A Cautious Man
April 30, 2009
 
Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility ...
... is the name of the Catholic Church in Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor's "hometown" of which he has spun many a tale. That phrase came to mind when thinking about the current kerfuffle involving the University of Notre Dame (i.e. "Our Lady"), President Obama, an honorary degree and a commencement address (fueled mostly by right-wing groups for political, not religious reasons). These are some random thoughts that I've read, which make sensible points. From an editorial in Commonweal Magazine:

Some of the objections to the invitation have been more reasonable. Some say that a Catholic university might legitimately invite President Obama to give a talk or to engage in a colloquy, but giving him an honorary degree is tantamount to an imprimatur. Yet university officials have made no secret of Notre Dame’s disagreement with the president about abortion and stem-cell research, and certainly the president and the public cannot be in doubt about the church’s opposition to his policies in those areas. Honorary degrees signify an institution’s admiration for the accomplishments of the recipient. They do not signify blanket moral approbation.

From a commentary with a lot of good points by the eminently sensible columnist (and Catholic) E.J. Dionne, who references the Commonweal editorial:

Declaring that “the church is not simply the prolife movement” is both true and essential. I understand that there are committed pro-lifers who really do believe that abortion is the most important issue, and who therefore cannot abide the invitation to the president. But the Catholic Church has a rich history of concern with issues related to social justice, peace and equality. It should not be defined solely by the politics of abortion.

Moreover, I cannot help but suspect that some of the opposition to Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame among Catholics comes from political conservatives and Republicans who are at least as motivated by their political views as by their views of church teaching. By the same token, many Catholics who support the invitation are no doubt also motivated by their political sympathies. It’s unfortunate that what might take the form of a straightforward political debate among Catholics is being couched as an attack on Notre Dame.

This also bothered Doug Kmiec, a staunch pro-lifer and a former official in both the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations who -- to the consternation of many of his friends -- endorsed Obama last year. “Some of the reaction to Obama is still post-election sour grapes,” Kmiec wrote in a thoughtful essay this week in Politico. “Obama netted 54 percent of the Catholic vote nationwide, including a sizable share in Notre Dame’s home state of Indiana.”

And finally (via the blog Catholic Sensibility, from my reading list over to the right), is this response by President Obama at his press conference last evening, to a question from Ed Henry of CNN (who apparently is still smarting over receiving this response when he asked the President why he waited to comment on the AIG bonuses: "Because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak"):

:Q: Thank you, Mr. President. In a couple of weeks, you're going to be giving the commencement at Notre Dame. And, as you know, this has caused a lot of controversy among Catholics who are opposed to your position on abortion.

As a candidate, you vowed that one of the very things you wanted to do was sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which, as you know, would eliminate federal, state and local restrictions on abortion. And at one point in the campaign when asked about abortion and life, you said that it was above — quote, above my pay grade.

Now that you've been president for 100 days, obviously, your pay grade is a little higher than when you were a senator.

Do you still hope that Congress quickly sends you the Freedom of Choice Act so you can sign it?

OBAMA: You know, the — my view on — on abortion, I think, has been very consistent. I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue.

I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they — if they suggest — and I don't want to create straw men here, but I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations. I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with and families and individual women have to wrestle with.

The reason I'm pro-choice is because I don't think women take that — that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day. And I think they are in a better position to make these decisions ultimately than members of Congress or a president of the United States, in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their clergy.

So — so that has been my consistent position. The other thing that I said consistently during the campaign is I would like to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion, or at least considering getting an abortion, particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again.

And so I've got a task force within the Domestic Policy Council in the West Wing of the White House that is working with groups both in the pro-choice camp and in the pro-life camp, to see if we can arrive at some consensus on that.

Now, the Freedom of Choice Act is not highest legislative priority. I believe that women should have the right to choose. But I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on. And that's — that's where I'm going to focus.

Three things about the question. First, the premise of "a lot of controversy among Catholics" is based on the artificially inflated prominence of this issue, as noted above. Second, Mr. Henry is clueless if he really didn't know that Mr. Obama's "above my pay grade" remark was referencing the difference between being a theologian commenting on when life begins, and being a politician (not between a Senator and a President). And, third, Mr. Henry's question assumes that there was an actual Freedom of Choice Act currently out there, which would "eliminate federal, state and local restrictions on abortion" - but there isn't.

As for the response, that's the "let's find common ground" approach which people on each of the edges on this issue may not favor, but which seems to be the best way to deal with an issue on which so many Americans have so many different points of view.

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April 28, 2009
 
F the CC
News today out of the U.S. Supreme Court -

The Supreme Court ruled narrowly Tuesday in favor of a government policy that threatens broadcasters with fines over the use of even a single curse word on live television, yet stopped short of deciding whether the policy violates the Constitution.

In six separate opinions totalling 69 pages, the justices signaled serious concerns about the constitutionality of the Federal Communications Commission's "fleeting expletives" policy, but called on a federal appeals court to weigh whether it violates First Amendment guarantees of free speech.

By a 5-4 vote, however, the court did throw out a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. That court had found in favor of a Fox Television-led challenge to the FCC policy and had returned the case to the agency for a "reasoned analysis" of its tougher line on indecency.

The commission appealed to the Supreme Court instead.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said the FCC policy, adopted in 2004, is "neither arbitrary nor capricious."

Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps called the decision "a big win for America's families." Copps said the "decision should reassure parents that their children can still be protected from indecent material on the nation's airwaves. "

Fox expressed disappointment with the decision, but said it is "optimistic that we will ultimately prevail when the First Amendment issues are fully aired before the courts."

I find it amusing that Fox is leading the charge for the right to use potty language over the airwaves.

And now, because no such rules apply on the "intertubes", we present Mr. Steve Earle and his NSFW rendition -



Also, he's on tour again, and we'll be checking out his show when he comes to NJ.

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April 27, 2009
 
Teaching Torture
Over at dotCommonweal, one of the writers "promoted" a comment to an earlier post about the Obama-Notre Dame kerfuffle (which we may get around to here, eventually). The commenter had asked, "What about torture?"

The reason I write this is that over the few weeks, but particularly this week, we as a people and country are witnessing a particularly salient “teaching moment” occur before us in the political sphere.

With the release of the torture memos and future release of the torture pictures in May…we have spread before us what must be considered at least a serious sin and participation in evil that if not addressed will continue and lead to - if not spiritual and moral, then our own existential disaster.
...

It’s just great that we as a Catholic Church are making our voice heard about the controversy over ND and Obama. Where are we in making the same kind of life issue arguments over a practice that is/has been developing NOW and has dire consequences for us all.

I am as “pro-life” as anybody… But lots of people like me and other Catholics I know would like to know why such energetic condemnations over the issue of abortion (in and of itself as a practice) but less energy and almost no pronouncement on other human dignity concerns…as if people who torture or accept torture as public policy would not also in a crunch turn to abortion if it suited their purpose/end.

It's not as if the U.S. Catholic Bishops have been silent on the issue of torture, it's just that they haven't been "noisy enough" to get people to pay attention. One Bishop can get full-court press coverage if he criticizes President Obama or gay marriage, but when the whole cohort of American Catholic Bishops issues a document on the immorality of torture, it's like a tree falling in a forest.

Last year, the Bishops issued a study guide, entitled "Torture is a Moral Issue" (link is a PDF of the 39 page document). As stated in the Introduction to that study guide:

Catholics enter into the public discussion of the great issues their society faces because they hope to contribute—in the light of faith—to resolving these issues. There is, in addition, the confidence that people of faith can contribute in highly positive ways to building up and transforming the world around them.

With that in mind, two basic convictions give shape to this discussion guide:

-- First, that torture is a moral issue, one that deserves to be understood and addressed by Christians.

-- Second, that an atmosphere of fear and desperation within society opens the door to the torture and abuse of prisoners, but that there is much Christians can do to help create a new atmosphere within society – an atmosphere in which respect for human dignity rules the day.

It seems to me that this point of view strikes at the heart of all of the rationalizations or word games which are coming from the pro-torture - excuse me, "pro-enhanced interrogation techniques" - side.

As an appendix, the guide reprints a letter sent in December of 2007 by the Chair of the International Policy Committee of the Bishop's Conference, to Congress when anti-torture legislation was under consideration. As stated in that letter:

We share the concern of lawmakers and citizens for the safety of U.S. soldiers and civilians serving abroad in these times of great uncertainty and danger. In the face of this perilous climate, our nation must not embrace a morality based on an attitude that “desperate times call for desperate measures” or “the end justifies the means.” The inherent justice of our cause and the perceived necessities involved in confronting terrorism must not lead to a weakening or disregard of U.S. or international law.

Among other documents referenced in the Study Guide is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, issued by the Potifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican, which states in Section 404 in no uncertain terms:

In carrying out investigations, the regulation against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed: “Christ's disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer's victim”. International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances.

Now, this is not an argument in favor of having religious views imposed on a secular society. However, when people in this country are wrestling with questions of right and wrong involving actions directly undertaken by our government in our name, I believe that some of the above advice should be more widely considered.

[Edited on 4/28/09] I should have looked for more recent material, about anti-torture efforts. For example, the name of the chair of the Bishop's Committee on International Justice and Peace is at the top of a long list of signatories of a letter issued by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, addressed to President Obama prior to the inauguration, asking for a ban on torture:

While we represent a wide diversity of America’s faith traditions, we all believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all human life. Respect for the dignity of every person must serve as the foundation for security, justice and peace. Torture is incompatible with the tenets of our faiths and is contrary to international and U.S. law.

We have enclosed a Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order banning torture which has been endorsed by religious leaders, and foreign affairs specialists and former military officers. We respectfully ask you to review this Declaration of Principles and issue an executive order on Inauguration Day or as early as possible. We believe such a step will help the United States to regain the moral high ground and restore our credibility within the international community at this critical time.

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April 23, 2009
 
Don't Say It Ain't So, Joe ...
Here's a quick tip. If you are trying to argue with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, the Energy Secretary, that it must have been warmer up in Alaska ages ago (because how else could the oil have got there), double check to make sure there might not be another explanation, such as the fact that the continents have moved over the last 200 Million years. If you don't want to read about it, you could just watch a "moving continents" animation over here. Otherwise, you may look ignorant.

Here's another quick tip. If you do forget to double-check and go ahead anyway, don't send out a press release entitled "How’d the oil get to Alaska, hitchhike?", because you're just "pwning" yourself.

And don't "tweet" about it either, because congratulating yourself for being uninformed looks even worse when you think you're being "cool" doing it.

And for the love of everything that is holy, don't post a video yourself on YouTube to show everyone what you did, because then you're more easily mocked about the whole "self-pwning" thing.

Representative Joe Barton. Using a multimedia strategy to let people know how clueless he is.

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April 21, 2009
 
Going Off The Rails On A Crazy Train
It seems that conservatives have jumped onto Twitter in a big way. Maybe because the left took a commanding lead on the blogging front ("left-wing-blogs" is practically a single word on the Fox Views Network); which is only right since the right gets to control hate radio.

But the whole thing is just odd. For example, Newt Gingrich is "tweeting" up a storm, as part of his multimedia assault to get his name and face as many places as possible. Of course, to do that he has to be ready to say something crazy anytime, anywhere, to get noticed. This post by Atrios leads one to the full Newt Gingrich Twitter Page, which is an astounding compendium of disjointed thoughts, brief bursts of self-promotion and fawning praise on anyone who promotes him, and just plain craziness. Atrios had linked to a "tweet" which reads: "@JohnNess slurp is much more than a teabag. Slurp is proof of the phony accounting and long term debt of the geithner system."

Apparently, using the term "slurp" takes the juvenile humor of "teabag" to a whole new level, but we won't go there.

Anyway, it appears that "slurp" is a "satirical" example which is being cooked up as explained in prior tweets:

Slurp--student loan undergraduate repayment plan--modeled on tarp-is being developed by michael krull at american solutions

Anthony DePietro fordham econ major is helping with slurp This program will apply tarp principles to cutting student repayment 80% or more

For his part, Mr. @JohnNess responded to the slurp/teabag comparison with: "Sir, I have to question your satiric instincts here."

Now, it's a little hard to piece these conversations together, which is part of the reason the Newt Gingrich twitter feed is like a crazy ride through his mind. So, I'm not at all sure what he is responding to in this tweet: "@christinajade see you there".

I couldn't easily find any "@Newt" tweet on Ms. ChristinaJade's twitter page. I did find her link to her own blog (entitled "Random Thoughts", which is part of our subtitle here). It seems she was a tea party participant last week, but doesn't seem like a doctrinaire conservative. And, maybe Newt's message to her had something to do with the head-bangin' music sprinkled through her blog, the way we sprinkle Springsteen videos around here.

So, maybe Newt is planning a meet-up later to rock out to a classic like Bullet Boys "Smooth Up In Ya" -



- or, maybe not ...

[Edited at 6:30 p.m. to add]

This is funny. As of now, it appears that "the Google" has two definitive websites that it produces on a search for the term "student loan undergraduate repayment plan". One is authored by a dilettante commentator desperate for any attention he can get. And the other is from Newt Gingrich. ;-)


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April 15, 2009
 
That's Me In The Spot Light ...
One of may favorite reads from my list on the right, Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog, granted me the high honor and distinct privilege of being added to his blogroll.

Thanks for the incentive to try to post here more!

Even the Cautious Cats are excited ...


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Havin' A Party
Professor Balkin at Balkinization discusses today's "anti-tax" tea parties. I put "anti-tax" in quotes because, well, I'm not quite sure what the tea parties are really against. I know what some organizers claim they are about, but it's clear that a lot of the encouragement and organization has been done by people who want to redirect some outrage over stimulus costs and bailouts for their own ends. I do agree generally with his points, although I think the movement is less "organic", and more encouraged by special interests, than he does. But this point especially is important:

Fifth, although the participants in the tea parties may state that they are not interested in what professional politicians have to say, and are not affiliated with the Republican Party in any way, one cannot take these assertions too seriously. The movement for balanced budgets and term limits during the 1990s was also anti-Washington and anti-professional politician. It was quickly absorbed into the Gingrich revolution, which was supported by and produced any number of professional politicians. Part of the point of the tea party protests is remaking the Republican Party, and as the coverage on Fox News indicates, there are plenty of ambitious people in conservative politics that are only too happy to help the protesters along. The likely trajectory of the tea parties will be as part of a reform and/or purification of the Republican Party along right wing populist lines. No doubt some Republican operatives and politicians will try to ride the anger of this movement to electoral success, while others will wait to see if the movement generates sufficient power and if it does, go along.

He also notes the comments of the "Instant Pundit", Professor Reynolds, in a column in today's Wall Street Journal, who claims that this is entirely a "from the ground up" movement. Now, since Professor Reynolds has been relentless marketing the "tea party" concept on his site, it is a little disingenuous for him to claim, in the WSJ:

The tea-party protest movement is organizing itself, on its own behalf. Some existing organizations, like Newt Gingrich's American Solutions and FreedomWorks, have gotten involved. But they're involved as followers and facilitators, not leaders. The leaders are appearing on their own, and reaching out to others through blogs, Facebook, chat boards and alternative media.

What I think has happened is that the usual list of right-wing media operatives have been encouraging the creation of this "spontaneous" movement. Fox News has a dedicated "Tea Party coverage" page on their "Fox Nation" website. There's a GOP.com Tea Party website, from which you can send a teabag postcard to Democratic officials. The "Tax Day Tea Party" site and the "Tea Party Day" website (from the American Family Association) are rife with right-wing rhetoric left over from the Presidential campaign.

In general, with regard to the Fox claim that they're just "covering" the protests - if, for example, Fox News has morning hosts with "teabag protest" t-shirts, talking about what a big event it's going to be today - they're promoting it.



I think there are a lot of people who have been angered by the amount of money going towards bailouts, and who are concerned about government spending in connection with the stimulus bill. The "tea party" movement seems to be a tool to pull them into the orbit of the right wing's other issues, including anti-immigration, conservative social issues, anti-environmentalism, and general anti-Obama-ism.

One more thing - there will be two stories today. One is what actually happened at these "tea parties", and how many people actually showed up. The other is the "spin" we'll be getting from Fox.

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April 10, 2009
 
Good Friday
From "God's Eye View" (described as "Four biblical moments as evidenced by satellite imagery") by a self-described "creative collective" based in Sydney, Australia and New York City called "The Glue Society".


Found via Pontifications.

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April 09, 2009
 
Equal Marriage - "Stuck In The Mud Somewhere In The Swamps of Jersey"
A diary at Blue Jersey commented on what the recent legislation in Vermont may mean for equal marriage here in the Great State of New Jersey, where a similar bill is in the hopper, but stalled:

The Vermont debate was very public, following years of activism and a commission that "concluded that civil unions did not provide complete equality."

Sound familiar?

The vote was not expected to happen this year, however, because legislators thought "budget shortfalls caused by the crippled economy made this a poor time to tackle such a contentious, emotionally draining issue."

Again, sound familiar?

Not until after Town Meeting Day in March halfway through the legislative session did leaders declare that same-sex marriage would be a priority this year.

In just one month's time, they held hearings, passed the bill in the Senate, then the House, shipped it off to the governor and worked up to the final day to muster the votes needed to override his veto.

The wild card for New Jersey, of course, is this year's gubernatorial and Assembly elections, which have a habit of distorting issues. Are there enough Assembly members willing to stand up and be counted on same-sex marriage when doing so might imperil their electoral chances?

Unlike Vermont, just a bare majority is needed to get it done because Gov. Jon Corzine has said he'd sign marriage-equality legislation.

Reed Gusciora, a Democrat from Princeton, has a bill in the Assembly and there are some high-profile Senate supporters like Loretta Weinberg, a Bergen County Democrat. Plus, there are some Republicans in the Senate who are likely to vote in favor of marriage equality -- you know who you are.

Lawmakers are cautious characters by nature, generally viewing issues in vote counts and financial support. Supporters of same-sex marriage -- gay, lesbian, bi or straight -- need to make it clear that their votes count and that they expect their legislators to do what is write and to stand up and be counted.

I commented on that diary, just to point to some thoughts I had diaried there last December (and also posted here at Cautious HQ), when New Jersey's Civil Union Commission had reported back that civil unions were not an adequate substitute for marriage. I had argued at the time that the fact that the issue might be an issue in November should be a reason to act sooner, rather than later. One reason, I think is that (as I wrote in December): "Waiting for a 'lame duck' session after the 2009 gubernatorial and legislative election will not keep the issue from being discussed in that election. So, you don't gain anything there." I had also suggested that "if it has to be part of the 2009 election, let it be as passed and implemented legislation, and not as some not-yet-there, it-may-happen hypothetical. Thanks to the failure of Proposition 8 in California, people inclined to support equal marriage now know that it is possible that legal rights could be reversed." That might raise the importance of the issue to people inclined to support equal marriage.

Finally, I had suggested: "The design and drafting of this legislation should take place away from, and not as part of, a partisan political fight, either during or just after a contentious election. In a calmer atmosphere, the fact that the world has not come to an end in Massachusetts and Connecticut can be pointed out." To that, I would add Iowa and especially Vermont.

The last thing I suggested in my comment at Blue Jersey is that equal marriage supporters should step up, not to berate legislators, but to say that if they go ahead now with the legislation, they can count on strong support to preserve that change in the November election. So, the Legislature should stop spinning its wheels ...

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April 02, 2009
 
Random Cat Blogging
Because random thoughts are posted sporadically, but random shots of the Cautious Cats are rarer still -


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Running With A Dime In His Hand
If you thought the far right-wing couldn't go any further in "dumbing down the discourse", you "misunderestimated" the potential for someone like Glenn Beck on Fox News. He's apparently decided that we're not on the road to socialism after all. Instead, we're on the road to Fascism, and we've been headed there since Teddy Roosevelt (that's right, Teddy, not Franklin Delano).



It makes one's jaw drop to consider that a major cable news network spotlights the rants of somebody who doesn't give any consideration to history or facts. He just noticed the use of the Roman fasces on the old dime? Does that mean that he's never noticed the two big ones that flank the rostrum in the U.S. House of Representatives Chamber? They've been there for any State of the Union or other Presidential address that you've ever watched, after all.


As explained on the website of the Clerk of the House of Representatives -

The bronze fasces, representing a classical Roman symbol of civic authority, are located on both sides of the U.S. flag. The original Roman fasces consisted of an axe within a bundle of rods, bound together by a red strap. The fasces were carried before the consul and were used to restore order and carry out punishment of the courts. The U.S. adopted the fasces as a symbol of the authority of Congress in part due to their symbolic relationship with Republican Rome, which the founding fathers consciously referenced in the formation of the United States. The form of the fasces also symbolically refers to the philosophy of American democracy. Like the thin rods bound together in the fasces, the small individual states achieve their strength and stability through their union under the federal government.

This is what Mr. Beck referred to as a "Roman symbol of Fascism". In fact, there is a long history of using the fasces as a symbol of American Democracy. This list is from Wikipedia, but it seems well-sourced (and the link has more pictures!) -

In the Oval Office, above the door leading to the exterior walkway, and above the corresponding door on the opposite wall, which leads to the President's private office. (Note: the fasces depicted have no axes, possibly because in the Roman Republic, the blade was always removed from the bundle whenever the fasces were carried inside the city, in order to symbolize the rights of citizens against arbitrary state power.

The National Guard uses the fasces on the seal of the National Guard Bureau, and it appears in the insignia of Regular Army officers assigned to National Guard liaison and in the insignia and unit symbols of National Guard units themselves. For instance, the regimental crest of the U.S. 71st Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard consisted of a gold fasces set on a blue background.

The reverse of the United States "Mercury" dime (minted from 1916 to 1945) bears the design of a fasces and an olive branch.

The Mace of the United States House of Representatives, designed to resemble fasces, consists of thirteen ebony rods bound together in the same fashion as the fasces, topped by a silver eagle on a globe.

The official seal of the United States Senate has as one component a pair of crossed fasces.

Fasces ring the base of the Statue of Freedom atop the United States Capitol building.

A frieze on the facade of the United States Supreme Court building depicts the figure of a Roman centurion holding a fasces, to represent "order".

At the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln's seat of state bears the fasces—without axes—on the fronts of its arms. (Fasces also appear on the pylons flanking the main staircase leading into the memorial.)

The official seal of the United States Tax Court bears the fasces at its center.

Four fasces flank the two bronze plaques on either side of the bust of Lincoln memorializing his Gettysburg Address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The fasces appears on the state seal of Colorado, USA, beneath the "All-seeing eye" (or Eye of Providence) and above the mountains and mines.

On the seal of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, a figure carries a fasces; the seal appears on the borough flag. Fasces can also be seen in the stone columns at Grand Army Plaza.

Many local police departments use the fasces as part of their badges and other symbols. For instance, the top border of the Los Angeles Police Department badge features a fasces. (1940)

A fasces appears on the statue of George Washington, made by Jean-Antoine Houdon which is now in the Virginia State Capital

The seal of the United States Courts Administrative Office.)

I saved my favorite one for last: "Used as part of the Knights of Columbus emblem (designed in 1883)." Oh, if only William Donohue of the Catholic "League" would come to the defense of this Catholic fraternal order, against charges by Mr. Beck that they use a "Fascist" symbol.

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