distal muse

observations, opinions, ephemera, and views


April 07, 2016

Power Hypocrisy

My father worked with a man once who made a big deal out his religious conviction regarding abortion and birth control, roundly condemning both. He based this on his self-professed Catholicism.  It evidently got to the point where weekly there would be a virtual sermon at lunch time on the evils of promiscuity and the horror of contraception.  Finally, my father had had enough.

“How long have you been married, Bill?” my dad asked.

“Fourteen years,” the man responded proudly.

“How many kids do you have?”

“Three.”

“Three? Where are the other eleven?”

The point was made—publicly, in front of several co-workers—and the sermons ended.

Had anyone suggested to this man that the state should have a right to knock on his door, request records of his sexual activity, and then, warrant in hand, search his house for condoms, and upon finding them indict him for wanton disregard for life, he would have been horrified.  More than that, he would not have taken it seriously.  And yet when pronouncing on the should-haves and oughts of other peoples’ private lives, it never occurred to him that what he prescribed would necessarily include him along with some unintended consequences.

It’s never about the person doing the condemning, it’s always about Other People.  There is evidence showing that a goodly percentage of the women dutifully picketing abortion providers end up in those clinics, availing themselves of the very option they then resume trying to deny every other woman.  The mirror fails to show them the nature of their hypocrisy.  They prefer to be seen railing against something they feel is evil rather than sit down and do the hard work of looking inside and understanding that this thing has nothing to do with them—and everything to do with them.

Among people who often stridently take the position that None Of Your Damn Business is the unwritten law of personal liberty in this country, it is amazing how many of them assume this—and this alone, really—is very much their damn business, when of all the things that might be this one surely isn’t.

We’re seeing a spate of anti-choice legislation in states across the country right now.  Judging by the reaction to large numbers of Americans, these are not as popular as the legislators apparently assume they are, and will cost them.  It makes no sense really…

Unless they are actually thinking longterm and assume that it will be harder for their replacements to repeal these laws because they won’t want to appear unchristian or immoral or, gawd forbid, Progressive.  The same with the so-called religious liberty bills passing in the South.  These are traps, perhaps, cudgels in waiting to beat up on any politician with the temerity to suggest they be repealed.  If so, I think the legislators passing these monstrosities are even dumber than they seem to be.

But it’s all about appearances, isn’t it?  Things don’t get done because people are afraid to look a certain way.  In the film Kinsey about the sex taxonomist Alfred Kinsey there is a scene where Kinsey, desperate for funding, is appealing to a millionaire for support.  The millionaire is clearly in his sixties, maybe seventies, and has at his side a young wife, at most in her early thirties.  This aged and privileged sybarite refuses Kinsey’s plea because “If I do that, people will think I support sex.”

A beat. Look at the young bride. Another beat. Look at the ridiculous man afraid of what people might think. Wait another beat. Realize that “people” really would react that way, even while pursuing sex with all the ardor nature has given them, and denying that they approve the act for anyone else.

But really, it’s None Of Anyone Else’s Damn Business and it’s about time we stopped all the posing and posturing about this.  Before those ominous men with warrants start showing up at your house looking for those other eleven kids.

 

 

And Finally

A short bit here.  Donald Trump came out—finally—and said what must be in the back of the minds of most of the hard-core religious fundie contingent of the GOP, that women who get abortions ought to be punished.

It doesn’t matter that he backpedaled not four hours later and shifted it to doctors, it matters that someone at this level of politics finally said it.  Out loud.  For everyone to hear.  If you criminalize abortion, it just naturally follows that some form of punishment should be involved.  That’s logical, right?

But very quickly, two of the largest anti-abortion organizations came out in opposition to this, saying “No no no, we don’t wish to entertain any ideas about punishing women who opt for abortions.”  I listened to one on NPR this morning going through ethical contortions about victimhood, which I gather means they perceive unwanted pregnancy itself as the result of women being victims and it would not be right to further victimize them for, basically, breaking the law should they, under a criminalized regime, opt to abort their pregnancies.  Which in some ways is correct, but in so many other ways just misses the point.  She also went on about the thousands of willing volunteers standing by to help these women once they have the baby.  Which is great, I suppose, but again it misses a very large point and borders on the disingenuous.  It’s like saying, “We’ll be there for you when you see your appendicitis through, don’t worry.”

Because for many women that’s roughly the equivalence.  We’re talking about a condition they do not wish to be in.

Even more, the whole victim thing smells of a particular kind of slut shaming.  “Oh you poor thing, you gave in and had sex, didn’t you?  Well, it’s all right, you didn’t know any better, we’ll help you be a decent person now.”

But back to Trump.  He said it.  It’s been hovering out there all along.  If it’s illegal, then what are the penalties.

A few years back some people did spot interviews with picketers at clinics, asking them the same question—what kind of penalty should there be—and the question was consistently dodged.  They didn’t want to talk about that.  I wrote about it.  At the time I said it was quite obvious why.  What they want more than anything is for abortion to simply go away.  If you attach penalties, it never will.  It will be in the courts then, constantly, until one day the pendulum swings the other way and suddenly abortion will not only be legal again but we’ll have laws clearly protecting the individual right to one’s own body and full say in its uses.  Penalties will put it back in play in the courts.

And frankly they will lose.

They will lose because, to state it again, this issue is not about fetuses but about sex.  If the concern were to reduce abortions, then the concomitant campaign against contraception and comprehensive sex education makes no sense. We know how this works, we have evidence.  Abstinence only sex ed does not work.  It is a dismal failure.  We know this, it is not up to debate.  Comprehensive sex education combined with clinics and contraceptive availability shows dramatic reductions in unwanted pregnancy and, thus, abortions.  We know this, it is not rocket science.

So why won’t the so-called pro-life movement support such things?

They have excuses of course, but basically they are waging war against sex.  They can’t seem to abide the idea that women have a right to their own sexuality.  They can’t quite get past the conviction that sex is solely for procreation, even though obviously, possibly even for them, it is not.

But back to Trump again.  He said it. Put it out there.  The genie, as it were, is out of the bottle.

And it will have to be discussed.  And in so discussing it, the underlying realities of the GOP platform will be laid bare.  No hiding.

Trump may or may not be serious about these positions, who can say, but one thing is certain:  he is a berserker.  He is tearing the curtains down in the Great Hall of Oz so we can all see the man working the levers.  He has said nothing which is inconsistent with any Republican position for the last umpteen years.  They’re afraid of him because they all know they have to soft sell this stuff, because stated bluntly like this it sounds crazy.  But they can’t just dismiss him without repudiating the very policies and beliefs he has based his own rhetoric on.  In other words, now that the beast is all naked, slathering and snarling, before us, in order to get away from it they have to stop being Republicans.  At least, as the party is currently formulated.

And he backpedals just like any of them have done in the past.  Run on a hot-button issue and once in office try to do nothing about it, even reformulate the position in order to look reasonable.

We are right to be afraid of this man, not for what he is but for the slack-brained, adrenalized, shambling, violence-hungry bigots who follow him.  He has brought them out onto the streets for all to see.  They are angry and misinformed and intolerant and frightened and he has given them a stage.  We have, some of us, been trying to reason with this side of our culture for a long time, convinced that surely they cannot be as bereft of the capacity to deal with reality as they seem to be.  Now we know.

And the GOP knows it, too.  Why do you think they don’t want open carry allowed at the national convention?

 

Common Sense vs Common Crap

This will be brief.  I just saw another of those worthless “memes” comparing capitalism to socialism, this time with regards to military chest-pounding.  Why do “socialist” countries feel it necessary to “parade” their missiles down major avenues* if socialism is such a warm, cuddly, wonderful thing, while capitalism is supposed to be such a brutal, anti-human thing?

And of course, once the comments fly, the “socialist” country held up as example of this is…The Soviet Union.  Which for one thing doesn’t exist anymore, but for another is an example of how labels seem to hold sway over reason too much of the time.

The problem here is that with an avowed socialist in the presidential race, people who oppose him are reaching for any comparison that will make his proposals look horrific.  It’s a failure on the part of those who believe such memes to stop acting like rabbits and use their brains.  So we keep getting treated to these absurd talking points that suggest that under socialism we would come to be just like the former Soviet Union.

How stupid are we?

You find yourself, however, in order to refute the comparison, having to go back and reinvent fire, do the job that ought to have been done in grade school and high school in history and civics classes (oh, wait, we don’t teach civics anymore, do we?) to bring the purveyor of such nonsense up to speed with reality.

I’m not going to do that.  What I’m going to say here is that labels, for either side, explain nothing, but because they are so easy to apply and seem to explain things by association, a lot of people feel they don’t actually have to know anything about the subjects being poorly covered by them.

The former Soviet Union was first and foremost a dictatorship, or, to be a bit more precise, a totalitarian regime.  It used certain socialist ideas as tools internally, but any real analysis shows that it could not be described as a socialist state.  It was not, for one thing, a democracy, and a major aspect of socialism is based on democratic institutions, of which they had none.  Citizens were ruled, they were accountable to a small cadre of functionaries who were not conversely accountable to them.  Law was by decree and the security state held all the power.

This is not socialism.  Just as what Hitler wrought was not—functionally—socialism.  Fascism and Socialism are very different.  But of course, even back then, they understood the power of labels, so they called themselves something they were not and pushed that image and suppressed anyone who said “Wait, that’s not right.”

But even more than that, these things are systems.  They are constructs.  Capitalism is a construct.  It was a made thing, it is an artifice now.  Which means that it is a tool and ought to do as we wish.  So is socialism.  Tools.  We can set limits on both, use them, even combine them into forms that serve our purpose.

That we fail repeatedly to understand that is the largest single problem in our political reality.  And we are kept from understanding that by a crippled educational system and the repeated and deceptive use of labels that even as they purport to inform us and give us some power merely make us less likely to look past them and figure out what the reality is.

Here is the conundrum of our current age.

The benefactor of the current system, known euphemistically as The 1%, are invested in keeping that system in  place.  They do this by distorting government.  The distortion is that they have made it so the government sees them as their primary constituency.

Government therefore fails to serve the rest of us.  We consequently blame it.  Some of us correctly identify the problem and accuse government of being a tool of the 1%.

The solution is shown to be to strip government of its powers to facilitate the desires of the 1%.+

The 1% see this and by other avenues feed us the idea that government alone is the problem and in order to set things right we must take away its ability to function.

In reality, the only tool we the people have to correct the distortion is through government.  Instead of stripping of power, we should be using it in order to correct the systemic distortion.

Government is caught in the middle.  It’s a tool and can only do what it is tasked to do.  If we 99% believe it is at fault and tear it down, the 1% will have no barrier to their continued misuse of capitalist systems.  But we’ve been fed the canard that the government is entirely on their side and is the sole reason for the dysfunction.

Certain corrections to the distortion are based on socialist concepts.  But we’ve been told for decades how awful that would be.  Meanwhile, the situation continues to worsen because there is no viable solution offered, and the only avenue that appears to be viable is to weaken the one thing that might do us good. Our voice, clearly expressed through our government.

So enough with the idiotic comparison and the bullshit that we can’t use systems rather than be victim to them.

All it requires is a little common sense, less common crap, and participation.  Once again, vote. But for the sake of the country, learn something useful about things as they are and how they work.  Right now, we are very much like Thelma and Louise.  “We have to get to Mexico, but I ain’t going through Texas!”

__________________________________________________________________

  • I can’t recall the last time such a parade took place in Stockholm.  Hmm…
  • + One of the ways they do this is by funding candidates and buying elections, sending people to congress who tell us they’ll work for us then turn around and work for them.
February 26, 2016

Under The Big Top

Chris Christie has endorsed Donald Trump.

I’ve been looking for a point of entry into the campaign thus far and this seems as good a one as any.  Like many, I’ve been watching in amazement as Donald Trump drags open the closet door on the GOP and shows everyone what’s in it.  Thus far in his campaign I haven’t heard anything he has said that, if couched in less caustic, bombastic, or otherwise reworked by spin artists to be more palatable, is not what all the rest have said or hoped for or believed for two decades.  Or more.  In other words, Trump has stripped the politically polished veneer off the GOP platform and shown us the ugly workings inside.

Added to that, on stage, during the debates,he has been shoveling at the other candidates pretty much the same kind of stuff the entire GOP machine has been flinging at Obama or any other Democrat in their sites for the last seven years. Whether it be the hyperbole of floor speeches in the House and Senate or the little email blasts full of non-facts and smears, this is what the Republican Party has dished out consistently at their perceived enemies—all in the name of “taking back the country” or “making America great again.”

The lesson for everyone is that, rather than accrue negative approval ratings, Trump is leading the pack.  The people who believe Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Communist are lapping this noise up as if it’s the Second Coming of Reagan and loving it, entirely sans the sense of irony that Ronald Reagan would be both appalled and unable to win a single caucus on his own in this climate of uber Right Wing—what was it Lindsey Graham said the other day? oh yeah—batshit crazy.

I imagine folks who love Trump now think Graham is a Lefty.  And not a bit of irony to be found among them.

Whether Trump is serious about his stated positions or is playing some very broad game of “let’s implode the Republican Party”, the take-away from this is just how desperately insane a significant segment of our population has become.  That the equivalent of a substanceless spiel worthy of an Adolf Hitler could be seen as a solution to problems which I suspect most of these folks don’t even understand points up the ruin the last three decades of Republican pillage has left of this country.

Education has been mangled in the name of programs that do the opposite of what their labels claim.

Promised jobs bills have either not appeared or have been used to bust unions or position key industries to be sold overseas, with a concomitant loss of the jobs that once anchored our middle class.

Decent politicians have been hounded out of office by demonizing them for actually doing their jobs, to be replaced by people who wouldn’t know how to manage a paper route and whose only claim to electability is how well they can make their constituency believe that someone else is at fault for their decaying situation.

The national debt has become a tool for sucking the latent wealth out of the country and into a pool of capital that “floats” globally and has no national home, a process that is not illegal because the people who might have brought it to our attention and caused legislation to be passed to prevent it have been fired, moved to other positions, or simply had their wings clipped in the name of profits.

Our standing in the world has been damaged because of a policy attitude that is based on some version of the Old West and the town marshal, with the United States willing at the drop of an insult to invade, bomb, destabilize regimes, or sell guns and bullets to terrorists as long as they claim to love capitalism.  Other nations don’t trust us because we gave up solving problems in lieu of international pillage.  (I cite KBR as a prime example of what I’m talking about.)

The middle class economy, which at one time was protected and managed in such a way that once a savings account paid interest upward of 3 to 5 %, a time now mythic in these days of a gutless Fed that won’t raised rates so the multinationals might be forced to pay some of their pilfered pelf back into the hands of those from whom they’ve stolen it.

And what is funnier is that the very people who might be able to repair all this are now fighting an uphill battle against charges that have zero substance—that they’re socialists or communists or that they simple want to raise everybody’s taxes or that they’re somehow racists.

Whatever else one might think of them, the only two presidents since 1980 who have overseen a reduction in the deficit and even a partial reduction in the debt are Clinton and Obama.

Every Republican president has presided over massive increases in both the deficit and the debt.

Large deficits and high debt are very good to a certain class of people.  It’s that simple.  Where, exactly, do you think those interest payments—your taxes—go to service that debt?

The newspeak of the current climate is perverse and, I think, brittle.  Observe the shattering going on even within the GOP by Trump, who in almost any other time would be seen as the clown he is acting.  The fabric of deceit and lies and misconceptions and misdirections which have formed the core of the GOP for the last two decades cannot hold against the weight of reality.

The danger, though, is that even more rational people have been infected by the politics of image and the legerdemain of mistrust.  The campaigns of he-said she-said built on accusations over character and presumed crimes have had their effect even on those who seem to know how they work, so that we see Hillary and Bernie being faced off in battles of gotcha that have no substantive bearing on their positions or their policies. We see people declaring that they will sit the election out if the “wrong” candidate wins the Party nomination.

Are people really that unobservant and narcissistic?  All 435 House seats up for reelection this year.    Thirty-four Senate seats are in play.  Twelve governorships.

The presidency isn’t the only thing at stake.  Staying home would be such an abandonment of duty as to amount to moral bankruptcy.

Government, it is said, no longer works.  That’s not true, obviously it does, we are not living in an anarchy.  But within the less absurd scope of what is meant by that statement, government can only work when people are chosen who know how to do it.  We have seen wave after wave of political intransigents and functional idiots sent to Washington time after time.  It should surprise no one that things are not working well.  When a conservative like Lindsey Graham stands up and declares that his party has gone batshit crazy, it would seem time to take back the controls and go to the polls in November.  Staying home would be almost criminal.

This has been a public service screed.  Thank you.

November 09, 2015

Crackpottery

As promised, more words.

I haven’t done very much about the political season of late. I’ve been watching it in utter dismay. I am astounded at the circus antics of those who would style themselves as America’s saviors. It’s just possible their intent is to save us from them.

Ben Carson melted down recently, bellowing that Obama didn’t get treated this way. His memory, like everything else, is deficient. But to be fair, Obama gave the sharks less to attack. He behaved like a serious-minded person, offered content, policy ideas, and a grasp of reality that did not lend itself to easy assault unless those mounting the assault intended to do so on the basis of his politics.

So they made shit up. He was born in Kenya. He’s a Muslim. He’s a communist. A variety of lesser things. With an evident lack of ability to attack him on the grounds of political position, they concocted ephemeral bullshit and hoped some of it would stick—as they have continued to do.

Carson has apparently opted to make things up for himself instead of letting others do it for him, and complains when he gets attacked for it. From my perspective, that he has now become the front-runner for the GOP nomination suggests the media has gone easy on him till now, otherwise how could he have reached this point?  When they failed to attack him and focused instead on his chief rival, Donald, he started shoveling out more nonsense to attract the detractors and gain some traction.

As a campaign strategy it may have worked too well.

Really, there are only a couple of things he has said which should have eliminated him from serious consideration long before now.

His comparison of Obamacare to slavery.

No, he did not say slavery was the best thing that ever happened to black people, that was a comment from a satirical website.  But he did suggest Obamacare was akin to slavery because “in a way, it is slavery, because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”

By that thinking, traffic laws make us all slaves.

One might put this down to the hyperbole of political campaigning, and I’m willing to concede that.  In this case, I don’t care, because it is an abuse of language and an insult to morality.  “In a way” nothing is like slavery except slavery, and we need to step back from this kind of comparison.  It’s as bad as labeling any policy you don’t like fascism just because you don’t like it. Or comparing someone to Hitler simply because you disagree with him.  It bends the meanings of those words so out of shape as to render them meaningless.

Besides, the longer the ACA  (Affordable Care Act, not “Obamacare”—this was a law written by congress, not the president, so use the correct labels, please) stands, the more actual citizens like it.  This is not a guess, this is born out by surveys. Oh, and the gargantuan economic meltdown attributed to it hasn’t happened.

It also shows a blatant insensitivity for history, but Carson isn’t the only one who indulges in that.

No, “Obamacare” is not like slavery and by saying that he exhibits a willingness to indulge the basest sort of demagoguery.  And for a doctor to take that line bothers me, since it also shows a disconnect with the realities of his profession.  Now, had he then said “We should go to single payer” then I might listen closer and give him a bit more consideration.

The other thing is this whole magilla about evolution.  He said: “I personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with was something that was encouraged by the adversary.”

The adversary being Satan.

If you believe in that sort of thing, I can’t argue with you.  It’s bullshit, but belief is one of those non-negotiable things that thrives on disagreement.  The more people tell you you’re wrong, the more noble it is to dig in and believe.  So there is no profit in trying to argue about it.

But that non-negotiable part is worrisome in someone who wants to lead a powerful nation and might be called upon to compromise over fundamental disconnects in ideology in order to preserve, like, the world.  One of the things Obama is continually criticized on by people who think adherence to immovable ideologies is noble is his seeming willingness to compromise. It is seen as weak, poor leadership, etc. It happens to be one of the things I like about him and in that job the ability to listen and accept sometimes uncomfortable differences in pursuit of mutuality and peace is a talent I suspect Ben Carson, if he means this stuff, lacks.

He has made similarly idiotic statements about the Big Bang.

Now, he’s a brain surgeon, which is suppose to be, in certain contexts, code for “really smart.”  I’m not seeing the smart.  He keeps making shit up to gain some kind of street cred among the Party faithful.  That whole thing about being confronted in a fast food restaurant?  True or not, he said of the encounter “Guy comes in, put the gun in my ribs. And I just said, ‘I believe that you want the guy behind the counter.'”  I’m having a hard time seeing how this is any indication of presumed bravery.  He just admitted to telling a robber not to hold him up but hold somebody else up.  Point the gun at the minimum wage worker behind the counter.  Aim that thing at someone else.

He’s a doctor.  What happened to “Above all, do no harm”?  Why not, “This is between you and me, let’s go out to the parking lot” and get the assailant away from others who might be hurt?

I get it, this is supposed to be his Clint Eastwood moment.  But think about it.  He was figuratively and, if he is to be believed, literally stepping behind someone else in the face of personal harm.

Then, we have his recent problems over—wait for it—the pyramids of Giza.

“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. Now all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big — when you stop and think about it, and I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time — to store that much grain.”

To be fair, he said that in 1998, it is not part of his current campaign strategy to undermine archaeology.  But still, it makes one wonder if he has ever read a book outside of his course studies in medical school. There’s a term for this kind of thing:  pseudoscience.

Now he’s bellyaching about media scrutiny.  What did he expect?  He’s running for president.  There is one school of thought that suggests that personal beliefs should be off-limits in considerations of who should serve in that office.  As far as it goes, I accept that.  But when one opens one’s mouth and reveals it to the world, it kind of stops being only a personal belief, it becomes part of what you want the public to perceive, and an indication of what you think is important for the public to make a choice.

Now we come to the West Point thing.  He claims to have been offered a full scholarship.  What does that mean?

Here are the  admissions requirements . Note, one of the requirements is a nomination from a senator, a representative, or a president.  He would have had to apply.  A “recommendation” from a general would not have been enough.

As for his attitude toward the Black Lives Matter movement, well, it may be a question of style, but it seems perverse.  “I hate political correctness” has become akin to those who claim to hate feminism but without actually understanding what it means.

But he has supporters.  More, it seems, than Trump, which may not be saying much.

There is a deep admiration in this country for so-called plain-speaking, especially when it seems to be in service to challenging the establishment.  But such speech ought first and foremost be linked to intelligence and a bit of knowledge about what windmills you think you’re charging.  The flush of shocked cheering at the presumed independence of someone like Ben Carson should give way to a reasoned apprehension that he also seems to be independent of actual reason in too many areas.  On top of his Party consistent adherence to the standard issue GOP platform, this causes me some amusement and a bit of nervousness that people who would vote for him could be so stump gullible.

And the clown car rolls on.

Then and Now

Okay, okay, so it was my birthday.  I have been inundated with well-wishes, more than I ever expected, and I had a very special day yesterday when my sweetie came to have dinner with me.

The news is—I’m 61.

Damn.

Now, what follows is perhaps wanting in taste, but it’s my blog so if I want to do something like this, who’s to stop me?  Besides, it’s kind of interesting, at least to me.

Two pictures, the first shot by Donna back in 1981.  Then, after that, another shot the morning of my 61st birthday.  (I should’ve done something with my hair, yeah, but oh well.)

So, without further what have you, 1981:

Me 1981 CNote the modest collection of books and records on the cabinet behind me. No, that wasn’t all we had, but I find it interesting that there was nevertheless room on the shelves.

Now, 2015:

Me 2015Yeah, I am a bit vain.  But I work hard to earn it.  I never really think I do, so I labor under a bizarre mix of humility and pride that often results in odd manifestations.  But in this instance—and there may never be another one—I’m looking at that and thinking “Take that, 61!  Screw you!”

Been a hard few years now.  I had appendicitis a few years back, then this past year I had my right arm in a brace for months from a ruptured tendon.  Not to mention the usual assortment of annoyances and the fact that I’ve been running full-out now for like a decade,

But also a terrific few years. Good things have happened and most importantly I feel in a better place now than I have in a long time.

So I’m braggin’ a bit.  Soon enough there will be another post here and you can ignore this one, which, admittedly, is dubious at best, but hey, why not?

Still. After 34 years…not too shabby maybe?

Mania and the Resignation of Reason

Speaker of the House John Boehner is stepping down.  Old news by now, I know, but I’ve been looking at some of the responses and his own statements in the wake of the decision and while this is not a new opinion on my part I have come to the conclusion that a sizable element of the GOP, especially in the House, are simply batshit crazy.  I no longer believe they have an agenda.  As long as it’s not The Other Guy’s program.  When they announced back in 2009 that they intended to do anything to obstruct Obama, regardless, it was annoying but easy to assume that the more rational members of their party would temper their zeal and business would get done as it should.  And that’s been more or less true.  There are procedural tactics that have always been used by the opposition to appear to reject a policy while allowing that policy to proceed.  The GOP has been relying on them more and more so that the People’s Business can get done even while they must look to their base and present a facade of uncompromising opposition.

Boehner has been wrangling this circus now for almost 5 years.  His rhetoric has often made it seem he is one with the BSC contingent (Bat Shit Crazy people) while his deft handling of floor votes, positions, and other alignments of planets has seen more accomplished than one might expect.  But it’s a shell game and he knows it and it must be wearying to have to continually lead with a false face.

Mind you, I am no fan of Mr. Boehner’s policy stances, but he is far more a mainstream politician than appearances suggest, and he is fed up.

Such has been clear to anyone paying attention for a long time.  He has been undercut, encircled, compromised, and used by the BSC contingent and he has from time to time let it show.  Personally, I think he should have taken the high road and called bullshit on these people while he still held the gavel, but who knows what else he has had to deal with that is not public knowledge which may have stayed his hand.  Certainly he’s talking about them now.

The question I have, and have had for some time, is: what is it the BSC faction wants?  What is it they think they’re going after?

The end of welfare?

The privatization of everything the government does?

The cessation of taxation?  All of it?

The building of a military on par with the levels of World War II?

Complete return of all internal policy to the individual states, regardless of constitutionality?

The establishment of a state religion?

The end of any discussions about things that seem to impede the headlong rush toward American hegemony and domination?  (Including climate science, minority and women’s rights, economic justice, environmental science, and judicial reform?  This list could go on and includes just about everything that constitutes a criticism of business as usual.)

I look at the list, by no means complete, and all I see is a lot of flag waving in the wrong direction and rejection of reality.

No wonder the rest of the world is looking at us in dismay, wondering what ever happened to the Wise America that seemed imminent in the post WWII era.

Boehner is calling bullshit now on his colleagues who, by his assessment, seem to have no clue what this country is all about.  Of course he’s not saying it quite that way, but that’s what it amounts to.  They are living in a land of fever dreams and non sequiturs, refusing to compromise over the simplest things because they believe compromise leads to—

What?  I see vague, indistinct fears voiced.  Socialism?  They don’t appear to know what that is.  If they actually believe Obama is a socialist, they clearly have no idea.  But even so, they seem unaware that we’ve been using socialist tools since the 1930s and what do you know, our spines are still straight, our knuckles do not drag on the pavement, and a good number of us can think.  We have become the largest economy on the planet (whether you believe that’s a good thing is another matter, but the point is they think it is, so how has socialism been a problem?), the most powerful military force in history (again, mileage varies on how one feels about that, but they see this as a positive), and until we started enabling the top 1% to suck all the money out of the economy, we had the highest standard of living on the planet, even while incorporating those evil socialist programs.  Of course, they (the BSC faction) believe that if we’ve slipped on that a little it’s because of those socialist programs, not because they’ve been doing everything they can to enable the pillage of our national treasure, but the problem is they still talk about things as if we still had that position in the world and that we’re about to lose it.

Causation is one of those scientificky concepts they seem not to grasp.

But I don’t know what kind of country they think they’ll have when and if they get their wishes.  From the evidence, I don’t think most of us—including them—would like it very much.  They have no vision that I can see.

What I see is a lot of nativist warmongers who think by handing over the keys to the kingdom to the top 1% everything will be marvelous for them.  They remind me of Grima Wormtongue.

But I believe they are caught up in a mania.  They have no program, because that requires reasoned deliberation, and that has become an enemy to them.  They are headlong rushing toward the eradication of the institutions and people they think are their natural enemies, but it’s panic-driven.  It’s like some dark, twisted form of Beatlemania.  Reasonless and ultimately empty, but in this case even the music sucks.  They are a mob.  You speak reason to them and they do not understand.

They have been told so often and for so long that America needs to be great again and they seem never once to stop and ask what that would look like.

A job for everyone?

No divorce?

Minorities in distinctly small numbers who are nothing but grateful just to be here?

Men calling all the shots and women reduced to sex toys and brood mares?

God plastered all over everything, especially those things that should exist unquestioned?

Industry and invention but no actual science?

And what about all those people who simply don’t fit that kind of construct?

Well, that’s what prisons are for, I suppose…

A large part of the problem is that too many of us, even those of us not charter members of the BSC contingent, live too much by labels.  Even when we seem to be on the “right side” of an issue, very often we don’t know what’s in that issue.  This makes it difficult to argue effectively against people who don’t care about any of that but just want to win.  Win at all costs.

We have some serious issues that don’t get any real air-time.  The presidential debate was a demonstration of how little any of these people  are even aware of them.

For instance, whatever your feelings about the causes of climate change may be, the fact is we’re seeing it, and one of the consequences will be a dramatic redistribution of potable water.  This is already happening.  None of those people even raised the issue.  Of course, we’ve been told our real concern is oil, and consequently we’ve seen this horrible practice of fracking take off, to the quick benefit of  certain shareholders, but also to the gradual detriment of water.  Now, there may well be a lot to be discussed on either side of that issue, but it doesn’t even raise a blip on the radar of presidential campaigning!

For another instance, we have a growing number of displaced workers and a shrinking pool of traditional jobs to absorb them.  If anything gets said at all, it is couched in terms of entitlements and lazy people without a single nod to the fact that we are building our own replacements and jobs are simply not there.  No discussion of it at all on the level of local communities devastated by standard Big Business practices that often obliterate local economies.

Oh, can’t talk about that!  That implies a need for Regulation and we all know that regulation is inimical to growth.

Bullshit.

But my point is, these kinds of things, which are real and current and need to be dealt with do not get a reasonable public debate because we’re so damn caught up about someone’s fucking email account or whether angels are real.

I did not side with Mr. Boehner, but he has my sympathy.  He has probably felt like the only rational person in the room most of the time.  He has been bludgeoned by stupidity.

The problem, however, is that the GOP is losing its reasonable members.  They are becoming increasingly shrill because the BSC faction thinks it’s winning because people like Boehner throw up their hands and walk away.  You can only be in the same room with idiocy for so long before you begin to doubt your own sanity.  But it is that shrill, loud whine of lunacy that most people hear and it has the unfortunate attribute of overwhelming everything else.

It would be nice for a change if the quiet, thoughtful ones would stop demurring in the face of what is becoming criminal irrationality.  I kind of like a two-party system, but in order for it to function properly both parties must have credibility.  Right now, judging by the rhetoric and who they have running for the top position, the GOP has no credibility.  Not with me, anyway.  And I don’t think that’s a good thing.

 

September 23, 2015

Bernie and the Clown Car

Scott Walker has dropped out of the presidential race. Given another month, all that will remain will be Kasich, Fiorino, and Trump.  Maybe Bush, but even he’s been resorting to hired audiences.  Maybe not Kasich, either, he seems not be doing well, but I’ll address that below.

I thought I’d seen the bottom of the barrel in national politics, but this election cycle is so far bottomless in terms of pointless rhetoric, jeremiads, lies, and crappy spectacle.  I would like to say something serious about the GOP but they haven’t given us anything serious since the season premiered. I felt a bit sorry for Governor Kasich, who in the Grand Debate kept trying to bring the discussion back to policy and serious issues.  Unfortunately, he was upstaged by the Trump Train that kept running over the other clowns tied to the tracks.

What can be said of a roster of candidates who seem so dedicated to being on the wrong side of so much?

When Jeb Bush proposed Margaret Thatcher for the face of the ten dollar bill, it was indicative of so many levels of disconnect from American reality that I believed it could not get worse.  (He called her Ronald Reagan’s “partner.”  This is so revealing of so much that it’s difficult to unpack in one sitting.  In truth, I doubt Jeb really understands just how meaningful that gaff was.)  At least Trump is doing what he’s doing on purpose.

It is difficult to see much merit in the choices.

Bobby Jindal wants to be white (or so it would seem—just look at the official portrait he commissioned recently) and denies that race is an issue.  At a time in this country of surging racial tension, I can only imagine what kind of a message he thinks he’s sending.  (Did you know he took his name from the Brady Bunch?  His real name is Piyush)  This is a new level of misrepresentation, but of what I’m not sure I want to say. On policy he’s demonstrated an anti-immigration bias, but that’s in the news a lot.  Of course he’s an antichoice candidate, he couldn’t run on the GOP ticket if he weren’t, but he also backs a Constitutional amendment for a balanced federal budget.  This issue has come up from time to time.  It’s stupid.  It shows a profound misunderstanding of how government funding works.  A state can have such a law and get by because in times of catastrophe a state can depend on the federal government, but only because the federal government is not prohibited from spending outside its budgetary limits.  Put this in the Constitution and see what happens next time a flood or hurricane produces a disaster that requires federal help.  More than that, though, it would produce serious impediments to our international agreements, treaties, foreign aide programs, and all those ships, planes, and soldiers we keep at the ready in case we need to invade another country or intervene between two other powers for the benefit of the world.  Now, Jindal is actually a Rhodes Scholar, which suggests he’s smart enough to know better—know better about a lot of things—so why doesn’t he seem to get this?  I think he does, which means he misrepresenting the issues, which means he doesn’t think the voters aere smart enough to see through this nonsense, but it also means he’s relying on a base that just might be that uninformed.  And,hell, he’s been given the Duck Dynasty Seal of Approval,so maybe that’s the case.  But its disingenuous.  He’s playing to his base at the expense of the truth, which is pretty much what passes for politics in this country, regardless of party, but it appears this year the GOP has distilled itself down to the true essence of nonsense.

Then there’s the usual roster of absurdities—christians are under attack and he wants laws passed to protect them; he’s opposed t gay marriage; another one who thinks corporations are people and pay too much in taxes, despite the growing evidence that corporations of a certain size are really vampires; and he’s a climate change denier.

Of course, he’s polling at 4%, along with Rand Paul, so why pick on him?

No reason other than he, in one person, exemplifies so much that is wrong with the GOP.

Chris Christie is a vindictive man who has nothing but a gruff manner to recommend him, which is wearing thin finally.

Ted Cruz, for all his anti-immigration rhetoric, has had his own oops moment with the question of nationality.  This wouldn’t be an issue if Cruz hadn’t stoked the fires of the Birthers during his tenure in the senate.  And then that gaff where he mixed up “Keynesian” with “Kenyan.”  Cruz also, along with several of the others, wants to make the Patriot Act permanent.  I’ve already stated how this is one of my biggest disappointments with Obama.  What I will not support is another president who can’t see his (or her) way past this kind of fearmongering and sees something “necessary” in violating the Constitution and our civil rights.

But again, Cruz isn’t polling very strongly.

Carly Fiorino is another of those baffling chimeras the GOP seems to love—a former CEO who cost her companies market share and recovered by firing thousands of people and somehow has made this a virtue.  A business “leader” who is actually rather bad at what she does—unless what she think it’s all about is filling her own coffers, then, yeah, she’s great.  But also, this affection they have for business people, as if that’s any kind of recommendation for high office.  Details aside, there is one fundamental difference between government and business that puts the lie to this idea.  Business, at its base, is about beating the competition.  Governance is about accommodating competing factions.  In practice, the two things couldn’t be more different.  So every time I hear a Ross Perot or a Mitt Romney blow smoke about how their business experience has made them fit for the presidency, I first want to ask How?  And then I realize that they have the wrong idea about what government is all about.  Probably they think that once they get in office they can do something about all those annoying rules and regulations that frustrated them in business and then make it easier for businesses to siphon off resources from the public trough.  Which is pretty much what’s been happening since St. Ronnie and the era of deregulation.  I think it’s fair to say we have subsequently found ourselves in deep doo-doo because of it.

No, if Carly does well with the GOP at all it’s because of another fundamental disconnect—they think because the mood of the country seems to favor a woman for president, any woman will do.  They made that mistake with Sarah Palin and that scotched their last chance of electing a serious politician to the White House.

And what can be said of Ben Carson, who seems to think African Americans didn’t have it so bad as slaves?  No, I don’t really think he believes that, but it fell out of his mouth, so I have to wonder at the filters he has in place or what really goes on in that skull of his.  Here is a doctor, at least putatively a man of science, who thinks evolution and the Big Bang are inventions of Satan.

Trump is doing well in all this because he is an honest clown.  So far I have not heard one thing he has said that did not come first from the mouth of another GOP face, although couched in more arcane and abstruse rhetoric. He has stripped away the Newspeak  and is simply reporting what, for many people, the GOP has come to stand for.  His misogyny is in line with the voting records and speeches made in opposition to women’s rights we’ve been listening to for decades now.  His immigration remarks reflect the growing nativist sentiment of the party.  His view on the economy is completely in the fold as are his views on taxation.  He is a vulgar, selfish ideologue shouting his message in catchy phrases not quite but almost at the level of what one could find on lavatory walls in truck stops across the country.  He is an outsized, tasteless, gauche demagogue who cannot be argued with by the others on the debate platform because they believe that stuff, too, they just don’t want to say it like that.

Trump is, if he keeps going, handing the next presidency to the Democrats.

The only solution for the GOP is to clean house of all the mean-spirited, small-minded, myopic idiocy that keeps shouting down reason and common sense and find a candidate that speaks to the issues as if he or she actually has a grasp.  I mentioned Kasich.  Not my favorite guy, but he is more reasonable than the rest.  But like past also-rans (I know, he hasn’t dropped out yet, but he can’t compete with the ones fighting for the steering wheel of the clown car, he will) the one GOP candidate that might save the Party and possibly begin to steer it back toward some semblance of rationality has no chance because the screaming hordes cheering on Trump and who would have preferred a Cruz won’t—possibly can’t—listen.  They have been told for decades that the evil Democrats will destroy their country and they just can’t seem to get past that.

And the Democrats?  Most of them seem to be stuck in the “let’s just keep the ship on course and worry about where we’re going once the storm is past” mode.  They will do less damage.  They might, if there is a thorough turn-over in congress, do something worthwhile.

Right now I’m backing Bernie.  I’m too cynical to believe he win the nomination—tricks and deals and smoke-filled rooms have a way with people like him—but so far he’s saying things I find more relevant to the world than any of the others.  And who knows, he could be this century’s Andrew Jackson in terms of a populist revolution.  (No, I do not think Bernie Sanders is in any way like Jackson, just in case any of you who read this might decide I’m making any kind of policy comparison—as far as I’m concerned, the only thing Jackson did came before he took office in terms of expanding the franchise.)

And, really, I think the business-as-usual crowd should be worried—Bernie got applause at Liberty University, of all places, even while maintaining his convictions on an issue which there, of all places, one would think would get him nothing but boos.

As for the GOP, I’m watching the retrenchment of stupidity and ignorance, all because they hate—-I can think of no more accurate word—hate President Obama.  I do not understand.  These are the people who are supposed, by virtue of their election to high office, be above that, but after seven years I can conclude nothing less.  They hate him.  Institutionally.  When he’s gone, I worry that they will do something with that hate other than shed it.  What will be their next target?

Well, there are already several they seem ready to go after.  Some they already have.

April 24, 2015

Update and So Forth, With Appreciation

It’s still awkward to do this. My right arm is bound in an articulated brace that bears a resemblance to some kind of robotic prosthesis.  This one, however, is only intended to constrain my movements so I don’t damage the surgery while it heals.  Makes typing difficult, but it’s getting easier.  My handwriting, already questionable, is another matter.

So back in August I had an accident.  I could characterize it as an act of stupidity, but that’s not really true.  I did something I had done before and had no reason to think I couldn’t do again.  However, my right biceps tendon chose to give and I experienced a partial tear.  Not enough to incapacitate me but enough to give me chronic problems.  When it became evident that it wasn’t healing, I sought advice and went to a specialist.  I saw Dr. George Paletta.  One MRI and a lot of conversation later, I agreed to surgery to repair the tendon.

So on March 31st I went to a small surgery where Dr. Paletta opened a small incision on the inside of my elbow, “completed” the tear, and bolted the tendon back in place.  I spent the next two weeks in a full cast. photo 1 me Much reading and watching of movies ensued.  Learning to do with just my left hand proved an education.

Removal of the cast occasioned one of the worst pains I have ever experienced.  My forearm felt as though the Incredible Hulk had grabbed it and determined to crush it. When my eyes once more focused and the spots stopped dancing, the staff, including Dr. Paletta, were standing around me smiling.  “Perfectly normal,” they told me.  Okay.

So now I’m doing physical therapy twice a week and slowly, slowly reacquiring the use of my right hand.  I can drive, I’ve been back to work, and I’m doing this.  Because the brace is a restraint on range of motion, I can’t yet brush my teeth with my dominant hand.  Or eat with it.  Or scratch my nose, comb my hair, etc, you get the idea.  Next week I may get a bit more range.  I haven’t tried playing piano and I’m not even getting near a guitar with this aluminum thing.

Before the surgery I managed to finish the 1st draft of a new novel.  I’ve been noodling on a couple of short stories lately and still reading.  (I’ve decided to start Agatha Christie.  Read some of her books as a teenager, but that was almost half a century ago, so…)  I’m working my way through a book by Kip Thorne about wormholes and such.

My hope is that by the end of May I’ll be more or less mobile again.  My gym kindly put my membership on hold till such time as I can come back, but that may be even longer.  I’m feeling…puffy.  But if I’m careful, which I intend to be, I’ll be good as new by fall.

Meantime, I thought I’d just give folks an update.  More words are coming, trust me.  But lastly I want to say Thank You to everyone involved in this.  People have been terrific.  From my coworkers to the medical personnel, everyone has been generous, supportive, and tolerant.  Thank you all.

 

photo 3 me

March 25, 2015

And So It Begins

Campaign season seems to begin earlier and earlier every time it comes around, but this time it’s starting up almost two years before?  Well, in many ways it began in 2008 and has continued almost nonstop since.

Ted Cruz has announced his candidacy.

I have two reactions to this.  The first is, perhaps predictably, “You have to be kidding.”  But the other is an unpleasant chill running through my entire nervous system.  I have come finally to embrace the maxim “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.”  There are and will be fervent supporters for this demagogue and over the last couple of decades it has disturbed me how such thoughtless, anti-intellectual, entrenched ideologues seem to creep ever closer to the White House.  On the one hand, Romney lost because he really did not understand the mood of the nation.  On the other, those who mourn his loss have, at least in part, put enough of their kind in congress to effectively cripple national government.

I feel this would all be solved by the simple expedient of a 95% voter turnout.

No, I do not support any suggestion of mandatory voting.  Freedom does not thrive where choice is limited, and choosing not to vote is as viable a freedom as choosing to vote.

It would be less troubling if I believed that this was the case, that people were choosing not to vote.  I think for many people it’s just too much trouble, low down on the list of priorities behind shopping and yard work.  For many others, whether we wish to accept it or not, obstructions effectively dissuade voting.  And for still more, a deep pessimism that voting does no good keeps them from even knowing who the candidates are or what the issues may be.  Throw in a thick broth of lazy and there you have it.

So Ted Cruz may get and keep support from people who will find it easier to vote slogans than to actually find out something about their candidates.  He mouths the appropriate small-minded palaver about government overreach and too much regulation and the loss of American prestige.  Some people nod knowingly, as if they actually understand what he’s talking about.  If they did, they would know him for the political half-wit he seems to be.  He’s going to know how to get out the vote among those who think, when they do, in terms of feelings and disapprovals rather than by issues, so he may run a solid campaign by such metrics, but he would not know how to be a president if he won.

To wit, there may well be government overreach, but it’s not a single thing liable to a simple solution.  There is no cabal to which you can just say No and stop the problem.  And frankly, as with most things in America, one person’s overreach is another’s necessary program.  Likewise with regulation. Sure, there may well be—and assuredly are—too many inappropriate regulations imposed upon us by government.  Just as surely, my list will be different than your list, so exactly how do we come to some agreement about which should go and which should stay?  And, just to make matters worse, which government?  Municipal, county, state, or federal?  Not all regulations are from the same source.  This is why democracy, whether we like it or not, is an ongoing process, a conversation, requiring engagement by the citizenry.  It doesn’t run on its own.  We can’t just elect someone and then ignore everything afterward.

As for American prestige, that’s one of those noble-sounding but useless phrases that can mean anything.  The decline of American prestige?  In what way and for whom?  It’s not quantifiable, for one thing.  For another, it’s as personal as the other two points.  For some, having the world afraid of us is evidence of “ascendancy” and “prestige.”  Like we’re all of us school kids in the playground, throwing our machismo around to count coup.  For others, respect is what we want, and that’s something you earn by cooperation.  Working with other nations, more to help them with their problems than ours, but getting in return some help with ours, and then knowing when their problems are caused by us and being willing to do something about it.  Not sexy, but in the long run more effective.

I recall seeing one of the last big conferences Bush attended before he left office, and all these prominent leaders of other countries mounting the stage, many of them putatively allies, and it was obvious that none of them respected Bush.  He was all but snubbed.  They saw him as a rube.  A clueless tool of his handlers.  Whether that assessment was correct is immaterial, that was the perception, and let’s be honest, in politics perception is more than half the game.

That is not the case with Obama.  Again, whether you like it or not.

Or perhaps people just don’t recognize respect when they see it.  Respect is a voluntary thing, not something you can demand, and certainly not something frightened people give.

Cruz is a demagogue.  He also doesn’t seem to give a damn about anything other than his career.  His people are perhaps aware of his deficits.  He made his announcement to run for office in a packed auditorium—filled with students who were required to be there.  Many of them may well have shown up for him anyway, but not all, and it was little more than some opportunistic stage craft.

What he represents, if in fact he represents anything other than himself, is a laundry list of regressive ideas that are everything we’ve come to expect from reactionary coalitions of malcontents who don’t like the idea that America has to be shared with people they don’t like.  That he is one of the poster boys for a Tea Party that still won’t let go the idea that Obama is not a citizen is profoundly ironic.

To be clear, the charges that Cruz is ineligible to run for the presidency are as groundless as they were for Obama.  His mother was born in Wilmington, Delaware.  End of argument.  He’s a “natural born” American.

Still, that some people are throwing the charge at him already carries a small schadenfreude about it.

As far as I know, no one in recent memory who began their active campaign this early has made it through the primaries.  I could be wrong about that, but I think it’s so.  Which means he’s being poorly advised OR this is part of a larger Party strategy to set him up to take all the flack while another candidate, more moderate, more “electable” is positioned for a later announcement closer to time.  If so, I have to wonder if Cruz knows.

It’s going to be an interesting season.

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