Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Greetings From Trumpland

"Those who do not remember the past
Japanese Americans on the way to concentration camps 

Are condemned
To repeat it."

--George Santayana

 "The Washington Post says it was a tail-gate style celebration!

Tail gate. That's like at a Michigan state football game. Thousands of people!"
--Donald Trump [alluding to  a Washington Post article which described a gathering of Muslims on a New Jersey roof top in a "tail gate like" fashion after the 9/11 attacks]

The first casualty of war

Is truth.
--variously attributed

A smile can hide

Good Times at Auschwitz

an ugly truth.
Rounding Them Up From the Database
No Sympathy

We are a nation of laws. And what we did to these people was legal.

God save America.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Vulgarians at the Gates: Turning Blue States Red

Finally, the central problem for the Democratic party has finally been addressed openly, that 800 pound gorilla is finally getting his due.

Not since Thomas Frank wrote "What's the Matter with Kansas?" in 2004 has any prominent voice really addressed the mystery of why people from states most dependent on government assistance programs (welfare, Food stamps, Medicaid) vote against the very Democrats who support these programs. 
How did she vote?

It's come to the point where Democrats drive around with bumper stickers saying, "Got Medicare? Thanks Democrats," and "Got Social Security? Thank Democrats."

But today in the New York Times, Alec MacGillis addresses the issue head on in "Who Turned My Blue State Red?"  And he reports what I've seen in my own clinic for years:  People who live in economically depressed areas, who have struggled to get one rung up the economic ladder, deeply resent those below them, who do not appear to be trying at all. They loathe the undeserving poor and do not want to help them.

It is the forty year old woman who comes from a family of eight, who got pregnant at 16, divorced her hard drinking none-too-constant husband at 17, got government money to make it through community college and got some sort of nursing degree, maybe a LPN, then kept working to get a diploma RN, who sees people on welfare "waltz" into the dialysis center where she works making no effort to go to work themselves. 
(Of course, dialysis patients need to be dialyzed three times a week, usually all morning so their job opportunities may be limited. But I've heard the same from nurses in other sorts of clinics where the patients are not as ill.)
What do these two think of Obamacare?

Living among people at the bottom of the ladder, shopping at Walmart, seeing the losers in this rigged capitalist economy, makes people think two thoughts: 1. I'm so much better than these people. I struggled to get up to a better life. 2. But here I am with them: Am I really so much better? Have I really escaped? If I throw in my lot with Democrats, am I not going to be wind up in the same room with these dregs?
Is she voting for Trump?  Watches Fox News.

Joining the Republican party is like joining the country club. It's like getting your kid admitted to Harvard, when you still live in some down trodden slum. You are rubbing shoulders with the rich now. You are in the club.

A prime example Mr. MacGillis raises is  Paul  LePage who was elected governor in a state which was third in the nation for food stamp use, running on an anti welfare platform, refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare which would have covered 60,00 people, re-instituting a work requirement for food stamp recipients, barring anyone with more than $5000 in assets from receiving food stamps, attempting to drug test welfare recipients to prove they are not using their money to buy drugs, cigarettes or alcohol.  Mr. LePage, who trumpets his own story of rising from desperate poverty has no sympathy for those who do not work as hard as he did. "I'm not going to help anybody just for the sake of helping. I'm not that compassionate."

Did he vote Democratic?

His appeal is to the people who live pay check to pay check, feel financially threatened and precarious and feel burdened by taxes they think are being given away to people who they hate.
Gov. LePage says he abuses Food Stamps. 

 These are the voters who are the gas station owner, "the sheriff's deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk" in other words, the people who have to deal daily with the public, and often a public at the bottom of the economic scale. They see the "shoppers of Walmart" daily and they do not like what they see. They have lost all sympathy and do not want to be associated with them any more than they have to be and they do not want to give them money.
Does she read to this kid at night?
Dorothea Lange Poor

These people hate the "welfare queen" that fictional creation of Ronald Reagan who lives like a queen on the backs of hard working people. 

Then there is the other group, the really destitute Mr. MacGillis saw in Kentucky, the rural poor who get Obamacare but don't vote for Democrats because they simply don't vote, and they do not know who in government is giving this gift to them. They are so disconnected from information, they just don't know who their friends are or who their enemies are. Even CARE packages dropped into Afghanistan, Pakistan after an earthquake have big letters stamped on them: "From the USA," but in Kentucky these people don't know who is helping them, don't care, don't vote. 
Insured by Obamacare. Hates Obama.

A Democrat in Kentucky was asked "whether or not Republicans were afraid of displacing 400,000-500,000 people who have insurance" and he replied "No: people on Medicaid don't vote."  He discovered that when he lost re-election. Representing the truly destitute doesn't pay. You won't be in office for long.

None of this augers well for Bernie Sanders. 

Maybe the core psychology, the true appeal of Donald Trump, is that the deputy, the motel clerk, the nurse, the gas station owner love to think they can be in the same club as this very rich man, and just as important by joining the Republican party, by going to their rallies, they can leave behind the "trailer trash" they so ardently despise. 
Owns assault rifle. Listens to Rush daily.

It's the upward mobility thing. 

Republicans have made no apologies for wanting to limit the number of people who can vote. Even my own father, a life long Democrat, was dubious about making voter registration too easy, registering people automatically when they get their driver's licenses or registering them outside Walmart.  Do you really want people voting who never read a newspaper, who don't listen to the news, who are uninformed? People like the "shoppers of Walmart" electing our President, our senators and congressmen?

Should we not establish, as a basic test for voting the requirement you make at least some effort to register and then to vote?

If the people of destitute Eastern Kentucky are so ignorant, so apathetic, they do not even care to ask who gave them their health care, why should we help them? If you give people health care, food, shelter and they simply take it but show no gratitude, act as if they are entitled to it, do not respond by going out and finding a job, by working hard, why should we make the effort in their behalf?
Not going to the local Democrats meeting tonight.

I certainly am not immune to the Paul LePage reaction when I see patients in my own clinic who are "disabled" by physical problems which do not strike me as in any way close to disabling, who have much better drug coverage on Mass Health than my patient who works three jobs (one of them at Walmart) and spends $300 a month for insulin. Some of the patients I see who draw from Medicaid and from Medicare disability appear to be not suffering but whining. Of course, I remind myself, would I ever want to live their lives, to be sitting at home watching TV, trapped in a public housing apartment, having no hope for a better future, just existing, taking up space and not feeling useful?

The answer, of course, is yes, there are slackers for whom we have little sympathy, but for every slacker there are ten hard working people, working two or three jobs who have no shot at health insurance without Obamacare, who have kids who have not yet had a chance and who, given some day care, some pre school programs and good public schools may make us all proud some day.

During the Depression, Dorothea Lange took photos of America's poor which evoked deep sympathy for those struggling. One might ask whether the poor have changed, from decent folks who were simply ruined by a corrupt capitalism into reprobates who deserve their wretched lives or whether it is simply  the images of what it is to be poor have changed. 

The basic question is whether the people in the bottom 10% are worth working for.  Or actually, we might ask, looking at that famous pie graph, are the people in the bottom 90% worth working for?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Christiane Amanpour Asks Exactly the Right Question

Reporting from Paris this morning, CNN's Christiane Amanpour said she had asked the Iman of the main  mosque in Paris why he had hadn't organized a large march with thousands of Muslims to protest the terrorist attacks. Why not fight the fear and the foolish reaction of the far Right who are calling for anti immigrant measures with an affirmation of French Muslim love of France and rejection of terrorism?  

March down the Champs-Elysees with banners to proclaim Muslims in France are as horrified by ISIS's violence and psychopathy as non Muslim French. Wrap yourself in the French flag and get out front about it.

The Iman, apparently sheepishly, reported he had, in fact, made just that suggestion but he was told:  "You do not represent the feelings of  the members of your congregation, most especially the younger members."

All the Islam bashing by Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, the entire staff of Fox News cannot approach the damage this report might do.This is the first time I've heard anything--and it is second hand--which supports the notion that we really do have a clash of cultures, that we may not be dealing with simply a few deviants who do not speak for anyone other than themselves and their own twisted, criminal psychopathy.  Apparently, among a certain element, a cohort of Muslims, the murderous attacks against "Westerners" resonates.

Of note, the 9/11 attackers attacked symbols of American imperialism and power: The World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House, the Capitol.  The terrorists on those airplanes killed men and women who bore them no animus, who had never done anything directly to harm Islam, or Muslims, beyond going to work in an American capitalist system.  But somehow, mowing down people sitting at a sidewalk cafe on a Friday night seemed different. They were not occupying territory which could in any way be seen as iconic of capitalism, imperialism, Christianity, oppressive government, military--they were out enjoying the night, or going to a concert. It seemed closer to killing people for playing music or simply being in the company of members of the opposite sex--real Taliban, Sharia law stuff. Those guys with the guns were killing out hatred of people for their values.

Bernie Sanders was tone deaf to suggest murderers blowing up theater goers in Paris should be seen as simply symptoms of disaffection of displaced persons resulting from the depredations  of climate change on the economies of the Middle East.  But he might have been closer to the truth than those who say we should not use terms like "Radical Islam," because so few Islamic people, really only a mentally deranged few, would ever embrace random, wholesale murder.

Attacks in Paris were against people who were in no way connected to Western military or political institutions--just men and women at a café or a theater, doing those decadent Western things like listening to music, drinking wine and flirting.

If this is true, then we have a real problem.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Donald: The Devil is in the No Details

This morning, I spent 45 minutes with the Donald, who was speaking at a rally  Worcester last night.
I surfed to CNN after watching a depressing 15 minute BBC Planet Earth piece about a polar bear, who had to swim 60 miles through the artic sea, losing 50% of his body weight, only to find a colony of walruses, where, desperate for food, he attacked a fairly large walrus who got him with his tusks and the polar bear died of his wounds.  It was one of those no win, there can be no good outcome stories--either the bear (with whom I had begun to sympathesize) dies or a walrus (who, in his blubbery way is pretty cute) dies.

So, on to CNN, where an equally disturbing show was running: The Donald holding forth in that  chirpy, free associating, stream of consciousness thing he does, sounding like a Jewish Grandmother, a sort of Edith Bunker meets Tony Soprano all rolled into one.

Trying to analyze exactly what it is he is doing and why he appeals to that crowd, who clearly enjoy him--you can see them laughing and nodding heads-- I'd love to hear Jill Lepore or George Packer or even a whole New Yorker symposium on Mr. Trump, deconstructing how he achieves his effect.

Here's what I've go so far:

He is a master of the "They" demonization technique. 
"They" is the bogeyman, the thing with sulfurous smell and talons we do not like,  which lives among us.  He introduces a few specific anecdotes about murder/rape cases perpetrated by unnamed illegal immigrants--a 60 year old female Army veteran "murdered, raped and sodomized" by an illegal immigrant who had crossed over our border at least 5 times, who stands for all those murderous, illegal immigrants who come to our country and rape and pillage and take your jobs.  Now that he has brought "them" down to a specific example, he leaps to the "they" who are simply multiples of that guy who raped the Vet. All of "them" guys. 

What the Donald will do is he will send these guys back to Mexico where the Mexicans will  throw  them into jail. We will not jail them here, because then we would have to support these scum for 40 years in jail and incur all that cost and the Donald knows the art of the deal,  so he'll make Mexico pay for these miscreants, not us. Donald will make Mexico do this.

He'll also make Mexico pay for the very tall, beautiful (as beautiful as a wall can be) wall he will build across the 1000 mile border to keep those rapists out. And once we build the wall, they will not come back or simply slip around the sides of the wall into Louisiana or California because...well,  because we will be winning. 

Exactly HOW the Donald will accomplish all this is left to the imagination of  the crowd. Don't ask. Oy. 

He will also "bomb the shit" out of ISIS.
He will scare the hell out of "the terrorists"
All of "them." 

How exactly he will find ISIS and how he will scare the terrorists, he does not detail. He will simply do it. He will be sure we win this fight with the "them." There will be so much winning we will all be proud of the Donald and we will all be proud of having voted for the Donald, as opposed to being ashamed of having voted for that disaster, Obama.

With me so far?

He will make our military so fearsome "they" will not dare attack us.

Of course, our military is already pretty fearsome, so fearsome in fact terrorists typically do not come out in the open in the streets of Paris or New York in long armored columns and attempt to fight us in the open, but they seem to prefer drive by shootings, concealed suicide vest bombs or taking over airplanes by stealth and surprise and then, when we are least expecting it, attacking using the element of surprise. They also like sneaking bombs into airplanes but they will be too afraid of the Donald and all his winning to try that, once he is President.

All this will end when the Donald is President. Terrorists will not be allowed these sneak attacks, but will have to wear uniforms, announce their intention to attack with sufficient notice and wear orange blaze vests for easy identification and high visibility and we will be winning so much we are all going to get bored with winning.


Today the Donald  alludes to a New York Times article, that scum newspaper, which reported about the trouble Ben Carson's aides have reported, trying to teach Dr. Carson about foreign policy, trying to "make him smart," but he simply has failed to learn this stuff. When I read this story, it did make me wonder if Dr. Carson had retired from surgery because of early Alzheimer's and it apparent caught the Donald's attention, because the Donald hates the media, except when it brings him glad tidings.
He then progressed through most of his rivals, being careful to add "He's a nice guy" or "I like him" or "We get along fine," then slipping in the knife. Rubio has nice hair, but not as good as the Donald's, and  he's got the worst voting record in the Senate (not clear if this is worst in quality or worst in quantity or both); Jeb is a loser  ("He's done" with a dismissive wave); Hillary doesn't have the energy or the endurance to be President; 
Bernie Sanders blamed the Paris killings on global warming (have to Google that one!) and President Obama is simply "a disaster."

He also deals with audience members: When objections are raised, Mr. Trump allows his audience to lift the protesters off the ground and bodily eject them from the auditorium.  It looked like scenes from old newsreels where the brownshirts beat and bludgeoned people in the crowd as their hero exhorted the masses from the platform above them. This happened 3 times while I was watching, and the last eruption occurred when Mr. Trump criticized Food Stamps and then, which apparently provoked someone in the audience, and  watching the protester carried off he observed, "Isn't it significant that this guy objects to Food Stamps and he is, himself, seriously overweight."
Not sure, but I guess the connection was food and obesity, or something.

Given the number of seriously overweight supporters in the crowd, I thought this was risky ground on which to tread for the Donald, who, it must be admitted, has some serious overweight issues of his own, but he is fearless--that much we must admit.
The media will report Trump interrupted by protesters, the Donald says, when it was only 3 people out of 12,000 but that's the way the scum media will report it.


More than half his time is devoted to extolling his own success and status. I think the point is, I've done so well in business, you know I'm a superior human being who is a winner and I'll be just as good at being a President and we will win together. Or something. We were treated to tales about his financial statements for the Election Commission which showed he was worth even more than people thought, to his fabulous success on Saturday Night Live, to the worth of various buildings he owns and property from the West Coast to the Potomac to New York City, to the $240 million dollars he made from the TV show, "The Apprentice" which they all begged him to continue but he declined saying he wanted to run for President. Then he segued into a riff about how he could have made more money on TV but he sacrificed all that because he knew he had to run for President, and it just about killed all his partners from the TV show, but the Donald had to be bigger than that, bigger than money, and rescue the country.


And Oy! The world is going to Hell in a Handbasket. We've got to do something, like elect me, for instance. Obamacare is a disaster. The premiums have gone sky high and the deductibles are so high nobody ever even gets the insurance to pay for anything and it's going to bankrupt the nation, and bankruptcy is something the Donald knows about because his companies file for bankruptcy frequently, which is just business, you know, not failure. And the Middle East: they are chopping off heads and we've never seen anything like this in the whole history of the world except maybe the Middle Ages, but never anything like this. Oh, we got trouble in River City! 

Whew! It's really fun to watch. I know it may not sound that way, but he is enjoying himself so immensely, it's infectious. Very similar vibe as Rush Limbaugh. 

I particularly liked his riff on the Democratic debate. "Well, they call it the Democratic debate, but it's the Democrat debate."  Which reminded me of what Howard Cossell once said about Muhammad Ali, who many people persisted in calling Cassius Clay, which Ali referred to as his "slave name."  Cossell, whose birth name was Cohen, said, "In America, one of the things we respect is a person's name. We call a person by the name he wants to be called by, not by another."  And so the Democrats prefer "Democratic" but the Republicans insist on "Democrat debate" because it sounds somehow worse, especially when you accent the "rat" part.

There is virtually no content here, or as Dorothy Parker would say, "There is no there, there."  It's all value ladened words:  It's despicable. They are scum. They are not masterminds but low life. The guy says he's pathologic! I've heard they are just disasters. The worst thing that ever happened! It's awful. 

One hallmark of an educated person is he generally tries to enhance the credibility of what he says by citing some numbers--which, admittedly are often bogus and lifted from studies which did not actually prove that there has been a 10 year increase in the lifespan of Americans since 1950 or that the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere has rise by 35% over the last century, but at least it's a reference point which can be fact checked. How do you fact check "disaster" or "stupid" or "Oy" ?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Jay Inslee and Fear Itself: Bucking the Immigrant Bashing Tide

I admire Maggie Hassan and will vote for her to be rid of Kelly Ayotte, but I am disappointed in her announcement pandering to the fears of Granite Staters saying she thinks we ought to halt immigration from Syria "for now."

This morning I heard the governor of the state of Washington, Jay Inslee talking about why he announced he hoped his state would continue to welcome immigrants/refugees from Syria.

As he pointed out, it's not up to the states to manage immigration: Once the immigrant passes into the USA, he can go anywhere. So, when the governor of Alabama says he would tolerate a zero percent chance the immigrant might harm an Alabaman, this is ridiculous, because he has no say in the matter and no way to prevent the Syrian from cross his state line--his proclamation is clearly only to say to his state citizens, "I care so much for your safety, I'll not take any chances with it." So much posturing, no effect.

One might think all the posturing harmless, but Governor Inslee pointed out there is a moral hazard. He mentioned the Japanese who were thrown into concentration camps on the very island on which he lives off Seattle, during the Second World War, whose sons were fighting for the USA in Italy while their parents were incarcerated in America. He said Franklin Roosevelt, who said we have nothing to fear but fear itself, unreasoning fear was guilty of acceding to the hysteria following Pearl Harbor and we should regret that decision every day, even today. 

He also pointed out that the Syrian refugee who has been fingerprinted, DNA analyzed, checked out every way we know how is a lot less of a risk than the guy who hops on a plane from Paris on a tourist visa, a man who has gone through very little evaluation at all.  If we are really worried about preventing the next terrorist from setting foot in the country, we'd be looking at tourists--but that would cost a lot of American hotels and tourist related companies money, so we won't do it. We'll simply make life more miserable for Syrians in miserable refugee camps.

The fact is, we are as vulnerable to the next terrorist attack as we are to the next bank heist, to the next lunatic with a gun who decides to shoot up a kindergarten.  Crazies will find a way. We can work hard to catch some in our net before they do their damage and we can succeed, but we cannot succeed 100% of the time.

Governor Inslee sounded this morning like that rarest of politicians, a thoughtful, honorable man. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Policing For Profit in Pagedale, MO: Kafka Lives

If ever there were a American dystopian story of sinister corruption embedded into government it is not a story involving the President or Congress but of local government and local police:  It is that vicious  little town of Pagedale, Missouri.

An editorial in today's New York Times describes a little hell hole of a place, at least for Black citizens, in which the town sends out its police as cynical tax agents, issuing tickets for not having a screen on your front door, for crossing on the wrong side of a crosswalk, for having a front yard barbecue except on specific holidays, for driving while Black, for any number of gottcha infractions, some not even written into the actual code of city law, and then when the ticket is issued, to be sure the fine is not paid on time, they hold court only twice a month at 6 PM, just when hard working men and women are headed off to their second jobs. 

Is it any wonder the local Black population is seething?  They are the cash cows for the Pagedale police and courts. 

Why this travesty? Because little towns like Pagedale are so small they cannot support a police department with a tax base--so the solution is to make the poor and the struggling provide that tax base through fines for you-name-it and to create Kangaroo courts which engender nothing but rage and resentment from the local citizenry. If King George III had conjured up anything this egregious, the American Revolution would have happened much sooner and with no loyalists left to speak for him.

Once again, our free press has shown a spotlight on a festering wound. Police, judges, city officials all in on the game, as the Times notes. 

And the most appalling thing is these local police, local judges and mayors probably don't even see themselves as evil.  One can only imagine them shrugging and smiling and excusing this Kafkaesque poor excuse for local government as business. Just playing the game and trying to get by best we can. If we ruin the lives of a few score of local Blacks, well, all they had to do was to obey the law as we wrote it and disguised it and promulgated it and they'd have stayed out of trouble, until, that is, we could figure out a way to put them back into trouble, so we could collect our pound of flesh.

We may have to add Missouri to that hallowed pantheon of Arizona, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.  Nice group, that.

Friday, November 13, 2015

How Stupid Are Americans: The Donald Wants to Know

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."
--H.L. Menken

"Because he wrote a book and in the book he said terrible things about himself. He said that he's pathological and that he's got basically pathological disease. Now he wrote this, I guess before he was running for office or thought that he was running for office, and I don't want a person that's got pathological disease. I don't want it." 
--The Donald

So the Donald went on a 90 minute rant in which he expressed incredulity that Ben Carson could be beating him in the polls, sounding for all the world like Jon Lovett of past Saturday Night Live looking in the camera, playing Michael Dukakis saying of George H.W. Bush, "I can't believe this guy is beating me."

The Donald frothed on about Dr. Carson's "pathological disease."  The Donald reminds us, "That's a serious statement when you say you have a 'pathological disease.' Because, as I understand it, you can't really cure it. But he said he has a pathological disease." 

The problem, of course is, the Donald really does not understand it.  The Donald has never bothered to look up the definition of "pathological" which simply means "not normal, of or pertaining to a disease process."  You would think he'd have staff for this.

Then he goes on to elucidate how he investigates facts and what he thinks constitutes a process of gaining understanding:  "I mean, he wrote it. I didn't write it...But those are pretty tough charges. And they were written by him himself, you know? The pathological stuff was written. That's very serious, pathological disease. I didn't read the book, but he wrote it."

So now the Donald is making reference to something very disturbing and significant which is contained in a book he admits he has never read. One might think, if it is something important you might want to open the covers of the book and actually, perhaps read it yourself. But then, it's not really clear the Donald knows how to read, which could be a problem for a President who gets lots of briefing books to read, although, I suppose they could do them as illustrated books with lots of drawings and big print and maybe audio DVDs.

Mr. Carson, of course, is trying to defend himself against questions about a close and long term friend of his, who was convicted of defrauding medical insurance. Apparently, in the past, Dr. Carson has said people and company executives who defraud insurance companies over bogus claims should be in jail, but when his friend plead guilty to just that crime Dr. Carson said his friend did not deserve to be sent to jail and when his surrogate tried to explain why it was necessary to jail people unless they happened to be friends of Dr. Carson, the answer was: Well, when you have a personal relationship, you can see things more deeply and draw on your Christian instincts to forgive, or words to that effect.  

One does wonder how stupid Dr. Carson thinks the American public is, but it is the height of irony that Donald Trump, is complaining about American politicians soaring in the polls after saying stupid things.

But best of all is Chris Christie, who I heard this morning say that President Obama is responsible for deteriorating race relations since he took office. As if race relations have actually deteriorated. As if racial tensions because of the actions of  local white police being videoed shooting Black citizens in cold blood is Mr. Obama's fault. 

Well, actually, Mr. Christie says, the police are shooting because they don't think the President has their back so, well, what would you do? If you are out there all alone, well you pull your gun and start shooting at anything Black that moves. That's only reasonable. 
 The thing about Chris Christie is he is manifestly not stupid.  But here is a guy who was not responsible for backing up traffic from the George Washington Bridge to Tea Neck,New Jersey as payback to the mayor of Tea Neck for not endorsing him, but of course, Mr. Christie said you cannot lay that at my door because, I'm only governor, I can't control everything that happens in my state.  
Mr. Obama, of course, should bear full responsibility for racist frat boys smearing feces in the shape of a Swastika in a college dorm. But I can tell you, if any of those motorists trapped on the New Jersey roads got all road ragey and leaped out of their cars, the New Jersey State troopers would have known I'd have their backs and they could have pulled out their Glock 9's and shot any Black people. 
 But they would never have shot any Italian Americans. And you know, I'm still bummed they canceled "The Sopranos" 'cause I learned so much from that show about leadership. Really, Tony was a model. 

It must be a sign of age, but as I run on my treadmill and watch Morning Joe and Morning Express--not even Fox--and as I drive to work listening to NPR listening to "experts" I find myself thinking: 90% of everything I'm hearing is bogus, wrong, or simply stupid.  I mean they have this brother and sister act on Morning Joe, and the sister, whose primary qualification for being on morning TV seems to be her great hair, which is blonde and really cut well, is asking some former general or CIA official about a conversation he's had with Ben Carson about foreign policy and this expert says he thinks Ben Carson has a lot to learn about ISIS and terrorist threats and the blonde sister host raises an eyebrow as if she's just heard Ben Carson himself admit to having been an axe murderer when he was 19 and again during medical school and she says, "Wow, well I didn't expect that!" 

The other thing is they never play more than a few seconds of sound bites or video clips of exactly what anyone said, Donald Trump or anyone else, because, of course what is important is not what the politician actually said but what is important is what the star of the news broadcast says about what he said or what the expert guest says about that clip.  So, how stupid do the guys running these shows think the American public is?  You be the judge.

Maybe the Donald is on to something.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Republican Shtick

A shtick is a comedy routine often assoicated with a particular comedian, so Don Rickles, Jerry Lewis, Joanne Rivers all had a shtick. Stand up comedians, like Chris Rock, Jay Leno perfect their lines at local clubs before taking them national or to big venues.

Last night, the most prepared practitioner was Ted Cruz, who was ready to try out his line that the IRS code has more words in it than the Bible, pause, wait for applause, and none of them (the IRS words) are as good as what's in the Bible.

This was clearly crafted to appeal to the evangelicals who are currently enthralled by Ben Carson. See, I can play that Jesus card, the Bible thumping thing, too!

It worked well in Milwaukee. The crowd loved it. Take that to Iowa. Or maybe, it came from Iowa where he tried it out first.

Then there was the Donald who was confronted by Ohio governor Kasich (can't spell that name.) The governor said the idea of rounding up and deporting 11 million immigrants while their children sobbed was ridiculous and not an adult proposal. To which the Donald replied he had built a corporation worth billions of dollars and he didn't need to take that from that guy at the end of the stage, who doesn't have enough poll numbers to rate being placed at the center. 

Which got thunderous applause. Give it to him Donald. You are winning. There will be so much winning when the Donald gets to the Oval Office.  And anyone who criticizes the Donald, I'll have you know, had better had established his street cred by having a corporation which makes billions or he can just shut up. 

I really love Republican debates. They just know how to not be whimps, to play to the better angels of our national character. The better angels--that phrase was made famous by that first Republican. You remember that guy: Abraham Lincoln.

What would Honest Abe think to see his nominative heirs performing today?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bibi and the Power of Parable

Happened to catch Bibi Netanyahu on CNN this morning and he told a wonderful, revealing story about trying to explain the virtues of a "free market" capitalist economy to the Israeli people, who had grown up in a semi-socialist state. Of course, Jews have a reputation in America and Europe as shrewd businessmen, but here the Prime Minister of Israel was faced with a Jewish population isolated from the business world, or so he claimed.

His story concerned his first day of training in the Israeli paratroopers (thus reminding his audience of his military creds) and the captain lined up all the recruits facing him and he said, "We will do a race, but this race is going to be made more interesting. Look to your right. Lift the man to your right on your back."  Bibi is not a big man, and the man to his right was a third again his side. The next man was even smaller than Bibi and he had to heft a man twice his side and the next man was a huge guy and he lifted a small man on is back. Then the whistle blew. Bibi staggered forward, barely able to cross the finish line. The small man with the huge burden collapsed at the starting line but the big man with the small man on his back took off like a rocket and streaked across the finish line.

Now, I'm thinking, oh, I know where this is going: It says that some of us have a heavier burden than others, in life. Some are born into poverty, some into poverty and ignorance, while others are relatively advantaged, unburdened and they are likely to streak ahead of others, and likely these guys will believe they deserve their winning because they are so superior, the Donald Trumps.

But n I had forgotten Bibi is, at heart, a Republican. The burden turned out to be, you guessed it: the government and taxes. So the big man unburdened by a heavy tax load soars ahead, while the little guy, carrying big government on his back collapses. 

Of course, his audience, an affluent Republican American audience, loved it. Just unburden us from the government and we'll all roar ahead, unleash the animal energies of a free market economy by lowering taxes.

Nobody mentioned the experience in Kansas, where the governor made just that argument and cut income taxes and Kansas has been in trouble ever since, sinking beneath a sea of red ink, unable to provide even the most basic government services. No animal energies surfaced to save the day.  The economy in Kansas has plummeted into recession where its more heavily taxed neighbors have made steady recoveries. 

Like all the privileged, advantaged set, Bibi argues we'd all be just fine if it weren't for the burden of carrying the government on our backs, when the truth is just the opposite is true: When the government provides stimulus, as Paul Krugman keeps reminding us, everyone does better, including the rich who so decry government spending. 

And, of course, the bigger lie is the myth of "free market capitalist economy."  We have capitalist markets in America but we do not have anything close to a  "free market" as the government subsidies big farming, big oil, big coal and big every business. It's just the little guy who isn't subsidized and who is told he ought to be working harder and then, once he mobilizes his animal energies, he'll be as rich as Donald Trump.
Thomas Nast: The Real Burden 

The game is rigged, as Bernie Sanders has pointed out. Banks too big to fail can charge ahead full of animal energies, never fearing  a fall because they are too big to fail and they know it and the government will bail them out. That's not free markets. That's crony capitalism, which the Republican party has recently decided is a bad thing, and they decry this, all the while taking the money which flows from crony capitalism, all the way to the bank.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ted Cruz: No Atheist Is Fit To Serve

Start Every Day with a Prayer

You Want to Be Lied To?  Ask the man about his religion.

And I want to warn everyone in the press and all the voters out there, if you demand expressions of religious faith from politicians, you are just begging to be lied to. They won't all lie to you but a lot of them will. And it will be the easiest lie they ever had to tell to get your votes. So, every day until the end of this campaign, I'll answer any question anyone has on government, But if you have a question on religion, please go to church."
--Arnold Vinick, West Wing

In one of it's typically prescient moments, in the the West Wing's sixth season is a confrontation at the end of an episode called, "In God We Trust" where the Republican presidential nominee, Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) responds to a question about whether or not he will attend a church meeting to which he's been invited and this Republican, who knows where his base is, but who can no longer tolerate the hypocrisy, finally commits a "gaffe" which is to say he tells the truth as he sees it, that when politicians start talking about religious faith, they lie.

This episode aired 10 years ago, but like so much of West Wing, it is eerily current.

Yesterday, Ted Cruz said that no atheist is qualified to be President and furthermore every President ought to begin his day with prayer.

There are other little examples of God being imposed on our secular state:  our pledge of allegiance contains the phrase "Under God"  which it did not have originally.  The "under God" part was added at the height of the McCarthy Red Scare, when everyone was eager to be fighting Godless Communism.

The whole pledge of allegiance thing started in the 1870's as "patriotism" following the Civil War started to fade and school kids were in control of adults so it was in school kids learned a pledge.  Things really got rolling in the early 1940's, during World War II when WASP America distrusted Orientals who might prefer Imperial Japan or German Americans, so we had kids doing the American "Zeig! Heil!" in their classrooms.

Zeig! Heil! America! USA! USA! Oh, puke.
Easy patriotism, learned in school. Later, with all the Hitler youth holding out their arms straight, we went to putting the hand over the heart, as Herr Hitler had pre-empted the straight arm salute.

With all the examples of religion causing havoc in the world, of irrational, rabid belief causing people to kill and destroy, one would think the dangers of introducing religion into our putatively secular society would be obvious, but no, not in the Bible Belt where people cling to their guns and their religion, as Obama was honest enough to observe, and he rued the day he was that honest. 

The only politician I can imagine with the guts to say what Arnold Vinick said is Bernie Sanders, who is just irascible enough to sputter in his best Lewis Black tone, "You want to be lied to? You want to really be played?  Just demand your political leaders profess their undying love of God, and you'll get just exactly what you deserve!"

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Donald: The New Yogi

"If you would listen to Sara Murray, you would think there were three people standing in the atrium of Trump Tower. Either she's a very unemotional person or she's not a very good reporter."
--Donald Trump from Politico

I loved Yogi Berra.  He said things which resonated with me:  "Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical."  I knew exactly what he was talking about.

But The Donald may eventually rise to that level as well. Just consider his take on a reporter, Sara Murray, who was present at a book signing and apparently, in The Donald's estimation she underestimated the number of people present for this important event. 

"She's either a very unemotional person or she's not a very good reporter."

So if she were more emotional she would have got closer to the correct number?
Now this is a revelation, for me at least. I always thought of numbers as the essence of objectivity over emotion. You can think a crowd is big because you react emotionally to the image of its size, but if you want to hew to accuracy, you simply report a number. 

Thinking more deeply, perhaps she said it was a small crowd but she missed the emotional vibe of a very enthusiastic crowd. I'll have to find exactly what she said, but that two sentences taken as they are presented present a wonderful opportunity to look into the mind of someone who wants to be our next President.

Here is the conversation I imagine could have been, if only Yogi were still alive: I can just see the two of them sitting on Yogi's porch in New Jersey, beers in hand, feet up,  thinking big thoughts about the world and just sharing wisdom and insights:

Yogi:  You can observe a lot by just watching

Donald: They [ISIS] just built a hotel in Syria. Can you believe this?  They built a hotel. When I have to build a hotel, I pay interest. They don't have to pay interest, because they took the oil that, when we left Iraq, I said we should've taken."

Yogi: You wouldn't have won, if we'd beaten you.

Donald:  Hillary Clinton was the worst Secretary of State in the history of the United States. There's never been a Secretary of State so bad as Hillary. The world blew up around us. We lost everything, including all relationships. There wasn't one good thing that came out of that administration or her being Secretary of State.
You don't even have to like Hillary to know that's not true. 

[Editor's note:  Who knew the Secretary of State controlled world events?]

Yogi:  Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours.

Donald: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

[Editor's note: Well, that last sentence--now I feel much better.]

Yogi:  I'm not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.

Donald: The U.S. will invite El Chapo, the Mexcan drug lord who just escaped prison, to become a U.S. citizen because our "leaders" can't say no.!

Wow! El Chapo a U.S. citizen! Maybe he'll run for President on the Republican ticket! Wouldn't you like to see him on the stage with The Donald. 

The Donald would give him such a dressing down! The Donald would beat him, and make it look easy. It would be such a winning for the The Donald. 
I know he'll make America great again, and we'll all be winners.