Monday, September 25, 2017

Nothing New Here

Today a woman told me, "I can't get my insurance to pay for my husband's medications and they're giving away methadone free to drug addicts!"

She was more than resentful. She was spitting mad.

I said, "Well, maybe you should go ask for some methadone."

Her husband's last full time job was droving a truck from their home in Essex County, Massachusetts, to Wolfboro, New Hamsphire, where he picked up bottled water to bring back to a distribution plant in Massachusetts. But he required insulin for his diabetes and that meant he could not qualify for a commercial driver's license because the government regulators didn't want him driving off the mountain road or Route 95 in a hypoglycemic swoon.
That was their complaint about the government then.

Now, it was methadone for undeserving drug addicts.

After thirty years, renting a house, the landlord decided he could make more money by refurbishing it and raising the rent. That was a bitter ending. There is no rent control, no government regulation to prevent that in Essex County.

Now he drives a van, delivering car parts to dealer ships locally, but he only gets three days of work weekly.

Life is spiraling down hill for this couple in their late 60's.

They got married out of high school and he has been able to cobble together enough money to get by but now they see their options dry up. He's never done anything wrong, far as he can tell. He went to work after high school. Never looked to get trained for higher paying jobs. Never had much ambition. But that's no crime, is it?
They were satisfied to rent a house for 30 years but then they discovered why people buy houses, when they got kicked out. They are not angry at the government for not providing for a health care system; they are angry about the government providing free health care for some no good, undeserving addicts.

I didn't ask, but I'm betting they voted to make America great again.
They are still waiting.

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Remember the 1968 Olympics?  

Two American runners were vilified for "politicizing" the Olympics by bowing their heads and holding up their fists.
Now, you have to realize, they were standing on a platform with the flags of the countries of the winners being raised, while the national anthem of the gold medal winner is being played, and in this jingoistic moment, these athletes were accused of being too political.

Well, that was the 60's.

Now we have crowds in Indiana and Foxboro, Mass chiding the black football players and screaming "Stand up!"  when the players knee down during the playing of the national anthem.

Sometimes the Air Force or the Navy or the Air National Guard flies over the stadiums just after the Star Spangled Banner is played, a wonderful melding of government and commerce. Oh, such patriotism. A moment to compete with Nuremberg, for sure.

As if the Olympics isn't one of the largest commercial scams ever.
As if all those flag and marching soldiers at the stadium are actually something to do with patriotism.
What is it about flags, anyway?
My wife, who is an Army brat, for Pete's sake, the daughter of a guy who had a "flag rank" which meant he could ride around with a little red flag with two stars on it attached to his car, and she now refuses to allow me to fly even a state flag on our property.
"Flags are all fascist," she says. "They are no good and they are stupid."

Well, maybe she has a point. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Leftovers, A Parable for Trump's America

Emily Nussbaum, writing in the New Yorker observed that the "White Walkers" who are the zombies of "Game of Thrones" can be seen simply as global warming, a cataclysmic threat which will make all the wars among the various factions we have been watching irrelevant, because, as at least some of the warring parties recognize, if the White Walkers sweep through the kingdoms, nobody will survive. Once you see the story line of Game of Thrones that way, you see the whole point of the series differently.

The same must be true for "The Leftovers" which has multiple story lines, but the main story line, the overarching theme is the whole notion of belief, particularly the belief in consoling fantasy in the face of loss and unbearable truth, and the importance of delusion to people who cling to delusion. Without their belief, they have nothing.

The background story is that 2% of all people on earth, in the United States as elsewhere, simply disappear, and usually it's just some members of a family, so the others are left bereft.  And everyone feels threatened because they do not know when the next disappearance, or "departure" as it's called will happen.

In a sense the fact that it was only 2% directly removed, but so many more affected by the loss of children, parents, siblings, friends that makes it worse. Why are we stricken and so many others not afflicted. That must occur to the folks in the small town in Wisconsin who see their factory close, while down the road, people are still working. 

The wonderful song played behind the opening credits of each episode of Season Two is perfect: It addresses the basic mystery of life we all live with--where did we come from before we were born and where are we going after life? People have dreamed up explanations. Some people need an explanation, no matter how outlandish that explanation might be--they feel better having one.

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they they all came from
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
When the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain
And so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be
Some say once you're gone you're gone forever
And some say you're gonna come back
Some say you rest in the arms of the Saviour
If in sinful ways you lack

Some say that they're comin' back in a garden
Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas
I think I'll just let the mystery be

If you see the departure as the loss of factories in the Rust Belt, the loss of financial security, the wrecking of family life, as young people disappear off in search of a living elsewhere, if you see the Departure as the laying waste to all those red, Trump counties across the fly over territory between the coasts, you can see the three seasons as an exploration of the importance of creating an explanation for what happened. Doesn't matter if the explanation is wrong, if it is pure fantasy; people need something to believe in, they need some explanation other than, "It just happened. We don't know why."

Some characters decide to simply feed into this, to give people something to believe in, so they intentionally create scams to deceive people who are looking for explanations into believing reassuring explanations--the wife of the town policeman conspires with a man to offer people as sort of seance experience to explain things. 

A deranged man leaps from a tower and his wife claims he departed and she saw it, because the people who camped out around the tower want his disappearance to make sense, to be part of a bigger trend.

So it is with Donald Trump, who offers explanations for the collapse of the economy, the loss of jobs, the withering of life in the Rust Belt and in those empty counties in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio. He knows why all this happened: Those horrible trade deals, those hordes of illegal immigrants, those terrible, incompetent civil service workers in Washington, D.C.

All those talk radio shows, from Rush Limbaugh to the prosperity churches offer certainty. They are all cocksure.  They know. 

There are investigators, like the liberal media, in "The Leftovers" who try to expose lies and delusional thinking and they are hated and reviled. 

It's a tale for the modern age.
I haven't seen the entire final season, but there are indications, things do not end well.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Let's Cut Taxes: Party Like It's 1983!

After so many months of dreary headlines, usually beginning with the word "Trump" (enough to create a whole new expression--"Oh, that's another five letter word we consider obscene"--) we finally have some good news:  Republic-cons have decided to vote their benefactors a trillion dollar tax cut for the billionaire class.
It's a Corker!

Finally, something to celebrate.

I remember the last time they did this, back when Ronald Reagan was President. Here's the way President Reagan promised it would work:  You cut taxes and everyone makes so much more money,  even though they are paying at lower rates, they are being taxed on higher incomes, so the taxes collected actually rise and the government gets more money, which balances the budget. 

Got that?

George H.W. Bush--you remember him, the one before the demented George W. (who is looking a lot better by comparison to current Presidential timber)--called this "Voodoo Economics," a phrase which even Donald Dangerous has not topped, and the Donald is a great two word phrase maker. (Just ask Little Marco or Crooked Hillary.)

But, who cares?  

Once we get this tax cut in place, we'll be able to spend on infrastructure and dig new coal mines and lease out new oil rig drilling sites off the East Coast and in Alaska and maybe in downtown Topeka, and happy times will truly be here again.

You got to give Donnie Dubious some credit here--he has pushed the Republic-con party back toward it's glory days, when Ronald Reagan was President and we were enjoying Morning in America and getting Marines blown up in Lebanon and mucking about in Central America and nobody from Mexico even wanted to move here. 

We don't need no health care for all, no environmental regulations, no bad treaties, no bad trade deals. What this country needs is a trillion dollar tax cut.

That's leadership, right there!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Trump Dump: Green Marble and Ham

One thing you have to admit about Donald Delirious is he has a sense of aesthetics. He leans toward the ornate, golf leaf and the sort of Roman Empire stuff.

He does not like green marble, which he says looks cheap and he wants the UN to replace that stuff, maybe with marble with gold leaf inlays, and some red plush drapes.

He will have Iran pay for that.

He also disparaged the White House, which he called a "dump" because some of the marble staircases were sagging, having borne the weight of Lincoln, Kennedy, Roosevelt and others over the centuries.  He'll work on replacing that and having Canada pay for that. Or maybe Korea.

This has actually been a great season, coming as it does during the golden age of TV, and we have Archie Bunker in the White House.

As long as he doesn't actually try to do anything, we ought to be alright and we can just enjoy the show.

Once he gets around to destroying healthcare--that "disaster known as Obamacare"--or deporting the 800,000 "dreamers"--or nuking Korea, then we can start gnashing and wailing, but until then, he's just a six year old demanding attention, which, if he's funny, can be amusing.

I'd worry more about that dark force coalition out there, all those foundations and think tanks with the bland names like "American Prosperity" and "American Enterprise" and "Free Congress Research and Education" and Cato, Hudson, Hoover, Manhattan, or the "Institute for Justice" or the Washington Legal Foundation.

You'd never know these are right wing nests of iniquity from those names. They sound so friendly, so open, so non judgmental.
But these are the real termites in the timbers which hold up the house. Trump may be out there shaking the rafters, but unless the little chewies have been at work over the years, the foundation holds.  Given a good strong infestation, however and all it takes is a good hard shake to bring it all tumbling down.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Liberals Behaving Badly

Who should have the right to define rape: survivors who have experienced sexual violence or those who are accused of perpetrating it?

One of the true talents of the radical right, which is to say the Republic-con party, is to find issues which draw out the most damaging and absurd statements from liberals and that makes progressives/liberals look bad--not just on a single front but on all fronts.

Betsy Devos has found one such area in the issue of "campus rape." 
The opinion piece in the NYT today about "Who gets to define rape" is a case in point.

Over the past 20 or 30 years ardent, self righteous people on mostly liberal campuses across the land have twisted the idea of rape into a shape so misshapen as to be almost unrecognizable. 

A  NYT article by Nicol Bedera and Miriam Gleckman-Krut, who are "campus sexual violence researchers" pursuing PhD's in sociology at the University of Michigan, begins with the sentence noted above, which is a rhetorical question, containing in it the answer they believe is obvious. The article was a response to  Ms. Devos's attempt to change the Obama policies on campus rape. As one letter writer noted, a girl who has had sex with her roommate's boyfriend and wakes up the next morning, hung over and regretful, has not been raped.

Nor has the girl who got drunk and walked back to an equally inebriated boy's room and had sex and wakes up the next morning and feels badly about that.

Rape is a violent crime which involves forcible sex against the expressed will of the woman. This should precipitate a criminal investigation with the presumption of innocence protecting the accused, including his identity until the appropriate time.

The argument of Ms. Bedera and Ms. Gleckman Krut is that the protections of the defendant are too high a hurdle and men should be punished for their depredations and the star chambers established by colleges allow this punishment on the least evidence and with the least protection for the accused, which is only right, if what we are most worried about is the feelings and the experience of the complainant.
the flag the Right captured

Harvard, and most egregiously Brown, have set up committees which well deserve the description of "star chambers" to meet in secret and determine the fate of accused without any of the rules which protect the accused in ordinary criminal proceedings.

There is no justification for this other than the emotional nature of the crime and there is quite a lot of "politics" by which I mean the individual act, which is always defined by particulars of person, place, time, personality are stuffed into a more general anger over women being forced into unpleasant and even horrific acts against their will and then "the system" making them a victim the second time.

The British series "Broadchurch" has depicted the difficulties of pursuing a case of a rape in great detail and as is true of most human experience, there are areas of doubt but evidence can be collected by well trained people which sometimes corroborates and sometimes refutes accusations.

One wonders about Ms. Bedera and Ms. Gleckman Krut.  They are professional advocates, I presume, as "campus sexual violence researchers" which means their bread is buttered by the creation of a need for their services. It is always difficult to get a man or woman to listen to reason if his/her salary depends on not listening to reason. Without knowing anything more about them, I suspect from these shreds of description, they are exactly the sort of liberals who give liberalism a bad name.

Unfortunately, the Right is right on this issue more than it is wrong and the left isn't even close to right.

There are other wedge issues out there:  Transgender rights, which the left too often has conflated with "homosexual" rights.  The right to free speech when that speech is offensive. 

As rabid Democrats, we ought to be very wary of getting drawn into traps.
They can make us look bad.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Dark Money and Why They Win

Reading "Dark Money" by Jane Mayer for a book club, I can understand why the Tea Party Republicons have been able to gain control of all three branches of government and both houses of the legislature.

Mitch McConnell is depicted as teaching a class in college, writing on the blackboard the three essentials for gaining and maintaining political power: "Money, money, money."

And the right has the money. Yes, the left had George Soros, but there are a dozen George Soros's on the right, most especially the Koch brothers.

As the Koch brothers are quick to point out, they've spent billions on elections their candidates lost, so money is not enough, but what they and their cohort have done is to provide the money that keeps enough right wing nuts continuously employed, and over time, with enough think tank cranks churning out stuff, feeding Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, it has an irresistible cumulative effect.

When Hillary Clinton described a "vast right wing conspiracy" she was engaging in what might be described as significant understatement.

The relentlessness, the desperation of the right is several orders of magnitude higher than that of the left because for the left, this is simply a matter of principle and the leftists have other things to do with their weekends like reading, or fishing or going to dinner and discussing Proust.  The right wing considers their expenses as essential to protecting their billions, their vast vaults of gold. For the right, the idea is they are protecting all their hard earned winnings; for the left political activity is just another expression of their ideals. 

It is true that Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump 9 to 1 in some counties and still lost, and you might think that argues that Citizens United and the Koch brothers don't matter because, well, what does money translate into?  Money is used to buy TV ads and to do oppositional research and to pay people to campaign for you, but if those ads don't work, as they did not for Hillary, then you can hardly argue that money can buy elections.

But the problem is, Hillary's money was spent too late. The Koch brothers had been spending money and forming opinions for years in the run up to 2016. All that effort paid off so by the time Hillary's ads hit the air, minds were already made up.

Money buying political contests is nothing new in American history.  
A President who isn't fit for the office is nothing new.
Class warfare is nothing new.
The rich buying laws which ensure they make more money and that others pay to support their business is not new.
Businesses despoiling the environment, the land, the rivers, lakes and oceans is not new. 

Ronald Reagan cut taxes for the rich, drove deficits and the national debt through the roof and the nation survived. 

The curious thing is that so much of the right is driven by two things:  
1. Extractive industries (oil, coal) and their owners (Koch brothers among others) want to keep making money selling oil and coal--which benefits only them. But renewal energy could eventually supplant these sources of energy and other people would make the money, so the overall economy would not suffer, just the oil and coal people. We went from whale oil to drilled oil and the economy bloomed. Same can happen shifting away from oil.

2. Fear and loathing of the "other."  Kris Kobach, Joe Arpaio, David Duke, simply fear the growing numbers of dark skinned people and want to keep America white or make America White Again.  Thus, allowing 800,000 children who grew up in the USA from age 3 to stay in America is an anathema. Send them home! But they are already home. No! These dark skinned people cannot claim this country as home! But the arc of demographics is bending toward the day when whites will be a minority. In the South, that minority has been able to dominate and subjugate the colored population. But this may not be true in the future. 
So now the right says it values the rule of law. And these 800,000 have broken the law, so they have to go. But these kids didn't know they were breaking any laws. No matter: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. You must obey the law always. Even when the law says any white person who advocates that the white race is not superior to the coloreds is breaking the law. (Mississippi law in 1960.)

So these two interests see themselves as fighting for their lives, for their fortunes.

Do people on the left have any such abiding, deeply held reasons to fight back?