicans Forget the Lessons of Bush’s Medicare Reform.” Perrspectives, 2013-07-13.http://www.perrspectives.com/blog/archives/002818.htm
Project Vote Smart. “Government 101: How a Bill Becomes Law.” http://votesmart.org/education/how-a-bill-becomes-law#.UfO5n4VyEVM
Sargent, Greg. “Republicans’ dilemma: How aggressively should they sabotage Obamacare?” WashingtonPost, 2013-07-22. http://tinyurl.com/l42p5fx
Skopec, Laura and Richard Kronick. “Market Competition Works: Proposed Silver Premiums in the 2014 Individual and Small Group Markets Are Nearly 20% lower than Expected.” Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Planning and Evaluation, Issue Brief. July 2013.aspe.hhs.gov/health/…/MarketCompetitionPremiums/rb_premiums.pdf
Wikipedia. “United States Congress.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Congress




Racist Roots of GOP War on Obama

Exclusive: Right-wing Republicans in Congress are plotting to cripple the U.S. government if Barack Obama, the first African-American president, doesn’t submit to their demands. The battle pretends to be over the size of government but it echoes the whips, chains and epithets of America’s racist past, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The United States finds itself at a crossroad, with a choice of moving toward a multicultural future behind a more activist federal government or veering down a well-worn path that has marked various tragic moments of American history when white racists have teamed up with “small government” extremists.

Despite losing Election 2012 both in the presidential vote (by five million) and the overall tally for Congress (by one million) the Republicans are determined to use their gerrymandered House “majority” and their filibuster-happy Senate minority to slash programs that are viewed as giving “stuff” (in Mitt Romney’s word) to poorer Americans and especially minorities.

Republicans are gearing up to force a series of fiscal crises this fall, threatening to shut down the federal government and even default on the national debt, if they don’t get their way. Besides sabotaging President Barack Obama’s health reform law, the Republicans want to devastate funding for food stamps, environmental advancements, transportation, education assistance and other domestic programs.

“These are tough bills,” Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Kentucky, who heads the House Appropriations Committee, told the New York Times. “His priorities are going nowhere.”

A key point is to slash help to what the Right sees as “undeserving” Americans, especially people of color. The ugly side of this crypto-racist behavior also surfaced in the gloating by right-wing pundits over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. Fox News pundits, in particular, have mocked the outrage over the verdict from America’s black community and Obama’s personal expression of sympathy.

It is now clear that Obama’s election in 2008 was not the harbinger of a “post-racial” America, but rather the signal for white right-wingers to rally their forces to “take back America.” The fact that the modern Republican Party has become almost exclusively white and the nation’s minorities have turned more and more to the Democratic Party has untethered the GOP from any sense of racial tolerance.

There is now a white-supremacist nihilism emerging in the Republican strategy, a visceral contempt for even the idea of a multi-racial democracy that favors a more vigorous federal government. Some of these extremists seem to prefer sinking the world’s economy via a U.S. debt default than compromising with President Obama on his economic and social agenda.

Though the mainstream media avoids the white supremacist framing for the political story preferring to discuss the upcoming clash as a philosophical dispute over big versus small government, — the reality is that the United States is lurching into a nasty struggle over the preservation of white political dominance. The size-of-government narrative is just a euphemistic way of avoiding the underlying issue of race, a dodge that is as old as the Republic.

The Jeffersonian Myth

Even many liberals have fallen for the myth of the dashing Thomas Jefferson as the great defender of America’s Founding Principles when he was really a great hypocrite who served mostly as the pleasing political front man for the South’s chief industry, human slavery.

The popular history, perpetuated by authors such as Jon Meacham, downplays how Virginia’s plantation owners and other investors in slavery served as Jefferson’s political “base” helping to fund his propaganda battle and then his political war against George Washington’s Federalists who were the real designers of the Constitution with its dramatic concentration of power in the federal government. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-Up Constitution.”]

Prominent Anti-Federalists, such as Virginia’s Patrick Henry and George Mason, were alarmed that the Constitution’s overturning of the states’ rights-oriented Articles of Confederation would inexorably lead to Northern domination and the eventual eradication of slavery.

After ratification, many of these Southern agrarian interests grew even more alarmed when the Federalists began using the expansive federal powers in the Constitution to begin creating the framework for a modern financial system, such as Alexander Hamilton’s national bank, and promoting a potent federal role in the nation’s development, such as George Washington’s interest in canals and roads.

With every move toward a more assertive national government, the Southern slaveholders saw a growing threat toward their economic interest in human bondage. After all, slavery was not just a cultural institution in the South; it was the region’s biggest capital investment.

Though Jefferson was in France when the Constitution was written in 1787 and ratified in 1788, his return in 1789 marked an important political moment in early U.S. history. The Anti-Federalists, stung by their bitter defeat at the hands of Washington’s Federalists over the Constitution, finally had a charismatic leader to rally behind.

Jefferson, who was a critic of the Constitution but not an outright opponent, retained an outsized reputation from the American Revolution as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. He was also a star intellect and a crafty political operative who, perhaps more than anyone else, personified the hypocrisy of the slave-owning Founders.

Though he had famously declared, as “self-evident” truth, that “all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” he also was one of Virginia’s major slaveholders. And he engaged in the pseudo-science of racial supremacy, measuring the skulls of his African-American slaves to “prove” their inferiority.

Known as a harsh “master” when having runaway slaves punished, Jefferson lived in deathly fear that his slaves would rise up violently against him and his fellow plantation owners, much as the slaves of St. Domingue (today’s Haiti) did against their French plantation owners in the 1790s.

So, like Patrick Henry and George Mason, Jefferson wanted a strong state-controlled militia in Virginia to put down slave revolts while opposing a professional federal military which white Southerners saw as a potential threat to the future of slavery.

Rose-Colored Glasses

Despite Jefferson’s interest in maintaining slavery and his racist pronouncements, many modern writers have bought into the Jeffersonian version of early American history. In part, that may be because Jefferson was among the most handsome, most complex and most intellectual of the Founders. But that modern fascination with Jefferson frequently involves averting one’s gaze from the dark and racist underbelly of Jefferson’s personal beliefs and his political movement.

For instance, Meacham’s best-selling Thomas Jefferson: the Art of Power says almost nothing about Jefferson’s real source of power, the South’s plantation structure. Instead, Jefferson’s advocacy for “farmers” and a “small-government” interpretation of the Constitution is taken at face value. Plus, few questions are asked about the fairness of his vituperative attacks on the Federalists, especially Hamilton and Adams. Those assaults are seen as simply an expression of Jefferson’s sincere republican spirit.

Meacham’s writing is instructive, too, on the Jefferson-slavery issues. Meacham focuses mostly on Jefferson’s taking a teenage slave girl, Sally Hemings, as his concubine, what could be regarded as rape, pedophilia or both. While Jefferson’s sexual exploitation of a vulnerable girl is certainly noteworthy in evaluating Jefferson’s character, the liaison is less significant historically than Jefferson’s role in defending slavery by revising the original (Federalist) interpretation of the Constitution.

The Federalists, who included the document’s principal drafters, understood that the Constitution granted very broad powers to the federal government to act in the national interest and on behalf of the general welfare. That was also the interpretation held by Anti-Federalists, explaining the intensity of the battle against ratification. So, by substituting a revisionist interpretation, stressing “states’ rights” and a tightly constrained federal government, Jefferson negated much of what the Framers had sought to do with the Constitution. He also set the country on course for the Civil War.

Before becoming President, Jefferson secretly conspired with some political forces in Kentucky on possible secession, and he helped devise the theory of nullification, the supposed right of the states to nullify federal law, which became a driving force in the South’s belief that it could secede from the Union.

Jefferson was one of the eight early presidents who owned slaves while in office (another four owned slaves while not in office). But Jefferson was one of the most unapologetic, insisting that blacks could never live as freed citizens in the United States and refusing to liberate his own slaves after his death (except for a few relatives of Sally Hemings).

When I visited Monticello some years ago, the tour guide pointed out the beautifully manicured Jefferson family cemetery, which was for white members of the household. When I asked where the slave cemetery was, I was told that no one knew. By contrast, Washington’s Mount Vernon has a respectfully maintained slave cemetery.

More Hypocrisy

Meacham and other Jeffersonian apologists also miss many other layers of hypocrisy surrounding their hero, such as his near-hysterical condemnations of the Federalists as they struggled with the herculean task of building a functioning government under an untested constitutional framework, amid extraordinary international pressures and threats.

It is surely true that Washington, Hamilton and Adams made missteps in their efforts to pioneer this new form of government and thus left themselves open to political attack from Jefferson’s paid propagandists but historians who buy into Jefferson’s narrative ignore the unprecedented challenges that the Federalists faced.

The Federalists also were the ones, particularly Hamilton and Adams, who demonstrated sympathy and support for Haiti’s black freedom-fighters, while Jefferson did all he could to undermine their success. But Jefferson is the Founder who is praised for his open-mindedness. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Rethinking Thomas Jefferson.”]

Though Jefferson skillfully exploited examples of the Federalists’ elitism and overreach to win the presidency in 1800, President Jefferson proved to be hypocritical, too, regarding his insistence on “limited government” narrowly defined by the Constitution’s “enumerated powers” as well as his supposed respect for freewheeling dissent and his love for freedom of the press.

After undermining President Adams over his signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts a wartime measure meant to suppress alleged foreign influence seeking to induce the young Republic to take sides in a European conflict Jefferson expressed his own sympathy for harsh measures against dissidents.

For instance, in 1803, President Jefferson endorsed the idea of prosecuting critical newspaper editors, writing: “I have long thought that a few prosecutions of the most eminent offenders would have a wholesome effect in restoring the integrity of the presses. Not a general prosecution, for that would look like persecution: but a selected one,” as cited by Meacham’s largely pro-Jeffersonian book.

On a similar note, after leaving the White House, Jefferson advised his successor and ally James Madison on what to do with Federalists who objected to going to war with Great Britain in 1812. As historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg write in Madison and Jefferson, “Jefferson called for different measures in different parts of the country: ‘A barrel of tar to each state South of the Potomac will keep all in order,’ he ventured in August [1812]. ‘To the North they will give you more trouble. You may have to apply the rougher drastic of hemp and confiscation’ by which he meant the hangman’s noose and the confiscation of property.”

In other words, Jefferson, who has gone down in school history books as a great defender of freedom of speech, urged the sitting President of the United States to “tar” war dissenters in the South and to hang and dispossess dissenters in the North.

Jefferson was similarly hypocritical when it came to his views on “limited government.” He arguably was the first imperial president, dispatching the Navy to battle the Barbary pirates before seeking congressional approval and then negotiating the purchase of the Louisiana Territories despite the absence of any “enumerated” power to that effect in the Constitution.

As even an admirer like Meacham was forced to acknowledge, Jefferson “believed in a limited government, except when he thought the nation was best served by a more expansive one.” So, Jefferson’s opposition to the Federalists’ view of the Constitution was less philosophical than political. He, like them, adopted a pragmatic approach, accepting that the Constitution did not anticipate all challenges that might confront the country.

While one might commend Jefferson’s flexibility even though he decried similar actions by the Federalists the public impression of Jeffersonian “small government” principles became more absolute and dangerous. As the nation’s early decades progressed, Southern slaveholders seized on Jefferson’s constitutional positions in defending the South’s investment in slavery and its expansion to new states.

Jefferson had put a powerful stamp on the young country through his own two-term presidency and those of his Virginia colleagues James Madison and James Monroe. By end of this so-called Virginia Dynasty in 1825, the permanence of slavery had been burnt deeply into the flesh of not only the original Southern states but new ones to the west.

In the ensuing decades, as the national divisions over slavery sharpened, the South escalated its resistance to federal activism, opposing even non-controversial matters like disaster relief. As University of Virginia historian Brian Balogh noted in his book, A Government Out of Sight, Southerners asserted an extreme version of states’ rights in the period from 1840 to 1860 that included preventing aid to disaster victims.

Balogh wrote that the South feared that “extending federal power” even to help fellow Americans in desperate need “might establish a precedent for national intervention in the slavery question,” as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne noted in a May 22 column.

The intensity of the South’s hatred toward a reformist federal government exploded into warfare once an anti-slavery candidate, Republican Abraham Lincoln, won the presidency. The South rekindled Jefferson’s old flirtations with nullification and secession, even though Lincoln was willing to continue tolerating slavery to save the Union.

But Southern politicians saw the handwriting on the wall what Patrick Henry and George Mason had warned about the inevitability of Northern dominance and the eventual demise of slavery.

The bloody Civil War ended slavery but it also stoked the bitterness of white Southerners who reacted to federal amendments granting citizenship rights to blacks by engaging in the terror of the Ku Klux Klan and broad resistance against Reconstruction. Finally, the North’s determination to reshape the South as a place of racial equality dissipated and Union troops were withdrawn in 1877. A near century of Jim Crow laws, lynching of blacks and racial segregation ensued.

When the federal government finally moved to outlaw the South’s apartheid system in the 1950s and 1960s, white racists mounted a new political resistance, this time by forsaking the Democratic Party, which had spearheaded the major civil rights laws of the era, and migrating in droves to the new Republican Party, which used racial code words to make white racists feel welcome.

The key subliminal message was opposition to “big guv-mit,” an allusion that white racists understood to mean less interference with their suppression of black votes and black rights.

Second Reconstruction

Just as the civil rights victories of the 1960s were viewed as a resumption of America’s march toward racial equality that was begun a century earlier with the Civil War, so too the petering out of this so-called Second Reconstruction paralleled the original Reconstruction, which ended also about century earlier.

With the emergence of right-wing Republican Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s, the white racist resistance to civil rights found another charismatic front man, who like Jefferson pushed the message of “small government” and “states’ rights.”

The Reagan era marked a reversal of the strides that America had taken after World War II to open mainstream society to black citizens. But it also signaled a retreat on other federal initiatives, including regulation of Wall Street and other industries.

So, besides worsening the financial standing of many blacks and other minorities, Reaganomics returned to a boom-and-bust economy of an earlier capitalism. The Great American Middle Class, which had emerged with the help of federal laws after World War II, began to shrink, though many whites, especially in the South, stuck with the Republicans because of the party’s hostility to helping blacks.

But there was still a national push-and-pull over whether to resume a march toward a more equitable society or to embrace Jim Crow II, a more subtle and sophisticated arrangement for disenfranchising black and brown Americans.

Some political observers believed the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president was a point of no return toward a multi-cultural America. However, instead of heralding a day of greater racial tolerance, Obama’s presidency intensified the determination of right-wing whites to do whatever is necessary to make his presidency fail.

That battle appears likely to get even uglier this fall as the House Republican “majority” plots to shut down the federal government and even default on the nation’s debt if the African-American president doesn’t surrender to their political demands.

Pundits are sure to frame this donnybrook as an ideological fight over the principles of “small government,” but behind that will be a replay of the South’s historic insistence on maintaining white supremacy.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Ignoring the GOP’s White Racism

Exclusive: Conservative columnist David Brooks can’t understand why right-wing Republicans are so determined to kill immigration reform, especially since the Senate-approved bill would boost the economy and cut the deficit. But Brooks ignores what might be called the white elephant in the room, Robert Parry reports.

By Robert Parry

Mainstream commentators endlessly dance around the obvious explanation for the Right’s intense anger against “guv-mint” and indeed against any significant legislation that addresses the suffering of minorities and the poor, whether it’s immigration reform, health care or food stamps. That unspoken word is racism.

Racism is the subtext for many of the actions of the modern Right and the modern Republican Party. The mainstream media may desire to dress up the motivations as some principled commitment to small government, but both historically and currently, the insistence on a tightly constrained federal government has been about maintaining white supremacy.

That was true when slaveholders such as Patrick Henry and George Mason fought ratification of the Constitution because they perceived that the document’s concentration of power in the federal government stripping the states of their “independence” and “sovereignty” as specified in the Articles of Confederation would eventually doom slavery. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Dubious Claim to Madison.”]

Slavery, after all, was not just some peculiar institution, part of the South’s unique cultural heritage. It was the South’s dominant industry. It was where the Southern aristocrats had invested their money.

So, after the Anti-Federalists lost their fight against ratification of the Constitution, they went to Plan B; they quickly reorganized behind the charismatic figure of Thomas Jefferson, another slaveholder, to essentially redefine the Constitution away from its clear intent and to insert new theories about states’ rights, including the unconstitutional concept of state “nullification” of federal law. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-Up ‘Constitution.’”]

Their political success in this constitutional revisionism with Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party putting Virginian defenders of slavery in the White House for 24 consecutive years from 1801 to 1825 allowed the “small government” Jeffersonian philosophy to overwhelm the old Federalists who were the original advocates of the Constitution’s powers. The Federalists maintained some strongholds in the North but eventually faded from the political scene.

Throughout this pre-Civil War period, the maintenance of slavery was always twinned with an insistence on a constrained federal government, even to the point of the South opposing federal disaster relief for fear that the precedent could be used to free the slaves. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Source of Anti-Government Extremism.”]

Going to Extremes

Then, with the election of an anti-slavery president in Abraham Lincoln, the intensity of the South’s commitment to those twin attitudes defense of slavery and hostility toward the federal government led 11 Southern states to take the extreme step of seceding from the Union, inviting a devastating war.

And, the South’s bloody defeat did not extinguish those passions. If anything, the humiliation of losing the Civil War made the commitment even stronger.

When the federal government sought to restructure Southern society to give freed blacks education, an economic stake in the society and civil rights, the anger of Southern whites intensified. It was expressed in violent resistance to Reconstruction and in a cruel determination to reassert white dominance after Union troops withdrew in 1877.

After all, it takes real hatred to terrorize people because of the color of their skin, to lynch black men for almost any perceived offense, to rape black women to demonstrate their powerlessness, but that’s what was done across the South.

White racism had a particularly ugly side because the fury was not justified as some reaction to genuine oppression; it was rather an act of oppressing. Historically, whites had economic advantages over blacks and other minorities. If the circumstances were reversed, you might understand the ferocity of the behavior. But here was the oppressor acting out some vengeful victimhood.

To some white Southerners, their behavior was justified by the intrusion of the federal government on their “way of life.” You see, the federal government made them the “victims.” After Reconstruction, the fierceness of this white racism/victimhood especially resistance to the idea that black people deserved full citizenship rights continued for generations. It became a dominant feature of Southern life and spread to some areas of the North as well.

Even in my schoolbooks in Massachusetts in the 1950s and 1960s, you would find a sympathetic portrayal of slavery as mostly paternalistic and of the South’s “gallantry” in the Civil War along with a contemptuous of view of Reconstruction, i.e. Northern “carpetbaggers” and freed blacks running roughshod over the genteel whites of the South.

Resisting Civil Rights

America’s institutionalized racism was finally challenged by the civil rights movement, but that provoked another spasm of fury from Southern whites. Their anger against renewed federal intervention led them to spit on black school children, bomb churches and murder civil rights activists.

Again, the whites conjured up resentment over their victimhood, persecuted by the intrusive federal government once more. Eventually, this white backlash might have petered out except for the recognition among opportunistic Republicans that they could use Democratic support for civil rights as the wedge to pry loose the Southern states from their traditional orientation toward the pro-slavery Democratic Party, the old party of Thomas Jefferson.

So, Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” used racial code words to signal Republican sympathy for Southern whites, a technique that was even more ably applied by Ronald Reagan who launched his national presidential campaign in 1980 with a speech on states’ rights in Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of a notorious lynching of three civil rights workers. In his aw shucks style, Reagan also joked about “welfare queens” buying vodka with food stamps.

But mostly the Republicans sealed the deal with Southern whites by presenting the GOP as the party of “limited government,” i.e. the ones who would keep federal authorities out of the South’s “business,” particularly its race relations. In that way, “small government conservatism” and “libertarianism” became the new code words for the maintenance of white supremacy.

Of course, the Republicans also reached out to some other interest groups, such as cultural conservatives by supporting new government restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. But the intensity of the Right’s activism especially as it is aimed at the first African-American president can be best understood as a renewed expression of white grievances, the desire to “take our country back.”

Both the Civil War and the battle against integration also were rationalized by their apologists of the day as principled stands against the overreach of the federal government, not as expressions of racism. To this day, many Southerners insist that the Civil War was not about slavery, but about “states’ rights.” They make that claim although slavery’s perpetuation was explicitly included in the constitution of the Confederate States and the Confederate insistence on continuing slavery was a final sticking point in surrender negotiations in 1865.

So, the intensity of the Tea Party and other extremist groups can be understood as the latest eruption of the same race hatred that led to the Civil War, Jim Crow and the resistance to integration in the 1950s and 1960s.

Weeping for Insurance Industry

These predominantly white groups again insist that their fury is about the federal government not about race or the color of Barack Obama’s skin. But there is really no other way to explain why so many white folks would get into such a snit over, say, defending the health insurance industry against federal regulation.

Except for a few people who are lucky enough to work for companies that offer “Cadillac” insurance plans, I don’t know anyone who thinks the current insurance system makes sense. It leaves families uncertain about what medical conditions are covered and to what extent they are covered and it ties up doctors with endless paperwork, including hiring staff to be kept on hold by insurance companies as they figure out how they can deny coverage for some medical procedure.

Yet, in 2009, when President Obama embraced a Republican-devised scheme for reforming the health-insurance industry and providing coverage to millions of Americans without health insurance, the Tea Party and the Right erupted in fury. The anger was so hot that the Heritage Foundation, which had dreamt up the scheme, and Mitt Romney, who had pioneered its use in Massachusetts, had to hastily disown what was then decried as “a government takeover” of the health industry.

What made no sense about the intensity of this reaction was that a group of white middle-class Americans would be so committed to the interests of widely despised health insurance companies that they would jump up and down at congressional townhall meetings and rush to Washington for tumultuous protest rallies.

Even after the Affordable Care Act was cleared as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the fury on behalf of the health-insurance industry has continued with the Republican-controlled House voting again and again to repeal “Obamacare” and GOP governors doing all they can to sabotage its effective implementation. We have seen something similar with the Tea Party’s hostility toward food stamps and immigration reform.

Even as some Republican leaders and a few conservative columnists embrace immigration reform that offers a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants, the Tea Party rank-and-file furiously rejects the notion, particularly the idea of letting those mostly dark-skinned immigrants eventually become citizens with the right to vote.

Killing Immigration Reform

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks is among those who find the House Republican rejection of immigration reform deeply troubling. In a column on Friday, Brooks noted that the Senate-approved reform bill meets all of the major requirements that reasonable conservatives might want: increasing economic growth, reducing the federal deficit, improving border security.

Indeed, Brooks seems genuinely baffled as to why the Right is determined to kill the measure, writing: “conservatives are not supposed to take a static, protectionist view of economics. They’re not supposed to believe that growth can be created or even preserved if government protects favored groups from competition.

“Conservatives are supposed to believe in the logic of capitalism; that if you encourage the movement of goods, ideas and people, then you increase dynamism, you increase creative destruction and you end up creating more wealth that improves lives over all.

“The final conservative point of opposition is a political one. Republicans should not try to win back lower-middle-class voters with immigration reform; they should do it with a working-class agenda. This argument would be slightly plausible if Republicans had even a hint of such an agenda, but they don’t.”

Brooks then backs into the proverbial elephant in the room, noting the ethnic component of the Right’s opposition. He writes:

“Before Asians, Hispanics and all the other groups can be won with economic plans, they need to feel respected and understood by the G.O.P. They need to feel that Republicans respect their ethnic and cultural identity. If Republicans reject immigration reform, that will be a giant sign of disrespect, and nothing else Republicans say will even be heard.

“Whether this bill passes or not, this country is heading toward a multiethnic future. Republicans can either shape that future in a conservative direction or, as I’ve tried to argue, they can become the receding roar of a white America that is never coming back. That’s what’s at stake.”

But “the receding roar of a white America” is, in a sense, what we have been hearing for most of the nation’s history, as whites have engaged in genocide against Native Americans and kept African-Americans first in bondage and then in a de facto second-class citizenship. One could add to this ugly picture the discriminatory treatment toward Hispanics along the southern border and against Asian-Americans mostly in the West.

Jim Crow II

Yes, it may be true that today’s demographic numbers are making it harder for racist whites to continue to impose their will on the country, but it also could be argued that white supremacy has never been as endangered as it is today. Which would explain why today’s white anger is so white-hot.

Just because a reactionary political movement might fail doesn’t mean that it won’t be tried. The battle to preserve slavery cost hundreds of thousands of lives in the Civil War; the KKK and other white paramilitary groups inflicted horrors on blacks for generations; even today, the Right’s obdurate insistence on “austerity” in the face of the Great Recession has spread misery across the country, but especially in African-American and Hispanic communities.

So, one should not assume that the Republican Right will not try to create a Second Jim Crow Era by gerrymandering congressional districts, spending vast sums on propaganda, and suppressing minority votes through ID laws and other subterfuges. Nor should one blithely conclude that failure of this strategy is assured. Remember that the defeat of Reconstruction in the 1870s enabled the First Jim Crow Era to last nearly a century. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bringing Back Jim Crow.”]

Even after the Jim Crow Era ended, the Right regained its political footing by wooing discontented whites to the Southern-strategy Republican Party. That political effort also has worked in parts of the North as Republicans and the Right have successfully mined white resentments toward affirmative action, “political correctness” and other initiatives seen as beneficial to blacks and minorities. Just listen to Fox News or AM radio with endless commentators, like Rush Limbaugh, stressing how white people are the real victims here.

The white racism may not always be overt but its roots are never far beneath the surface. And, like the roots of aspen trees running underground, the roots of racism connect to their more acceptable neighbors, the ideologies of “libertarianism” and “small government.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Migrant Workers’ Bitter Fruit

The battle to overhaul U.S. immigration policy has now moved from the Senate to the House where its future is at best uncertain. The debate continues even as the Obama administration presses forward with the most stringent deportation policies in modern history, as Dennis J Bernstein reports.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Every week, thousands of migrant workers are arrested and deported, many separated from their love ones, leaving broken families, and causing untold suffering. Oftentimes, the deportees will turn right around and make the dangerous and sometimes deadly trek north back to the U.S. to be reunited with their families and continue to do the back-breaking work that so many Americans depend on.

This harsh journey to the north, made by millions of migrant farm workers, is invisible to most Americans though they literally bear the fruit of this labor. But Dr. Seth M. Holmes hopes to change that invisibility with his new book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farm Workers in the United States.

Holmes, a medical anthropologist and Martin Sisters Assistant Professor at U.C Berkeley’s School of Public Health, not only observed the plight of farm workers as they traveled to the United States but he lived it, making the dangerous journey north from Oaxaca, Mexico, via a “coyote.” In a recent interview with Dennis J Bernstein, Holmes talked about his work with the farm workers and his trek north which ended in his arrest.

DB: Please say a little bit about your own background, and how it is you came to actually go down, and come back with a group of folks crossing over with a coyote.

SH: I’m a physician and an anthropologist, and as an anthropologist I use the classic field research method of participant observation. So not only do we observe what’s going on in the world but also participate in it on some level and learn from our own bodies data about what that way of life is like. For 18 months I lived with and migrated with undocumented indigenous Mexicans from the state of Oaxaca in Washington State, lived in a labor camp, and picked strawberries.

Then in central California, I lived with this same group of people in a slum apartment and pruned vineyards when there was work, went down to their home village in the mountains of Oaxaca, helped with harvesting corn and planting corn, and then crossed the border back with them through Sonora state in northern Mexico into Arizona, and then went into the border patrol jail with them, which I’m sure we’ll talk a little bit more about. And then back to California and to Washington again. I did this field work in order partially to understand how ethnic hierarchies and hierarchies of citizenship and immigration work in the U.S. today, and how that affects peoples’ health and health care.

DB: Now, clearly given the risks people are taking and the fears that they face, it took a great deal to build trust. And the trust building began long before you headed to the border. Could you talk a little bit about how that evolved?

SH: My research started up in Washington state on a family farm that grows … it’s famous for strawberries, but also grows blueberries and apples and raspberries. I lived in a labor camp along with this indigenous group of Mexicans who were mostly picking strawberries. And I picked strawberries with them, one or two days a week.

The other days I observed what was happening in the migrant clinic, and I interviewed pickers, managers, supervisors, and neighbors of the farm to understand all levels of what Laura Nader here at U.C.-Berkeley would call the “vertical slice” of U.S. agriculture through these different kinds of hierarchies.

DB: Was the work hard? Was it hard to keep up with the other folks?

SH: Yes. I never was able to keep up with the other folks. At the beginning of the season, the strawberry season, there were four U.S. citizen non-Mexicans who were picking strawberries. By the end of the season, I was the only one left. If I hadn’t been a white person who was interesting to the farm owners I would have been fired several times because I could not keep up. Unlike media coverage of farm workers as unskilled labor, I saw that they are very skilled.

I worked as hard as I possibly could to pick strawberries as fast as I could and I never could keep up. They have to pick 50 pounds of strawberries – the appropriate kind of ripeness, without any leaves – per hour, in order to make the minimum wage. And if they pick less than that for a couple days then they’re fired.

DB: And so through that, you began to meet folks, develop trust, and that’s how you began to connect ahead?

SH: At first … I spent four or five months in Washington state on that farm. And I would say that there was a very slow process of developing trust in Washington state. The trust really started to develop when I was asked by an extended family to go with them to central California. We moved to Madera, California, together. We spent about a week homeless, living out of cars and using the bathrooms in city parks until we could find someone who was willing to rent to people who don’t have credit history. Because I was the only one who had a credit history. So once we found an apartment that, to use a “technical” term was “slummy enough” to rent to people without a credit history, 19 of us moved into a three-bedroom apartment.

And I think that’s when people started to trust me. “Oh, he’s actually with us, he’s not just watching us for a summer. He’s actually really trying to understand.”

DB: And that’s 19 men?

SH: No. That was four families. Yep. Each bedroom had one or two families. The living room had three people. And then I, ironically, had the closet. They wanted me to sleep in the living room, too, because there was more room for an actual mattress. But, growing up the way I grew up, with my own bedroom, in semi-suburban Washington state where I grew up, living in a living room with kids running around and waking up in the morning sounded horrible. I needed to be able to close the door. So I slept in the closet and had to kind of sleep corner to corner. So my feet would fit and my head would fit in opposite corners.

DB: And you began to develop this trust, and at what point did you decide – I really need to go and do this – put your life on the line, really, to do it?

SH: Well, a lot of the people I worked with were from the indigenous group known as the Triqui people from Oaxaca. A lot of them spoke of “sufrimiento”, suffering as a major metaphor for what happens for them in the process of migration. They talked about the back pain, and the hip pain, picking, but one of the main sites that they talked about earlier relating to sufrimiento was crossing the border.

A lot of people had stories of going with a coyote whom they didn’t know, who mistreated them and pushed them into a chemical tank and closed them on the train until they got to the U.S. Or other people who were told by someone “Oh, I work for your coyote, come with me.” And then were kidnapped, all the way to one man who was told actually told by a border patrol agent “I’ll take you to border patrol jail unless you let me have sex with you, in which case, I’ll let you go free.” So there were a lot of stories of the trouble with the border, and the violence on the border.

And I felt like if I was going to have an understanding of health and suffering related to this group of people, and the work they do, and the lives they lived, then I needed to understand the border.

DB: So, you built trust in this country and then how did you make arrangements? I imagine going over the border, it was even more difficult to establish trust and to create a situation where people didn’t think you were dangerous for one reason or another, an undercover agent, whatever.

SH: It’s interesting that you bring that up. There were a few stories, rumors, that were told around the labor camps among the Mexican workers, while I was there. One was that I was a spy for the border patrol or the police, trying to figure out who was documented and who wasn’t, and there was another rumor that I was a drug smuggler looking for a good cover. And it took a while, it took several months of me being with them for them to see me more as an anthropologist trying to understand what’s going on in the world in terms of agriculture and immigration.

So I talked with many of the farm workers I knew about – should I cross the border or not? How important is this to understand? If I do cross, how should I do it, whom should I do it with? And I got a lot of advice from people. People told me how dangerous it was, but people also told me how important it was to understand and to write about.

The first chapter of the book, the opening chapter, tells the story with relatively raw field notes of the border crossing. The border crossing happened after spending a season picking berries in Washington state, spending winter in California, pruning vineyards when we had any work, and then moving down to their home village in the mountains of Oaxaca, and helping with whatever I could do while there.

I was supposed to go with one group to cross the border; I showed up at that person’s hut in the village at the appropriate time, and no one was there. The hut was locked, and the family that I was staying with, who was the extended family of one of the families up in Madera, California, and Washington told me that they must have been scared that I was some kind of spy and so they told me a time that was after they actually left.

DB: They didn’t just say “No.” Because that would have given away their own suspicions.

SH: RIght, right. So then I ended up being introduced by one of the people who had been living next door to me in Washington State, in the labor camp, introduced to a friend of his who was a coyote, and introduced to the other people he was going to cross with.

DB: A coyote is the guide, who is the one who is responsible, if you will, for bringing you across the border, not always the most trustworthy folks. Tell us about the multiple struggles in terms of that 49-hour ride from Oaxaca. Because … you learned a lot there.

SH: Yep. Well, Dennis, first I want to respond to what you said about coyotes, and then I’ll answer that question, if that’s okay with you?

DB: Sure.

SH: So this group of people, in a relatively small village, with extended families who know each other, tend to go with a coyote from their home village who is a friend of a friend, or a relative of a friend, or something similar. And the truth is, for them, that the coyotes are very much trustworthy, and try to look out for the group. In my research, the people who are more unfortunate are people who come from other parts of Mexico, or even more so, from Central America. They arrive at the border without any contacts for a coyote and have to try to figure out who to trust at that point. And that’s where people get into more trouble with coyotes.

DB: I mentioned to you that I covered the Tucson Sanctuary trial and the name of the coyote that blew the whole operation, his name was Jesus Cruz. You know, Jesus Christ. You can trust me. And it was a brutal situation.

SH: So, you asked about the border crossing … we started in the village in Oaxaca, up in the mountains. We rode a Volkswagen van – which is the primary form of transportation up in the small roads – down to a nearby town. In that town, every Saturday, from something like January until May, there is a bus full of people who want to cross the border. Who leave that one particular town, and the bus takes them all the way up to the border, in northern Mexico, in Sonora. And most of them are men.

I rode a bus; I think there was one woman on the bus, and the other maybe 30 of us were men. I was the only white person on the bus. That whole time we stopped twice a day, for food, and gas, and bathrooms, and the rest of the time, including through the night we were on the bus, and got worn out and exhausted. Each time we arrived at a military check point, on the highway, the bus driver would announce over the p.a. system – “Okay, everyone tell the military that you’re going to Baja California to pick tomatoes.” Because if we tell them we’re going to the border then they will ask more questions and it will take more time. And, each time, they told me “you tell them that you’re going to” … and then they’d pick a nearby tourist town … “Guadalajara”, or something like that.

And, ironically, during that bus ride I was sitting next to a military officer who never told the other military people in the check points what was happening.

DB: The bus ride itself took a lot, just the bus ride, in terms of the food, the stopping, bathrooms; this is not an easy road, is it?

SH: No, it isn’t. It was exhausting. It was packed full of people, without air conditioning, nonstop all night without being able to sleep, so that by the time we arrived at the border town in northern Mexico, we were all … I was very exhausted.

DB: And, so there were checkpoints all along the way, and you were talking about that … you must have brought forth a lot of suspicion. What did people think? What did soldiers think? What did the bus driver think? And how do you pass in that context?

SH: Interestingly, the military checkpoint officers never paid that much attention to me. I followed directions from the bus driver and said that I was going to Guadalajara, or whatever I was supposed to say and I didn’t get asked a lot of questions. The soldier who was sitting next to me kept asking me questions as thought I was a coyote bringing people from southern Mexico into the U.S. And when I answered that I was not a coyote, that I’d been living with these people, I was just going with them. He would respond with questions like “Well, then why are you taking all of these people with you?” So it was very hard for him to understand why a white American person would be interested in doing this or learning about this, unless they were doing it for financial gain themselves, as a coyote.

DB: Now, talk about what happened as you approached the border, and the multiple struggles that take place at that point.

SH: We arrived, at the end of our long bus ride, up in northern Mexico, in Sonora, in a small town. And the driver let us out, out of town, in the middle of the blazing heat, the blazing sun, and told us that he wouldn’t take us into town, essentially, because there was too much police activity, or border patrol activity.

So, we got out of the bus, walked into town through the heat, followed the cousin of our coyote down back streets to a little apartment where we were to stay, with no furniture in it, no running water. We slept on the floor, on swaths of old carpet, and waited. There was a shower out back that was made of sheets hanging above mud that was shared by all the apartments that opened up into this same backyard area. Other groups came and went from the apartment.

People came in from time to time and told us “You have to pay me for staying here.” And the first time, some of us did pay. And then, after that we realized that was a scam that people were pulling and we didn’t pay anymore. From time to time people would come in and tell us that they were our driver, and they would pick us up tomorrow. But we didn’t know whom to trust.

We went through town … the town was very clearly, in my eyes, set up for border crossing. There were several money changers, places to wire money. There were several places you could buy dark-colored clothing and dark-colored backpacks, which is what you wear if you were crossing the border. The grocery store had aisles and aisles of Gatorade, and water bottles, and Pedialyte. And at that point, our group hid all of our cash in zip lock bags in mayonnaise jars. And the grocery store we went into had aisles of different kinds of small mayonnaise jars. So apparently that wasn’t just our group’s plan.

Part of the reason we had to hide the money in the mayonnaise jars was that whenever, in that town or crossing the border, you run into someone else who is dressed in dark clothing, you don’t know if they’re someone else trying to cross the border for work, and to support their family, to let their family survive, or if they’re someone who is after your money because everyone knows that there are a lot of people with thousands of dollars of cash in order to pay their coyote, in order to pay the drivers of the cars, and all of that to get across the border. So there was a lot of fear and anxiety in the whole process.

DB: Now we know given the intensified border security, that folks are being forced to take more and more risks, in terms of crossing the border. I was telling you when I was in Nogales, Arizona, the border… to say it was porous would be to put it mildly. You know there would be a wedding on the Mexican side at the church and then the reception would be in Nogales, Arizona. But it’s not like that anymore.

SH: Right.

DB: Now, talk about the real dangers that occur, the multiple dangers that occur in that process, particularly because of this so-called heightened security.

SH: Well, interestingly several senators proposed a “border surge,” I believe, $30 billion increase in funding.

DB: Double the funding.

SH: Exactly. And roughly double the number of border patrol agents, including more drones, and heat sensors and other kinds of militarization of the border. There was a study released by the Binational Migration Institute, I think it’s called, at the University of Arizona, this month, that showed that the number of deaths in the border lands has, in general, been increasing over the last decade or two. And several scholars, including myself, have written about the ways in which certain border patrol policies and actions have actually contributed to those increased deaths, unfortunately.

So there’s a policy that the border patrol has been using called “prevention through deterrence,” which has, to simplify it, put more border patrol agents near the safer regions of the border, and less agents in the more dangerous areas. In essence, to redirect the flow of migrants into the most dangerous and risky areas. And there have been statements by border patrol administrators and U.S. government officials showing that they know that this policy will increase the danger for the people crossing.

The study released by the University of Arizona argues, as do many of us, that this policy is one of the reasons that the numbers of deaths have been increasing. And if this policy continues, of redirecting migrants to the most dangerous areas of the border, then increasing the power and militarization of the border patrol may simply increase the number of deaths by putting people more and more into harm’s way.

DB: And the statistics will bear this out, right? More and more people are dying, right?

SH: Right.

DB: What do we know about the statistics? What does that look like?

SH: I believe it was within the last 30 days we know that 177 people were rescued by the border patrol from near death, according to the Border Patrol. We also know from different organizations such as Humane Borders … if you look up Humane Borders on the internet you can see maps in which they put information together from the Border Patrol and the Mexican Consulate and from independent sources about exactly where and when different people died. And that’s likely not everyone. They’re likely are other people we don’t know about. But that’s the best information that I’ve been able to find on border deaths. And it, as I said, it’s slowly been increasing in general even though the number of people entering has decreased.

So the risk of death for each person who goes through this process is higher and higher. One thing that I thought about, a fair amount with the border crossing was simply that I was continuously surprised by how dangerous it was. We ran into rattle snakes, we ran into people with guns and weren’t sure what their motivations were. We ran into other people through the desert and tried to avoid them. There were cactuses that we would run into in the middle of the night, because you can’t use a flashlight if you’re trying to hike in the darkness, and not be seen. There are scorpions, etc. and not to mention, different kinds of vigilantes, and some of the reports of what some vigilantes have done.

In the Catholic church in the center of town, in the border town of northern Mexico, one of the people I got to know well and I went to the church while we were there the day before we crossed. There were posters that were hand-painted, each one of them had some kind of danger in the border, either a scorpion, or a cactus, or a rattlesnake, or a picture of someone dying of dehydration and heat stroke. And at the bottom of each poster, in Spanish in red letters it said, “Is it worth risking your life?”

And at first it seemed to me, it had to be … the answer had to be “Yes.” Because there are thousands of people who are trying to do this every year. But as I’ve thought more about it as an anthropologist I’ve realized, of course, we have to question the framing of that question itself. That question – “Is it worth risking your life?” – presumes that each immigrant is choosing based on pluses and minuses. I’m going to choose…

DB: That they have an option…

SH: Right, that they have an option. And Border Patrol administrators, and U.S. government officials, have made similar statements to the effect that these migrants are taking on unnecessary risks. But when you actually do interviews and do research with immigrants who are crossing from Mexico into the U.S., they do not experience this as a choice. There were several times, and in the book I write about someone telling me “there’s no other option for us.” It’s either certain death, a kind of slow death in our villages which we can’t survive in, largely due to NAFTA…

DB: NAFTA, free trade … which has really been a boon for drug traffickers, but not for everyday people.

SH: Right. … Or we can have the potential for our family to survive, by us going through this very risky process. And so they feel like they are forced to do that. Which then makes us question the difference between … you know, often times in the U.S. people talk about refugees and political immigrants as deserving certain rights where they end up and they talk about economic or labor migrants as voluntary and not deserving of health care, etc. But when you actually do the research and talk to people, these people do not experience this as a voluntary choice and there are many ways that politics, including NAFTA, relate directly to why they can’t survive in their home towns anymore, and feel like they have to migrate in order for them and their children to be able to live.

DB: I want to sort of tap the M.D. side of this. When we talk about the actual suffering that grows out of the crossing … this is a terrible death. When people die, they die a horrible death. Could you talk a little bit about that, what happens in those situations?

SH: Well, there are several ways that people die in the border unfortunately. And as we talked about a minute ago, these deaths have been increasing over the last years. Some people have died violent deaths due to assailants whether they are assailants from Mexico or the U.S. looking for their money or anti-immigrant assailants who are very angry at an immigrant for being there. There are also people who die related to rattlesnake bites or scorpion bites, but the most common way that people die is due to simply to heat and dehydration.

I drank through a gallon of water every few hours while I was hiking. And we took a relatively easy path, a relatively flat path through the desert. I had several gallons of water, and several bottles of Gatorade and Pedialyte with me. And if I had gotten separated from the group the truth is I had no idea where I was. So it was very ironic when the soldier in the bus, or later the border patrol agents who apprehended us accused me of being a coyote. I was exactly the opposite. I would have died without direction from the people I was with. But if someone gets separated and they only have enough water to make the trip under perfect circumstances, then they can easily become dehydrated and die.

DB: And that’s often the case. If you don’t have a friendly coyote, you have less of a shot. If you’ve got somebody who’s in it for the cash and that’s it, you’re not going to get much help there. And you’re going to die alone, in terror and great pain.

SH: Right. There are some organizations Humane Borders, Border Angels, No More Death, Samaritans, who do things…

DB: They leave water…

SH: They leave water, and walk through the desert and say “We have water” and try to get people to the hospital if they need help. And there is an arm of the border patrol that works on this as well. If they see people in distress they try to take care of them as well.

Ironically, last week, the L.A. Times wrote an article; something like “Over the Past 30 Days Border Patrol Rescues 177 People.” And while that is important, and it is true, we also have to, of course, remember the context of the Border Patrol policies that increase the danger that people are put in based on where they are encouraged to cross and where they are discouraged to cross.

DB: Yeah. It’s an amazing thing. Meanwhile, the people, in terms of law enforcement, you mentioned the Border Patrol, also a number of people were prosecuted for leaving, for taking water, for going out there and leaving water there. Prosecuted as alien smugglers. You know, under really horrifying prosecutions. I don’t know if anybody went to jail yet for leaving water so people could survive, but I think so.

SH: I do know of people who went to jail because they came across people who were dying in the desert and put them in their car to take them to the hospital, or take them to a clinic or take them to some sort of refuge, shade, or something. I also saw that some of the water containers that are left in the desert were shot with bullets that then drain them of their water by someone who doesn’t want there to be water in the desert.

DB: I can imagine, what are you in for? Leaving water for … it’s a felony, water-leaving, because you’re trying to prevent this kind of horrible death. Well, I know that you also had an encounter and ended up getting arrested. Tell us about what happened there.

SH: So, we hiked through the night starting at sunset, over and under and through several barbed wire fences and hiked. I’ve been a back-packing guide in the state of California several years. And I’m used to hiking long distances for many days, but I’ve never hiked as fast for as long a period of time … especially in the heat and dryness that we experienced while crossing.

And every once in a while we would stop in a dried-up creek bed and share frijoles or different food with each other; grasshoppers that had been dried that some groups in Oaxaca like to eat, and things like that. Then we would hike again. And we would stop sometimes and pull out cactus spines from each other’s legs, if we had crashed into cactuses in the dark.

When we got into Arizona we stopped in a dried-up creek bed, because those are the least likely to have cactus spines. Our coyote went to talk with the driver who usually takes his groups further into Arizona. And this driver said he wasn’t driving anymore because there had been more and more border patrol activity. So we were sort of stranded in this dried-up creek bed for a time.

We were discussing options, and some of the people in the group suggested that I drive; that we pool the money that we were going to pay the driver, that I go buy a used car, and drive them across the border. I told them that this made me too nervous, that I didn’t want to get a felony. I wanted to be able to work in the future. And if I had a felony it would be much harder to work, and they very much respected the need to work. So we came up with other plans.

Eventually the coyote decided to go back to the driver he usually works with and ask who else he could talk with. So he went back, he found someone else who was going to give us a ride. All of a sudden we see him run and jump down into the creek bed and then two border patrol agents jump down after him and pull guns on us and in Spanish say “Put your hands in the air.” And then they looked at me and said “This doesn’t look good for you with a bunch of illegals?” That’s what they said. They ended up dealing with us for a time in the desert and then taking us up into the Border Patrol jail.

DB: So, what happened?

SH: Well, they separated me from the group. I think they weren’t sure what to do with a white, U.S. citizen. I had a passport, I had letters from my university but they hadn’t seen someone like me before.

DB: Did they know you were a doctor as well, a medical doctor? Or they didn’t care? That’s what confused them maybe we’d better be a little bit more careful with this white guy.

SH: So they put all of the Triqui men I was with into the back of Border Patrol trucks that are sort of like pick-ups that have something like a small jail cell on the back. So they put all of them in the back of one of these. They put me alone in a different one. And along the way, in my truck, we picked up two Guatemalans who had been apprehended.

We ended up going to the Indian Health Service Hospital because one of the two Border Patrol agents had been bit by a rattlesnake while he was following our coyote. So we waited in the back of the truck while he was treated in the hospital.

Eventually, we all arrived at the Border Patrol jail. I was put alone in the women’s cell, I think because they were still confused about who I was, and whether I was a coyote, or what they should do with me. All the Triqui people were put in a different cell. They told me that I was not allowed to look at the Triqui people, that we couldn’t look across the hallway at each other.

And for a time I read all the graffiti in the cell that mostly women had written. There were a lot of things like “I’ll see you in Chicago” … kind of hopeful messages. Or “Proud that I’m Mexican” … things like that. And I watched as the Triqui people, one by one, were taken and fingerprinted and taken back to their cell. … I watched as they were looking through my backpack, I had a few anthropology books in my backpack, that I had meant to mail to myself so I wouldn’t have to carry them through the desert, but I ran out of time. I had a digital camera. There were something like a dozen border patrol agents together looking through my backpack because it was such a curiosity.

DB: It was so interesting.

SH: And they, I motioned to them with my hand that I wanted to make my phone call. And one of the agents shook their head at me, ‘No.’ And then later one of the agents came to my cell and asked if they could turn on my digital camera and I said “I want to call my lawyer.” I had contacted a couple lawyers before doing this and asked about the implications of it and I had their cell phone numbers, I had my family’s, my mom and my dad’s numbers and friends’. And so I went up to the front.

I got to call my lawyer. She told me that the Arizona legal system was backlogged and that it would be a couple of weeks before I would get another phone call, before I would get to meet with her. … She asked me if there was anyone I wanted her to call. I gave her my mom’s number and my dad’s number, and this other lawyer’s number.

And at that point I started to cry, just imagining being in this jail cell for two weeks, not being able to talk to anyone, not having a pen, as an anthropologist, not being able to write, and not sure what would happen to me. And that’s the moment that my Triqui friends were taken out of their cell, … in a single file line watching me cry as they were taken to a bus, and deported to Nogales.

DB: And, I imagine they weren’t crying.

SH: They weren’t crying.

DB: Sort of makes me want to cry. Talk about the multiple misperceptions in the U.S. press about what’s going on here.

SH: The first misperception I would say we touched on a little bit although it sometimes seems like it’s hard to get across, and that is the idea that these people coming to pick berries or work on farms in the U.S. are coming here voluntarily. And one problem with that framing is oftentimes even by U.S. government officials and the media we see that the people who die in the desert are subtly blamed for their deaths.

DB: For their own deaths … they killed themselves…

SH: So they are understood to have chosen to take on that unnecessary risk. But the experience of the farm workers who I met was very much that they were forced to do this. There’s no other option and so this idea that they deserve their death is a subtle but very inhumane way to think about people who are dying…

DB: Multiple forms of racism, it’s a part of…

SH: That’s true. Anti-immigrant prejudice, racism…

DB: Profound ignorance, misunderstanding, confusion.

SH: Whose deaths are mourn-able, should be grieved, should count. There’s also, I think it was two weeks ago there were several Congress people who stated that they wouldn’t vote for immigration reform unless it became clear that the newly legalized immigrants would not get health care in the U.S. for roughly 15 years, despite paying taxes.

And when I think about the essence of the transaction between these farm workers and the rest of us Americans who shop at grocery stores and farmer’s markets it certainly looks to me through my research that the farm workers are going through dangerous border crossings, working bent over six or seven days a week, all day, gaining back problems, hip problems, knee problems, essentially giving away their health in order to pick healthy fruit, grapes, broccoli, asparagus, in order that the rest of us who shop at grocery stores in the U.S. or who go to farmer’s markets can be healthy.

And, so, the transaction in one essence, that’s part of where the title, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies, came from which was actually suggested by Philippe Bourgois who wrote the book’s foreword. There’s an exchange, that their bodies are becoming sick and broken, in essence, to give us this healthy fruit, healthy food. If we are to respect this, I think we need to prioritize health care for this group of people who is helping all of us be healthy.

DB: Do you want to just talk a moment about what at the deepest level you learned from this journey and from this work? What can you tell the rest of us Americans about the reality of people who really we have to say do the hardest work that millions, tens of millions of Americans depend on, sit down at their tables, enjoy every day? And yet they may be the same people who want these people kicked out.

SH: Right. Correct. I would say right now in the midst of debates on immigration reform and health reform that we need to remember that immigrants are people. There’s a lot of debate about immigrants in the abstract that goes on among politicians without listening to the stories of, the voices of, the realities of actual immigrants themselves. While all these things are being debated I think we need to remember that these immigrants are humans, they’re fathers, they’re sons, they’re daughters, they’re wives, they’re mothers. They have stories. That’s one thing I try to do in the book; write about actual people so the reader can get to know somewhat why they are doing what they are doing, who they are, what they’re trying to do.

And I hope that this will help Americans vote differently, think differently, listen differently when they hear about people dying in the border. When they taste their strawberries they’ll remember that likely the last person who touched these strawberries was the person who picked them. That’s an intimate exchange that helps us be healthy; what do we owe in response?

DB: Well, yeah, these vegetables are sort of full of the finger prints of suffering. And we’re going to continue to cover this story. We appreciate you coming in and the risk that you took so that we could learn a little bit more about it. Of course, we know because we have friends and brothers, and as I mentioned to you earlier the senior producer of this show, Miguel Gavilon Molina, really watched his mom die in the fields, as he was a young farm worker, and it’s the families that do the work together. They break up the families after they do the work.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




Why Ballpark Workers Might Strike Out

The chasm between rich and poor in America continues to widen as people who actually work for a living struggle and those who shift around money do very well, thanks. That reality is underscored by a labor dispute between San Francisco ballpark workers and the management, Michael Winship reports.

By Michael Winship

It was in The San Francisco Examiner on June 3, 1888, 125 years ago this month, that there first appeared a poem titled, “Casey at the Bat, a Ballad of the Republic.” In the decades since, “Casey” has become the classic ode to baseball as the all-American pastime; its stanzas once memorized by school kids, its lines recited and recorded by everyone from James Earl Jones to Garrison Keillor.

So poignant and evocative is its tale that Albert Goodwill Spalding, 19th century professional pitcher, team owner, and co-founder of the sporting goods company that still bears his name, wrote, “Love has its sonnets galore. War has its epics in heroic verse. Tragedy its somber story in measured lines. Baseball has ‘Casey at the Bat.’”

The melancholy account of the vainglorious power hitter Casey stepping to the plate, his Mudville team down 4-2 at the bottom of the ninth with two men on base and two outs, epitomizes baseball as the game that will break your heart, especially in its immortal final lines:

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville, mighty Casey has struck out.

The poem was written by Ernest Thayer, a college friend of media magnate William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of his day who owned the Examiner and the man on whom Orson Welles based Citizen Kane. Thayer used the pen name “Phin,” and was paid five dollars for his masterpiece, or around $125 at today’s prices.

I know of some baseball employees who can relate to that kind of bargain basement salary, and they’re in San Francisco, too. They’re not the A-Rods, Riveras and Pujols who pull down ten million and more. The people I mean are the 800 concession workers who sell hot dogs and beer, serve and clean the restaurants, and cater to the luxury skyboxes at AT&T Park, home of the championship San Francisco Giants. Employed by a South Carolina-based company called Centerplate, their jobs only last the six months of the season and they make but $11,000 a year, right at the poverty line for a single individual in the United States. Their situation is yet another flagrant example of the vast and widening gap created by income inequality in America.

As Dave Zirin at The Nation magazine recently wrote:

“Concession workers at the park earn their $11,000 in a city where a one-bedroom apartment runs $3,000 a month and people are spending near that much to live in laundry rooms and unventilated basements. These same workers, who commute as much as two hours each way to get to the park, have now gone three years without a pay increase. This despite the fact that the value of the team, according to Forbes, has increased 40 percent, ticket prices have spiked and the cost of a cup of beer has climbed to $10.25. This also despite the fact that, as packed sellouts become the norm, the stress and toil of the job has never been greater.”

Job security, health care and pensions are issues as well. ThinkProgress reports:

“Under the current plan, a worker who staffs 10 events in a month receives health care for the next month, but Centerplate wants to increase that to 12 events per month under a new contract, workers said (A Centerplate spokesperson would not confirm that detail). That would make it impossible to obtain health coverage in months like June, when the Giants have just nine home games, and making health care harder to obtain is a major sticking point for the workers.”

The workers are represented by UNITE HERE Local 2 and on May 11, 97 percent of them voted to authorize a strike. (This does not necessarily mean there will be a strike, but union leaders now have the go-ahead to call one if they think it’s needed.)

A one-day walkout was staged at a Giants/Rockies game during the Memorial Day weekend, an action histrionically described by Centerplate spokesperson Sam Singer as a “slap in the face of our nation’s military.” He told George Lavender of the progressive magazine In These Times, “Local 2 has insulted the servicemen and servicewomen and veterans.”

There were long lines at the concession stands. Centerplate bussed in replacement workers for the day, including, In These Times reported, volunteers from non-profit organizations who worked for free in exchange for donations. This is common practice at sports venues to raise money for churches and other charities, but in San Francisco, it undermines the workers’ dispute.

The president of Local 2, who just happens to be named Casey, said, “It’s a real scam. They [Centerplate] make huge savings. They don’t have to do any of the contractual requirements that they have to do for a worker.”

The Giants management is quick to claim that they have no skin in the game, that the workers are paid not by them but by Centerplate. But as Dave Zirin and others point out, 55 cents of every dollar spent by fans at the concessions in the stadium goes into the Giants’ pockets.

“Centerplate says talk to the Giants,” one of the workers told Zirin. “The Giants say talk to Centerplate. If we stepped back for five minutes, they’d figure it out after they started to lose all that money. All we’re saying is, we want a fair share.”

The team could easily step up to the plate if it wanted to. The Giants’ principal owner is Charles B. Johnson, 80, the multibillionaire chair of the Franklin Resources mutual fund, founded by his father in 1947. He and his wife Ann live in the Carolands Chateau, a 65,000-square-foot mansion built by the daughter of railway industrialist George Pullman, who notoriously used Federal troops to suppress workers during the Pullman strike of 1894. The Johnsons bought the 98-room property for several million and reportedly spent more than $20 million in its restoration.

The architecture was inspired by a 17th century French design, which in turn was a prototype for Versailles. Republican fundraisers have been held at Carolands, including one for Mitt Romney in May 2012, and Charles Johnson has been a generous contributor to the party and its candidates, including, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a $200,000 donation last year to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, as well as $50,000 to the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future.

For that same $200,000, you can rent Johnson’s AT&T Park stadium for a day. Recently, millionaire hedge fund manager Mike Wilkins did just that, inviting 100 of his nearest and dearest hedge fund pals to come to the empty ballpark (the Giants were on the road), have a drink at a bar moved out to the playing field, run the bases, and take batting practice with a bullpen pitcher (which costs an additional $5, 000 per person and includes “a paramedic standing by”).

They were living the dream, “grown up boys fantasy time,” a source told BuzzFeed. Meanwhile, the men and women who barely scrape by are feeding the fantasy, making and selling hamburgers and fries, peanuts and Cracker Jack, and cleaning up the mess after. If they don’t win, it’s a shame.

Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the public policy and analysis group Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, “Moyers & Company,” airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at www.BillMoyers.com




Right-Wing Ideology and Reality

Pervasive right-wing propaganda  relying on false allusions to the Founding myth and bigoted illusions about non-white minorities has sucked millions of Americans into an unrealistic ideology centered on hatred of government. Lawrence Davidson encountered that reality on a vacation cruise.

By Lawrence Davidson

My wife and I have family in Barcelona, Spain, including a seven-month-old grandson. We also have a family member who is a successful artist and has a piece in this year’s famous Venice biennial art show. Thus it was that my wife and I went from Barcelona to Venice at the end of May.

We decided to travel from one city to the other by sea and so ended up on the Regent Line’s Seven Seas Mariner, a relatively small ship with only 700 passengers. This turned out to be a very odd cruise, and that is the subject of this essay.

For, as it turned out, some 270 of the passengers on board were fans of the libertarian right-wing talk show host and Fox TV commentator Neal Boortz. This was Boortz’s retirement celebration cruise, and his most devoted fans were on the Seven Seas Mariner, at their own expense, to help him celebrate.

Until his recent retirement, Neal Boortz (aka The Mouth of the South, aka The Equal Opportunity Offender, aka Mighty Whitey) was the seventh most popular talk show host in the United States. His show was nationally syndicated and averaged 4.25 million listeners per week.

The positions he has taken to achieve this status are remarkably diverse and often contradictory. For instance, Boortz has a rather progressive stance on some social issues (angering most conservatives), such as abortion rights, same-sex marriage, ending the “war on drugs,” and supporting various other civil liberties. Yet at the same time he is adamant about reducing the federal government’s tax and regulatory powers (pleasing most conservatives).

When it comes to taxes, Boortz advocates doing away with income tax, payroll taxes, estate taxes and the like and replacing them with a national retail sales tax. He has written a book on the subject, co-authored with Georgia Congressman John Linder, entitled The Fair Tax Book.

Leaving aside his tax-reform idea for the moment, Boortz’s view of the regulatory powers of the federal government is dangerously naive. He seems unaware that in the United States the ability to create and protect the civil liberties he supports comes from the legislative action of a strong federal government that then oversees the implementation of those laws against historically prejudiced, racist state and local governments.

The same dangerous naivete is revealed in Boortz’s promotion of “small government” and “deregulation” of the economy so as to promote “personal responsibility.” These are typical Tea Party positions and they too betray historical ignorance.

It has become clear to the less ideologically driven economic historians that, ever since the end of World War II, the only thing that has prevented another Great Depression (and, in essence, smoothed out potential depressions into periodic economic recessions) is, once again, effective and consistent government regulation.

As the savings and loan fiasco of the 1980s and 1990s and other more recent bank crises have shown, if you start deregulating strategic parts of the economy (as happened under Ronald Reagan), the capitalists will immediately revert to acts of maximum (and self-destructive) greed.

When it comes to foreign policy, Boortz favors an aggressive, interventionist approach to “fight terrorism” and “spread freedom.” After the 9/11 attacks, Boortz repeatedly complained about the “lack of Muslim outrage” over the event. In this Boortz shares an almost universal American provincialism. He fails to realize the causal connection between traditional American foreign policy in the Middle East (and elsewhere) and the terrorist attacks the U.S. has suffered.

He is also ignorant of the fact that after the 9/11 attacks Muslims worldwide condemned terrorism and expressed sympathy for the American victims. At the local level this sympathy was expressed by thousands of mosque-based sermons declaring that the al-Qaida attacks were “un-Islamic.”

Of course, many of these expressions of outrage and sympathy were made in Arabic and, what is more important, went untranslated and unreported in the American media. Even those issued in the English language were often unreported. This explains Boortz’s ignorance, but it does not excuse it. As such a well-known critic, he should have taken the time to fact-check the issue before repeatedly focusing the attention of 4.25 million listeners upon it.

Fans of Neal Boortz

If the 270 fans of Neal Boortz traveling on Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner can be taken as a reliable sample of his listening public, we may draw the following general conclusions:

— They are mostly from the American South.

— They are generally a polite group in one-to-one situations.

— Of all the positions taken by Boortz, the one they are primarily interested in is his tax-reform scheme. I must confess that I have no idea if his tax plan would be better or “fairer” than the present arrangement. However, it should be noted that the U.S. income tax was “allowed” by the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and so to replace it with Boortz’s “Fair Tax” might necessitate a rewording of this amendment. This could be a complicated task.

The fact that almost everyone I encountered in the Boortz group fixated on the issue of taxes tells us something important about conservative Americans: they are generally suspicious of demands that they financially contribute to the upkeep of their own communities (particularly in the area of social programs).

This might sound odd, but it is an attitude rooted in history. The U.S. revolution was not made over issues of oppression and deprivation. It was made over the issue of the British Parliament’s right to impose relatively moderate taxes on their American colonial subjects. Ever since that time there has been a conservative portion of the U.S. public which sees any taxes beyond those needed for very basic services as illegitimate.

Indeed, they see such taxes as a form of theft. Just ask John Boehner, the Republican Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Refusing to negotiate a reasonable budget with President Barack Obama, Mr. Boehner said that the real issue is “how much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government.”

In terms of economic history, this makes Boehner and his cohort throwbacks to the dark ages of 18th-century economic theory, when it was believed that the only legitimate things for which central government could tax was national defense, the court system and the police. All other social issues were the responsibility of the individual who was “free” to become rich or to starve to death without government interference.

To say that such a point of view, applied today to a society of 300 million-plus citizens, is disastrous is an understatement. Take away the “safety net” created by the New Deal and expanded by the “welfare state,” and replace it with freewheeling, deregulated capitalism and “personal responsibility” alone, and what you have is a formula for widespread suffering and civic unrest.

Yet none of the conservatives I met on board the Seven Seas Mariner had any knowledge of economic history or theory. All they had were their personal experiences and the feelings those had produced: that the federal government was too big, too intrusive in their businesses, and that it pampered too many people, all with their tax dollars.

This is one of the consequences of what I call “natural localism.” We live our lives locally. This local existence conditions us to see the world in certain limited ways. And then, on the basis of that local conditioning, we interpret the rest of the world. However, our local experience is often a very poor basis for understanding the larger problems that confront our communities.

Neal Boortz is fond of disclaimers. Some of them are potentially useful, as when he tells his listeners “Don’t believe anything you . . . hear on The Neal Boortz Show unless it is consistent with what you already know to be true, or unless you have taken the time to research the matter to prove its accuracy to your own satisfaction.”

The problem is, as with so much of the information media, the audience is self-selected. The reason millions listened to Mr. Boortz in the first place was because what he said was already “consistent” with what they “know” to be true. But was/is it true? Believing something is true does not make it true. As to the suggestion that the listener do research, well, not many will bother if the opinion at issue sounds and feels right.

Boortz also occasionally suggests to his audience that they “take no heed nor place any credence in anything he says” because, in the last analysis, he is just an “entertainer.” However, he cannot escape responsibility so easily for the influence he has wielded weekly over an audience of more than four million.

Ours is an age of “infotainment,” and the more entertaining media personalities, politicians and even government officials are, the more their “info” is received favorably. Just think of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show on the liberal side of the spectrum.

Conservative America is out there in many forms. Some are organized around religion, some around various forms of xenophobia, and some around the fear of government, its taxes and regulations. They are mostly white, mostly middle class, and don’t be at all surprised if you run into them on your next vacation.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.