Monday, September 30, 2013

American Anarchists: The Tea Party Brings the Nation Down

It's not like there are so many of them.  With the exception of the one from Minnesota, a few from California, they are from the South and the sparsely populated parts of the country, where men love their big guns and big trucks and where the off the grid crowd has found places to hunker down.  They constitute a sort of bathtub ring across the country, that scummy smear of nastiness which reminds you that after a soak, there really was grime which had worked its way into the creases.

The T party Republicans, just shy of 50 of them, say they are being reasonable; they are the people who are really listening to the American public. They are hearing that people are outraged over Obamacare and they are responding to those voices.

These voices are accompanying those vibrations coming through the motel walls which have seized control of these Republican members of the House of Representatives.  So roughly 380 members of the House, who are also supposed to be hearing voices have been controlled by the most vocal 50. 

Mad Dog does earnestly wish Mr. Obama would go to the mountaintop--Camp David--just hang out there and maybe invite Tom Harkin and Steny Hoyer and Chris Hollins and Nancy Pellosi and talk about prices for hog bellies or who might get to the World Series, and let the government grind to a halt. Let America feel the pain. Allow Americans to understand why we need a government.

And if Mad Dog is wrong--if we do just fine without a government, well Mr. Obama and his friends will still get their paychecks for a few more years and let the Republicans figure out how to live in a country which has emulated Somalia in its governing philosophy. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ted Cruz, Family Man

Other People's Children

Commandant at Home with wife, child and dog
Auschwitz Guards' Families Enjoying Their Time at the Camp

Commandant's children
He's nice to his dog. Not so much to people. 

Oh, how I love Green Eggs and Ham And I'm Nice to My Dog

Watching the Ted Cruz show on CNN last night Mad Dog was struck by how much time Mr. Cruz spent establishing his Family Man credentials, the long homilies about how much he loves his little daughters, right down to reading Green Eggs and Ham to them from the podium, because, in the interests of serving his nation, he could not be home with his daughters to read them their bedtime story.

It pulled at the heart strings, really did.

What a nice man. He loves his little daughters.
Of course, he doesn't care a whit for the daughters who will be denied health insurance, or for their parents, across the land, if he gets his way.

It reminds me of the book by Piotr Setkiewicz, Private Life of the SS in Auschwitz, in which he related story after story about the split between what the commandants and guards at the concentration camps did at work and how they became doting, engaged parents once they walked across their own thresholds at home.
Typical was the commandant who would beat prisoners to death and then go home, in a fresh uniform, and play hide and seek with his children.

Others were very indulgent with their dogs, and yet they murdered human beings at work mercilessly.

It is almost the "protest too much" aspect of the proclamation of paternal love. Somewhere, deep down in the dark recesses of his heart and brain, the man knows he is sinning against his fellow man, but if he loves his children, if he is kind to his dog, it makes up for everything else. 

So, somehow, Mr. Cruz, Mad Dog is not convinced. He is not convinced you are the loving, cuddly man you say you are. Others have trod that loving father path before you, down the lane to a horror at the other end.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Senator Ted Cruz : The Joseph McCarthy of Our Age: He Fights the Trojan Horse of Obama Care--Thug Republicans Steer the Ship of State

"The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because our only powerful potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores . . . but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this Nation. It has not been the less fortunate, or members of minority groups who have been traitorous to this Nation, but rather those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest Nation on earth has had to offer . . . the finest homes, the finest college education and the finest jobs in government we can give"

--Some Tea Party Thug Republican

 "In my judgment, we are facing what I consider to be the epic battle of our generation, quite literally the battle over whether we remain a free market nation."
--Some other Republican thug.

Rand Paul, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Newt Gingrich and Ted Cruz.  Wow! What a cavalcade of luminaries!  What a Grand Old Party.

There's patriotism in paranoia.

Here's the recipe for Tea Party biscuits:  One large cup of Armageddon lard, a tablespoon of paranoia, a twist of self righteousness, a dollop of grandiosity, and a full ladle of hysteria. 

So now, the Republicans in Congress are bent on shutting down the government and blaming it on Obamacare.  They can't help it. Vibrations are being sent through the walls of their offices and seizing them. They have to strike now, or explode.

This should be no surprise: The Tea Party Republicans, are in the driver's seat. And do not try to console yourself that it's only a few drunk drivers-- every Republican from Susan Collins to John Boehner is complicit.  You may have your private misgivings, but once you give the straight arm salute and start goose stepping, there is not moral or practical difference between you and the true believers.

The irony is the right wing Republicans of yore were all about cooking up American Paranoid Pie by suggesting their enemies were other so-called Americans who were trying to destroy the American government from within, but now, it is the Republican Tea Party which has got enough Republicans elected to destroy the government from within, by simply voting to shut it down.  

A brilliant maneuver really. You run on your Tea Party platform of no government and you get elected, and then you vote to kill the government, just as you promised you would.  Nothing deceptive or underhanded there.

Of course, the folks who voted for these protest figures never really thought they would actually do what they said they would. The voters in Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Texas who sent these frothing-at-the-mouth types to Congress figured they were "sending a message to Washington" but they never believed  these Tea Party loonies would succeed in threatening social security checks, federally funded defense plant jobs,  federally funded highway and infrastructure jobs.

Voters in Alaska hate the federal government, and they get more federal dollars per capita than any state in the union.

Within the next few weeks, unless President Obama saves them from themselves, Tea Party Republican thugs will find out what default and anarchy feels like.

Memo the the President:  Take a vacation. Get thee to Camp David. Sit up there in the Maryland mountains and let the government come tumbling down around Senator Cruz's ears.
 Let Mr. Cruz explain to everyone back in Texas and across this great land of ours how what he has done is good for them.

And you, Mr. Obama, can sit up on the mountaintop at Camp David, like Zeus, and you can say, "Hey, let me know when you want a functioning federal government again. I'm right here. Until then, good luck. I'll get my paycheck. You guys give it a whirl. See how it works for you and yours."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Second Amendment Certainty

"A well regulated Militia,
Being necessary to the security of a Free State,
The Right of the people to keep and bear Arms,
Shall Not be infringed."
 --Second Amendment, United States Constitution (one sentence, four clauses)

I heard a man say, on the radio, "The Constitution guarantees my right to a gun."

Mad Dog is humble before the Constitution.
But Mad Dog has read through the Constitution, which is not a very long document, although it is quite a dense document.

And nowhere,  but in the Second Amendment,  do the authors of this document bother to explain why a particular right is granted, or why a particular right is denied. Even the 18th amendment (prohibition) is not explained. The amendment simply forbids the manufacture, importation or sale of "intoxicating liquors." It doesn't explain why this has been done, simply gives the law.  

But in the 2nd amendment, fully one half of the four clauses are devoted to explaining why the government wishes to protect the right to bear arms. We don't have a standing army, see--so we need guys with guns who volunteer to defend us against Indians and Redcoats, see?

Only in the 2nd Amendment, is there an explanatory clause, unique in the document, to explain the reason the framers want citizens to be able to keep and bear arms--for the purpose of using those arms to defend the security of a free state, as a well regulated militia.

The idea that those arms would be regulated is stated right there, as a part of the description of who would be allowed to use (i.e. to keep and bear) those arms--as part of a  militia. Do you see it? Tom Jefferson and Ben Franklin and George Washington, we are speaking to you, and we all want a group of men, acting together, until the direction of the officers of the militia to bear arms to defend us from forces which would impair the freedom of all of us. 

We're not talking about defending yourself in some bar room brawl, or even in some dark alley. We're not talking personal freedom here. We are talking about defending a free state.

Until relatively recently in our nation's history the lack of ambiguity in this sentence was understood as self evident: We want guns to be available to those who organize to defend the free state.

Those bewigged 18th century gentlemen who voted in 1791 to ratify the first ten amendments could hardly have imagined gun shops selling assault rifles, bazookas, fifty caliber machine guns, grenade launchers, to wandering psychopaths, schizophrenics who hear voices and feel vibrations taking control of their bodies, sociopaths, resentful men and women who can only feel whole and worthy when they hold an AK-47 in their hands. 

But they damn well could imagine a well regulated militia.

What sort of mind does it take to leap from the militiaman to the gun in every home--to my God Given Constitutional Right to an attack rifle-- imperative?

Mad Dog thinks we need Chris Rock to explain this distinction to the president of the NRA.  You see, there is a difference between you and your home howitzer and the minute man in his three pointed hat with his flintlock. For one thing, he's a lot thinner. And I don't see any tatoos on the minuteman. It's true, you are both white and you both like shooting animals.  But he has friends, unlike you. And he makes his own bullets and it takes about ten of him to kill five Redcoats in half an hour.  You, on the other hand, are not what Tom and Ben and George had in mind.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Prestige, respect, influence and other meaningless words

Whenever Mad Dog hears pundits use the word "prestige" in the same sentence as "president" the needle on his  hooey detector goes off into the red zone. This is a sure indicator the speaker has no idea what he is talking about. He is expressing his own anger/ fear/ desire about something he thinks the president is about to do or not do.

Listening to the Lyndon Johnson tapes is a thrilling, profoundly educational and revealing experience. You can go online to the Lyndon Johnson library or just google it and you can listen to Johnson speaking on the phone with senators, aides, cabinet members and you learn immediately all that claptrap about his arm twisting, boorishness is filtered history by ignorant historians spinning their own impressions and stories to suit themselves.

Johnson talks to a number of fellow Democrats, Dixiecrats about the Voting Rights Act and nary a one of them will vote for it, and far from arm twisting, he is meek and understanding. All he can expect from them is that they not rail and storm against it too vociferously. 

When he is speaking with someone he genuinely likes, like Richard Russell of Georgia, he pleads with that senator to join him out at Camp David for a good ol' time and he's rebuffed. When he asks Russell what he ought to do about Vietnam, he gets good advice, not quite the clarity he needed, but he gets the message that Vietnam is a quagmire. He gets the message that the enemy knows America is not a colonial power and just wants to get out, and all they have to do is wait us out.

What these tapes reveal, if you remember that era and all the pundits and what was said about presidential prestige and image and power was said by pundits who really did not know anything more than the guy sitting in front of his TV in Peoria. 

The judgment of most people Mad Dog knew in those days was that Johnson was clueless when it came to Vietnam, couldn't see the obvious. And that comes through loud and clear on the tapes.

When it came to areas Johnson knew well--a very different story. Listen to Johnson talking with some callow aide about a farm bill. "Those farmers, " the aide said, "Are giving us all kind of hell about 3 cents a pound on cows. I just cannot understand how they would sink this bill for 3 cents a pound."   Johnson says, "Well, when you're talking about a 3,000 pound head, that's $90 a head and if you got 10,000 head, that's $900,000. That's no small change to a rancher." 

Mad Dog's father once briefed Johnson about a bill concerning a program for the Medicare crowd.  Johnson just listened, took no notes, just nodded. Mad Dog's father thought, "Oh, this guy is just nodding through this. Why did he go through the trouble of asking me to come all the way over here, through all the tunnels and security under the White House, just to ignore me?"

Johnson turned, walked through the door to the press conference, where, eventually, somewhere 20 minutes into the conference, somebody asked him about the Medicare program and, to Mad Dog's father's astonishment, Johnson rolls out all the numbers and the main points Mad Dog's father had laid out for him. He remembered every detail. 

Listen to David Brooks, or Mark Shields, or Henry Kissinger or just about anyone on Fox, the Morning Joe, or any program and they will tell you what the president is thinking, what he knows, how a decision about the Canadian oil pipeline or the attack on Syria or some other decision will affect the "perception" of the presidency, or the prestige of the president and you know they are just spinning a picture they personally want to believe in.

None of these pundits knows a thing. They are just talking heads the TV program needs to keep viewers watching.

Someday, we'll be able to listen to Mr. Obama's tapes. We'll know, like Johnson, he knows his telephone conversations are being taped, but sometimes, he'll forget that for a moment, in the heat of an exchange, and we'll get a real insight into his thinking. 

But for now, all we've got is people making it up.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

American Exceptionalism, Mr. Obama, Mr. Putin

Whoever wrote the op ed for Vladimir Putin appearing in today's New York Times did a masterful job and credit must go to Mr. Putin for being smart enough to sign it.

In his last paragraph he addresses what must be in the minds of many Europeans and Africans and South Americans: Americans think of themselves as special. American conservatives,  in particular, have bally hooed this idea that Americans are "exceptional" in today's world and throughout history. 

What this leads to, Mr. Putin is saying, is the idea that Americans, being exceptional, ought to follow their own star and act in exactly whatever way they see fit, because they have some special vision, not shared by mere mortals elsewhere on earth.

When Mr. Obama used that phrase during his Tuesday evening remarks, it rang out to Mad Dog, just as it did, apparently, to the Russians. "That is what makes us exceptional," must have been a slap in the face to the Russians, and the Brits. We are better and different and wiser and more clever than you, so we do exactly what we want to do.

Of course, Mr. Obama was doing the thing Democrats do--he was trying to co opt a phrase all the Fox people love, and show he is the biggest gun in town. Nobody can accuse the Democrats of being wimps, although the Republicans do, every day.

Mad Dog is not saying America should confine itself to whatever the United Nations decides, but Mad Dog agrees fully it is a dangerous think to insist you are somehow different, meaning above, all other people on the planet.

The Germans told themselves they were the Master Race. British aristocrats told themselves they were exceptional--the cream that rises to the top, naturally. Southern plantation owners thought they were meant by God to rule over the Black race and the poor white trash who did not own plantations.

Mad Dog does note, and humbly, because he has no thorough going background in world history, but, to Mad Dog's knowledge, no other country in the history of the planet has ever fought a war to free a derided, enslaved underclass, at such cost. To this date, as far as Mad Dog knows, more Americans were killed during that Civil War than in all the wars the nation has fought, combined.  

So, in that history, we are different. But that doesn't mean we are exceptional in 2013. 

We are just living here in Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above average.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Greenway From Hampton to Portsmouth

The corridor toward Portsmouth

The tracks are now gone

The pathway ends at Route 33, Portsmouth, near the graveyard

Last night Mad Dog attended a Greenway meeting withpeople who have worked on the project which would unite Hampton with Portsmouth using the now abandoned rail road bed,   which runs from Boston to Portsmouth, through Seabrook, past the nuclear power plant, past Foss manufacturing, behind Depot Square,  behind the Hampton Hannaford's and on past the old railroad station in North Hampton and on to Rye and Portsmouth.  

Most of the people there were there because they carried in their hearts the burning desire this would become the one protected corridor where kids and families could ride bikes, push strollers completely protected from cars, a safe place where only muscle power propels healthy bodies. 

Because the owner of the land, a company called "Pan Am, " has apparently decided it wants to sell this track to the state of New Hampshire, and because the state could "buy" it with little out of pocket expense, the dollars  mostly coming from Federal programs to promote "green" alternatives and from highway tolls, the prospects for the transfer of this corridor from private to state hands looks promising. 

There have been euphoric  letters to the editor in the Portsmouth Herald about how wonderful a protected space would be for families and bikers--a unique resource in a pedestrian unfriendly Seacoast,  where the car and the motorcycle are king.

But then Fred Rice, a House of Representatives Republican, began his 10 minute monologue about his vision for the former railroad bed : He would make it a one or two lane motorway, with a little bike path running alongside the road. As he has said, before, this would reduce air  pollution, because it would diminish the "congestion" on Route 1 and all those idling motors and their exhausts would vanish, and it would create a commercial corridor with stores springing up all along the roadway.

Fred Rice would pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

Fred Rice knows the best use of land on the Seacoast to to build roads, because roads are...GOOD! And roadside commerce is inevitable. 

Mad Dog objected that: 
A/ Building new roads does not diminish traffic congestion, especially if you are talking about a two lane road. Building more roads just attracts more cars and, presto, your new road is congested.

 B/ Reducing air pollution by building more motorways as opposed to providing a path for bicycles is a very strange notion. Are cars less polluting than bicycles? Does Mr. Rice have any studies for that one?  

C/What makes Mr. Rice think there is enough business to support new stores along his motorway?  Is Route 1 such a successful corridor we need more asphalt for even more stores?  Mad Dog sees enough boarded up stores along Route 1 to make him question Fred's happy picture of a booming commercial corridor along a smaller road when the big road isn't doing all that well.

Mr. Rice does not answer such questions. He simply continues talking, as if simply wishing will make it all come true.  He is a man mired in the discredited certainties of the 1950's when building roads was a pathway to prosperity. Fred Rice is still back in the 20th century, with Eisenhower, wanting to lay down as much concrete as possible across the entire country. 

The folks who want that land transferred from private to public hands grew nervous: At least Mr. Rice wanted that same goal to be achieved--the goal of transferring the land to public ownership. The planners shut down the dog fight. Let's just get the land first. We can argue about what to do with it later.

The problem is, Mr. Rice has nothing else to do but go to government committee meetings, so he would stand a pretty good chance, by simple persistence,  to push his idea of a nice new motorway between Hampton and Portsmouth through all the committees in Concord, past all the commissions--Fred Rice will attend every meeting while the rest of us are at work, and before we know it, we'll have the Fred Rice parkway to reduce air pollution through the wonders of the combustible engine.

Let us hope, if the transfer occurs, we can get Democrats from Hampton to Portsmouth, out on that trail, from which the railroad tracks have now been removed. Once people start walking it, riding their bicycles on it, the possibilities may kindle enough ardor among young families, they'll actually organize to prevent the transformation of a potential parkland into another motorway.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Mr. Obama, Mr. Woodrow Wilson and the Idea of a Heavenly Father

Mr. Obama has not been able to convince the Brits nor, apparently any other ally or potential opponent, to slap the despot in Damascus for using chemical weapons.

He is having a hard time, across party lines, convincing his own Congress to allow him to reign down vengeance from the skies upon the user of chemical weapons.

His argument is that if we don't draw the line here, and if we allow desperate dictators to believe they can use chemical (or nuclear) weapons with impunity, well then, those desperado's will go ahead and do it and it will be open season for the use of any sort of biological, chemical or nuclear weapon. So,  he argues, it's a matter of weakness encouraging brazen action from the miscreants--the old Chamberlain at Munich trope.

The two major reasons not to buy this:  
1. It depends on the psychology of deterrence. We are trying to get into the minds of people like Assad, or Hitler or Mussolini or even, not to use an invidious comparison, Ho Chi Minh. And the fact is, we ought to know by now, people like this, or common street murderers do not get deterred by deterrence. They always make a calculation, and decide they can do their worst and it will be more likely to benefit them than to come back to hurt them.  
2. It invokes the idea of a Heavenly father looking down from above and saying, this is bad. This is hideous. I will punish the transgressor. We must try to play that role on earth.  It is entirely consistent with the moral argument that wrong doing by human beings, violation of one human being by another, must result in punishment for the wrong doer.

The fact is, punishment for the wrong doer, whether it comes in the form of armies crushing their empire and putting their heads on stakes or in the form of a court in the Hague, occurs less frequently than the outcome of those wrong doers staying in power, unpunished and, in fact, in some cases, writing the history.

The Nazi thugs on trial at Nuremberg smugly shook their heads, crossed their arms across their chests and said, "The victors write history."  Which is to say, in their minds, if they had won, all the concentration camps and mechanized murder would have been justified as the price of imposing the world order of a thousand year Reich.

Woodrow Wilson, the minister's son, tried to preach morality to a post World War One world and he got no takers, either in Europe or at home. Of course, the world had moved on in some places--flappers danced and liquor flowed in the States and in Europe economies collapsed, and the next war with even more monstrous leaders and outcomes occurred. 

But there is no reason in history to believe if Wilson's moral universe had been voted for, the world would have been any different.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Love's Lost

In retrospect, we couldn't have asked for a better Republican candidate than Mitt Romney, who, in the end really did encapsulate the Republican belief system, all rolled up into a single, every-hair-in-place emblem of the Haves.

In centuries past, when peasants saw the king ride by in his gilded carriage and asked why he should live in such opulence when their own children were in rags and underfed, the answer from the king's people was the king deserved his place and privileges because God wanted him to have all that, and the implication was God wanted your children in rags, living in hovels.  To be high born was evidence itself--if you were put in a position of such privilege God must have willed it.

Romney embodied the modern day version of this reply. Rich guys like him deserved their fortunes because they have been the "risk takers."  They won big because they bet big.  Those feckless, cowardly, indolent, no-ambition types who make up the bottom 99% deserve to be living in those overpriced, shabby houses, working two jobs because they are the "takers," not the makers.

For the rich to justify their own good fortune, they have to do two things: 1. Justify their wealth as just reward  2. Demean those losers who have not achieved the upper 1%. 

Of course, politically, it is also useful to suggest that you, Joe Sixpack, will not be in the lower 99% for long--your day is coming. You will get pie in the sky right here on earth, if you just vote Republican because you will win big and no damn government will take away your winnings.

The proof of the validity of this approach is the large numbers of white, economically struggling males who vote for Romney, Rand Paul and every other Rush Limbaugh endorsed Republican--if they are that stupid, they deserve to be stuck with the loser's share.

But  really intrigues Mad Dog is this concept of "risk taker."  Mitt Romney was born on third base. He never took the risk of stepping up to the plate. If he failed, he was not going to lose his home, his wife, see his kids shipped off to relatives.  He, like so many other self made men were born rich and yet they talk about "taking risks" and putting themselves on the line.

In fact, if you really look at the lives of those Republicans who ballyhoo the "risk taking" behavior which entitled them to reap huge rewards, there was never much risk there.

Donald Trump risked only being less rich.

Mad Dog fondly remembers the CEO of his hospital, a dyed in the wool Republican, who ranted about Democrat takers.  This guy never took risks in his  own life and accepted what the government and later what corporate employers handed him. This CEO went into the military after high school, went to college on a GI bill, worked for big corporations his entire career, always an employee, always with a paycheck, never having signed a lease for his own office, never having met a payroll from his own revenues, never having dealt with regulations or licensing which might shut down his business.  He was the classic "salary man."  And he talked about risk!

Mad Dog, having run his own business for decades, is never more amused to look at all the "risk takers" out there who don't have the faintest idea what real risk is.

Real risk is jumping out of the plane with no reserve parachute. If your plan A doesn't work, they will peel you off the pavement. 

And through all the years  of real risk, Mad Dog did not consider taking a risk a great test of character. He would very much have liked to not have to take the risks he took for his business. At the point those risks became simply more than they were worth, he sought out an employed position and became a salary man. 

There are risks in being an employee--companies change their plans and jettison employees like so much dirty dishwater--but the risks in small business still tower over the pale risks of the rich guy who starts a company and thinks himself a tough guy for working hard and risking somebody's money, not his own.

Next time you hear somebody talk about entrepreneurs, risk takers, the captains of industry, ask about what they really risk, in personal terms, if the enterprise fails. For many, the structure of the deals leaves them unscathed, at no risk for personal financial embarrassment. Losing a business, in many of these start ups is just losing at a game. 

For the wage earner who goes to work one day and is told he's out of a job, it's not the same. He doesn't know where his rent or car payment or grocery bill money will come from. He is desperate in a way the capitalist never has known.