James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, April 24, 2010

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pricing most people out of the ballpark

If you live in Hennepin County, in Minnesota, you probably need to read this.

If you live in Minneapolis, in Hennepin County, you do need to read this, unless you're one of the minority of residents who have followed the stories of local sports stadia very carefully and in detail.

If you live anywhere in the United States that has or is likely to get a professional sports franchise, it would be a good idea to read this.

If you're a pro baseball or football fanatic who reads this, don't bother to scream at me. I've heard it all before.

If you're a fan but not a fanatic, someone who enjoys seeing a game in person now and then, you'd probably better read this and then begin to figure out what you'll do instead of attending the occasional baseball or football game.

If you are a sports writer or broadcaster, button your lip. I don't have time for your self-serving, franchise-serving crap.

Now then:

The new Minnesota Twins stadium – they want us to call it a “ball park,” not a stadium – is open for business.

It obviously is going to make the Pohlad family, heirs of the late multibillionaire Carl Pohlad, even richer.

It also is going to make it much more difficult, and in very many cases impossible, for average Minnesotans to attend a few ballgames each season. Today's modern sports stadia are playgrounds for the wealthy, or at least those who are "well off," not places of relaxation and entertainment for the masses.

We pay, but we don't get to go to the games, or at least not often.

Minnesota Public Radio estimated that the new stadium will increase the team's revenues by somewhere between $40 million and $60 million per season. Estimates by various organizations put the team's previous revenue at somewhere around $158 million a year – but those estimates are entirely unreliable.

The Minnesota Twins, the Pohlad family, have never opened their books to anyone, even when demanding, and getting, public financing for their new playpen.

No business other than a professional sports business, could get away with that, but the owners of sports franchises pull it off regularly. There is no reason whatever to believe anything they say when they are poor-mouthing in order to get tax money poured into their pockets. They will provide no demonstrable facts to support their claims.

Local sports writers, and some from other towns, fairly drool in their awkward sonnets about the joys of outdoor baseball and the new stadium. They've also been extremely harsh in criticisms of anyone and everyone who does not equally share their pants-wetting ecstasy over the new playground, which is why I feel no need to be polite to or about them. Twins owners are happy, the sports writers are happy; they know which side of their bread is buttered and who provides the sweet spread.

The team's television broadcasters obviously have been ordered to promote the new stadium with every other breath. Through every game they natter and natter and natter about it's supposed wonders to the degree that I have taken to watching games mostly with the sound off. I find their constant excessive praise not only irritating but downright infuriating. It reminds me, always, of the fact that as a resident of Hennepin County, I am paying an additional tax to increase the wealth of the Pohlads.

A few other people have told me they have the same hostile reaction to the unrelenting stadium blather.

The new stadium cost somewhere around $544 million. Again, don't trust the figures. The real cost may be considerably higher and we, the major funders, may pay more than we've been told will be “our share.”

Residents of Hennepin County are paying roughly two-thirds of the total cost through a small sales tax attached only to purchases within that county, my county.

State law required that any such sales tax had to be approved in a referendum of county residents. However, polls showed that county taxpayers would reject a stadium tax by a wide margin, so the Minnesota Legislature, led by rural-area legislators whose constituents are not paying, voted to allow the special sales tax without a referendum. A majority of Hennepin County commissioners, perhaps eager to have their names in stone or bronze somewhere in the stadium and obviously eager to please the area's big-money cabal, agreed to the supremely underhanded deal.

So now we have a new outdoor ball stadium.

In Minnesota.

This has been a very unusual and early spring. All of the games in the new facility have been played as scheduled. That will not be the norm over the years, unless our climate has changed permanently.

In a normal year, we can expect numerous games to be rescheduled in spring and fall, and others to be played in conditions so miserable that only a handful fanatics will attend. We can expect players to be injured – throwing hard when temperatures are too low, slipping on wet and perhaps even somewhat icy grass.

The Minneapolis StarTribune reported recently that the average ticket price for a Twins game this year is 45 percent higher than last year. The newspaper said the average cost of a non-premium ticket for a major league game – that's throughout the major leagues -- is now $26.74, but the average price ticket price for a non-premium Twins game is $31.47.

“Premium” means games in which teams that actually have a chance to make the playoffs play, and, of course, those played by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, which command even higher prices.

Here a confession: I am a baseball fan. I love the game. It is the only thing increasingly silly ol' George Will and I have in common: We agree that it is a beautiful, graceful, mentally and physically demanding sport. My wife shares my love of the game. We spend an undoubtedly absurd number of hours in front of a television set, watching Minnesota Twins games, playoff games, the World Series.

Over the past decade or a bit more, I have attended about a half dozen Twins games a year, the first few years with a couple of old friends, in more recent years mostly with my wife.

This year, my wife will go to two games, one with a woman friend who bought the tickets and another with me. I will attend only the one game this year, and it may be the only game I see in person for several years. Or, we may go to Kansas City some time this summer, as we have done once a year in recent years, and if we do we'll probably go to a Royals game.

My two kids and their families gave me a $100 Twins gift certificate for my birthday. I spent about two and a half hours on the team's Web site, trying to purchase tickets in a decent location for one game. Finally found some in a location not nearly as good as the area from which we have watched games at the old stadium, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, along the third base line. Total cost for two tickets, out by the outfield, $120. I didn't buy them.

As expected, people are turning out in droves to see the new playground. That always works for three or four seasons before people realize that no matter how pleasant a stadium, the price is simply too high.

I continued to search and at last located two available seats on the first base side of the field up in the air, just short of the point where you start to be in danger of altitude sickness, for a weekend day game against a team that will not be a contender this year. I ordered them.

As I ordered them I discovered that in addition to the stated seat price I would be paying two admittedly small fees -- $3.50 and $1.50, as I recall -- for “handling” and something else equally as vague. Total cost $87.

That's without transportation costs, or any food or drink. Total cost for the outing obviously will be well over $100. For two to see a baseball game against a noncontender. In mediocre seats.

Obviously the average working couple with, say, two children, is not going to take their kids to a baseball game and sit in such seats. Their total cost for the one game would be somewhere around $200 to $225, without souvenirs or a program. And that's if they live in the area and aren't paying for a room somewhere.

So how about the “cheap” seats?

Well, unsold seats in the least expensive parts of the stadium are hard to find in this inaugural year. But suppose that family of four hit on four available seats, at the least expensive level, for a game they can attend.

I just found some seats available for a Thursday noon game – our working family would have to take the day off – for $15 apiece. There aren't many of them. The seats are very high, beyond the foul pole in right field. So: Family of four, parents taking day off work, $60 for tickets. Then transportation, which means either parking or public transportation. Figure $20 for that, conservatively. Throw in lunch and soft drinks, maybe peanuts later, another $40, very conservatively. Total cost for a weekday noon game against a noncontending team: $120. And that is, I stress, cheaper than most folks could manage.

How many games do you think that working family will attend in a year? What if Dad works in a warehouse and Mom is a clerk at Wal-Mart? What if one of them is laid off part of the year?

On the other hand, the new baseball stadium has about 60 luxury suites, some seating as many as 30 people, more seating 12 people. Prices for one game for those suites range from only $3,250 for a smaller suite during a non-premium game to $7,500 for a big suite when the Yankees are in town. Those are the prices shown on the Twins Web site.

Of course, the big suites come with a very nice spread of food and drink.

Those suites are one of the main reasons I and my fellow Hennepin County residents are paying a long-term extra sales tax. Increased seat prices just because we have a new stadium is the other main reason. They bring the Pohlads one hell of a pile of money.

From the git-go, Emperor Vespasian intended spectacles at the Colloseum in Rome to be free, and Emperor Titus, who finished the great construction, stuck with that program. Payback to the taxpayers. Romans got free tickets to watch gladiators die. Minnesotans have to pay through the nose to watch fly balls die in the wind coming in from beyond left field.

Oh, lest I forget: Zygi Wilf, owner of the Minnesota Vikings is demanding a new football stadium or, of course, he'll move the team.

Anyone who thinks he'd be able to move them under current conditions is a plain damned fool, but let that pass for now.

About 20 Minnesota legislators met with Zygi – another very, very rich man, of course – a couple of weeks ago. Many in the Legislature are ready to play ball with him. Of course.

Various financing schemes call for lots of public money for a new football playground. This time, in fact, some of the scheme's backers are looking to lay the whole public-financing burden on residents of Minneapolis alone.

Ladies and gents, this is the damnedest racket outside of war and banking. The public, or some of the public, pays for the stadia, which produce enormous income for team owners, and at the same time much – by now probably most – of the public is priced out of those same facilities. Baseball and football have become largely recreations of the well-off and rich, subsidized by the poor and the the majority of the middle class, who have other demands on their income.

Recently, I attended an opera presented by a very good company. The cost was only marginally higher than the price of a baseball game in Minneapolis.

While you're contemplating the joys of outdoor baseball in Minnesota, I'd like to talk to you about a nice condo in Florida....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

U.S. gun nuts help Mexican drug gangs

Many people are talking about the threat of violence against politicians who don't follow the Fox Party line.

Most of the talkers, pundits and appalled citizens don't know the half of it. The danger to this country goes beyond simple murder.

The threat, unmistakable but somewhat masked, has been around at least since Barack Obama was elected president. People have shown up wearing guns near places where Obama spoke, and we've all seen the gun-nut signs carried by dozens of strutting would-be cowboys at all of the tea-party rallies around the country.

Then we had the House of Representatives vote on the Democrats' health bill and the threats became more overt. People screamed racial and sex-related slurs at members of Congress – egged on by Fox Party members of Congress, we must note. Democratic members of Congress have received countless overt threats to their lives and the lives of their families since then. (Oh, yeah, and a few Republicans stepped up to say “me, too” but offered little evidence to back up their mostly dubious claims. But even if the threats were aimed equally at Democrats (that is, Corporatists) and Foxes, that doesn't make them in the least acceptable.)

Many of us expect the threats of violence, aided by such “respectable” politicians as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann and a bunch of other right wing loudmouths, to turn to action at some point. There are a lot of crazies roaming free in this country and a very high percentage of them are armed. It's highly probable that someone is going to be killed or at least wounded.

Yet, folks, the violence we're likely to experience in the foreseeable future is relatively light compared with the horrors experienced almost daily by the people of Mexico.

The facts have been greatly muted by the corporate media in this country, but the plain truth is that American gun nuts bear a major share of the responsibility for the horrific bloodshed below the border.

In 2009, Mexico reported 7,724 deaths related to wars between drug gangs and between drug gangs, police and other Mexican government officials, according to a report in Foreign Policy in Focus. Several agencies reported that there were about 2,000 gang-related killings last year in the near-border town of Ciudad Juarez alone, and 227 more were killed in that city in January of this year. The vast majority of the killings have been by gunshot.

Last month (March, 2010), shooters involved in the illegal drug trade killed a pregnant American consulate worker and her husband in Juarez, and shot and killed the husband of another U.S. consulate employee and wounded two of the couple's children. A number of American diplomats and other employees, most of them working near the U.S. border, have been threatened.

Several times last year, entire neighborhoods, and even entire towns, have been the sites of pitched gun battles between drug gangs and between such gangs and Mexican police. Innocent men, women and children often are among those killed and wounded in the violence.

We, the American people, bear a substantial responsibility for the terrible bloodshed, and not only because Americans buy almost all of the drugs processed and sold by the Mexican gangs.

Mexico's gun laws are stronger than ours. Mexican citizens can legally own firearms, but there are tighter controls on the kinds of weapons, the number and the personal histories of gun owners. There is much closer watch on gun dealers in Mexico than there is here.

Gangsters don't give a damn for such laws, of course. But even for them, buying guns – especially military-style weapons that have no purpose other than killing human beings – is difficult. Or, rather, it would be were it not for the fact that they can get anything they want in the way of weaponry just over the border in the United States.

The International Action Network on Small Arms said in a report on weapons trafficking in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean that there were about 6,600 gun dealers very close to the Mexican border on the U.S. side. Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put the number at 6,800. The Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University said in an April 2009 report that the number was about 6,700.

Two weeks ago as I write this, I saw on television an interview with Mexican President Filipe Calderon Hinojosa. Colderon maintained that the actual number of weapons dealers in the U.S. hard by the border with Mexico, now is closer to 10,000.

That ties closely with the fact that government agencies on both sides of the border say that almost 90 percent of the weapons used by Mexico's out-of-control drug gangs come from this country. A report by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) a little more than a year ago said that the agency has cooperated with Mexican authorities in tracing as many as possible of the firearms recovered from, confiscated from or abandoned at crime scenes by members of drug gangs. They were able to trace 87 percent of such weapons to this country, the ATF said.

The U.S. State Department said that Mexican authorities seized almost 40,000 illegal firearms from criminals in 2008. About 90 percent of those guns originated with U.S. dealers, the department reported.

Some of the people reading this are no doubt wondering why they haven't heard any of this from their hometown newspapers and television stations, or even from networks and cable news outlets.

There have been a few scattered stories on the gun trafficking across the border, but just a few, and not prominently placed. Most newspapers and radio and television outlets reported the murders of the U.S. consulate employees, but none that I saw tied the murders to cross-border gun peddling. Broadcast reports were the usual few seconds and focused on the fact that those killed worked for our consulate. The New York Times has mentioned the traffic a few times, notably in connection with statements from Secretary Clinton, but most other newspapers have been silent on the subject.

I'll give you one guess on the reason for the silence in this country.

Yes, of course: Fear of American gun nuts, the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby and politicians tied to that crowd.

Obviously, the peddling of weapons to Mexican drug gangs is highly profitable. Remember, 40,000 recovered weapons in 2008 alone, and nobody knows how many still in the hands of gangsters, but certainly many times that 40,000 figure. And there are thousands of sales to drug peddlers every day along the border. Money, money, money.

America's gun makers are going to protect that highly profitable business every way they can, and that inevitably means stirring up the knuckle draggers who front for them in every battle in the stupidly mistaken belief that they are “protecting our Second Amendment rights.”

Ain't no one going to git my guns unless they pry 'em outta my cold dead fingers, etc., etc., etc.

There doesn't seem to be any hope that the damn fools will ever figure out that they're being used to protect the manufacturers' and sellers' profits and that no one ever seriously has suggested that sporting guns be forbidden in this country.

And, boy are the industry-manipulated boobs loud and nasty on this trumped up campaign.

Gun-nut blogs and web sites are wild on the subject. You want to stand back if you click on one of them or you may get sprayed with the spit that seems almost literally to be sprayed from mouths of gun crazies when someone raises the topic of peddling to Mexican murderers – and the guys behind this traffic make sure someone raises it frequently.

The major point, when you get past the usual obscene and often barely literate ravings, is that it just ain't so. They know that because someone on another Web site said so, and they believe every lie they're told, no matter how absurd. The industry plays the suckers like Itzhak Perlman plays a fiddle.

Never mind the reports that have been produced by several government agencies on both sides of the border. The guns aren't coming from this country because...well, because...because one former ATF officer who devotes most of his waking hours to a gun blog and the “cause” of guns says they're not, and because Fox News says they're not, and what more proof do you need.

There are all sort of theories on the gun-nut Web sites and in their magazines about where the guns going to Mexico originate.

The theories often are in conflict, but it doesn't matter; if you're a true believer, you'll pick the one you like, or believe two conflicting theses at the same time. In a trawl through the gun sites a few months ago and again a few days ago, I found at least half a dozen claims about where the Mexican drug gangs' guns “really” are coming from.

Most of the theorists place the source in rotten, commie Europe, of course, although at least a couple said the main source is in Asia. Turkey was mentioned at least once, I recall, and France at least a couple of times since most red-blooded John Wayne wannabes hate France for reasons they probably can't recall any more.

Oh, yeah. A little casual checking produced the unsurprising fact that a lot of the writers of articles “disproving” the reports of gun peddling from this country have close ties to the gun industry and/or the NRA.

There are two terrible situations here.

One, obviously, is that gangsters have taken control of substantial pieces of our neighboring country and are murdering and maiming innocent citizens at the same time they are shipping countless tons of narcotics into this country.

The other is that much of our government and, even more, the corporate-owned “news” media in this country are so afraid of the gun nuts that they won't make a serious effort to tell the American public what is going on, so that the relatively sane majority can force our politicians to stop the mayhem. And it would take force, given the cowardice of our politicians when the gun nuts start howling.

Americans who live in a world based on reality owe it to our country to spend at least a little time exploring the fantasy world of the gun culture. You have to know how far beyond reality those people are to fully understand the danger they pose to our society and our form of government.

They rage at any group and any individual who proposes even the mildest of controls on the worst of weaponry. Their words and their imagery are typical of barroom bullies, and like barroom bullies they sometimes yell themselves into positions where they almost have to strike out or look cowardly to their drinkin' buddies.

Since well before his election as president, Barack Obama is the next thing to the Devil himself in the world of gun worshippers. Some even – literally – declare he is the Antichrist. (Of course, many ordinarily liberal politicians and civic leaders have been identified recently as the Antichrist by some wing nut or another, so the distinction isn't quite as great as it once was.)

During the 2008 presidential campaign, someone in Gun Fantasy World declared that Obama was the greatest danger to gun ownership in the history of this nation, and that has been taken as gospel in that weird world ever since. The originator undoubtedly was someone with the gun manufacturing/selling industry, since the entire industry is rabidly right wing, but we'll never know the source.

It matters not a bit that Obama has never made the slightest move or uttered the tiniest suggestion that Americans should lose their sporting guns, and any hints that he might favor some control on the distribution and ownership of weapons meant only for killing people have been extremely weak. In Gun Fantasy World, nevertheless, the belief that he spends most of his time plotting to confiscate guns is unquestioned.

Go look. You need to. Here's a good starting point, which leads to other sites, most of them relatively on the mild side as gun sites go; those will lead you to others: http://www.dmoz.org/Society/Issues/Gun_Control/Pro-Gun_Rights/

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Meet the folks at a Minnesota tea party

By Lydia Howell

While the Tea Parties get significant funding from Dick Armey's Freedomworks, it's a mistake for progressives to write off this conservative movement as just “Astroturf.” We need to ask who the people are who show up at the various stops of the Tea Party Express.

I went to the April 8 Tea Party rally at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, hoping to find out.

Two different leftists I know see at least some of the people in the Tea Party movement as white working-class people legitimately angered by a government that's abandoned them to a fate of lost jobs, foreclosed homes and the sense of a bleak economic future for their children. There may be some truth to that idea, though neither speech makers nor the people I interviewed April 8 spoke of lost jobs. Primarily, they spoke of taxes, deficits and government spending. At least half of the people there appeared to be of retirement age.

The Tea Parties seem to have been seeded in the rubble of the September 2008 financial meltdown and the Wall Street bailouts that began during the Bush Administration, yet the speakers and the crowds at Tea Party rallies date their dissatisfaction from the election of President Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress.

All of the people at the rightist rallies roundly reject the Democratic health care law call for its repeal.

As the confusing legislative process lumbered along—and Democrats in Congress made more and more anti-progressive “compromises” to get Blue Dog Democrats' votes (and, one suspects, fulfill promises to insurance companies)-- progressives also opposed or at least questioned some aspects of the health insurance bill.

Theoretically, with doubts from both sides, Tea Party people and progressives could open a dialogue. The same could go for the bailout of banks and financial institutions. Common ground seems possible.

But, there are some very real obstacles to such engagement between the Right and progressives.

People at the Minnesota Tea Party rally appeared to oppose ANY health insurance reform, simply repeating the idea that it's an encroachment of “big government” into a “free market system.”

For conservatives, government regulation of big insurance or pharmaceutical corporations has been translated into “Government telling YOU what to do,” as exemplified by the Democrats' individual mandate to buy health insurance. All felt that the mandate—the state forcing people to buy insurance-- is unconstitutional.

Only one 30-something man, who identified himself as Wyatt, noted that, “They could tax you and give you health care and that would be within the bounds of the Constitution. But, they didn't go that way.”

Many opposed the stimulus bills, as much as the bailouts—but did so in the belief that stimulus spending is “out of control government spending.” Most people I talked with felt that the bailed-out auto companies and banks have been “nationalized”--that the government now owns them! This, too, was seen as “big government” encroaching where it shouldn't go at all.

Government employees are the sames as lazy people on welfare in the eyes of the Tea Party rally crowd. In what I think is another attack on unions, the ridiculous claim was made that “average government workers make $70,000 and average private sector workers make $40,000.”

That reminded me of last year's bashing of auto workers with the lie that they all make $70 an hour and, now, the blaming of teachers' unions for public schools that have “failed”.

No speaker on April 8 mentioned the millions of dollars a year paid bank executives, hedge fund managers or health insurance CEOs and no one referred to their bailouts or subsidies.

It appears that for the Tea Party people, class rage runs horizontal and that it is fueled by a kind of “crabs in a barrel” petty envy. Is that by design of Tea Party leadership to make worker solidarity impossible? If stagnating wages and job insecurity are a main root of the Tea Party movement, that's been mis-directed into 21st century red-baiting of President Obama as a “socialist” -- another concern repeated over and over.

It's obvious that many Tea Party people imbibe daily propaganda that plays fast and loose with the facts; their world-view is defined by Fox News pundits Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. They often appear to get their talking points, called "analysis," from right-wing talk radio -- especially Rush Limbaugh – and to worship Sarah Palin, taking her slogans as their own. Often, their answers to my questions simply parroted the words of right-wing broadcasters. When pressed to be more specific about any issue the response was bewilderment, followed by irritation or outright anger.

To be blunt, all but a couple of Tea Party people were unable to express in any specific terms what their anger is about, what the actual issues or concerns they have are. They voice sentiments along the lines that “Obama is ruining the country” or that immigrants are hurting us and some referred to a nasty rap song, “Press One For English,” but they could offer no specifics to back their feelings.

Iconography of the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers, “Don't Tread On Me” and American flags were in evidence at the April 8 rally. The Tea Partiers are besotted with a kind of "independence" that claims to "need nothing from nobody"--even when a great many Tea Partiers who are 65-plus rely on Medicare and Social Security. At least a third of the crowd the other day obviously were people who are age-eligible for those government programs. Yet one sign and many speakers talked of “unearned entitlements”.

No doubt, the ralliers themselves as "deserving" but, many of the rest of us, in their view, are not.

Such a cold view is the result of 40-plus years of Republican hammering against all social programs, especially those that might benefit some people of color and a kind of alien other called the "urban poor."

It appears that compassion isn't high on the Tea Party's list of Christian virtues (although religion was rarely cited, except for God to bless America and the troops). A large part of their animus to health care reform in general seems to echo this view of mitigated autonomy for white people like themselves and "boot-strap Darwinism" for “the Others.”

There was a sense that sweeping statements against Obama AS Obama, is latest code for racism.

If unemployment continues to rise and as poverty increases among whites, will this skewed outlook shift towards a broader coalition? It's hard to say, since for most of the United States' existence, white working-class and lower middle-class people usually have been more likely to deal with economic anxiety or displacement by closing ranks against others based on race and citizenship status.

It would take a hell of a lot of education by progressives to get most Tea Party people to recognize that corporate elites are the problem, not people of color and the poor. Tea Party people seem to have completely internalized the old Calvnistic notion that “The Rich are God's Chosen People,” translated for the 21st century as “the infallibility of the free market.” They seem to have no understanding at all of why financial markets melted down in September 2008; instead of seeing the banksters' bailout as the problem, they think that the Obama Administration has “taken over” the banks and is refusing to lend to small businesses.

Like fellow white working-class Kansans that Thomas Frank tried to understand in his book "What's The Matter With Kansas?", this movement sometimes feels like a throwback to 40 years ago.

It's as if Richard Nixon's so-called "silent majority" is most angry about a lost Golden Age of unquestioned “American greatness,” unquestoned white male authority and the pre-civil rights era. One speaker on the stage mentioned his “earliest political action standing up to forced busing in the 1970s,” an obvious allusion to ending racial segregation of the country's schools. The Minnesota rally was all white (with the exception of one hired African-American singer), but, let's be fair: very few people of color show up at Minnesota's anti-war rallies either.

One poster read “We Are Not White, Black, Hispanic. We Are Americans.” The Obama as “witchdoctor” posters were not in evidence. I suspect that the undoubtedly well-paid political operatives organizing the Tea Party Express are doing a better job these days of public relations when it comes to racism.

As well documented in polls, most white Americans always continue to deny, as they always have, that racism is a problem—claiming “there's no discrimination” as far back as 1960. In a time claimed to be “post-racist,” with an African-American in the White House, that denial may be stronger than ever. While they raged against deficits from President Obama's economic stimulus plan or health bill , these Minnesota tea partiers were oblivious to deficits run up over eight years by George W. Bush's wars and to the massive tax cuts we've seen for the wealthy. Asking them about the Bush years of $3 trillion wars and deficits brought only blank faces and silence.

While I don't believe that the Tea Party Movment is “all about raicsm,” as some say, I do think that racism and a white fear of a loss of privilege are parts of the subterranean anger fueling the movement.

If we're honest, we can see that any significant step forward for people of color—especially African-Americans—has been followed by a backlash. The election of Barack Obama, immigration from non-European countries, and more visibility of people of color in pro sports, entertainment and government positions coupled with very real economic pain and uncertainty among white people seems to be creating just such a backlash, made sharper by the Great Recession.

Another point progressives might wish to take heart in is Tea Party people's concern about our Constitution, which was alluded to many times in speeches and signs --one read “Stop Shredding Our Constitution.” However, when asked about illegal spying on Americans, torture or other issues that clearly involve the Constitution, issues progressives have raised since early in the Bush administration, the response was indifference.

“In terms of national security, I support whatever keeps us safe and out of another tough situation like 9/11,” said Doug of Faribault -- a sentiment many echoed.

Besides the insurance mandate and gun ownership, Tea Party people can't tell you how the Constitution is being harmed, asserting, “I just know that Barack Obama and the Democrats are doing “unconstitutional things.”

For awhile, progressives could simply make fun of the Tea Party movement. That's not prudent now that death threats, vandalism and a violent atmosphere are emerging from the movement and from its first cousins, the militias and white supremacist groups who have significantly grown in number since Obama's election.

Public opinion polls show a significant sense that neither of the two corporate-sponsored political parties represent the interests of everyday working people--and there's a growing exodus from both parties. A third way needs to be born.

If progressives stay on the sidelines, supporting a Democratic Party that serves Wall Street and corporations as much as the Republicans ever did (or merely stay silent), then, the field is left wide open to the kind of reactionary, racist rage that periodically has bubbled over into violence throughout U.S. history in every economically and socially-challenging time since the Civil War.

To be blunt about it, white working class anger always has been be used to bolster the status quo. It always is mis-directed against immigrants, racial minorities and GLBT people to the advantage of economic elites, who are the real problem.

There's a long history of white working class anger being expressed in hate crimes, lynchings and assassinations. From decades of KKK terrorism to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights movement activists, to todays' violent hate crimes against Mexican immigrants, there's plenty of evidence that such violence is all too possible—especially, during economic hard times.

Recent death threats and vandalism against Democratic members of Congress, with Republicans barely willing to acknowledge the violence, much less denounce it, makes real tragedies all too imaginable.

I didn't see any sidearms or shoulder pistols on the lawn of the State Capitol in St. Paul. One man I talked with had a sign, saying “Damn right I've got a gun!”--a sentiment he passed off as “just messing with the people who think all Tea Party folks are armed.” Another man next to him chimed in “Just one?” and the man with the sign, smiled and said “Well, just one the government knows about.” Asking him if he was reassured by the recent Supreme Court decision which struck down the Washington,D.C. gun ban as unconsitutional and that another case overturning Chicago's 27-year handgun ban is imminent did not seem to reassure him.

All facts to the contrary, the right wing believes that “In Obama's Amreica, the liberals want to take your guns.”

Ultimaelty, what I came away with was that 90 percent of the people I talked with were mired in a frightening morass of ignorance. They were unable to articulate even their own concerns in any concrete way, but, merely repeated slogans about “freedom” or “big government is taking over”. They were oblivious to all facts that contradicted what Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and their Tea Party leaders have put forth.

This level of ignorance—especially among people who are armed -- is terrifying in its implications.

If progressives had made death threats to Republican members of Congress or came to anti-war rallies with guns, you can bet we'd have been labeled “terrorists” and certainly arrested. Is law enforcement taking right wing threats seriously?

Of course, the Tea Party Express ended its rally with tributes to “the troops fighting for our freedom:” Gold Star mothers telling how their sons died in Iraq. Taps came over the loud speakers followed by a Toby Keith-type country-rock patriotic tune. Militarism and blind nationalism blanketed the crowd and at that point I left. One person in a crowd of 500 can't point out that U.S. soldiers aren't dying (and killing) for “our freedom” but, for transnational oil companies and the domination of other people's countries.

Progressives must at least try to re-channel some Tea Party people's rage towards those who have ripped all of us off for over the past 30 years. Progressives can point out who actually has skimmed off more and more of the wealth produced by workers' increasingly productive labor.

We can try to challenge the anti-tax fever that's gripped Tea Party folks by asking, “Do you want decent schools, parks, libraries and other basic infrastructure for your children--as was the case when you were grewing up?” We can point out that 30 to 40 years ago, corporations paid far more of their fair share than they do today, and that created the infrastructure that now crumbles.

We can challenge them to see that all of us deserve that American Dream of a decent life, and that the zero-sum game that's been played since the 1970s is hurting the vast majority of us while a tiny elite grabs more and more of the country's wealth. We can take on deficits by putting forth the necessity to re-consider national priorities and to move away from war.

Spending a couple of hours with the Tea Party Express, proved the truth of early 20th century labor organizer and anarchist, Emma Goldman's observation that, “Ignorance is the most dangerous element in society.” We can offer the Tea Party people a strong cup of coffee to wake them up to reality, but, I suspect that only the Tea Partiers under 35 might be willing to take a drink.

Lydia Howell is an independent, journalist, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, winner of the Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism in Minnesota. She hosts "CATALYST: Politics and Culture" on KFAI Radio in the Twin Cities.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Liberals lose to Fox Party, Corporate Party

Hardly anyone seems to have noticed, but a major realignment of American political parties is almost complete.

Perhaps more than a few people have noticed, but if so they're keeping their observations pretty much to themselves. Could be that some folks simply don't want to believe what they see.

Another possible reason for the silence is that the new alignment all but entirely freezes out very large segments of the American population, a fact that gives politicians and power brokers strong reasons for trying to keep anyone from noticing.

Progressives are shut out by design.

Chris Hayes, Washington editor of The Nation magazine, observed on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC Television Wednesday night (March 31, 2010) that “everybody in Washington hates liberals.” Democrats, he added, “believe with Rahm Emanuel that they can do what they want and liberals have to keep voting for them because they have nowhere else to go.”

The theme of that brief discussion between Maddow and Hayes was that “everybody in Washington” is busy doing the work of the rich and powerful, and liberals, who keep demanding that other things happen, are an annoying, if ineffective, impediment to such work.

Hayes is far from the first person to make such observations.

But old-line conservatives also are marginalized and some have been pushed out. Conservatives and the nice, polite folks I think of as carriage liberals have no choice but to step out into the cold with the outspoken progressives or go on doing what they've been doing for years now – giving their money and their votes to people who despise them and routinely screw them over.

One needn't belong to the Guild of Seers and Prognosticators to recognize that they'll go on playing sucker for quite a while yet, probably until they are no longer needed by those who exploit them. It's hard to accept that you've been conned, harder still to realize there is no place for you in the political life of this America.

Progressives, to be clear, are left entirely without a functioning party, with only a bare, literal handful of spokesmen in Congress and no more, if that, in most state legislatures or even on city councils and school boards. Nobody wants them, except for any campaign contributions they might stupidly hand over, and nobody pays them any heed.

Genuine conservatives, as opposed to right wing activists and dupes, are only marginally better off. There are more conservatives than true liberals in Congress and other legislative bodies these days, but those people are so intimidated and cowardly they rarely say or try to do anything that might actually benefit the public, which means their presence is useless. Anyway, the extreme right is shoving them off the cliff now, just as progressives were launched into the ether by the “New Democrats” in the early 1990s. Many of those still in Congress are electing not to run again.

A two-minute history:

Democrats were mostly liberals –- what we now call progressives -- at least from the presidential years of Franklin Roosevelt until the right began to get a firmer hold on both parties in the 1980s. Maybe the 1970s. Dixiecrats –- the racist, Deep South element of the Democratic Party -– raised a lot of hell and prevented black Americans, especially, and working Americans from making all the progress they should have made up into the 1960s, but they couldn't prevent many progressive economic and humanitarian programs from being established, nor did they push policies that benefited the rich at the expense of the average working American.

Republicans through most of my life, which began in the mid 1930s, were “pro-business” and tended to want to slow or stop programs and policies that strengthened those who worked for a living. Some, but not all, were adamantly against Social Security and Medicare and other “safety net” programs.

At the same time many Republicans had generally humane views of how the country should work –- or, at least, Republicans in progressive states such as Minnesota had such views. There were some throwbacks to the Gilded Age, of course; there were people such as Prescott Bush and the rest of the very rich, very right wing crowd that tried to stage a coup against Roosevelt, and others who fought with all the power they could muster against civil rights for anyone who was not white and male.

And, organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and (at least through the 1950s) the National Association of Manufacturers, always fought to reinstate rule of the United States by a plutocracy. But the majority of Republicans were humane conservatives right up to the point that Ronald Reagan took the presidency and sold a new, harsher form of government to a by then mostly ignorant and self-focused public.

But during the 1950s, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, top U.S. and allied general of World War II, ran a mostly benign administration and warned eloquently of the growth of the “military-industrial complex.”

By the time we got Reagan, the lyrics of the new National Anthem had become “Me, Me, Me,” the sole important goal of the Republican' Party's chief supporters was “more,” and greed had become the country's major defining characteristic.

Not everyone bought it, of course, but the attitudes were sold hard by major media and the people who controlled the bulk of the country's wealth. Most Americans thought it was great.

A bit later we got another Republican, George H.W. Bush, son of Prescott, who started a little war and helped greatly to ramp up corporate influence in government as well as continuing to promote the belief that greed is good.

Finally, then, a nominal Democrat -– but it was Bill Clinton, who sold out the country's poor through “welfare reform” and otherwise took Republican policies and amplified them. Clinton is known to this day by many people as “the best Republican president since Eisenhower.”

Then came George W. Bush, son of George H.W., grandson of Prescott, who embraced the power of wealth and deliberately and through lies and subterfuge got us into two apparently endless wars. He established the United States in the eyes of he world as a brutal international bully that embraces torture and has no use for rule of law.

Now it's Barack Obama, a Democrat who dealt away any chance at real health care reform and is dealing away any chance for genuine economic reform and everything else that progressives might value. He has put Wall Street men in charge of overseeing Wall Street, bankers as overseers of bankers. Obama is a corporate man all the way.

In plain fact, the Democratic Party is in the hands of people quite considerably to the right of most popular Republicans of Dwight Eisenhower's day.

Some of them, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, who now is busy stripping down the jobs bill, can talk a liberal game while at the same time making end runs for the Corporate Team.

There are many nominal Democrats in Congress such as Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, a corporate player all the way. She's good at the little apple pie issues, taking care of individual kids who've been harmed in some way and legal aliens who are being mistreated by our often out-of-control immigration service, but she almost openly disdains progressives and turns a blind eye to causes such as real health care reform, protecting unions from right wing onslaughts and reregulation of financial institutions.

Klobuchar made no commitment on health care until it came time to vote for the water-weak bill that passed. She flashed a virtual middle finger at constituents who complained about that. Her response to letters from constituents who demanded she stand for real reform was a long boilerplate letter that was sheer, disdainful gibberish and took no stand at all.

The dozens of Democrats like her in the Senate and the many more in the House work for the corporate elite. They unquestioningly do the bidding of the Israel lobby and the National Rifle Association and other outfits willing to pay large in campaign funds, especially if such groups are capable of getting their mindlessly loyal followers to scream at and threatened politicians who don't automatically do their bidding.

In truth, the Democratic Party should now be called the Corporate Party.

And the Republicans?

If we're to get real, we have to call it what it now unmistakably is: The Fox Party.

More and more pundits, reporters, writers and long-time political observers –- not all of them from the political left by any means -– are openly stating what should be an obvious fact: The Republican/Fox Party has no internal leadership.

It takes its cues, its positions, its “talking points” not from members of Congress and former members of Republican administrations or from any party organization or collection of Republicans but from outsiders, most especially from the screamers and hate mongers employed by Rupert Murdoch and Fox News, the little would-be tyrant-makers vying to be the next Joseph Goebbels.

In so doing, the Republican Party has adopted an almost openly racist stance and a vehemently anti-labor position. It supports a vendetta against the country's poor, and an abusive position against gays, immigrants and anyone else it can use for hate objects to distract a fearful public from the real agenda: the dismantling of democracy and the establishment of a plutocracy in the United States.

It takes a “screw you” approach to the middle class. Many in the middle class -– confused, very badly educated and made more ignorant by Fox and other, less vicious but entirely vacuous news media -– lap it up and beg for more.

It is one of the biggest displays of masochism in human history, but most of those being beaten down won't realize what's happened until they become aware, too late, that their hides have been flayed from their bones.

The parallels between the United States of 2010 and Italy and Germany of the 1920s are far too great to be dismissed. A relative handful of nasty and even evil people have found ways to make brutal policies and stances seem like simple and reasonable solutions to complex problems.

Most people in this country, with its system of training employees rather than educating citizens, never learned that ideas that can be explained with a slogan, especially when they are sold through hate and the victimizing of some segments of the population, are always designed to benefit a handful at the top and will sooner or later, make everyone else victims.

Until George W. Bush sat in the White House, I never thought to see such a move to fascism again anywhere in the western world, let alone in my own country, but that is where we're heading.

Rational, thinking, humane citizens already are almost locked out of the political system. It seems very likely that the rise of the extreme right will continue at an accelerating pace, growing ever harsher. It's also a sure bet that humane conservatives and, even more, the carriage liberals will continue in denial, rather than engage in any meaningful opposition until the right is in complete control.

We have the Corporate Party and the Fox Party and the public thinks, or pretends, we're still living in the age of Democrats and Republicans.

A shocking number of the sanest people I know are seriously looking at moving out of the country, and on reflection I have to say that may be the smart move.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What does Murdoch want?

What does Rupert Murdoch want?

Murdoch, as almost every literate person around the world knows, is the ruler of News Corp., a media empire without borders, operating in more than 50 countries.

He owns roughly 200 to 300 newspapers, from local weeklies to major dailies. He owns more magazines than I've had time to count. He has at least 15 movie and television production studios, and broadcast, satellite and cable outlets, both entertainment and news-oriented, in the United States, Britain, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, Georgia, Israel, Latvia, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, all over Latin America, Germany, Spain, China and more.

And, he controls the misnamed Fox News, the cable television outlet that spews nothing but right wing propaganda 24 hours a day throughout the United States.

This is your duty as a citizen: Take a deep breath and try to watch and listen to Fox for a half hour or so at a time, at various times of day. More if you can stand it. You'll rarely catch even a single story that is not twisted to fit an extreme right view of the world.

Don't take my word for it or accept that the widely-held view is correct; screw up your courage, batten down your brain and watch. And remember that nothing that happens in the Murdoch empire is done without his approval; he doesn't personally vet every story, of course, but he approves the tone and the approach and the views expressed.)

Many of Murdoch's other outlets in this country, and the several I have seen abroad, also push listeners, viewers or readers to the right, but generally more subtly. Even the entertainment outlets tend to lean a bit to the right in the films and shows they feature. Most of the rest feature mindless crap, often with an adolescent and smarmy sexual twist.

The Fox News in-your-face style, with shouting obvious propagandists such as Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, apparently is rooted in the belief that the American audience for the lies it sells is too ignorant and stupid to absorb anything even slightly subtle.

That's probably an accurate assessment.

The Wall Street Journal, which always leaned to the right in its editorial and op-ed pages, was highly respected for its fair presentation of news until Murdoch got hold of it in 2007. (Confession: I wrote many news articles for the Journal as a freelance contributor in the 1970s and '80s; I was often assigned stories by the paper's editors.) Since Murdoch took over the Journal, the editorial/op-ed views have gone even farther to the right -– extreme, some might say, at least in some cases –- and the right wing views of the owner have crept into news operations at an accelerating rate.

Murdoch is not one who does anything for what he thinks is the public good. Even a quick look at his life reveals a man whose only real interests are himself, his wealth, self-promotion and, especially, power. An Australian by birth and most of his life, he became a citizen of the United States quite obviously because to do so would benefit his empire.

(No doubt he took the classes and the tests sitting side by side with people who fled places like Somalia and Georgia and Serbia in search of a merely violence-free life. Yeah sure, you betcha.)

A young Orson Welles could have turned the Murdoch story into a wonderful movie about the son of a small-time Australian newspaper publisher who rose to enormous wealth and aimed to rule the world.

But Rupert Murdoch is 79 years old as of March 11. While he may not quite believe in his own mortality –- many megalomaniacs before him have had the same blind spot –- he cannot believe he's actually going to live long enough to, in fact, be the behind-the-scenes ruler of much of the world.

Murdoch arguably already is the most powerful man in the world. He certainly influences many powerful people and undoubtedly controls some, and he can reasonably be said now to control one the the two biggest political parties in the United States through the people who work for him at Fox News, but he doesn't yet simply lay down the law here, or even in Australia.

Is that what he wants? To rule?

I don't know. I do know that in addition to being enormously powerful, he is enormously dangerous to countries that want to live by rule of law, and to people who want to live where ordinary men and women have influence through democratic processes. He's pushing the rule of the rich for all he's worth, and in financial terms he's worth almost unimaginable sums.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Setting the stage for a political murder

Someone's going to get killed.

More specifically, it is all but certain that someone prominent, probably a member of Congress or a family member or aid of a member of Congress, will be physically attacked and quite possibly murdered soon by a fanatical right-wing knuckle dragger.

It's entirely possible that several people, or even many people, as in Oklahoma City in 1995, will be slaughtered by one or some of the cretins who feed their rage on right wing radio and television and the speeches of Republican hate mongers in and out of Congress.

President Barack Obama and his family certainly are not safe, despite the heightened efforts of the Secret Service.

In truth, the hysterical right wing militia movement that inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and his helper, Terry Nichols, was infinitely weaker than today's extremist movement in terms of numbers of people, money, media support and complicity at high levels of political life.

If there were a handful (certainly no more) Republican nuts in Congress egging on the militia madmen in the 1980s and early 1990s, they didn't begin to reach the numbers of unscrupulous Republicans who now encourage the “tea partiers” and their like to ever more irrational and more violent rhetoric and, as the shouting escalates, to action.

The nearest thing we've seen to this out-of-control mob since the Civil War was the racist backlash to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Then, too, there were hundreds of thousands of enraged haters looking for a chance to maim and kill, or at least hoping that torturers and killers would come forth to attack black activist Americans and their white allies.

Inevitably, some of the sickest of that lot did step forward, seeking to be heroes to the other crazies.

Sometimes, we must remember, they succeeded in murder –- the murder of children, the murder of people who just happened to be where the haters struck, sometimes the murder of good people who believed in and worked toward racial equality. The child-killers were just as proud of themselves as were those who tortured and killed civil rights activists, and they received just as much support within the “community” of racists.

Most Americans have seen reports of the actions of demonstrators against the Democrats' health care bills over the past week or three, and the actions taken by right wing creeps since the main bill passed and was signed into law by the president. But a quick refresher on just a few of the actions:

* The “tea party” boobs chanted “Kill the bill, nigger, Kill the bill, nigger” at several black members of Congress. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a genuine hero of the civil rights movement, was spat upon as well as called nigger by the self-styled “patriots.”

* Some of the “good Americans” screamed “faggot” at Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, on at least two occasions.

* House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and more than a dozen other Congressional Democrats have received apparently serious threats against their lives to the degree that security around them has been greatly increased.

* Pelosi and several other Democrats were called “communists” and “socialists” and other nonsensical names by wild-eyed screamers. They had to be protected from the mob when entering the Capitol of the United States to do their jobs.

* A right wing blog gave out the home address of Rep. Tom Perriello in Charlottesville, Va., only it wasn't the congressman's home. It was the home of his brother Bo. The dimwitted blogger invited people to drop by the house and “express their thanks” to the congressman for voting for the health care bill. Someone deliberately cut a gas line to the house, an act that might easily have led to an explosion, destruction of the home and even death for its inhabitants. (In Minnesota, we know the danger; two houses here have blown up in the past three weeks as a result of accidentally cut gas lines.) Fortunately, nobody was injured and the house itself wasn't damaged.

* Even Bart Stupak, the rabid antiabortionist from Michigan, has received many apparently serious death threats since voting for the health bill –- something he did only after he got triple assurances that no federal money will be used to pay for abortions (a stipulation that already was in the law).

* Rep. Randy Neugebauer, a Republican from Louisiana, shouted “baby killer” at Stupak in the House chamber after Stupak said he would vote for the health bill. Neugebauer soon claimed he meant the bill, not Stupak, but no one bought that. Then the Louisiana boob sort of apologized for his egregious breach of House decorum –- and turned around within 24 hours and made that breach into a fund-raising TV commerical for himself. That's a nasty little trick that seems to be becoming a standard Republican money-maker, in fact. Joe Wilson, the “You lie” guy did the same thing.

* A brick was thrown through the glass door of New York Rep. Louise Slaughter's Niagara Falls office, and since then a reportedly large number of other Democrats have been threatened with bricks through home and office windows.

* Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, an outspoken proponent of a single-payer health care system, got a letter the FBI said “could be interpreted as threatening.” The letter contained a quantity of an unidentified white powder.

* Here in Minnesota, Reps. Betty McCollum of the 4th district and Keith Ellison of the 5th district have received specifically threatening letters. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar also have been threatened. (Doesn't take much to set off the vicious right wing nuts, obviously; Klobuchar voted for the health bill, but she was a belated and apparently reluctant supporter of the legislation.)

Republican politicians have almost openly encouraged such behavior. They continue the incitement, and, with an eye on this fall's elections, have gone even farther with their crowd-stirring lies and overheated rhetoric than before.

As reported by the Washington Post, Republican members of Congress made outrageous statements to protesters and on the floor of the House during the run-up to health bill passage. (Some other outlets also reported some of the same and other statements and actions, but in general the corporate media treated the offending and offensive Republicans with a gentleness one would not see were the miscreants Democrats.)

Republicans put photographs of former Democratic members of the House on the chairs of present Democrats. The photos were of people who lost their seats in 1994 -– the obvious implication being that because of the health bill, the Democrats are on their way out this year. Most high school students would have more dignity and a greater sense of decorum.

Republican Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said that with the health bill “freedom dies.” Texas Republican Ted Poe of Texas brayed that the Democrats are “on the path of tyranny.” Mike Rogers of Michigan yelled that the Democrats were pulling “dirty deal after dirty deal.” Devin Nunes of California claimed Democrats are just like Soviets and shouted that the House should “Say no to totalitarianism.”

And let's not forget the Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives applauding right wing protesters in the galleries as they shouted similar things to disrupt House proceedings.

And then a bunch of Republicans went out onto the House balcony to play to the protesters outside. Buck McKeon of California, Rob Bishop of Utah and Mike Turner of Ohio waved signs saying “Kill the Bill,” the Post noted. (Much of this was shown on television.) Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Geoff David of Kentucky and Bill Bosey of Florida held up a “Don't Tread on Me” flag and then six or seven other Republicans went out onto the balcony waving “Kill the Bill” signs.

Fallin was quoted afterwards as saying “that's kind of fun.”

When asked about their supporters shouting racist and homophobic slurs at their fellow members of Congress, some Republicans pulled almost comically long faces -– some looked like they were barely succeeding in holding back laughs -- and said such behavior was naughty, with about that much vehemence.

A couple of Republicans in leadership jobs actually said that using the vilest of racist and homophobic slurs is “reprehensible.”

Since the weekend, even as Republicans went into a calculated pout in the Senate, preventing both routine and some very important committee hearings from going forward, they and their totally unrestrained mouthpieces in radio and television -– their real leaders, actually -- have been escalating the rhetoric in an unmistakably deliberate effort to incite their ignorant followers to even greater hysteria.

All you have to do to hear what's going on is to turn on Fox (I can't say Fox “News”) when Limbaugh or Beck or one of the network's Extremist Babes is on.

One example from my neck of the woods: Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who seems never to have made contact with truth or reality, said in 2008 that she was very concerned that Barack Obama “may have anti-American views.” She also once asked that someone investigate members of Congress to find out “whether they're pro-American or anti-American.”

Wednesday (March 25, 2010), Bachmann spoke at an event closed to the press --a device increasingly used by Republicans to prevent the general public from hearing the nuttier things they say to the true believers. It nevertheless came out that Bachmann said “I had very serious concerns that Barack Obama had anti-American views, and now I look like Nostradamus.”

That's the pitch, and Republicans keep hammering it without qualm or any reference to truth or ethics. Their story, increasingly vehement, increasingly false, is that Democrats are anti-American, anti-patriotic, out to destroy our country, to turn it into a communist totalitarian gulag, etc., etc.

The Republican act is playing very well to the tea partiers and their sympathizers, by the way. Newspapers in the South and places such as Missouri and Kansas reported honestly on the racial and homophobic spewings of the health bill protesters. But look up the stories on their Web sites, and then look at reader responses – and be ready to gag or weep.

Those I looked at drew very large numbers of notes from people who, along with echoing the slurs, dismissed the reports of the vile behavior by claiming that those who objected to the racism and homophobia were smearing the protesters.

The Republican Party and its office holders are encouraging the racist, homophobic, anti-feminist passions that are at the very heart of and essential to this ugly, distorted “patriotic” movement of the ignorant, the fearful and the misled.

Somewhere, some mentally lame believer in Limbaugh/Beck/Palin/Bachmann et al almost surely will make a bid to become a hero of “the movement” by murdering one or more of its perceived enemies. In their view Democrats and liberals are, after all, an enemy out to destroy their America.

And those who have incited the mobs and are inciting them still will cluck their tongues and say the killer or killers were acting on their own and nobody could condone such an act. Oh, indeed no. Some of them will also mention, in the next breath, that one can nevertheless understand why the killers are so angry given the anti-American thrust of the Democrats.

In fact, some Republicans already are saying just that, smoothing the way for the crimes to come.

If they come, when they come, we must not lose track of who is responsible, nor let them skate free of that responsibility.