Issues, Policies, and Politics – Parts 7 & 8

The following was originally posted on Facebook.

Since some of you don’t follow FB, I thought I would repeat this series here.

Part 7 – History and Reality

History, we are told, is the best teacher.

Those who ignore history, we are told, are doomed to repeat it.

But we don’t experience history. We READ about history, and here are many, many history books. Just because something is written in a history book doesn’t make it what actually happened. With history, like with media and the press, you have to be careful about the source, and it is useful to compare sources.

It is also sometimes said that history is written by the winners.

When I was in school we were all taught that Columbus discovered America. He did not. There are still US and world history texts that promote this idea. Until recently, the entire country celebrated Columbus Day and celebrated this man as a hero. It’s a national holiday. In the past few years, some states have renamed the day.

In fact, Columbus discovered the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and other smaller islands. He never set foot on the mainland of America.

In his quest for gold (of which there was very little to be found) he forced the natives to spend their lives in mines, and when he couldn’t fill his ship’s coffers with gold, he took natives back to Spain as slaves. Lots of them.

The Spaniards brought with them steel weapons, armor, an authoritarian world view and a Catholic mentality. They were not kind task masters.

On Haiti alone 125,000 natives died in 2 years. Overall, by 1650, Columbus and his successors killed somewhere between 3 and 8 million natives in their quest for gold and slaves and there were no native peoples left on the islands. It was a complete genocide.

In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. And then he enslaved or slaughtered and entire people. And we honor him with a national holiday.

Textbook publishers often put different versions of history in their texts depending on where they will be sold. Same title. Same book, except SOME things are differently emphasized. Like slavery. Some texts for southern states suggest that slaves were mostly happy folks who were essentially servants.

You cannot have an informed electorate when textbook publishers cater to the beliefs of a local area over the historical truth. You cannot have an informed electorate when historians decide to create heroes out of mass murderers. And you need an informed electorate to elect the government we need to solve the problems we have.

Here’s another piece of history that is fairly well documented, but not as well remembered. Remembering accurate history is essential to having an informed electorate. Research is sometimes required.

In the early 1920’s there was a scandal involving the government of President Warren G. Harding and his administration which became known as the Teapot Dome scandal. Prior to Watergate, this was the most the most sensational scandal in the country’s history.

It essentially involved Naval oil reserves stored at Teapot Dome in Wyoming and a couple of other sites in California which the Secretary of the Interior under Harding leased to private interests at low rates without a bidding process. In the end, the Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, became the first cabinet member in the history of the country to be sentenced to prison for taking bribes from oil companies.

As a result of the investigation into Fall and trying to trace the money from the oil companies to the Interior secretary, congress passed a law to make it easier for congress to see a tax return when it deemed it necessary. Prior to this, only the president could order tax returns released.

In 1924 they added Title 26, Subtitle F, Chapter 61, Subchapter B, Section 1603 to the Unified Tax Code which states, “Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary (of the IRS) shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request…” It further specifies that such return or return information may be viewed “only when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure.”

Congress obtained Richard Nixon’s tax returns this way. They found out he owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. They obtained President Ford’s tax returns this way. They obtained Vice President Rockefeller’s returns this way. It is a pretty common thing for congress to do.

Richard Neal, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, recently sent a letter to the Secretary of the IRS requesting President Trump’s returns for a number of years as well as those of some of his businesses.

This set off a firestorm in the White House. The president stated that he will never turn over his returns because he is under audit and that he will take this “all the way to the supreme court.”

The media has been playing videos of his statement and responses from his lawyers as if he had anything to say about it. I saw a recent banner on cable news that read “Trump refuses to turn over tax returns.” Bull snot.

People have been ASKING Trump to release his tax returns since before the election, and he has refused.

But Richard Neal did NOT ASK Trump to do anything. Neal asked the Secretary of the IRS to send him copies of returns filed by the president by invoking the LAW. Trump HAS NO SAY in this. And there is absolutely no precedent for the IRS Secretary to refuse to comply with the law.

These sorts of requests happen all the time and they have NEVER BEEN DENIED. Not once.

Trump’s lawyers claim that it’s all politically motivated and, therefore, the request is invalid. Read section 1603 again. It says the Secretary SHALL FURNISH the requested documents. It says nothing about considering motivations.

Any challenge to this in the courts would have to be a challenge to the law itself, not this instance of it being invoked.

Such returns would normally be sent directly to the Secretary of the Ways and Means Committee and it would be his decision whether to share them with the rest of the committee. If he did, it would have to be in a closed executive session. The information would NOT be available to the public unless the committee were to take action against the president and even then it might not be made public.,

And yet, the president rages on.

He clearly is not an a fan of the rule of law. He clearly feels that he is above the law. He clearly feels that things like laws are an impediment to growing his power and would like to ignore or repeal the laws that curtail it.

This is not the government we need. It should not be the government we want.

More recently this president has made the comment that we need to “get rid of judges.”

He said that.

Get rid of judges.

So the constitutionally created judicial branch would be comprised of what exactly? I envision kangaroo courts comprised of AR15 carrying white nationalists and Evangelical, prosperity gospel bigots wearing white robes, thumping never opened bibles, seated in front of burning crosses and swinging nooses.

If you want to know what happens when an authoritarian ruler takes over the courts and the law, read the history of pre WWII Germany or Italy. Preferably NOT one written by Fascist apologists.

This is not the government we need. But we keep getting moved closer to it as the current administration keeps chipping away at the foundations of our constitutional rights and the constitution itself.

Meanwhile, as the nation is focused on all this bull squat, we continue to increase the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the oceans continue to rise, the rich get richer; the poor get poorer; the “middle class tax break” was a sham; the Democratic Party is headed toward a middle/progressive meltdown; and it’s going to be VERY warm this summer.

Part 8 – Remember Joe?

Remember Joseph McCarthy?

McCarthy was convinced that the federal government was infiltrated with Communists. Lift a stone in Washington, according to McCarthy, and you’d find a communist hiding there – an ugly, shriveled thing that looked like Voldemorte before his return, and like he-who-must-not-be-named, could become an all-powerful adversary.

So McCarthy made it his mission to root out these communists, not only from the ranks of government employees, but from anywhere there were powerful people, including Hollywood. Black lists were made; hearings were held; people went to jail. Careers were destroyed. Some people never worked again.

McCarthyism was born. “Much of it was rooted in fear and anxiety within the Republican Party’s reactionary fringe.” […/…/4-cwhomefront/1-mccarthyism]

The roots of McCarthyism go back much further, though.

Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 gave rise to a growing popularity of the Communist Party in America. It had appeal to educated elites and to poor, low-wage workers, many of whom were migrants. This was only a few months after the US entered WWI. […/…/4-cwhomefront/1-mccarthyism]

At the start of WWI, congress passed two acts of note here. One, the Espionage Act of 2017, allowed the Postal Service to ban newspapers and magazines from the mail and provided heavy fines and up to 20 years in jail for obstructing the draft.

The Sedition Act of 1918 made it a federal offence to use “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the government, the flag, the Constitution, or the uniform. Over 2000 people were prosecuted.

This curtailment of civil liberties helped keep the public from accepting communist ideas at the time. Later, as people saw the truth of what communism was doing in Russia, it lost much of its appeal.

As America was poised to join WWI, over 1/3 of the population of the country was foreign born or the children of recent immigrants. More than 10 million (out of 32 million) Americans derived from nations belonging to the Central Powers. Millions of Irish Americans sided with the Central Powers because they hated the English.

There was a real fear that the divided loyalties in this country would undermine any war effort and bolster communist sentiment. The immigrant derived population did NOT want the US to enter the war.

President Wilson actually set up a government propaganda campaign to gain support for entering WWI which we did on April 6, 1917.

The Espionage Act and the Sedition Act were repealed in 1920, but this distrust of the immigrant population never went away.

These acts and the severe curtailment of civil rights they brought with them were also the result of fear on the part of the right that the US was being undermined by some foreign, “anti-American” idea. Recent limitations on civil rights are not new.

After WWI there were a number of leftist bombings and labor discontent that resulted in the First Red Scare where civil liberties were severely violated by the Justice Department and mass arrests and deportations occurred. The political right saw the labor movement as a communist plot and moved against it harshly. […/…/4-cwhomefront/1-mccarthyism]

After the Great Depression, the Communist Party in America found itself once again a focus of interest. People had begun to wonder if the capitalist system could really work in this country. Mistrust of the Communist agenda created a palpable fear among the right wing.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the New Deal in the early 1930s, it was condemned by the right as socialist – or communist (apparently they couldn’t tell the difference, even then).

By the time of the Second Red Scare after WWII, right wing extremists saw communists (reds) everywhere. The panic of McCarthyism was just one aspect of this fear of the “red menace.”

In 1954 the phrase “under god” was added to the pledge of allegiance to the flag. The idea was pushed by a Scottish preacher, but congress approved it, in part, to distinguish us from the “godless” communists.

Since 1782 the phrase “E pluribus Unum,” (out of many, one) which appears on the Great Seal of the United States had been the unofficial motto of the country. In 1956 congress passed a law that stated that the phrase “In God We Trust” appear on all paper money. Later that year they also passed a law that this phrase become the national motto.

The reactionary efforts on the part of the right to what they saw as an existential threat of communism changed the way the country saw itself going forward. Suddenly government and God were tied together in more than in an individual, personal fashion.

And the Red Scare brought the right together. They had a rallying cry. They had something to rail against. They had something to make people afraid.

Imagine trying to use that today.

The closest they can come is to continue to misrepresent socialism as communism. Every time a right wing politician screams about socialism, what they are really trying to tell you is that it’s communism. Bernie isn’t a “socialist.” He’s a communist! And they know about communists. They have been fighting communists since WWI.

But communism failed. There are no viable communist governments any longer. Even those who call themselves communist governments are so far from the ideals of Lenin that it’s laughable.

So they have had to concentrate on other issues to make the electorate be afraid enough to turn to them for salvation.

At one point the Evangelical right realized that they couldn’t maintain segregation as their defining issue. Within a decade they turned from segregation to abortion as their primary issue.

There is no longer a communist under every rock in this country. That’s very clear. So what’s under the rock? What should you be afraid of now?

That’s easy.


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1 thought on “Issues, Policies, and Politics – Parts 7 & 8

  1. Roger, again you do us readers and writers proud. You started this article off with a little caution about histories and I want to expand a little on that as I consider it important to the control of our limbic systems allowing our pre-frontal cortexes to accomplish their purpose. All of us share in the overuse of our limbic systems as they were much more important in our predecessors’ survival than perhaps they are today. Histories are different even when the historian’s intentions are ethical and honorable. Each of us perceives reality differently. In my profession, this is recognized and it is why differences in witness testimonies do not always result in perjury charges. We all see things differently as a result of our location and arriving at a more accurate assessment of what happened (history) requires we search the memories of as many witnesses as possible. We have become accustomed to this in the courtroom but usually, fail to examine our own beliefs in arriving at our own prejudices.

    There were approximately 50 million native people in the Americas when Columbus first arrived in the West Indies. Many died from the new bugs brought here by the Europeans and many were outright murdered. Yet I caution all of us to be aware of the different cultural milieu that the people described in our histories were labouring in. When we start making judgements about the goodness or worth of the actions of people in another time we need to see stresses and societal pressures on their decision making at the time. In the present time, I see this as demonstrated by the “Me Too” movement that makes criminal today what was once broadly accepted or condemned what was thought a trifle in the past. The fact that we have evolved (hopefully improved) does not mean that our actions or beliefs in the past were as horrible as we see them today. Tomorrow many of our beliefs and actions will be seen by our progeny to be just as wrong-headed.

    1917 not “2020”

    Your faithful servant,
    Michael McDaniel


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