Friday, March 02, 2012


"You can't pray a lie."
Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn)

The week's "news"--Rush Limbaugh, Judge Richard Cebull, Joe Arpaio, Sanctimonious, Richney, etc.--is beyond comment, beyond absurdity, beyond irony, beyond the pale.  Meanwhile we are rapidly distracting ourselves beyond the point of no return.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Circus News: Race to the Bottom

The victor?

Richie Richney got 42% of the low turnout GOPer primary vote in Michigan,  Little Ricky Sanctimonious got 38%, Ron St. Paul just under 12%, and Casino Newt got 6.5%.

By coming within 3% Sanctimonious does nothing to discourage voters in Super Tuesday states from seeing him as a viable candidate, particularly in Ohio, another midwestern erstwhile industrial state, with major population centers close to the Pittsburgh media market,  Little Ricky's erstwhile home base.  He's going to need that mystique because he has no organization to organize his voters and expand his voting pool.  But if Ricky can win Ohio, and he and Gingles deny Richney all the southern states,  it's not going to bring back Mr. Inevitable any time soon.

Richney outspent Sanctimonious by only 2 to 1 in Michigan.  It will be vaguely interesting to see where he puts his money for Super Tuesday.

 With my previous post in mind, I took special note that Sanctimonious did not win the Catholic vote in Michigan.  Richney did.  But Little Ricky ran away with the Evangelicals.

Who do you think won the black vote?  Well, nobody.  There wasn't one.  The percentage of African Americans (and there are a few in Michigan) who voted in the GOPer primary was 0%.

So the GOPer circus drags on--looking more and more like the circuses and carnivals in their last days--frayed, tawdry, small, freak show wagons leaving nothing behind but elephant shit.

So as an antidote to the dwarfs who would be President, we have a President, and here's the link to his inspiring speech to the UAW today, talking about what he stands for, and also about what he did, walking the walk:  "I placed my bet on the American worker.  I'll make that bet again any day of the week...I'm not going to settle for an America where a few do really well and everybody else is struggling."

Roots---and Branches

Pittsburgh from the North Side 2007  BK photo

Three of the four remaining Republican presidential candidates are in some significant sense from Pennsylvania, and from parts of the state near where I was born and grew up.

Ron Paul was born in Pittsburgh and went to high school in the Dormont section.  He worked as a resident doctor at a hospital in Pittsburgh for awhile, and I can hear Pittsburgh in his voice.  Newt Gingrich was born in Harrisburg, and grew up in a small town area near there.  Rick Santorum grew up in Butler County, attended both Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, worked in a Pittsburgh law firm and began his elective political career in the U.S. House representing eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh in 1990, which placed him maybe 25 miles from my hometown, and much closer to where I was living in Pittsburgh that year.
Hummelstown PA Public Library in 1950s, where Newt
Gingrich once lived in his youth

It seems that Ron Paul's family was a little better off than mine, but probably not by much.  Otherwise these were lower middle class or working class families.  Gingrich was born a little before me, Santorum more than a decade later.  Santorum's background is closest to mine: first generation American of an Italian-born parent, Catholic, Catholic high school.  That our political differences are pronounced is not that remarkable, but it is interesting to me how we relate to our backgrounds, and what those backgrounds were and are.

Santorum told his story of his grandfather in relation to working class values and American values, notably in his post-Iowa caucus speech.  He said his grandfather emigrated from Italy in 1925, because he "figured out that fascism was something that would crush his spirit and his freedom, and give his children something less than he wanted for them."  He left his wife and child (Rick's father) in Italy while he earned a living mining coal in southwestern Pennsylvania, living in a company  town, getting paid in "coupons" or scrip.  He then sent for his family, and continued working in the mines until he was 72.

This is basically not an unfamiliar story.  My Italian grandfather left his pregnant wife behind in Italy when he emigrated, about five years earlier, and got work at his trade of tailor.  My mother was born in Italy, and four years later my grandfather sent money for the passage for her and my grandmother.
On my father's side, my Polish grandfather was a coal miner, as his father had been before him, and so my father grew up in a company town in southwestern Pennsylvania. 
unemployed miners and others at the United, PA post office
in 1935, the company town where my father grew up. The local
mines were closed, and they were waiting to see if their
families were selected for the new town the New Deal
was building as an experiment, eventually called Norvelt.
As Norvelt was being built, my father was at a CCC camp. 

There are elements of Santorum's story that are puzzling but still possible.  Thanks to the Immigration Act of 1924, 90% fewer Italians were able to get into the U.S. in 1925 than when my grandfather arrived.  What I know about the coal fields in southwestern PA makes me wonder how old Santorum's grandfather was when he came over, because those mines were pretty well shut down even before World War II, so I wonder where he worked until the age of 72.  (In the Iowa speech Santorum mentioned "Somerset" but it's unclear whether he meant Somerset, PA or Somerset Iowa.  There were a lot of coal mines in Somerset County in southwestern PA, so he may have been referring to where his grandfather worked.  Most of those mines were active early in the 20th century until perhaps the 1930s.)
Riva del Garda today, where the
main business is tourism

Of course every family is different as where they came from is different.  The Santorums were from Riva del Garda in the northern province of Trentino.  (My grandfather, like Santorum's, fought in World War I, and he was gassed somewhere in northern Italy.)  My grandfather and grandmother were from a mountain village in the Abruzzi, fifty miles or so from the Adriatic Coast in about the middle of the coastline.  Not long before this, those were
just about different countries.  Italy as a nation was a recent invention.

As far as I know, my grandparents and their families were not particularly political in Italy, but apparently that's not the case with the Santorums.  This story based on interviews with the Santorums still there say that Rick's grandfather was an ardent Communist, which meant something different in Italy than in the Soviet Union say (Communists became part of government coalitions) but it was definitely a party left of the socialists, and it would have made him a political enemy to the Fascists of Mussolini.

Otherwise I expect there are commonalities in our family stories that Rick doesn't mention.  After long and bloody conflicts, the coal mines were finally unionized, and various New Deal programs encouraged company towns to permit home ownership, and made that more possible with higher minimum wages.  Italians had begun flocking to the Democratic Party when it nominated Al Smith, a Catholic, for President in 1928.  FDR's programs and appeal made Italians a solid Democratic constituency for the next generation, helping John F. Kennedy win the Presidency in 1960.
Allegheny River, Pittsburgh 2007. BK photo

Western Pennsylvania was replete with immigrant families from Italy, eastern Europe and Ireland, mostly Catholic.  Pittsburgh had a class overlay of wealthier Scots and other Protestants, and an educated Jewish minority that especially made its impact in the arts and sciences, but the popular culture was largely Catholic.  It was somewhat like that in the America of the 1950s, of DiMaggio and Sinatra.  But then succeeding generations joined the economic boom, and Pittsburghers left the neighborhoods for the suburbs.  There was similar movement, though only by a few miles in distance, in my home town.  Ethnic and political identity began to change.

So I don't know what Santorum really saw and heard of his grandfather's world.  I remember the real presence of unions and labor union history, the legacy of FDR and the suspicions of big business spoken in and around the former company town where my father grew up.  But Santorum's life was touched perhaps even more directly by the legacy of FDR and his vision of the federal government.  Santorum's father served in World War II and went to college on the GI Bill.  For awhile in Santorum's youth the family lived in housing provided by the Veterans Administration, because both his parents worked for that federal program.  Santorum applauds himself for getting ahead with hard work, but he got ahead much of his life as an employee of the federal government, in the U.S. Congress, and then used those Washington contacts to become a millionaire.
Cathedral of Learning, built by WPA
at U. of Pittsburgh, where Rick
Santorum got his MBA

But I can at least rationalize a meaning from Santorum's seemingly self-destructive statement over the weekend that in wanting every American to have the opportunity to go to college, President Obama was a "snob" trying to further the agenda of indoctrinating young Americans with liberal ideas from their professors.  This is bizaare on so many levels.  Santorum praises hard-working Americans who haven't gone to college (as if President Obama denigrated them, which he did not) but even manufacturing--or mining--jobs these days require greater skills, obtained through higher education (as President Obama recognized with his emphasis on junior colleges.)   And if Sanctorum is going against 99% of women who use contraception, he is mocking 99% of Americans (a real poll number) who hope to send their children to college.

But this operates perhaps on a different level.  There was and likely still is a tremendous conflict within the working class/lower middle class, that on the one hand wants its children to go to college and succeed, even if it means moving to a big city far away, and on the other hand feels betrayed when children leave, and fears that their education separates them, and makes them feel superior to their parents and their hometown.  It's the Working Class Hero syndrome, characterized by words that so many of us have heard: "Who do you think you are?"  In a sense we always hear it, from everybody, where we came from, where we aspired to be, and where we ended up.

The Catholicism of Rick Santorum is very different from the Catholicism in which I was raised, which might have partly to do with that decade difference.  Catholics were an immigrant minority in the 1950s, and in need of religious tolerance in a predominantly Protestant nation.  In the 1960s, there was the social gospel and ecumenicism of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.  It was still dogmatic and there were fanatics, but the separation of church and state was largely accepted as a good thing.  "You can't legislate morality" is a phrase I heard often in Catholic high school.

For the general differences in world view and history of those Catholicisms I can do no better than to point to recent excellent posts by Andrew Sullivan here and here.   Not only is he both succinct and comprehensive, he's much more involved in contemporary Catholicism than I am.

But the difference in all this is signaled by Santorum's attack on President Kennedy's speech in 1960 on the separation of church and state.  Santorum said the speech made him want to throw up.  This is familiar Rabid Right language, straight off their blogs.  They tend to express disagreement through physical symptoms of disgust.  But to everybody else, it's extremely harsh language.  For one of the Catholic candidates for President in 2012 to say that about the only Catholic to be elected President--and a President admired if not revered by many Americans, especially Catholics--is extreme to the point of alarming.  What is the source of this disgust and anger?  Santorum mischaracterizes what JFK said (as Sullivan explains) but that's not really the point.  He is playing to an evangelical/fundamentalist religious right that apparently now includes major elements of the Catholic Church.  Sullivan summarizes:

"There can be no absolute separation of church and state, let alone a desire to keep it so; and in their necessary interactions, the church must always prevail, or it is a violation of the First Amendment, and an attack on religious freedom. The church's teachings are also, according to theoconservatism, integral to the founding of the United States. Since constitutional rights are endowed from the Creator, and the Creator is the Judeo-Christian one, the notion of a neutral public square, embraced by liberals and those once called conservatives, is an attack on America. America is a special nation because of this unique founding on the Judeo-Christian God. It must therefore always be guided by God's will, and that will is self-evident to anyone, Catholic or Protestant, atheist or Mormon, Jew or Muslim, from natural law."

How many Americans believe this?  This is not about common values, derived from many belief systems and common experience, but about narrow dogma held with absolute certainty. Does this reveal a Rabid Right agenda, or is this just another 1%, though a different one from Romney's?  That's something the elections this year may make clearer.
This Pgh Post-Gazette photo of Pittsburgh's South Side
includes a building where I lived for a year in the late 1980s.
I lived a few more years in Squirrel Hill/Greenfield--both
pretty close to Santorum's congressional district.

So what do I conclude from this geographical and partly socioeconomic coincidence?  At a certain level, I do seem to know these guys.  Ron Paul and Gingrich are like the self-righteous guys in bars who've read a book that blows their mind and defines their world view.  I can almost touch Santorum's feeling for family, and his anger at being overlooked because of where he's from.  But he's also from the foreign land called Rabid Right that I observe and try to figure out.  I know that apart from lying to themselves (as we all do, but it seems they do it a lot) they lie a lot there to others, and believe themselves justified in lying.  And that seems to be the result of a worldview I just can't understand. 

But I know it is threatening the future.  At a time when this country is going to need to work together more closely and more intelligently than ever, they are splitting off into paranoid and hostile camps, adhering to dogma and immune to reason or fact.  Santorum has recently been very vocal in support of the immensely damaging "Climate Crisis is a hoax"--in his view a deliberate and politically motivated one--which in his case is based on a theology that (as this perceptive commentary notes) separates humanity from the planet which sustains it.  This political pressure to ignore the Climate Crisis at a moment when every action taken or not taken will make its mark on a future stretching hundreds of years into the future, may be within the realm of being understood, but it is tragic, and in every sense of the word as I've learned it, unforgivable.

As for this vision of a theocratic dictatorship ruled by the zealots of the Rabid Right, well, that does make me want to throw up.

Conventional Circus

A couple of weeks ago, when Little Ricky began making a move up the polls, the conventional punditized opinion was that if Richie Richney even won Michigan by just a few points, it would be a huge deal, as good as a defeat.

But when Richney started climbing back up, it seemed a victory, no matter by how small a margin, would be a victory.

Richney definitely had the momentum until he subverted himself with his fiasco of a Ford Stadium speech and his attempt to curry favor with NASCAR blue collar fans by noting that he knew some NASCAR owners.

But Ricky Sanctimonious, poised to take advantage of these missteps,  has done himself no favors by becoming even more irrational and fanatical.  These guys are their own worst enemies.  The result is that Michigan is likely to be close and in the long run it will be about who loses it better, and therefore loses it.

At the moment, despite the latest polls showing a trend towards Little Ricky, Richie Richney (who probably has already won Arizona in early voting) is likely to win Michigan, if only because he has some organization in place to get out his vote, which helps especially with early voting.  But he managed to blunt his own momentum by turning people off again in the past few days by reminding them why they can't stand him. But unless there's a substantial if mischievous Dem crossover, it may not be enough to hand Sanctimonious the victory speech. 

What will interest me most about this Michigan primary if Richney doesn't win is the sense of confidence that the Richney campaign has that it will win.  I take this as confidence in their "ground game" and the money they can spread around.  After all, they won this state in 2008, easily. If their judgment is that faulty, then there is something wrong with the campaign organization as well as the candidate.  Which suggests that money can't buy everything.

 Lately Sanctimonious has been talking not like a candidate but like a Herman Cain--somebody trying to enhance his standing with a specific public that will buy his books and stuff, and pay him big bucks to speak, when this is all over.  The other reading of this is that he's been really talking to the larger evangelical base that will be voting in the South next week, on Super Tuesday.

  So after the carnival of ineptness of the past two weeks we're almost back to where conventional punditized opinion was when their mouths turned to Michigan: a Sanctimonious victory, however slight, will shake the entire process to its foundations.  A Richney victory--unless it's a really big one-- will be a bit of a reprieve for him and for the GOP and the process, but it won't be definitive.  He'll have to survive Super Tuesday more or less intact to get to more favorable primary states later in the spring.

Then there's Casino Newt, who got another infusion of big bucks from his Casino Man for Super Tuesday.  As Rachel pointed out, this one billionaire who likes Newt and also Richney but hates Santimonious, is keeping Newt in the race to siphon off Little Ricky's votes in the South, thus buying the GOPer presidential candidacy for Richney.  One billionaire strategically placed is all you need in 2012.  Heck, one multi-millionaire in the primaries.

All this is showing up in polls as strengthening President Obama.  The question is whether voters make up their mind now and ignore the campaign later, or whether this is a fairly fleeting impression.  That's something we won't know unfortunately until after the general election votes are counted in November.  But experience suggests that it's unfortunately wrong to underestimate the potential for irrationality in the American voting public.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

The irony I invoke is not cruel. It does not mock either love or beauty. It teaches us to laugh at evil men and fools, whom, without it, we might be weak enough to hate.”

Anatole France

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sky Show

It was a strange sort of night here on Saturday.  There weren't many stars in the sky but the visible ones were very bright.  This was especially true of this amazing sight: the crescent moon with a bright star just below it, and an almost as bright one above and to the side.  The "stars" (Venus and Jupiter) were huge, and the moon was incredibly bright.  They were everything that was visible in the southwestern sky.  It was almost like being on another planet.

Saturday evening and early night were the closest the crescent moon and Venus would be (top illustration.)  Sunday evening and night Jupiter will be the closest to the moon. (This one.)  If the current weather forecast holds, we won't see anything here for the cloud cover.  But maybe where you are...