Influence…

Remember that wheeze about how many rivets can you blow and still get your crate in the air? Any one of the Founding Fathers would have understood that one instantly. Theirs was an 18th century sensibility, after all. I prefer the formulation said to be that of Geo. Wash.: “Influence is no govt.”
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Mad Trump

Donald Trump is the Antichrist: everything the man touches turns upside-down and inside-out. Mad.

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The Irony of the Kochs

The explicit proposition embedded in the just-passed tax bill is stark: the Koch brothers live lives of quiet desperation. They and others like them are terrified that America and indeed the globe might be in for a runaway Great Depression.

And why might such a state of affairs come about? Because of the Koch brothers and others like them. When will they ever learn that everybody does better when everybody does better?

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Overcoats

It just occurred to me who I am reminded of after looking at the Trumps, the Weinsteins, and the Moores. It’s a great deal like what Nelson Algren would call a walk on the wild side. One would say it’s like Groundskeeper Willie on the Simpsons, but that’s meant be funny. Egad.

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Constipation

There are the few, who are they; and there are the many, who are us. The very few justify what they do claiming – a bit annoyed that we asked – that their activity will trickle down on us. Better to refer to a “tinkle down” theory and comment that, take an arc as long as you like, there is no historical mention of such a thing having worked; the movement goes the opposite way: whether they know it or not, the Kochs suffer from chronic severe monetary constipation, which is inevitably suicidal. Sad.

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Numbers

Let us say, for the sake of agreement, that you wish to borrow a million dollars, which you agree to repay at a dollar a second. How long would it take you to repay the loan?

11.5 days

At the same rate, how long would it take to pay back a loan for a billion dollars?

32 years

By simple arithmetic (one cannot easily get by the multiplication tables), at a pay-rate of a dollar per second, how long would it take to pay back 32-times-1000 (or one trillion) dollars?

32,000 years

A billion here, a billion there — and one sees references to multiples of one trillion, and, even, a young quadrillion…

Surely the shade of Everett Dirksen, asleep in his very own building, would agree: pretty soon you’re talking real money. We’re in for a ride, ladies; you, too, gents.

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An Even More Modest Proposal

Are we mad, are we mad enough yet? Come, come, now; let (not quite yet, but) let us pray as we would at a grand wedding, let us sprinkle bullets from on high and so bless Sandy Hook: The Beatles got it, spot-on — happiness? Happiness is in verifact… a warm gun. Are we mad? Are we mad enough? Had enough? And this, this is America? Get by with a little help so bullets will chatter like rain from on high, bullets dancing in a reign of… of slugs. And still it is not enough, we are not mad enough, yet. There must be more dancing in a rain; Sandy Hook was not enough; not nearly enough: I see you are passionate, laddy-buck, but are you mad? Are you mad enough? Had enough? Are we in America Yet? And this, this is America?!

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Robert’s Rules

The House of Representatives, one is informed, lives by its own rules. The HR is, however, formally subject to parliamentary procedure, as defined, say, in Robert’s Rules of Order. If found in some way to be contaminating that order, one is obliged to suspend business so that that taint can be recognized and righted so that business can once more go on. At present, the HR is ignoring clear and overwhelming evidence that the public the HR is supposed to represent desires deep and sweeping action where the accessibility of firearms is concerned. It is as if some species of procedural constipation were in place, blocking action. One is obliged, without requiring a second, to Rise to a Question of Privilege, to move that a present taint be recognized and righted by appropriate action. As a member, called a citizen, of the assembly called the United States of America, one is privileged (one is obliged) to so rise, and so move.

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ODE: JANUARY, 2004 (polemical)

I wrote the following while recovering from major surgery. I think it is if anything more relevant now than it was in ’04.

ODE: JANUARY, 2004

(polemical)

I.

There is a national rhythm for each nation
Which abused gives rise to great fatigue;
Rhythm which like the national flag must be
Used sparingly. All else is emptiness

Filling non-existence with non-existence,
A country’s broken melody, silently
Keeping no time, out of time, silent,
And never more than as war roars.

Where harmony might be, is discontent;
Where a nation’s rhythm might be found
Is found instead great national weariness.
There is no song a poet might sing, right now.
Instead, brute earless ignorance would war
Against a winter’s weary world, pretending
to call the dance.

II.

Stars will remember,
As years passed by;
Stars will remember,
And so will I:

Leaving a highway
For a street;
Leading a street
For a road,

Singing against the howl
Of black freezing wind;
Singing against the howl,
Coming home again,
And home again,
America.

III.

And children are found where shadows
Falling from shattered walls and windows
Exile the light, growing up never knowing
Flowers are calling unto a day of distance,

Wind and wild. Here too is rubble
Shored against ruins. Beloved poets,
Memory indeed shows so little respect
Before the look of a land, this season;

And ill fares a land, to hastening
Ills a prey, where wealth accumulates
Only for war, a world marked only for
Death, a people marked only for fear,
A people marked, for decay. Now,
All are tired and afraid, and I too
thirst, I thirst
for accusation.

IV.

But who was Democritus, after all?
Another human, all too human, ash
On air, at last. What was Alexandria,
After all, but scrolls in flames?

Tibet? Tibet? What is one Buddha
Cut into stone, before the newest
Truest shatter of maddened belief?
Old Savoy women still start morning

Fires with Corot rolls, Mayan bark
Libraries long gone ash on air and
Now? The latest dogs of war are loosed
On Baghdad of prehistory and artifact
To win the hearts and minds of all
A country’s crippledom. Now, see
The latest Ozymandias — cruel cold
sneer turned lying
smirk.

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REPRESENTATIVE RUMINATIONS (amicus brief for General Henry M. Robert)

I.

One hears or reads how this or that person is Hitlerian, how this or that ruler rules at any given time as many as he or she can, and we reflect again how it is that Mosca and Pareto are not being noticed these days, let alone talked about.

One ought to feel obliged to re-read these two men and that would be a good thing, but not if in doing so we failed to remember that Hitler came later than Mosca and Pareto, after they had made what amounted to a stark but classically-informed conclusion: the few, they held, shall always rule the many.

What can one say to that, supposing one appears friend-to-the-court? Mosca and Pareto write as if they are stating an inevitable state of affairs. What might one reply?

Understand, Mosca and Pareto did not arrive happily to their conclusion. On the contrary. They were not bad men and if they are to be faulted, it were more equitable to suggest that as doctors they were a bit off in their diagnosis. That is to say, they tried to show that we would die of the disease called democracy, not just with it. But these were accomplished men of great power of mind, and if they didn’t, after all, get it quite straight — if the case, in short, is not as they argued inevitable — they got matters down to bone-level, which is why their discussion affects us as it does, or ought to.

Can a democracy hope to live on? It is fair to ask. Benjamin Franklin’s comment was that this new government (our own) might enjoy its moment to shine, then gutter, not having had the requisite wit or wisdom to prefer and honor, for once, a turkey over an eagle. Franklin was only saying with the humor native to his country that he would have agreed with the culture-drenched (and solemn) Italians. Still, does it really have to go that way, always?

Can’t accident come into it, as it always does in all things? Might democracy, that way of governing, properly-defined, might it not have accidentally happened in the peculiarly American experience to have brought along and refined a way of governing due to endure? Might the American accident have survived just because a surprisingly few things in England and then in the United States happened to happen?

Mosca and Pareto, we say, did not advance happily to their conclusion, on the contrary. But what they conclude may end, finally, as only a less kindly, less actually experienced way to see matters than the way no less a sensibility than that of Benjamin Franklin had the luck to get to see them.

Franklin believed that the new country with its enlightened and explicit constitution might toddle along for a time in a fairly tidy fashion before it too went the way of other governments and empires. Franklin did not believe that this new country would last, much less that it would thrive. He would have readily agreed that entropy, if not ripeness, is all, and Lawrence was right to see him as a less than admirable snuff-colored little man calling Providence and rum the appointed means to extirpate the savages. Franklin called it — our experience who are Americans — as he saw and lived it. A person worth study and thought, a fortunate man to live where and when he did, one of the remarkable band who were the founding fathers and who, perhaps, built better than they knew. It remains to be seen and/but it does not look good. Still…

 

II.

Still, there are those things which belong to some of us and are a part of our indisputable heritage, starting with the grand charter and which is the Magna Carta.

Especially when talking about law, one makes a fundamental distinction between what the original framers of a given law intended, and what the words of that law actually say, or can be said to say. Something like this happened in the case of the great charter on 15 June, 1215 when the power of King John was limited and representative government as understood ultimately in England and America came into being. The framers intended what they intended and the words of that great instrument say what they say or were made to say with great inclusivity of forest and property, taxation and church, causing Tennyson to drop naturally into verse:

A land of settled government,
A land of old and just renown;
Where freedom slowly broadens down
From precedent to precedent —

What follows will be concerned to identify a few of those precedents belonging to us as our common American heritage, what was intended and what the words were said to say on this and that occasion.

Habeas corpus: Winston Churchill was once asked by an Italian visitor what he considered the defining characteristic of the English genius for governance. Churchill replied immediately habeas corpus, one of a variety of writs named in the Great Charter. You have the body. Now think back again where original intention and later construction of the actual words used in some measure are concerned.

This time there can be no distinction drawn between the two where, for example, the people held at Guantanamo are concerned. What is going on there is illegal and un-just, clearly; for a certainty it is profoundly immoral, if there is still a shred remaining of what was supposed to have been an America.

If memory serves, it was to Learned Hand that Holmes was speaking when he said that it was not his job to do justice; rather, it was to apply the law. To be able to do that, however, due process and good order would have to be assumed. Good-faith application of existing procedure must be assumed, but currently, at least, an on-going contamination of governance by monied influence cries open season on good order as that would be understood and assumed in a British and American tradition of governance. If only America had studied the classics. It troubles sleep. Influence is no government. Who did say that?

Ideally, given the comment Holmes made to Hand, one might hope that justice was incidental, a by-product of the good-faith application of law. Suppose, however, one is being asked to apply a law one can justifiably call wrongfully-derived, or simply, a bad law. Suppose one is expected to apply what is a singular absurdity masquerading as law based neither on intention nor on words in some actual document, like saying (very like saying) that since Blacks are human it follows by strictest entailment that corporations are people.

The case given immediately above is one which makes a gigantic mockery of the Bill of Rights, a criminal confusion of things that absolutely do not belong together and which can only work more harm as time goes on.

Then, take another example repugnant to the entire British and American tradition of governance, namely, the majority opinion of the highest court of the land that money is speech and is, accordingly, due all rights and privileges consonant with First Amendment freedoms. How might such a finding be advanced when money continues to be as always the very root of evil, however-defined? Money is precisely what is being talked about when one asks, who said, “Influence is no government?”

One could — in fact, one is obliged, if the term laches has still, some legal meaning left, one is obliged to call the Court’s recent ruling that money is speech despicable as well as dead, dead wrong, that it presents a clear as well as immediate danger — a danger as it is a complete repudiation of the very Idea of a democracy, however-defined. “Money?” Money is used to buy things, and when used to purchase influence, money becomes suicidal prostitution as it is yet another kleptid plutocracy. The brothers Koch are, clearly, suicidal; as they are successful and succeeding, they are doing their best to speed up acceleration; they can’t last and they are whether they know it or, variously, do not… suicidal. One might only offer a cap on that by saying that either Koch, or both, are within their rights to deprive themselves, either of them, or both, of life itself; they do not, however, have any right to take the rest of some us with them as they go down. That would be murder, by several suicides.

Unquestionably, one can put together the strongest of arguments that the latest game that was the United States of America is going down like a shot hog, and that is not some single sensibility speaking, on the contrary, it is what it looks like, and it don’t look good. Read over what has been said, so far — the voice you hear, however-crabbed, is not one person’s only, but implies and reflects names worth the closest of study, worth some continuing immediacy of action: the very next thing, after all, is just that, next, even if (especially if) one great last experiment we Americans were can now be counted, statistically, extinct. Shall some “one”, like Publius of another time, tot up the numbers one more time: Hasn’t it been more than a little just like that? Isn’t it? Didn’t some number get it right, right on through, and call it? If only America had studied the classics.

 

III.

Let us assume what has to be assumed, first, foremost and finally, that procedure go on in good faith with such an exercise of the powers of the government as the settled maxims of law permit and sanction and under such safeguards for the protection of individual rights as those maxims prescribe.

All of which sounds decidedly airy until we remember that good order is the reason a certain General Henry M. Robert, reprising Jefferson and Cushing, wrote up a manual describing how in a peculiarly British and American tradition of law and by-law ordinary and for that matter especially extraordinary busi-ness is, always, to be conducted, and why an ordinary citizen acting just-then as parliamentarian might rise to a question of privilege in order to move a privileged motion requiring no second, pointing out that a taint and contamination of procedure exists which has to be recognized and removed so that busi-ness can go on again.

Pasó por aquí: Who passed by here? John Adams (not the Adams of the Alien and Sedition laws, but), the Adams of the Captain Preston case; Josiah Quincy, Jr., of the once-famous letter to his father; Judge Jesse Carter of the Rochin case — if only we Americans had studied the classics, and so been able to recognize and profoundly to appreciate how handsome was the Warren court, particularly as compared with the hideousness of the Roberts majority. It is as if one were asleep and dreaming a nightmare, knowing all the while that equity as always aids the vigilant, not those who slumber on their rights, knowing all the while that something which a party might do and might reasonably be expected to do toward vindication or enforcement of one’s rights works if neglected to abandon those rights, the inevitable assumption being that one has no interest in that about which one is silent. We ought instead to have been continually aware of the abridgment of the freedom of the people that can come about by gradual and silent encroachment by those in power.

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