Scale

I was born fifteen years after the civil rights act ended segregation.

9/11 was sixteen years ago.

Sometimes scale can be important.

9/11’s effects endure today all over policy and culture. It lasted under nine hours.

But the legacy of hundreds of years of overt unquestioned social norms, that the civil rights act declared could not be framed in Law, all just disappeared in ’64 with the stroke of a pen… right? Everyone just jumped on board?

Sometimes scale can be important.

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Keep Calm and Carry… On

Hey, remember when it didn’t seem in poor taste to be lighthearted or funny, because our fundamental institutions weren’t daily in the path of new erosions? Remember when arguing on facebook was about democrats and republicans, not America vs… whatever the hell this new thing is? Yeah, hands up if you miss cat videos! *raises hand*
 
Part of me says maybe this is what we needed. Where was all of this appropriate outrage, after all, when it became ok for armed agents of the government to shoot a suspect for resisting arrest who was already laying on the ground, or sitting in a car, or handcuffed, or twelve? When did large swaths of the law enforcement culture start taking outrage over these tragedies personally, and feeling persecuted when people get up in arms over that behavior, rather than joining the public in being angry and horrified? I’m glad we’re finally waking up, but this did not all start with DearLeader. He’s a symptom of a longer-running problem that’s just now beginning to feel relevant to Americans with less direct personal exposure to these prior encroachments. We have a lot of work to do, to get us back to the picture of America we’re all grieving for right now.
 
I see a lot of appeals this week for calm, for civility, and for returns to tolerance of diverging opinions. And I can tell that where they’re coming from is fundamentally a good place.
 
There’s a time though, where insisting everyone should act like everything’s okay – just business as usual – when they see signs the house is burning down, begins to be in poor taste.
 
Right now, we’re all coming to grips in our own ways with some unprecedented things. Some people are going to shake their fists in the air and yell about it. Others are going to feel like how we get through is insisting on a normal, preserving old impressions for the sake of mental health. Let’s try not to give each other too much grief about which camp friends fall in.
 

There’s no wrong way to Grieve your sense of what your country was.

 
For some people, that sense of America equated to tranquility, and activism taking to the streets dispels that vision so it makes those people mad.
 
For other people that sense of America equated to a set of institutions, and daily headlines citing their alarming fast erosion dispels that vision so it makes those people worry about where this all could go.
 
For some people, that sense of America equated to a melting pot, and this whole campaign season shook their faith in all their neighbors.
 

At day’s end, we all want an America that feels safe to build a life in.

 
I hear all of your anxieties, and all of your frustrations, as we all begin to wrestle with them aloud on social media. What I want you to know is, you’re all welcome here, and I’m not going to judge you, save on one red line.
 
If what it takes for you to feel safe to build a life in America requires somebody else to feel less welcome, or less safe to be themselves, this would be a good time to start rethinking those emotions.

Be Careful Before You Hit That…

Before taking a stick to any Piñata, you should be sure of what’s inside.

You might find yourself tempted to cheer this morning at what looks like the first thing DearLeader’s done that might make your life better.  Amid headlines like:

Trump puts Bannon on security council, dropping joint chiefs

 and
 You could be forgiven for the tiniest flit of hope that maybe “drain the swamp” was still a part of his agenda, and that possibly anti-corruption measures would be a pale, but silver, lining, when the headlines ran this morning, saying:

You know Orcs aren’t in the business of offering comfort.  Sorry about that…

I spent the morning reading the text of the executive order in question, and while it’s designed to make good headlines, it’s pretty much a partisan Christmas present.

I know.  You wanted this to be a thing to celebrate.  Well, please let me rob you of your hope, via analysis.  First, the broad strokes though.

  1. A (5) year ban on lobbying activity after any period of governmental service.
  2. A LIFETIME ban on lobbying activity for members of his administration.
  3. A ban on lobbying the U.S. on behalf of any foreign government or political party.

This sounds terrific, yeah?

Until you get down to the details.  First though, a brief explainer on the ecosystem that connects the lobbying industry to Washington DC.

The word Lobbyist is kind of like saying “Tumor.”  Nobody loves it.  What it conjures up is mostly visions of a shady corporate agent in an expensive business suit, taking your congressman out to Dinner-and-a-hooker in exchange for making sure the playground toxic waste dump zoning bill goes unopposed.  No, I’m sorry, what you’re thinking of isn’t the bulk of Lobbying.  What you’re picturing is an ALEC retreat.  No, most Lobbying activity is former colleagues being paid to leverage their connections to sitting legislators after leaving government service, to get meetings and personal phone calls that the public couldn’t get.

“Oh, is that Shirley on the line?  I haven’t talked to her in months.  Put that call through.  Or set up lunch!  It would be great to get caught up.  I hear she took a job with Pfizer?  Fascinating.”

Lobbying is why you don’t hear much about a former legislator opening up an air conditioning repair shop or a string of burger king franchises.  It’s the post-career-career for folks who’ve spent time on the hill.  It gives a direct channel of communication to corporations and special interest groups who need to have the ear of sitting legislators to make get their interests represented in the way that laws are crafted.  As a lobbyist, you’re only as good as the list of people who will take your calls.  And that’s where this gets fishy.

See, the idea of a timed lobbying ban on leaving public service is in-theory a good one.  If relationships are power, then there’s a ticking clock on how valuable those relationships are.  One that expires the exact minute that a connection leaves office.  You don’t know anybody currently serving in Congress anymore?  Ding!  No more power.  No more job.

In theory, any one lobbyist is cooked by the time the Legislators, that they met and bonded with during their tenure, lose bids for re-election.  Turnover kills Lobbyists.  So if you place a ban on lobbying for five years after leaving government service… that isn’t much in people-years, but it’s two and a half congressional terms.  A lot of time for those connections to cease to be at all relevant.  It makes it much less likely that the legislators Most Susceptible to having their minds changed – freshman congressmen and senators – will still be in office by the time their former friends and colleagues get to make lobbying calls.  Career politicians like Mitch McConnell for example wouldn’t be as valuable to lobby, because their positions are well-defined on every issue.  Someone has already helped them form policy positions.

So this ban looks like it would be a good idea.

And on its face, taken in isolation, it kind of almost is.

Kind of, and almost, because it also weakens existing rules for lobbyists entering the administration.  Yeah.  It isn’t just his cabinet appointees who’ve all been major influence-peddlers leading up to their new posts.

So here’s the problem(s):

First, this is an anti-corruption order that won’t prevent corruption, because lobbyists representing all the finest republican causes are stacked throughout high level cabinet positions already. Which means it doesn’t matter who lobbies them, they’re now the ones who’re in positions to be lobbied.  Former lobbyists are also welcomed aboard now, to re-up those hill connections, rather than being restricted from re-entering the federal workforce for a 1 year cooling-off period as they were under the prior administration, and along with their high-level lobbyists-turned-cabinet-appointees, will be influencing national policy with tools far more direct than chitchat over lunch.  They’ll now set policy.

Lobbying is quaint now.

Second, because republican causes all have their lobbyists on the inside, this really just closes the door on the career track of lobbyist/legislator revolving door pipeline for Democrats, which starves democratic causes like organized feminism and organized labor of people who understand how capitol hill works and have friends there, for the five years after they leave office.  It’s a marginal-gains approach to bleeding out the left of experienced political operatives who’ve held office, while those on the right are offered patronage jobs and direct oversight on legislation being implemented.  I would applaud, except I rather enjoy having a (marginally) clean planet, gender-parity, workers rights, and consumer protections against fraud.  I would imagine you enjoy all those things, too.
Thirdly, and here’s the nazi one.
You were waiting for the nazi one, admit it.
There’s one provision left, just tucked away in there, forbidding all lobbying on the behalf of any foreign government, nation, or political party abroad.
One word – because while lots of nations, specifically muslim-majority oil producers, that no nazi would mind hearing from a little less spent lots on domestic PR, one nation lobbies Congress more pervasively and through more diverse channels than any other.  
This is specifically a move to rob Israel of support among lawmakers in the U.S. halls of power.
Now, you can think that that’s a good thing or a bad thing, and you can quibble with yourself about the U.S./Israel ‘special-relationship’ and whether or not it’s healthy.
But…
Your reasons for your policy positions about Israel are probably a little different than those held by the Alt-Right.
In a final, un-enmuerated item,  added to the list – there is a darker undertone to his appointee-lifetime-ban.  A message to the squeamish and the potentially-moral folks who’ve signed on to his team:
“There is no job waiting out there for you, should you lose your stomach for this work,” it might as well read.  “You’re in this now.  Your fortunes are tied to the success and perpetuation of this administration.  Without me, your careers are over…  So strap in.”

That Dual Knowing

There are two ideas.

One idea is that the world is as it has been.

The other isn’t.

We’re still in the ambiguous phase, where there are signs of both, and bright-eyed boys and girls enjoy the luxury of indecision as to which idea is real.

There are the signs of course, those pesky nagging details…

But they’re small enough, so far, and taking place so far away – in other houses, other neighborhoods, with other kinds of people…  Someone might have made them up.  It’s partisan.  It’s fake.  It’s out of context.  It’s alarmist.  Or better yet – it’s the narrative that bad or dumb or politically-opposed people are selling.  Resist their lies. It’s nothing.  Says the voice of this idea.

You know you’re supposed to be incredulous.  That only fools believe the things they’re told.  This is a manufactured crisis that’s inflated out of context.  This is just America, and what we’re seeing, while bold action, is nothing more than what the party’s always wanted, at the grassroots level.  Sure it’s bolder than maybe I’d like, but nothing’s changed.  It’s just America in 2017.  Thoughts like these are plausible enough to be believed.  You can go on for a while yet, that way, if you would rather.

For what it’s worth…  I’d rather too.

But a part of you knows better.

Thy Kingdom Come… with caveats

I’m running into a particularly spurious argument coming from my fellow faithful over ACA repeal this week. I’m going to lay it out here now in detail, with apologies to readers who aren’t initiated in the spots where Christ and RightWing principles find it hard to share a hymnal.

     “Yes Jesus says to succor the needy and help the weak but he DOESNT say delegate that to GOVERNMENT. That’s shirking a responsibility we should all be taking up…” is one of those arguments I’ll take a lot more seriously when it’s being made by someone who’s paying out of pocket to buy uninsured strangers health insurance.

If you press someone who’s making it, they’ll often acquiesce and try to make a gospel argument from there, saying that since we OBVIOUSLY can’t really be depended-upon to buy healthcare for strangers who have fallen on hard times, in anything like the kinds of numbers it would take to solve our country’s healthcare problems, that the POINT is that “We fail to meet the metric every day, and so it’s oh-so nice that God forgives us anyway for never measuring up.  He sent us Christ because He knows that we fall short.”
Now, it’s great to have a savior. That’s super-sweet and I don’t want to downplay it for a second. But since the argument that’s being made is “Since we can’t possibly be counted on to take care of the vulnerable -directly- in a meaningful way, we need to just accept the problem can’t be solved and look away (while people die because they can’t afford their insulin – implied.) I don’t accept that. You can argue Faith vs Works as proper means to gain salvation all day long, but if people less fortunate than you are dying, and a simple change of attitude about collective action stands to help them, I can’t help but think “It must be nice to be so safe that this is academic for you.” Abstract rather than tangible and dire.
I’m glad you’re ok. I really am. I’m ok, too, for now. But some of us aren’t. It’s not about liberals, conservatives, lazy people or hard workers. It’s about the sick and the unwell, about the soaring costs inherent in free-market profit-healthcare, and our responsibility to do what’s in our power to see suffering put right. All other tangents are abstractions, meant to make us comfortable with letting humans die.  We’re all in this together, and since we’re married to a profit-driven distribution system, and since human nature lead to cracks that good people fall through, making sure our institutions fill those gaps in individual charity is the only step available to a citizen who’s serious about living life for Christ.

When I die, I don’t want to face the question, “Why did you allow your fellow man to suffer when you had the means to help them, at a cost you could afford?” armed with only, “Well you see, I’ve always been a firm believer in the limited role of government.”

I want to say, “I wasn’t a rich man, and couldn’t solve it all myself, but I made it a priority to stand up in support of plans to make life better for the folks less fortunate than me.”
Letting the problem go unsolved because political philosophy says government is not the ideal tool to solve this problem leaves aside that it’s the only game in town that’s even trying. If you think that you can do it, organize your churches, reach across denominations, and build a faith-based tithing plan that can endure across the years and get Americans healthcare. But until that’s done and working, maybe stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

This is a picture of a cactus

A brief trip to the fine folks at Wikipedia will tell you that,

          “While encompassing a broad range of ideas and projects, Postmodernism is typically defined by an attitude of skepticism or distrust toward grand narratives, ideologies, and various tenets of Enlightenment rationality, including the existence of objective reality and absolute truth.”

This isn’t an important thing for anyone to know.  It won’t help you buy groceries, or guide you to a better, happier life.  It offers no insight on how to catch a fish or climb a lofty cliff, or go over well at cocktail parties when you tell the stories afterward.  It was, until this week, relegated to those parts of human knowledge that are only of broad interest to graduate philosophy professors and some students of art-film.  That all changed this week.

Thanks to Ms. Conway!

Y’see the rejection of “various tenets of Enlightenment rationality, including the existence of objective reality and absolute truth” is going to become a lot more relevant to all of us this year.  Open season’s been declared on the very idea of Verifiable Provable Facts.

This was inevitable, really.

In much the same way that using Bible verses to prove things that the Bible wasn’t meant for, isn’t widely persuasive outside of communities for whom the Bible carries an aura of inerrancy, tribal lines are drawing up against another common tool of proof: The Fact.

Over the past few years, anyone who’s spent time on social media will be familiar with this pattern:

  • Somebody says something out-of-step with provable reality.
  • A commenter corrects them, citing information and a link discrediting the point.
  • The original commenter thinks about the new information presented and concedes.

Wait.

I’m sorry, that last line-item was an experiment in Ms. Conway’s discipline.  An “Alternative-Fact,” which is to say that it’s a thing that I would rather be true than what really did happen.  You all were there.  You have your own experiences that contradict the list as-stated, and you know it isn’t true.  What you’ve seen is what I’ve seen; a list that goes more like this:

  • Somebody says something out-of-step with provable reality.
  • A commenter corrects them, citing information and a link discrediting the point.
  • O.P. “agrees to disagree” or starts a knock-down-drag-out fight.

That’s because identity is involved, and altering positions based on evidence in this case would likely cause a cascade of other deeply-held beliefs to become suspect and require review as well.  The brain is lazy, and it doesn’t like to change a line of code that other thoughts link to.  This is a common organ-failure.  The psyche also seems designed to stably self-reassure.  The function is called Confirmation Bias – one I’m sure you’ve seen around – and it works to keep us certain and un-conflicted in the face of complex problems.  In the wild, it would probably serve us well.  It makes us self-assured and decisive in an often-scary world.  We haven’t lived in social settings long enough, in terms of generations, for the ability to empirically revisit past conceptions of the truth to become biologically-valued by our genes.  And so we’re stuck with this for a while.  Probably a few thousand more years.  I know.  It’s awful.  But like our thought habits, our genes adapt slowly.

Back on target, and before we loop back to where this constant comment-battle-theme has led us, there’s just one other minor problem.

Sometimes politicians lie.

And when they do, we have a choice of whether to back them.  This sounds like an easy call, but too often, it isn’t.  So much of politics and who we vote for is about identity that this taps core beliefs.  Your values are likely good.  You believe in Responsibility, Justice, Fairness.  Substitute your own.  It still works out.  Republican values look a lot like Democratic Values.  The devil’s in the details.  See it’s not about what you believe is right and wrong.  The spot that they divide you is on what they can get those values to respond to, and what what’s just morally-bankrupt people whining.

The lies that got us here aren’t about principles. They’re about what’s really happening in the first place.

And most often they’re just sins-of-omission.  If your party wants you, for instance, to feel unsympathetic toward – say, poor people – their first line of attack is going to be to make sure that you hear about it every single time someone is caught abusing your charity.  You’ll start to get a sense that this is happening all the time, and your senses of Responsibility, Justice, and Fairness – your best virtues – jump in and do what they do best.  They say “THAT ISN’T RIGHT!  THOSE CHEATS CAN’T GET AWAY WITH THIS!” and get you riled up.  You begin to develop a sense that, for instance, Welfare – with all the tales you hear if it, has fraud rates that warrant total program cancellation.

It’s not easy to get agreement on actual fraud levels in government programs. Unsurprisingly, liberals say they’re low, while conservatives insist they’re astronomically high. In truth, it varies from program to program. One government report says fraud accounts for less than 2 percent of unemployment insurance payments. It’s seemingly impossible to find statistics on “welfare” (i.e., TANF) fraud, but the best guess is that it’s about the same. A bevy of inspector general reports found “improper payment” levels of 20 to 40 percent in state TANF programs — but when you look at the reports, the payments appear all to be due to bureaucratic incompetence (categorized by the inspector general as either “eligibility and payment calculation errors” or “documentation errors”), rather than intentional fraud by beneficiaries.

But making sure the Department of Health and Human Services has the budget to hire better accountants and economists is not a policy-goal of the party.  They want to stop spending money on poor people entirely.  The only way to do that, with a constituency whose deeply-held values are Responsibility, Justice, and Fairness, is to convince their base through cherry-picking stories and divorcing them from where those numbers fit in the totality of people served and lives put back on track to self-sustainability, that fraud waste and abuse are much more common than they are.  That way those virtues prompt a person to support full-cancellation, rather than a budget that would allow for hiring more organized people who are better at grade-school arithmetic.

You can’t control people’s values, but you CAN control what they believe is real.

So in that ecosystem, an inconvenient fact becomes the enemy.

What do you do, when you’re a political party, and sometimes the facts come down on the side of your agenda, and other times they don’t?  If you’re dedicated to winning all the time and getting what your stakeholder-industries want, you build alternative facts, and devote four decades to the grooming and construction of a media apparatus that’s on-message with your alternate reality.  If you then, from all those outlets – AM Radio, Websites and Cable News, begin complaining that “The Media” is lying, well, you’ve got the makings of the way that cults distance their victims from their friends and relatives from any prior source of gravity that might tempt them away from their new flock.  Cults aren’t for morons.  They’re an exploitation of that Confirmation Bias mentioned earlier, that offer human emotional necessities like Belonging, Identity, Validation, and a feeling that a person knows The Truth.  Who doesn’t want that?

Who would willingly trade out their certainty, community, and emotional validation just to be right in the eyes of an opponent?

Not many of us.  That’s why we’re talking about this rather than weather or football scores.  The Fact is the last natural predator of any certainty that isn’t actually true.  It’s the final snare that stands to trip a straggler, distancing them back from the herd.  So, if you have a group of people that you need to all behave the way you want them to – to vote consistently and reliably for this platform or that one, whether the winds of truth are at their backs during that news-cycle or not – You need to lie.  You need to have your own constellation of things “everybody (in-tribe) knows is true.”  And that, ladies and gentleOrcs, is how we get Alternative-Facts.

In a way, it’s a testament to the clumsiness of DearLeader’s propaganda apparatus.

That she didn’t just dispute the truth and say “your facts are wrong and mine are right,” instead defaulting to a postmodern approach of “You have your facts, I have mine.”  That’s new.  And weird, until you realize that they’re no longer playing for base-unity.  They’re in.  They have their power, and the next objective isn’t re-election but removal of objection to its use.  That means the fence-sitters, the middleground, the folks who sway elections, but importantly to this: the folks who oftentimes sit out.

There’s a memo that’s been finding its way around certain circles this week that spells it out better than clumsy Orcish prose could do good justice to, so I’ll quote it below, and leave you to your afternoon.

If you are puzzled by the bizarre “press conference” put on by the White House press secretary this evening (angrily claiming that Trump’s inauguration had the largest audience in history, accusing them of faking photos and lying about attendance), let me help explain it. This spectacle served three purposes:
1. Establishing a norm with the press: they will be told things that are obviously wrong and they will have no opportunity to ask questions. That way, they will be grateful if they get anything more at any press conference. This is the PR equivalent of “negging,” the odious pick-up practice of a particular kind of horrible person (e.g., Donald Trump).
2. Increasing the separation between Trump’s base (1/3 of the population) from everybody else (the remaining 2/3). By being told something that is obviously wrong—that there is no evidence for and all evidence against, that anybody with eyes can see is wrong—they are forced to pick whether they are going to believe Trump or their lying eyes. The gamble here—likely to pay off—is that they will believe Trump. This means that they will regard media outlets that report the truth as “fake news” (because otherwise they’d be forced to confront their cognitive dissonance.)
3. Creating a sense of uncertainty about whether facts are knowable, among a certain chunk of the population (which is a taking a page from the Kremlin, for whom this is their preferred disinformation tactic). A third of the population will say “clearly the White House is lying,” a third will say “if Trump says it, it must be true,” and the remaining third will say “gosh, I guess this is unknowable.” The idea isn’t to convince these people of untrue things, it’s to fatigue them, so that they will stay out of the political process entirely, regarding the truth as just too difficult to determine.
This is laying important groundwork for the months ahead. If Trump’s White House is willing to lie about something as obviously, unquestionably fake as this, just imagine what else they’ll lie about. In particular, things that the public cannot possibly verify the truth of. It’s gonna get real bad.

If you find yourself wondering, after reading this, how the German people could have been unaware or unbelieving about concentration camps, despite their being very very real, and often nearby…  Now you know.

The truth is complex, in a postmodern post-fact era.

Except, it isn’t.

Dear 115th Congress

https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/193/text

 

Thank you…

 

No, of course I don’t mean that in a nice way.

Dear sirs, madams, and all manner of nutjobbery making up the 115th congress, particularly Mr. Rogers of Alabama, but truly and generally addressed to anyone who signs-off, votes, or even thinks this is a good idea.

You are a joke.  We get it now.  You aren’t funny, and so you’ll excuse us for having failed to laugh when you first entered the building.  It’s become clear now though that you’ll keep attempting to explain the joke by telling us who you are and what you think sound policy looks like, until either someone here is laughing or we’ve all ended up dead.

So I say here, “Thank you.”

But I don’t really mean it in a nice way.

I mean it in the way that one would thank a person kind enough to tell you they’re the one who shot your uncle.  At least now you know, and that’s something.  Moreover, I mean it in the way one thanks the maker of a pun; in sarcasm, and put-out perturbation.  So.  If you’ll permit me for a moment, I’d like to become agitated in your general direction over this, your most recent, stumbling into realms of the absurd.  Give them a chance, we said.  They’re not children with fire, we said.  These are responsible lawmakers who just have different notions of what’s good for the country, we said.

 

…and then you introduced a bill to withdraw the goddamn USA from the United Nations.

 

“Absurd!”  The people said.  “It must be fake!” they wrung their precious little hands.  “Nobody in their right mind with an ounce of common sense or education on how world events are shaped would be so daft!”  Too tired for links?  After all, staying up all night crafting the end of American influence in world affairs, the end of checks and balances against our enemies abroad – the end of our security council veto – just to name a few, I can see why you’d be sleepy.  By all means then, allow me to publish your most recent scissors/running exploits here:

 

But first, let me be clear.  We have seen you, trying to pass for Conservatives.  You say the ancient words of power, “Family,” “Borders,” “Abortions,” “Guns,” and “Liberals,” and we, like pavlov’s dogs, respond.  But there’s a limit to the compliance you’ll receive when you start talking about intentionally sabotaging America’s place of prominence in the world and having the gall to try and tell us – like we’re some uneducated rubes camped out on Infowars.com – that this move makes us Stronger.  Sovereignty?  Please.  Tell me another one.  Your comrades back in Moscow must be wetting beds with glee.  I’m sure they’ll really miss the era when we had that Security Council veto in our pocket.  But hey, thanks for explaining the joke.  We get it, and we know what you’re about, now.  CSpan ratings just went up.  We’ll be paying close attention to every Republican lawmaker who votes in favor of ending U.S. influence in the world in the name of tinfoil-hat ignorance.  Demonstrate to us that this is not what the Republican Party stands for – not in 2017, or ever again – and maybe we’ll believe you.  But you’d better prove it fast.

 

 

115th CONGRESS
1st Session
H. R. 193

 

To end membership of the United States in the United Nations.


IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
January 3, 2017

Mr. Rogers of Alabama (for himself, Mr. Jones, Mr. Biggs, Mr. Smith of Missouri, and Mr. Massie) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs


A BILL

To end membership of the United States in the United Nations.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, 

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the “American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017”.

SEC. 2. REPEAL OF UNITED NATIONS PARTICIPATION ACT OF 1945.

 

(a) Repeal.—The United Nations Participation Act of 1945 (Public Law 79–264; 22 U.S.C. 287 et seq.) is repealed.

 

(b) Termination Of Membership In United Nations.—The President shall terminate all membership by the United States in the United Nations, and in any organ, specialized agency, commission, or other formally affiliated body of the United Nations.

 

(c) Closure Of United States Mission To United Nations.—The United States Mission to the United Nations is closed. Any remaining functions of such office shall not be carried out.

SEC. 3. REPEAL OF UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS AGREEMENT ACT.

 

(a) Repeal.—The United Nations Headquarters Agreement Act (Public Law 80–357) is repealed.

 

(b) Withdrawal.—The United States withdraws from the agreement between the United States of America and the United Nations regarding the headquarters of the United Nations (signed at Lake Success, New York, on June 26, 1947, which was brought into effect by the United Nations Headquarters Agreement Act).

SEC. 4. UNITED STATES ASSESSED AND VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE UNITED NATIONS.

No funds are authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available for assessed or voluntary contributions of the United States to the United Nations or to any organ, specialized agency, commission or other formally affiliated body of the United Nations, except that funds may be appropriated to facilitate termination of United States membership and withdrawal of United States personnel and equipment, in accordance with sections 2 and 3, respectively. Upon termination of United States membership, no payments shall be made to the United Nations or to any organ, specialized agency, commission or other formally affiliated body of the United Nations, out of any funds appropriated prior to such termination or out of any other funds available for such purposes.

SEC. 5. UNITED NATIONS PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS.

 

(a) Termination.—No funds are authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available for any United States contribution to any United Nations military or peacekeeping operation or force.

 

(b) Terminations Of United States Participation In United Nations Peacekeeping Operations.—No funds may be obligated or expended to support the participation of any member of the Armed Forces of the United States as part of any United Nations military or peacekeeping operation or force. No member of the Armed Forces of the United States may serve under the command of the United Nations.

SEC. 6. WITHDRAWAL OF UNITED NATIONS PRESENCE IN FACILITIES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND REPEAL OF DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY.

 

(a) Withdrawal From United States Government Property.—The United Nations (including any organ, specialized agency, commission or other formally affiliated body of the United Nations) may not occupy or use any property or facility of the United States Government.

 

(b) Diplomatic Immunity.—No officer or employee of the United Nations (including any organ, specialized agency, commission or other formally affiliated body of the United Nations) or any representative, officer, or employee of any mission to the United Nations of any foreign government shall be entitled to enjoy the privileges and immunities of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18, 1961, nor may any such privileges and immunities be extended to any such individual. The privileges, exemptions, and immunities provided for in the International Organizations Immunities Act of December 29, 1945 (59 Stat. 669; 22 U.S.C. 288 et seq.), or in any agreement or treaty to which the United States is a party, including the agreement entitled “Agreement Between the United Nations and the United States of America Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations”, signed June 26, 1947 (22 U.S.C. 287 note), and the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, entered into force with respect to the United States on April 29, 1970 (21 UST 1418; TIAS 6900; UNTS 16), shall not apply to the United Nations or to any organ, specialized agency, commission or other formally affiliated body of the United Nations, to the officers and employees of the United Nations, or of any organ, specialized agency, commission or other formally affiliated body of the United Nations, or to the families, suites, or servants of such officers or employees.

SEC. 7. REPEAL OF UNITED STATES MEMBERSHIP AND PARTICIPATION IN THE UNITED NATIONS EDUCATIONAL, SCIENTIFIC, AND CULTURAL ORGANIZATION.

The joint resolution entitled “A joint resolution providing for membership and participation by the United States in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and authorizing an appropriation therefor”, approved July 30, 1946 (Public Law 79–565, 22 U.S.C. 287m et seq.), is repealed.

SEC. 8. REPEAL OF UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAM PARTICIPATION ACT OF 1973.

The United Nations Environment Program Participation Act of 1973 (22 U.S.C. 287 note) is repealed.

SEC. 9. REPEAL OF UNITED STATES PARTICIPATION IN THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION.

The joint resolution entitled “Joint Resolution providing for membership and participation by the United States in the World Health Organization and authorizing an appropriation therefor”, approved June 14, 1948 (22 U.S.C. 290), is repealed.

SEC. 10. REPEAL OF INVOLVEMENT IN UNITED NATIONS CONVENTIONS AND AGREEMENTS.

Effective on the date of the enactment of this Act, the United States will end any participation in any conventions and agreements with the United Nations and any organ, specialized agency, commission, or other formally affiliated body of the United Nations. Any remaining functions of such conventions and agreements shall not be carried out.

SEC. 11. REEMPLOYMENT WITH UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT AFTER SERVICE WITH AN INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION.

Nothing in this Act shall be construed to affect the rights of employees under subchapter IV of chapter 35 of title 5, United States Code, relating to reemployment after service with an international organization.

SEC. 12. NOTIFICATION.

Effective on the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall notify the United Nations and any organ, specialized agency, commission, or other formally affiliated body of the United Nations of the provisions of this Act.

SEC. 13. EFFECTIVE DATE.

Except as otherwise provided, this Act and the amendments made by this Act shall take effect on the date that is two years after the date of the enactment of this Act.

 

Dear sirs, madams, and all manner of nutjobbery making up the 115th congress,

You are a joke.  We get it now.  It wasn’t funny, and so you’ll excuse us for having failed to laugh when you first entered the building.  It’s become clear now though that

Not with a bang, but with a twitter…

It’s been my experience that if I can’t tell if someone in the news is very smart, or very stupid, oftentimes it doesn’t matter which.   What they inevitably -are- when nobody is sure,  is very dangerous.

I can’t imagine why this is on my mind the night before the inauguration.

If you’ve spent time in America this year, you’ve no doubt seen a great deal of coverage in the news of DearLeader’s Twitter exploits.  If you can find someone who’s not familiar, find out what rock they’ve been living under, and please.  Get me that address…  I’m asking for a friend.

I’m not going to waste your time in laying out the heap of scandal-fodder that you’ve seen there.  Highlights from that feed will make somebody rich in tear-off page-a-day desk calendars for years after he’s left off robber-baroning and been put out to pasture.  What I want to shine a light on, from among the gamut of pathologies on display, is one particular  pattern that’s uniquely troubling.

What I hear most, in our new DearLeader’s favor is, he’s not a politician.

And while I’m not sure what another person means when they say anything at all, especially in the era of post-factual reality and a postmodern approach to moral truth where party loyalty can supersede and overwrite a past conviction in the interest of saving face in a less-flattering news cycle…  What I am sure of is, as a country, we’ve demonstrated a willingness to overlook, in 2016, a sin of politics that for years we found too damning to vote for.  The dreaded flip and flop.  The crime of it, as it’s always explained by vulpine tv personalities, is that when politicians alter their positions, it’s a sign they lack either intelligence or integrity – things that no citizen should ever be without.  The lacks of which, being what makes politicians something negative to be.

And so at first I was surprised to hear his most ardent supporters standing firmly by him anyway.

Despite the countless times when he will say something on video, and then tweet that he never said it, and the press was lying about him.  Someone’s lying.  But the only person talking here is now our president.  I’d offer snide congratulations, but we’re all stuck with him now.  You had your reasons, nation, most of them I actually understand, though some are tinfoil-ey and hard to really follow.

But here’s the part where I implore you for a favor.

Be yourselves.  Be your best selves.  Be the selves who’ve spent the past 8 years at home with skepticism bordering paranoia.  You, the skeptical, who hate the way that politicians squirm out from beneath their older words, evade their promises, and change their tunes with every shift of weather – don’t tune out because you voted for the guy.  Hold him accountable to be who you expected.  Drain the swamp.  Bring jobs back home, and take on Washington’s special interests.  Get the tax code working for the common man, and fight corruption.  Talk past hard-to-talk-through subjects.  Protect Social Security, and Medicare.  REPLACE the ACA.  …and keep us out of foreign wars.  These are the promises you folks who overlooked the festival of scandals cheered him for.

He’s only your guy so long as he’s about the peoples’ work.  So keep him honest.

You put him there because you thought that he could help.  What was it Reagan said now? “Trust but Verify.”

It’s been a tough election season.  Lots of people lost some friends.  Some of us, if Ryan and his pals in congress get their way, are going to lose quite a few more.  That’s not political, it’s medical.  Thoughts for another day.  Right now, just watch your guy, and hold all power to account.  You’re right.  We’ve been betrayed by generations of leaders who start out with pure intentions, get to Washington, and serve somebody other then the people who elected them to start with, in the name of staying there.  “I am your voice.” He said to you and all the rest who felt un-heard.

Now stick your mitts up his back-side before the Washington folks do.

This is your chance to make this not be a disaster.  The psyche’s clear.  He wants legitimacy and approval from a grateful cheering nation.  Give it to him.  But make him earn it from you every single day.  That, my fellow Orcs, is how republics stay on track.

Starving Artist

A question that I’m hearing as the nation starts to process what it means when our DearLeader goes on tears about eliminating programs like the National Endowment for the Arts keeps coming up.  “Why are government funded grants for arts and humanities something we should be entitled to? I understand they make people happy, but a government grant is not a necessity, is it?”

 

The answer is: It’s not about entitlement. It’s not about deserving grants or free government money. These agencies and their grant programs were founded in the recognition that art is not a business, and that history’s greatest contributors to Western Civilization died penniless and destitute, and many almost didn’t happen, save for having found a patron who could subsidize their craft. World-class art takes fostering, or else it doesn’t happen. I understand that some among us who don’t want to spend a quarter-cent a year out of their taxes so we can have great violinists and an up-and-coming sculptor gets to be the next Michaelangelo instead of an accountant in a cube. I get that the conservative-outrage-press has made some hay over the years by picking out the duds and failures America took a chance on; “composition in menstural blood on sixteenth-century icon” and the great marshmallow dick of pensacola *illustrative examples, not real works of NEA-funded-art, but close enough to pay the mortgage* have made public-funded art a sometimes polarizing topic. Those are the fails, and failures happen. For every silicon valley start-up that goes on to grace your phone with some new wonder, there’s a slag-heap of bad ideas behind it that you never (want to) see. And that’s in a segment of the economy whose model’s self-sustaining. Art has never been successfully-commercial – ESPECIALLY art before the stage of wild breakout success.

“Artist”-as-profession takes a staggering commitment of resources to develop into masterpiece-grade skills.

Weekend-Warriors don’t become a YoYoMa. So the country, in recognition of the fact that for a nation to develop world-class art and artists, some collective will is necessary, built its arts programs to foster and seek out the artists your great-grandkids read about in school. Civilization needs great art, to be worth having been here.  Art is the record that we leave of who we were and what we cared about. We inherited the wealth of ages past when just a tiny lucky few found patrons able to support their fledgeling projects. National programs for the arts allow that culture to continue leaving records we were here. We’re not talking about the sheltering of starving bohemians. This is the legacy of Western Civilization that they fund. The talent-search and finance-backing that allow us to go on being a powerhouse of culture world-wide… Unless you’re only interested in the kinds of art that generate returns-upon-investment. In that case, I should recommend the latest Geico ads, or possibly the next big Lego film. Your legacy, in art.

I’ll take the cello.

Rep-lationship Advice

Liz Warren in every confirmation hearing so far, paraphrased:

“SO, if you’re not going to do your job, who is? Should we maybe talk to _them_?”

in response to every platitudinal iteration of:  “I’ll just surround myself with very smart people underneath me to make sure we all do a good job and make America a nice place, and um, stuff.” sans real answers to any questions, details, plans, or subject-matter-fluency on the part of appointees.

I’m reading lots of sympathetic people coming to their defense this week, claiming that it’s more important to have the right values for the job than any subject-matter knowledge.

Because every job you’ve ever worked, where the boss didn’t understand the ins and outs of what you do there went really well, right?

Betsy DeVos and poor Ben Carson in particular are going to need some patching-up after their confirmation hearings. Poor things… She just handed them rope and left the hanging choice to them.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “But I don’t like Senator Warren. She did such and such, or said blah…” I don’t care. I really don’t. When she breaks faith with a thing I care about, I won’t defend her. But this week, she’s speaking with my voice in Washington and saying everything I’d say if I were sitting in her chair. So as far as I’m concerned, she can be a terrible person, she can be a great person. She can be a truebeliever, or a loon, or a hypocrite. This week she’s vetting dumb appointees with a vengeance, and I’m with her.

 
This week.
 
That’s the fun part about elected representatives. It’s not tribal. These are not your pals. They’re not religious icons. They’re just your voice. It’s perfectly appropriate to the relationship for you the individual to cheer them on when they serve the public good and shame them rotten when they break your trust. The idea that we ought to defend “our people” when they’re out of line is way past silly. So, sure. She’s had her scandals, and I think she’s probably at least half-opportunist, using populist platforms she knows will play with Democrats to get attention and continue her career. But that’s the thing.  That opportunism is driving her this week to say the things that I want said, in rooms that I can’t get to. She has a placard, and a microphone, and she’s speaking with my voice. This week, I’m feeling represented in the corridors of power. This week, I’m glad she’s who I’m paying.